Frequently Asked Questions

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1. What is a barrister?

There are around 16,000 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 barrister?

From September 2020, the Bar Standards Board will permit training providers to offer several new ways to become a barrister. These changes will be gradual, so it is unlikely that all of these will be available from 2020, or even from 2021, but if you are a sixth-form or university student, these changes are likely to affect you. Please see below for a more detailed summary of each pathway.

  • Three-step pathway

    Academic, followed by vocational, followed by pupillage or work-based component.This pathway is the same as the current pathway, which would normally consist of a law degree (or non-law degree with the GDL), the new equivalent of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), and pupillage. This pathway is likely to be available to students applying for the vocational stage of training for 2020.

  • Four-step pathway

    Academic component, followed by vocational component in two parts, followed by pupillage or work-based component. This pathway consists of a law degree (or non-law degree with the GDL). This is then followed by the vocational stage in two parts and pupillage or work-based component. This pathway will be available to students applying for the vocational stage of training for 2020. One provider of this pathway has been conditionally authorised so far, and you can find out more about this provider's offering here .

  • Integrated academic and vocational pathway

    Combined academic and vocational components followed by pupillage or work-based component. This route will offer a single combined academic and vocational pathway before pupillage (which is the equivalent of a law degree/GDL and the current BPTC). Northumbria University is the only provider (by exception) who has provided the combined route in previous years. This pathway is likely to be available to students applying for the vocational stage of training for 2020.

  • Apprenticeship pathway

    Combined academic, vocational and pupillage or work-based components. As this structure is currently not offered by any Bar Training providers, this pathway will not be available by 2020, and it may take several years or more for apprenticeship/modular models of training to become available.

Please note that candidates will be required to pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test before commencing the vocational element of any of these pathways. You can find further information  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 vocational training 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.

6. What is an Inn of Court?

Before you begin the vocational part of your training, 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 your vocational training. 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 vocational training and have undertaken a number of professional exercises in the form of ten '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 vocational training.

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 their vocational training, and must be started within five years of passing the vocational stage. 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. 

10. I don't know any barristers. How can I get work experience?

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 work experience.

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 website  here.

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 more information.

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 more details.

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 as QCs.

14. Can barristers become members of the judiciary?

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 Ireland.

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.