How to become a barrister

Finding your way to the Bar

If you’re planning to work in law, it’s worth giving thought to all of the different paths you could take. From representing clients in court to reviewing documents and giving legal advice – there’s plenty of variety within the legal field.

One popular – and competitive – path is to become a barrister. We’ve spoken to the experts at The University of Law to get the lowdown on what this profession involves, and run through the training and qualifications you’ll need to complete before you can join the Bar.

Differences between barristers and solicitors

Barristers and solicitors are both lawyers, but they have distinct roles. Before you choose which route to law you want to take, it’s important to understand the differences between these two professions.

Barristers are specialists in representing clients in court, and particularly higher courts. Solicitors typically handle a broader range of legal matters, often dealing with smaller and more everyday legal issues.

What do barristers do?

“The exact nature of the responsibilities of a barrister will vary from one legal area to another, but in essence we can view them first as legal advocates and, second, as a source of expert legal opinion,” explains Anna Williams, employability consultant at The University of Law. 

In terms of where barristers fit into a legal case, they “often work hand-in-hand with a solicitor, stepping in when things become too complex for the solicitor to manage alone or the case has reached the stage of court proceedings and requires an advocate who can offer strategic input,” Anna explains. 

“Barristers’ advocacy training and deep experience of the courts make them the most common choice for representing clients at hearings or tribunals,” Anna finishes.

What qualifications do you need to join the Bar?

To take your first steps towards becoming a barrister, you can either complete an undergraduate law degree or study a different subject at undergraduate level and then take a law conversion course.

After graduating, you’ll need to join an Inn of Court. You’ll have to do this to be allowed to move onto the next stage of qualification, which is the vocational part of your training. You should apply for membership at an Inn of Court at least 12 weeks before this training begins. You’ll only be able to join one Inn, but whichever one you choose won’t impact the area of law you decide to specialise in or the chambers you choose for your pupillage.

Next up – the vocational stage of your training. This is called the Bar Practice Course at The University of Law, but different providers use different names. On this course, you’ll be sharpening up your relevant skills. The types of things you’ll cover include advocacy training, drafting, professional ethics and legal research.

Once you’ve completed your bar training course, you’ll be called to the Bar. This formal recognition of your qualification means that you’re officially a barrister – although you won’t be allowed to practise as one until you’ve completed a pupillage.

Getting a pupillage

A pupillage is the final stage of your training. It is “a period of 12 months of on-the-job training, supervised by authorised barristers. Pupillages may be narrow and specialised, or very general in terms of the areas of law covered,” explains Anna.

You’ll do your pupillage at one set and once you’ve completed it, you'll be fully qualified to practise as a barrister.

Pupillages are very competitive, and it’s common to not secure a place in your first round of applications. The process will vary according to the chambers you apply to, but it will generally involve a written application followed by two rounds of interviews.

Pupillages are typically split into two six month periods, known as the first six and the second six.

“The first six months is spent shadowing a supervisor, both at court and in their non-court activities. In the second six, the pupil can be instructed on their own cases and begin conducting court advocacy,” Anna continues. 

“This intense period of learning and skills development is the final phase of a barrister’s initial training, undertaken only after they have earned their law degree and professional bar course qualification,” finishes Anna.

After your pupillage

Once you’ve finished your pupillage, you can apply for a permanent position – known as a tenancy – with a set of chambers.

These are also highly competitive positions. If you don’t land a tenancy after finishing your pupillage, you could apply for a probationary tenancy – known as a third six – at another set.

How long does it take to become a barrister?

This can vary depending on the route you decide to take. As a general rule of thumb, however, it’ll take around five years if you do an undergraduate degree in law and around six years if your degree is in another subject and you need to take a conversion course.

Expert advice on becoming a barrister

We spoke to Josh Bibby, who completed the Bar Practice Course at The University of Law before starting a pupillage in criminal law. Josh shares his experiences of becoming a barrister, as well as some useful tips for anyone else starting out on this path.

Find out what he has to say in our video:

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