How to get a job as a barrister
Law is a highly competitive career path. The Bar is probably the highest point on that path that you could aim for. More than a thousand hopefuls finish the Bar professional training course (BPTC) each year, but there are fewer than 450 pupillages (year-long training spots) available. Academic achievement is key to 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, as well as demonstrate that you’ve got the well-rounded people skills to mix with clients, solicitors and other members of chambers.
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?
Barristers are self-employed 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 or GDL if you have not studied law. You will also need to pass the professional qualification: the BPTC. Courses are by no means cheap, with some schools in London charging close to £20,000, 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.
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. 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.