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

Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:38

Most barristers are self-employed and based in sets, but not all. Around 18% of practising barristers work at the employed bar, working for the Government Legal Profession, the Crown Prosecution Service, in-house in the legal departments of big corporates or other organisations.

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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 Profession (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. CPS pupillages (12 months) 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 Profession

The Government Legal Profession (GLP) only has one client: the British government. The GLP 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 GLP 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 GLP 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 GLP 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 statistics published by the Bar Standards Board in 2021 report that 51% of employed barristers are male and 48% are female. At the self-employed bar, the respective figures are 62% and 36%.

The employed bar is slightly more balanced in terms of ethnic diversity. Around 17% of employed barristers are from a black or minority ethnic background, compared to 13.5% at the self-employed bar.

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