About graduate careers as a barrister
Barristers provide legal advice, accept instruction from solicitors and, where necessary, represent their clients in court. This requires strong presentation and advocacy skills, as well as a capacity to digest large amounts of information quickly. This is a well-respected and popular career path for which training is long and costly. However, those successful in the field will enjoy a varied and intellectually challenging career.
Pupillage and practice
The period of recognised training for barristers is known as pupillage. This is a one-year term (divided into two sets of six months) of on-the-job training. Pupils shadow other barristers in a set of chambers (the barrister equivalent of an office) until they are ready to take their own cases. Barristers in chambers are self-employed, although ‘members’ of chambers are expected to contribute to the rent and fees of the office once pupillage is completed and tenancy has been offered. Graduates need to plan carefully to ensure they can finance the training and garner the experience required to enter the profession.
Different types of law are practised across the Bar and each will have a varying level of work and income. Commercial law tends to be very well remunerated, but public funding cuts to legal aid mean that criminal and family law areas of practice in particular are no longer as profitable for young people entering the profession.
Qualifications for the Bar
Aspiring barristers will need to complete a law degree, or a non-law degree followed by a graduate diploma in law (GDL) conversion course, before passing an extra qualification known as the Bar professional training course (BPTC). Only a few institutions offer the BPTC and this is mostly done on a full-time basis (although there are some part-time options and one partial distance learning arrangement).
Before graduates can enrol on the BPTC, they will need to pass the Bar course aptitude test (BCAT), which assesses an individual’s suitability for the Bar via psychometric tests. Following widespread concerns about the number of students who complete the BPTC but cannot find a pupillage, some course providers have begun imposing additional admission screening criteria.
Opportunities for graduates
The Bar is renowned for its competitiveness, and obtaining a pupillage remains difficult. Gaining work experience by completing mini-pupillages (the equivalent of internships) and other placements is indispensable. Graduates should be aware that the majority of pupillages are listed on the Bar Council’s Pupillage Gateway online application system. Most opportunities will be in barristers’ chambers; however, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Government Legal Service offer a small number of pupillages at the ‘employed Bar’ each year. It’s important to note that there’s a five-year time limit during which to secure pupillage. Those who are unsuccessful with their first round of applications could increase their chances of securing a place the next time around by gaining work experience in the field, for example, as a paralegal in a law firm.
Students interested in a career as a barrister...
- tended to study law (67 per cent) – history/philosophy were the next highest degree subjects studied (8 per cent)
- were predominantly state school educated in the UK/Ireland (72 per cent)
- tended to agree with the statement ‘I am worried about my future career’ (76 per cent), which was a significantly higher percentage of students than the 62 per cent average across all sectors
- were more likely to have work experience related their course than most students in other sectors (70 per cent as opposed to the 65 per cent average).