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Barrister: job description

Barrister: job description

Barristers offer advice about legal cases to clients and advocate on their behalf in court.
The path to becoming a qualified barrister is long and expensive but in many practice areas you'll have very good earning potential once you've established your career.

What does a barrister do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Barristers are legal professionals who provide advocacy and legal advice to solicitors and other clients. Solicitors are the first port of call for members of the public requiring legal advice. If a court appearance is required, the individual will then be referred to a barrister who will provide court representation and specialist counsel depending on the nature of the case.

Typical work duties include:

  • providing expert legal advice to solicitors and lay clients
  • researching and preparing cases and writing legal documents
  • liaising with other legal professionals such as solicitors
  • representing clients and putting forward a case in their defence in court
  • cross-examining witnesses, studying evidence and drawing conclusions
  • negotiating settlements between the client and other parties

Long hours, heavy workloads and tight deadlines are very common.

Earnings vary widely and depend on the cases barristers take on and the fields they work in.

Barristers are self-employed and shape their own career paths. Those who take silk and become Queen's Counsels (QCs) can expect considerably higher earnings thanks to the high profile and important cases they can take on.

Typical employers of barristers

  • Chambers:
    While barristers are technically self-employed, they work within sets of other barristers known as chambers. There are numerous chambers within the Bar Council, many of which specialise in particular areas of law.
  • A range of employers and organisations:
    An increasing number of barristers are finding work with in-house law teams in a variety of organisations, including governmental organisations, industry, the armed forces and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Qualifications and training required

Qualifiying as a barrister consists of three stages: academic, vocational and professional (or pupillage).

You can only become a barrister if you have a degree, either in a law or non-law subject. This degree will almost always need to be at least a 2.1. If your degree is in a subject other than law, you will need to complete a law conversion course known as the graduate diploma in law (GDL) or the common professional examination (CPE). The law conversion course takes one year to complete and applications are made through the Central Applications Board.

Both law and non-law graduates will need to take the one year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The BPTC is an academically intense, skills-based course that prepares graduates for pupillage and lays the foundations for future practice. You will have to join one of the four Inns of Court to do your BPTC. On completion of the course, having passed twelve qualifying sessions, you will be 'called to the Bar' – the barrister's equivalent of graduation.

The final stage in becoming a fully-fledged barrister is the completion of a pupillage. This consists of two six-month periods spent in chambers under the supervision of one or more 'pupil supervisors'. During the first six months pupils shadow and assist their supervisors; during the second six they will have the chance to take on cases by themselves. It is possible either to spend all twelve months at the same chambers or to complete the two six-month periods in different chambers.

Once you have completed a pupillage you will need to find a permanent base from which to practise, known as a tenancy. You may be offered tenancy in the chambers in which you did the pupillage. However, not all pupils are this lucky so be prepared to look and apply elsewhere.

It's recommended that students gain a mini-pupillage and as much understanding of the law as possible during their time at university. They should also be applying for their pupillage during their final year. Some chambers advertise pupillages using the Pupillage Gateway; others use their own websites.

Key skills for barristers

Barristers need to demonstrate:

  • excellent academic ability and an aptitude for applying legal theory to practice in court
  • strong presentation and advocacy skills
  • the ability to present a point of view convincingly
  • ability to absorb, understand and analyse large amounts of information
  • quick-wittedness, self-awareness and excellent persuasion skills
  • strong interest in how the law works and a willlingness to stay abreast of current affairs in the profession
  • self motivation and dedication to the legal process
  • the ability to handle pressure, long hours, and strict deadlines

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