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Career Change: Should I try to become a barrister? Watch

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    Hello, I'd really appreciate some advice from all you sage and experienced legal TSRers. The short version: I graduated two years ago and have been limping into a career in journalism since then, but I don't feel at all passionate about it. I'm looking into training to be a barrister, which would be a huge about turn. Do you think it could be a viable option, and how could I get started?

    The long version:

    I graduated in 2011, and since then have been working for a newspaper and trying to make inroads into journalism. But my heart's not in it: though I love writing, I just don't really feel encouraged by the journalists I've met in my career so far - so many of them are in their 30s and 40s still clinging desperately to low paid and minimum wage jobs, and everyone is cynical about the trade (which increasingly seems to boil down to begging for freelance work, which doesn't exist). Also I've become a bit disillusioned about how pointless it all is, and I miss the intellectual stretch of uni. As I'm currently earning minimum wage there's not much financial incentive to stay where I am, career-wise.

    I've recently talked to some friends who are aiming to become barristers (one currently on the BPTC, two more on the GDL) and, though it may well be a case of grass-is-greener syndrome, what they're doing looks to me to be much more challenging and worthwhile than anything I've done. Also I've recently started volunteering for a medical advocacy charity, which has got me interested in human rights and representation.

    Would it be mad to start trying to be a barrister now, 18 months since graduating? I suppose I'd need to move to London (which wouldn't be good - I really don't like it there), and find funding, but what else could I be doing to test the waters and to get some more experience? I've looked at mini-pupillage application forms and they seem to ask for a lot more legal work experience than I have right now.

    I have an Oxbridge First in English. I wouldn't be able to pay the fees for a GDL myself; do you think it's likely I might be able to get funding from an Inn? Sorry to ask so many questions at once, but I'm aware that if I wanted to begin a course in September I'd have to get cracking. Thanks in advance!

    ETA: I just reread this post and realised I didn't actually say why I wanted to do law - just went off on a rant about journalism. Oops! Though I haven't got very far in thinking about it, mostly I'm really interested in the intellectual challenge of it, particularly the nitty gritty of arguing the point of statutory definitions. I also like performing, arguing and talking to people, and as I said above, the medical advocacy volunteering is something that interests me a lot.
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    Before you apply for any scholarships or minis, buy 'Bewigged and Bewildered' and 'The Path to Pupillage' (which has a new edition about to come out) - both excellent guides to the GDL, BPTC, scholarships, mini-pupillages etc. They demystify the process, particularly if you haven't done a law degree.

    With an Oxbridge first you stand a good chance of getting mini-pupillages, even without other legal work experience. Minis are intended to give you a taste of the bar, and chambers don't necessarily expect you to have started the GDL already (although some chambers do expect this - have a look at a few websites to see who the minis are aimed at).

    Send off a few mini-pupillage applications, and see how you do. If you find that you don't have much success and people tell you to come back when you've started the GDL, I'd recommend just spending a few days in the Old Bailey, local County Court or Royal Courts of Justice listening to some cases and seeing advocates. This will be something you can talk about on GDL scholarship and GDL application forms, and will give you more of an idea of the day to day life of a barrister.

    As an aside, I probably wouldn't do minis at your 'dream sets' now - save them for when you have more experience and can impress chambers a bit more. Also, try to apply for minis at a range of sets. The criminal bar is difficult financially but some people can't imagine doing anything else. 'Human rights' or public law pupillages don't really exist in isolation - chambers generally do elements of human rights alongside criminal / immigration / even commercial law. Try some civil sets too - you might be surprised how much you enjoy areas of law such as Personal Injury / property / commercial, and it is a much more financially settled career at the moment.

    GDL scholarships are not as valuable as those for the BPTC. You stand a reasonable chance of getting one, as long as you can put together an application which is clear about why you want to become a barrister, but it is only likely to be in the region of £5,000 - £10,000 maximum. This will probably cover most of the course fees outside London, but you'll have to fund your own living expenses.

    Finally, you definitely don't need to move to London at the moment. The City Law School GDL has the best reputation for barristers, mainly because more people on it are aspiring barristers than is usual on GDL courses, and it is perceived to be more academic (though plenty of successful barristers and pupils didn't do it and it hasn't affected their chances). However, it's not worth getting into significant debt to move to London if there is another course nearer home. The BPTC is a different issue; personally I think you have a better experience in London because you can be more involved with the Inns and are closer to chambers for mini-pupillages etc, but that's a whole different debate!

    You're still young to be thinking about the bar. Plenty of people don't do pupillage until they are in their mid to late twenties. It's not the only great career out there, but if you think it might be something you'd enjoy, it's definitely worth going for it with your academic background. Good luck!
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    Forgot to add - if you prefer the idea of doing pupillage outside London (and having a career in the regions) I think you're actually better off doing the GDL and BPTC nearer to the region you want to work in. It shows a commitment to the area, and demonstrates that you're not just someone who couldn't get pupillage in London. A lot of regional providers also have strong links with chambers in the area.
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    I might be a little naive here, but don't you need a degree in Law to become a barrister?
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    Wow, thank you so much Nigel85. That's such helpful advice, and I'm very pleased to hear that London isn't a total necessity. I'm from Wales, and I know that Cardiff also does the course, so I'll look in more detail at options closer to home.

    I'll also order those two books this afternoon. How exciting. Thank you.
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    (Original post by Nigel85)
    Before you apply for any scholarships or minis, buy 'Bewigged and Bewildered' and 'The Path to Pupillage' (which has a new edition about to come out) - both excellent guides to the GDL, BPTC, scholarships, mini-pupillages etc. They demystify the process, particularly if you haven't done a law degree.

    With an Oxbridge first you stand a good chance of getting mini-pupillages, even without other legal work experience. Minis are intended to give you a taste of the bar, and chambers don't necessarily expect you to have started the GDL already (although some chambers do expect this - have a look at a few websites to see who the minis are aimed at).

    Send off a few mini-pupillage applications, and see how you do. If you find that you don't have much success and people tell you to come back when you've started the GDL, I'd recommend just spending a few days in the Old Bailey, local County Court or Royal Courts of Justice listening to some cases and seeing advocates. This will be something you can talk about on GDL scholarship and GDL application forms, and will give you more of an idea of the day to day life of a barrister.

    As an aside, I probably wouldn't do minis at your 'dream sets' now - save them for when you have more experience and can impress chambers a bit more. Also, try to apply for minis at a range of sets. The criminal bar is difficult financially but some people can't imagine doing anything else. 'Human rights' or public law pupillages don't really exist in isolation - chambers generally do elements of human rights alongside criminal / immigration / even commercial law. Try some civil sets too - you might be surprised how much you enjoy areas of law such as Personal Injury / property / commercial, and it is a much more financially settled career at the moment.

    GDL scholarships are not as valuable as those for the BPTC. You stand a reasonable chance of getting one, as long as you can put together an application which is clear about why you want to become a barrister, but it is only likely to be in the region of £5,000 - £10,000 maximum. This will probably cover most of the course fees outside London, but you'll have to fund your own living expenses.

    Finally, you definitely don't need to move to London at the moment. The City Law School GDL has the best reputation for barristers, mainly because more people on it are aspiring barristers than is usual on GDL courses, and it is perceived to be more academic (though plenty of successful barristers and pupils didn't do it and it hasn't affected their chances). However, it's not worth getting into significant debt to move to London if there is another course nearer home. The BPTC is a different issue; personally I think you have a better experience in London because you can be more involved with the Inns and are closer to chambers for mini-pupillages etc, but that's a whole different debate!

    You're still young to be thinking about the bar. Plenty of people don't do pupillage until they are in their mid to late twenties. It's not the only great career out there, but if you think it might be something you'd enjoy, it's definitely worth going for it with your academic background. Good luck!
    Great piece of advice. 18 months / 2 years out is certainly no hindrance. Many barristers don't get cracking until late 20s anyway. Getting a 1st class degree is, without question, the most important thing any aspiring barrister needs. You are in a decent position.

    If you are feeling drained by the negativity surrounding journalism, I would suggest you think long and hard about a career at the criminal bar. Similar negativity and crap pay (public funded family bar too).
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    (Original post by Luckypupil)
    If you are feeling drained by the negativity surrounding journalism, I would suggest you think long and hard about a career at the criminal bar. Similar negativity and crap pay (public funded family bar too).
    Oh, yes. Even just from looking at forums etc I have noticed that there do seem to be an awful lot of barristers saying they're earning much less now, and I'm aware that a significant amount of work related to legal aid seems to be disappearing...

    That said, compared to the future prospects for newspapers, the law looks almost rosy. The court system, at least, probably couldn't be entirely replaced by the internet. (Could it?!)

    I'm completely undecided on which area would interest me most at the moment though! Maybe that's something a mini-pupillage would help to solve.
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    (Original post by terracottafrieze)
    Wow, thank you so much Nigel85. That's such helpful advice, and I'm very pleased to hear that London isn't a total necessity. I'm from Wales, and I know that Cardiff also does the course, so I'll look in more detail at options closer to home.

    I'll also order those two books this afternoon. How exciting. Thank you.
    Funnily enough, I was going to give Wales as an example of when it may be best not to study in London, at least for the GDL. You'll meet more barristers and aspiring barristers from that circuit in Cardiff. It's also better for minis. The only thing to bear in mind is that if you fall in love with a particular area of law, you may need to be in a London set to get the best work (no reflection on the quality of work or barristers outside London - it's just that specialist sets don't tend to be based in the regions).

    Gray's Inn still has links to the Welsh bar, so may be worth looking at initially. Their education department can give you more advice on their scholarship application process.
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    Aha, I didn't know that. I had been looking at Inner Temple as they seem to have the most money for scholarships, but I'll look into Gray's Inn too. Thanks!
 
 
 
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