Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a barrister?
There are around 15,500 barristers practising in England and
Wales. Barristers provide specialist legal advice and represent
their clients in courts and tribunals. Often solicitors or other
professional clients will refer work to a barrister, but with some
exceptions, it is also possible for a member of the public to go
directly to a barrister for advice or representation. This is known
as 'Public Access'.
Typically, barristers do some or all of the following:
Advise their clients on the law and the strength of their legal
case. This often requires considerable amounts of legal research,
followed by writing an 'opinion' for the client in which the
barrister sets out their advice
Hold 'conferences' with clients to discuss their case and give
them legal advice
Represent their clients in court. This can include presenting
the case, cross-examining witnesses, summing up all relevant
material and giving reasons why the court should support their
client's case, and
Negotiate settlements with the other side.
2. What is the difference between a barrister, a
solicitor and a lawyer?
A lawyer is a general term that covers both solicitor and
barrister. A solicitor is usually the first person that a member of
the public will go to with their legal problem. A solicitor will
often refer the work to a barrister for specialist advice or to
appear in court to represent the client. It is also possible for
certain solicitors to appear in court as advocates, if they have
higher rights of audience. The judiciary is drawn from both
branches of the profession.
3. What qualities and skills do I need to have in order
to become a barrister?
To become a barrister, you will need to:
Have a high level of intellectual ability
Be articulate and have excellent writing skills
Think and communicate clearly under pressure, and
Have determination and stamina.
4. What do I need to do to qualify as a
Training as a barrister typically involves three main stages of
Academic Stage: An undergraduate degree in law, or an
undergraduate degree in any other subject followed by the
conversion course (GDL). For more information on the Academic
Stage, click here.
Vocational Stage: The Bar Professional Course (BPTC), one year
full-time or two years part-time. For more information on the
Vocational Stage, click here.
Pupillage: One year spent in an authorised pupillage training
organisation (either barristers' chambers or another approved legal
environment). For more information on pupillage, click here.
5. How competitive is it to get to the Bar?
It is a highly competitive career to get into, with many more
applicants than places for the BPTC and for pupillages. It is a
small and competitive profession. It is best to be realistic but if
you are determined to succeed, then you can. In order to see what
life at the Bar is like, you need to undertake mini-pupillages,
court visits and as much other legal experience (including working
in a solicitor's firm or a Citizens Advice Bureau etc) as you can.
Experience of mooting, debating, other public speaking or drama is
useful, as is experience in many other fields such as acting,
journalism, politics, and business.
For the latest statistics on competition for pupillage, please
6. What is an Inn of Court?
Before you begin your Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC),
you must join one of the four historic 'honourable societies', the
Inns of Court. The deadline for applications to join an Inn is the
end of May in the same year that you begin the BPTC. The four Inns
are: Lincoln's Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray's Inn.
The Inns continue to hold exclusive rights of admission to the
Bar. This process, known as 'Call to the Bar' or 'Call', occurs
after you have successfully completed the Bar Professional Training
Course (BPTC) and have undertaken a number of professional
exercises in the form of twelve 'Qualifying Sessions' at your Inn.
The Inns provide a great deal of valuable financial assistance for
the various stages along the route to becoming a barrister. You can
apply to your Inn for a scholarship to help to pay for your GDL or
7. What is a pupillage?
Pupillage is the final stage of training and is like an
apprenticeship, lasting 12 months. Pupillage begins after
prospective barristers have completed and passed the Bar
Professional Training Course (BPTC), and must be started within
five years of passing the BPTC. The first six months are
non-practising. That is, the pupil barrister must not accept
professional instructions during that period (except for noting
briefs). During the second six months, the pupil may accept
instructions on their own account provided that they have the
permission of their pupil supervisor or head of chambers. Since the
second six months are the 'practising six', pupils must be called
to the Bar before commencing this.
8. What is the employed Bar?
Approximately 20 per cent of barristers are 'employed
barristers' and work in-house for an employer in industry, commerce
or central or local government. This is known as the 'employed
Bar'. The role of the employed barrister can vary greatly depending
on their employer. The majority will work in specialist legal
departments advising only the organisation they work for. Some may
work in a solicitors' firm where they only do work for clients of
that firm. It is also possible for barristers to be employed and
self-employed at the same time. For more information on the
employed Bar, please click here.
9. Is the Bar predominantly made up of white, middle
class, Oxbridge educated men?
No. The modern Bar is diverse and inclusive, as barristers
increasingly reflect the communities that they serve. 14% of
pupillages are being taken up by people from Black and Minority
Ethnic (BME) backgrounds.
10. I don't know any barristers. How can I get work
You don't need to know a barrister in order to get work
experience. Most chambers accept applications for work experience
(known as a 'mini pupillage') from anyone who has begun to study a
law degree or the law conversion course (GDL). However, some will
consider applicants before this stage. You should search online for
chambers that practise in the area of law that you are interested
in. The websites of these chambers will usually tell you how to
apply for a mini pupillage. They will often ask for a CV and
covering letter. Once you have joined an Inn of Court, the Inn's
Education departments will be able to assist you with applying for
11. What is CPD?
All barristers are required to complete CPD hours and
maintain their own record cards. Barristers no longer have to
return their CPD cards to the BSB, however the BSB will conduct
random spot-checks of barristers' CPD records cards. In the first
three years' of practice, newly qualified practitioners are
required to complete 45 hours of CPD, including at least nine hours
of Advocacy Training and three hours of Ethics (the "New
Practitioners' Programme"). After the first three years of
practice, barristers are required to undertake 12 hours of CPD each
year (the 'Established Practitioners' Programme'). For more
information on CPD, please see the Bar Standards Board
12. I am a practising barrister abroad. Can I be Called
to the Bar in England?
If you have been practising as a lawyer in your own country for
three years or more then you need to contact the Bar Standards
Board, or consult their website for
If you are a non-EEA national, you may need a visa to
undertake work-experience in the UK. The Bar Council can help with
this so please click here for
13. What is a QC?
A limited number of senior barristers are made Queen's Counsel
as a mark of outstanding ability. Most senior judges once practised
14. Can barristers become members of the
Yes. The Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) is an
independent commission that selects candidates for judicial office
in courts and tribunals in England and Wales, and for some
tribunals whose jurisdiction extends to Scotland or Northern
Candidates for appointment to the judicial office are selected
on merit, through fair and open competition, from the widest range
of eligible candidates.
For more information, please click here.
15. Is there help available to help fund the process of
becoming a barriser?
Yes. There are several options for those coming to the Bar. Click
here to find out more.