How much will you earn as a pupil barrister?

Graduates training to become qualified barristers receive pupillage awards from their set of chambers. Which sets offer the highest pupillage awards for 2021? We've surveyed leading chambers – see our results.

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Graduates training to become barristers receive pupillage awards from their set of chambers. Which sets offer the highest pupillage awards for the pupillage application season in 2022? We've surveyed leading chambers – see our results.

After you've completed the vocational stage of training to become a barrister – the Bar course (formerly known as the Bar professional training course or BPTC, but now known by different names at different providers) – you need to undertake a year of practical, on-the-job training at a barristers' set of chambers, known as pupillage.

The Bar Standards Board has stipulated that all pupillages must carry a minimum award of £17,152 for pupillages outside of London and £19,144 for pupillages in London for the full 12 months. In reality some pupillages carry awards well in excess of this figure – up to £75,000 at the big commercial sets.

What do commercial law barristers earn?

Unsurprisingly, the most generous pupillage awards are available from commercial sets, where they are typically in the region of £60,000 to £70,000 for 12 months. At the other end of the scale, sets carrying out publicly funded work (eg family law or criminal law sets) continue to feel the squeeze.

Why do criminal and family law barristers earn less than commercial lawyers?

Barristers who carry out publicly funded work, such as those at family and criminal sets, have seen their fees affected by government cuts to legal aid. Increased restrictions on legal aid have meant that fewer people are able to afford to raise a legal challenge so barristers’ workloads have decreased, sometimes meaning that chambers need to diversify into other practice areas.

Despite the lower earnings, the criminal bar is still a popular career destination for many because – as barrister Stephen Vullo QC was keen to point out at one targetjobs National Pupillage Fair – aspiring criminal barristers are more likely to be driven by the challenge of the work than the money.

‘Why did I go to the criminal bar? Because it’s fascinating,’ he explains. ‘My clients include one of the 21 July bombers, the Glasgow bomber and a Saudi prince that killed his slave in a hotel in London, and I represented a client on the £53m Securitas depot robbery. If you want to be very, very wealthy, then go to a shipping set.’

12-month pupillage awards from targetjobs Law advertisers

  • Blackstone Chambers– £70,000.
  • One Essex Court – £75,000.
  • Henderson Chambers – £70,000.
  • Landmark Chambers – £65,000.
  • 3 Paper Buildings (3PB) – £40,000.

Many barristers’ chambers offer guaranteed earnings or ‘receipts’ for pupils in their second six months in addition to the initial award.

Chambers don’t tend to sponsor their pupils through the Bar course year in the same way as solicitors’ firms support their future trainees through their training. Some sets will offer an advance on their award, however, to help students fund their vocational course.

Qualified barristers' incomes

Cash flow can be erratic in the early years of tenancy since there is an inevitable time lag between billing for work done and receiving fees. However, a competent barrister’s fee-earning capacity increases dramatically in years one to three, and those joining commercial sets will soon find their earnings on a par with their university peers who opted for a finance career in the City. Even those choosing less lucrative areas of practice will find their fee income increasing substantially as they establish a legal practice.

Full details of all pupillage awards are published in the targetjobs Law Pupillages Handbook, available from your university careers service and at the targetjobs National Pupillage Fair.

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