How to become a barrister without a law degree
If you’re doing a non-law degree but want to be a barrister, there’s plenty you can do to make your dream of a career at the Bar come true.
Having a degree in a subject other than law can actually be an advantage when pursuing a legal career. Pupillage panels often say that law graduates can be too academic in the way they handle cases: they prefer well rounded individuals with life experience and maturity. Most chambers have a balanced intake, recruiting roughly 50% each from law and non-law backgrounds – so your chance is as good as any law student’s.
The skills developed on any degree course will be valuable across all areas of the Bar, but some practice areas are particularly well suited to non-law graduates. ‘Human rights is an area of law where there’s great room for creativity,’ explains Pushpinder Saini QC from Blackstone Chambers. ‘If you haven’t got a law degree you’re just as able to be creative as someone who has, so it’s an area where non-law graduates often thrive.’
Non-law graduates will face one extra step on the way to the Bar: a conversion course, known as the graduate diploma in law (GDL) or common professional exam (CPE). Whether you have a law degree or not, the final step before qualification is the Bar professional training course (BPTC).
Build the skills that impress pupillage panels
Your degree subject is rarely on the list of top ten things recruiters look for in an application. More important are skills and qualities such as:
- Intellectual ability
- Quick thinking
- Self-motivation and self-belief.
These can all be developed outside of your degree and are by no means exclusive to law students.
Barristers with science degrees
Much of a barrister’s job, particularly at the commercial bar, will involve analysing masses of information, drafting succinct and unambiguous documents, deciphering complicated legislation and explaining it in clear terms to the client. This means that having an ordered, logical mind can be a huge advantage – scientists, engineers and mathematicians tend to make good barristers.
A science background is particularly helpful in intellectual property work where you will be dealing with the technical jargon behind new inventions. Similarly, those with a numerical background could have an edge in employment, tax or banking law where transactions involve complicated calculations.
Show your commitment to the Bar
Whatever your background, law is a competitive profession. On top of a strong academic record, soft skills and extra-curricular activities, recruiters will want to see evidence of a strong commitment to law. This can be a little harder for non-law graduates to demonstrate, but the best way to prove your dedication is by doing mini-pupillages and other law-related work experience.
Volunteering at your local Citizens Advice Bureau, Free Representation Unit (FRU) or legal advice centre are good ways of demonstrating that you’re genuinely interested in the law and will also boost your confidence. ‘Taking a case for FRU must be one of the best things you can do,’ says Nigel Porter from 11KBW. ‘You can experience the sort of work that you will ultimately be doing in practice and can see whether you like it.’
Do as many mini-pupillages as you can to get an idea of what sort of practice area suits you best; you could even do some vacation schemes to make sure you’re better suited to life as a barrister than as a solicitor. This will show recruiters that you’ve put a lot of time and effort into your career decision.
Learn more about life at the Bar from these barristers with non-law backgrounds:
- Samantha Leek QC from 5 Essex Court (who graduated in modern languages) tells us about public law.
- Caroline Harris, mathematics and philosophy graduate and barrister at 1 King’s Bench Walk, describes what it’s like to work as a criminal law barrister.
- George Woods from 4 Pump Court (a modern history graduate) tells us about construction law.