Law barristers
Do you have to be self-employed to work as a barrister?

Do you have to be self-employed to work as a barrister?

Most barristers are self-employed and based in sets, but not all. Around 17% of practising barristers work at the employed bar, working for the Government Legal Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, in-house in the legal departments of big corporates or other organisations.

The vast majority of barristers work as members of a set of chambers and are essentially self-employed. If you want a graduate career as a barrister but would prefer to have the financial security of a regular pay packet from an employer, there are other options open to you. There are jobs for barristers with the Crown Prosecution Service and Government Legal Service (when they are recruiting) as well as a handful of other organisations. However, the number of training places, or pupillages, is limited so you might want to consider training with a set of chambers and moving across later in your career.

Jobs for barristers with the Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales (from offices across England and Wales) and employs approximately 3,000 lawyers. Twelve-month pupillages are available in a number of CPS offices (though there are very limited places), and pupils are able to take a month’s secondment in chambers to gain experience of the independent bar. CPS pupillages typically involve experience of prosecution in the magistrate’s courts. Following pupillage, you may be taken on as a crown prosecutor.

Jobs for barristers with the Government Legal Service

The Government Legal Service (GLS) only has one client: the British government. The GLS employs around 2,000 lawyers and trainees to provide legal services across the entire spectrum of its activities, including constitutional issues, tax and human rights. The GLS legal trainee scheme is open to aspiring solicitors and barristers and is primarily based in London. After making your application (which you must do two years in advance) you’ll be invited to choose the government department in which you’d like to work.

Pupillages last 12 months and your time will be split between a GLS legal team and a set of external barristers’ chambers. After the first six months, pupils are given the opportunity to conduct their own advocacy in court, though applicants interested primarily in advocacy should bear in mind that there are very limited advocacy opportunities within the GLS after pupillage.

Private organisations with jobs for barristers

A small number of barristers are employed directly by organisations such as firms of solicitors, large commercial organisations and charities. Very few pupillages are available at the employed bar but more opportunities will arise once you are qualified. Roles are advertised in the national and specialist legal press.

Diversity at the employed bar

There is a more balanced split between male and female practitioners at the employed bar than at the self-employed bar. The annual Bar Barometer, published by the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board in March 2014, reports that 54% of employed barristers are male and 46% are female. At the self-employed bar, the respective figures are 67% and 33%.

The employed bar is slightly more balanced in terms of ethnic diversity. Around 13% of employed barristers are from a black or minority ethnic background, compared to 10% at the self-employed bar.