How to get a job as a barrister
Law is a highly competitive career path and the Bar is probably the highest point on that path that you could aim for. More than a thousand hopefuls finish the Bar course (formerly known as the Bar professional training course or BPTC) each year, but there are fewer than 450 pupillages (year-long training spots) available. Academic achievement is key to getting ahead in the profession and excellent GCSE, A level and degree grades are required, followed by a professional qualification and one year spent in pupillage. On top of all that, you’ll need to show a genuine commitment to the law, have undertaken mini-pupillages (work experience placements), as well as demonstrate that you’ve got the well-rounded people skills to mix with clients, solicitors and other members of chambers. If you need help with filling in the pupillage application form, look at our Five things you need to know about filling in the pupillage application form or How to make online pupillage applications articles.
The skills needed to be a barrister
Different areas of the Bar require different specialities, but commonly required skills are:
- Exceptional attention to detail
- Strong public speaking and advocacy skills
- A high level of academic achievement
- An analytical mind
- The ability to analyse complex material
What is it like to work as a barrister?
Most barristers are self-employed (although there are some that work in-house or for the government) and, once pupillage is complete, the onus is on each individual to make their practice a success. Criminal lawyers may need to travel around the country to different courts and work irregular hours, while commercial lawyers may have a steadier routine working from chambers in London but get busier when deals or client demands rise. Workloads are universally quite high, but so are the rewards. The bonus of being self-employed is that, though you may be busy much of the year, you can dictate the times that you have off to recover.
Other degrees welcome or not?
Any degree subject is valid to train as a barrister, but you will require a conversion course (graduate diploma in law, known as GDL) if you have not studied law. Fees for a conversion course range from £5,000–£12,000. For more information on the qualifications needed for the profession, as well as how you can become a barrister without a law degree, check out our article on study and training for legal careers. You will also need to pass the professional qualification: the Bar course. The professional qualification is by no means cheap, with schools charging between £15,000–£20,000 for the course, so the decision is not one to be taken lightly. Around half of working barristers have a law degree and around half do not. Some chambers may find expertise and interests from a different degree background beneficial to their particular niche of law. Choosing your Bar course is an important decision, and one that will affect you financially more than professionally. Why not read what some graduates had to say about their Bar course choices.
Most applications for pupillage now take place in a one-month window between early January and early February, although some commercial and chancery specialist sets like to pick their own dates throughout the year. You can find a complete timetable, with all the dates you need to know from university to pupillage on our application timetable page. Many chambers choose to use the Bar Council’s online application system – the Pupillage Gateway. Competition is fierce, so you’ll need to answer challenging questions and undertake a lot of preparation for each application that you make. Cash can be tight at the criminal Bar, and there is a lot of variation up to the high-paying chancery and commercial sets. Find out how well each area of practice and chambers pays by looking at our article on How much you can earn as a pupil barrister.
Choosing the chambers that is right for you is the key to unlocking your success at interview and directing your future career. Take a look at our help on Choosing a chambers for more tips and advice.
Visit the pupillage fair
The TARGETjobs Law National Pupillage Fair takes place every year shortly before the Pupillage Gateway system opens to applications. The fair is your chance to meet chambers’ members and representatives before you start to make pupillage applications or come face to face with a pupillage panel at interview. You’ll also have the chance to meet Bar course providers, accountants and other organisations that are essential to your career. Each year we record videos of the fair full of advice from practising barristers.