There's a common misconception amongst students that if you want to forge a successful career as a barrister you've got to head for London. True, a substantial proportion of the country's sets are based there but there are highly successful chambers located throughout England and Wales. Scotland has a separate legal system.
Differences between sets
There's no clear line to be drawn between chambers within London and those outside but there are some broad differences. Sets in the regions tend to have fairly broad practice bases, often undertaking criminal law, commercial law and common law work; in contrast, whereas there are some generalist sets in London, many are focused in a particular direction. If you want to work for an exclusively commercial law set, or for one with only one or two specialisms, most of them are based in London.
Speed of progression for barristers outside London
Working outside London shouldn't slow your career down – in fact, it can accelerate it. There are solicitors' firms all over the country who need to instruct barristers, many of which will prefer to select someone based in the area rather than paying for a barrister to travel out from London. The fact that there are relatively fewer barristers in the regions to do this work may mean that you get your hands on more complex cases earlier in your career.
Barristers' earnings outside London
On average, pupillage awards are higher in London. However, this is partly because of the purely commercial sets based there, who pay very substantial sums. When you compare like with like you'll find that there's not a great deal of difference – and remember that the cost of living will be lower outside London. Once you're a tenant there's no reason why you shouldn't earn as much or more than London-based barristers doing similar work.
Sets' locations outside London
England and Wales are divided into six 'circuits' on which barristers work: Midland, North Eastern, Northern, South Eastern, Wales & Chester, and Western. You'll tend to work in the courts of whichever circuit your chambers is based in, although this isn't a hard-and-fast rule. Most sets are found in major cities, although a number of smaller cities and large towns also have one or two.
Time spent travelling
Travelling the circuit can be time-consuming but that'll be the case wherever you're based – London is part of the South Eastern circuit so even in you're based in the capital you're likely to be sent to courts further afield. And if you work outside London you're likely to be able to afford to live closer to chambers, ensuring that when you're not in court your commute is a short one.
Training for barristers based outside London
You don't have to go to your Inn of Court to attend training – the circuits run the compulsory advocacy and advice to counsel courses, which you must complete during pupillage, and also the New Practitioners' Programme for your first three years in practice. The circuits also organise further training, conferences and social events so you'll be able to meet barristers from other chambers in your area. You can get further information about continuing professional development for newly qualified barristers from the Bar Standards Board.
Circuit contact details
Sue Mann, secretary to circuit leader, PO Box 10093, Great Glen, Leicester LE8 9WS Tel: 0116 268 5135
North Eastern Circuit
Suzy Trott, circuit administrator, The North Eastern circuit, PO Box 789, Harrogate, HG1 9RY Tel:07736 528 181
Susan Chisholme, administrator, Oriel Chambers, 18 Ribblesdale Place, Preston PR1 3NA Tel: 0161 660 3848
South Eastern Circuit
Aaron Dolan, SEC administrator, The South Eastern Circuit, Suite 23, 30 St Dunstan’s St, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 8HG Tel: 01304 849149
Wales & Chester Circuit
Abigail Hobson, circuit office manager, Room F15, Cardiff Crown Court, Cathays, Cardiff CF10 3PG Tel: 029 2022 9832
Charlotte Feest, circuit secretary, 31 Southgate Street, Winchester SO23 9EB Tel: 07788 636 067