Areas of work, specialisms and alternatives

What is tax law? A guide for aspiring barrister pupils

25 Aug 2023, 13:51

Tax barristers are often brought in on high-money disputes across different areas of law.

Post-its and a notepad, a mobile phone calculator app and a pile of coins

Tax law interacts with other areas of practice and will often make use of general legal concepts as well as tax-specific ones.

What is tax law at the Bar?

Tax issues will often take you into other areas of law beyond the interpretation of tax statutes, eg setting aside a transfer into trust in the Chancery Division because it causes disastrous tax consequences or a contractual dispute in the Commercial Court with respect to the meaning of a tax deed.

Tax issues could also involve, for example, a judicial review action in the Administrative Court against HMRC because they have breached their statutory obligations, or considering EU law defences to taxing provisions that discriminate between residents and non-residents.

What do tax barristers do?

As a tax barrister you will often spend a lot of time providing advice in relation to transactions to be entered into, as well as litigating past transactions, either for the taxpayer or for HMRC.

Tax affects all people and therefore you will be acting for many different kinds of client: individuals of modest means as well as the wealthy, companies, governments and charities to name a few. Although typically your practice will be focused on UK tax, international tax is an important dimension to most tax practitioners’ work, and covers double tax treaties and EU law. Some UK tax barristers may also practise abroad in jurisdictions with similar tax systems to our own.

The working hours in this area can sometimes be dictated by clients, but are generally regular and it is possible to find a good work/life balance.

What is life like as a tax pupil?

Pupils will spend time learning the basics of the tax system and will probably be focused on written work.

What skills do you need to be a tax barrister?

Good academics are essential for tax barristers, as is a good feel for the law and a passion for the academic side of it. You’ll also need the ability to think outside the box and a decent-sized threshold for pressure.

Types of law practised within tax law

  • Tax
  • Company
  • Administrative
  • European

How much can I earn as a tax pupil?

You will likely shadow a number of different members of chambers alongside your pupil supervisor and may later specialise in one area of law (generally one of chambers’ specialties) once you have been in practice for some time. As such it can be tricky to nail down exact earnings for early tenants, but you can take a look at our overview of How much you can earn as a pupil barrister to get a general idea of how much each chambers offers to pupils. Sets in the more commercially orientated areas tend to offer between £40,000 and £75,000 for 12 months but there is a huge variation by practice area.

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