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How much will you earn as a pupil barrister?

Graduates training to become qualified barristers receive pupillage awards from their set of chambers. Which sets offer the highest pupillage awards for 2020? We've surveyed leading chambers – see our results.

Unsurprisingly, the most generous pupillage awards are available from commercial and chancery sets.

After you've completed the vocational stage of training to become a barrister – the Bar professional training course or BPTC – you need to undertake a year of practical, on-the-job training at a barristers' set of chambers, known as pupillage. The Bar Standards Board has stipulated that all pupillages must carry a minimum award of £16,322 for pupillages outside of London and £18,866 for pupillages in London for the full 12 months. In reality some pupillages carry awards well in excess of this figure – up to £70,000 at the big, commercial sets.

What do commercial law barristers earn?

Unsurprisingly, the most generous pupillage awards are available from commercial and chancery sets, where they are typically in the region of £40,000 to £70,000 for 12 months. At the other end of the scale, sets carrying out publicly funded work (eg family law or criminal law sets) continue to feel the squeeze.

Why do criminal and family law barristers earn less than commercial lawyers?

Family law set Queen Elizabeth Building awards £35,000 plus earnings for a 12-month pupillage. Barristers who carry out publicly funded work, such as family and criminal sets, have had their fees affected by government cuts to legal aid. Increased restrictions on legal aid have meant that fewer people are able to afford to raise a legal challenge so barristers’ workloads have decreased, sometimes forcing chambers to diversify into other practice areas.

But as Stephen Vullo, barrister at 2 Bedford Row was keen to point out at the TARGETjobs National Pupillage Fair, aspiring criminal barristers are more likely to be driven by the excitement of the work than the money. ‘Why did I go to the criminal bar? Because it’s fascinating,’ explains Stephen, ‘My clients include one of the 21 July bombers, the Glasgow bomber, a Saudi prince that killed his slave in a hotel in London and I represented a client on the £53m Securitas depot robbery. If you want to be very, very wealthy, then go to a shipping set.’

12-month pupillage awards from TARGETjobs Law advertisers

  • Blackstone Chambers– £65,000
  • One Essex Court – £70,000
  • Fountain Court Chambers – £70,000 (£50,000 in the first six, £20,000 in the second six)
  • 11KBW – £65,000
  • Landmark Chambers – £65,000
  • Maitland Chambers – £65,000
  • Queen Elizabeth Building – £35,000 (plus earnings)

As you’ll see above, many barristers’ chambers offer guaranteed earnings or ‘receipts’ for pupils in their second six months in addition to the initial award.

Chambers don’t tend to sponsor their pupils through the BPTC year in the same way as solicitors’ firms support their future trainees through the legal practice course (LPC). Some sets will offer an advance on their award, however, to help students fund their vocational course.

Qualified barristers' incomes

Cash flow can be erratic in the early years of tenancy since there is an inevitable time lag between billing for work done and receiving fees. However, the competent barrister’s fee-earning capacity increases dramatically in years one to three. Those joining commercial sets will soon find their earnings on a par with their university peers who opted for a finance career in the City. Even those choosing less lucrative areas of practice will find their fee income increasing substantially as they establish a legal practice. Full details of all pupillage awards are published in the TARGETjobs Law Pupillages Handbook, available from your university careers service and at the TARGETjobs National Pupillage Fair.