An overview of the role
A barrister is an advocacy specialist and source of legal advice. Their role is to research, assemble and present legal cases on behalf of their clients.
Solicitors usually employ barristers to represent a client – either an individual or an organisation – in court. However, clients can approach a barrister directly if they choose and 80% of barristers work on a self-employed basis.
Employed barristers work for government agencies such as the Government Legal Service (GLS) and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), or for private or public organisations.
Barristers can work in a variety of different areas of the law, including:
- Criminal law
- Chancery law
- Common law
- Commercial law
- Entertainment law
- Sports law
The duties of a barrister reflect the area of law in which they specialise:
- Family law barristers may be more heavily involved in mediation, as many clients – such as a couple who wish to get divorced – aim to avoid court if at all possible. For a family law barrister, court is a last resort only
- In contrast, criminal barristers are likely to spend a lot of time in court as a necessity of their line of work
- The primary responsibility of a chancery barrister is advisory work and as a result they spend very little time in court
What are the responsibilities of a barrister?
Key responsibilities of a barrister include:
- Preparing cases for court
- Representing clients in court, including presenting arguments and conducting examinations and cross-examinations of witnesses
- Managing legal briefs (cases) on behalf of their clients
- Conducting research into prior cases to find legal precedents that may help their current case
- Providing advice to clients regarding the outcome of the case
- Providing advice to solicitors and other professionals on legal matters
- Negotiating settlements on behalf of clients
- Drafting all necessary legal documentation
It’s the freedom and variety of what I do. You are not in an office all day and you can generally choose your own working hours. I also like the fact that success ultimately rests on my ability and how hard I work.
Paras Gorasia, Barrister 1
What are the key skills required by a barrister?
A barrister must possess a number of key skills and attributes, including:
- Clarity and confidence in speech – a confident, persuasive and exceptionally articulate speaker
- A highly analytical mind
- Excellent attention to detail
- Excellent interpersonal skills, including character judgement and intuition
- A logical, methodical and organised approach to work
- The ability to remaining calm under pressure
- Confident in dealing with people from all walks of life
- Determined, passionate and self-motivated
What qualifications does a barrister require?
There are three stages to a barrister’s training, each one with a separate set of qualifications:
The first part of a barrister’s training is academic. Candidates need a degree in order to pursue a career in law, but this does not necessarily have to be a law degree.
If you have a degree in another subject you can undertake a one-year law conversion course, after which you will have a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) – the equivalent of a three-year undergraduate law degree.
Having a qualification in law does not guarantee acceptance onto the BPTC, however.
After completing their academic study, candidates then proceed to the vocational aspect of their training. They must undertake the year-long Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Entry is incredibly competitive and highly selective – to be considered, applicants officially require at least a 2:2. In practice, they need a first.
The BPTC tuition covers, among other things:
- Case preparation
- Legal research
- Drafting legal documents
- Providing written advice on legal cases
- Conference and interview skills
- Civil and criminal litigation
- Professional ethics
Applications for the BPTC are made online through the Bar Student Application Service.
Successful candidates then proceed to a year of practical training supervised by an experienced barrister, known as pupillage. This is divided into two six-month sections.
During the ‘first six’ the candidate does not practice and instead spends their time:
- Completing an advocacy training course
- Shadowing their supervisor in court or at conferences
- Undertaking legal research
- Drafting legal documents
- Reading their supervisor’s paperwork
The ‘second six’ involves undertaking a practice management course as well as active practice under supervision.
Securing pupillage is also highly competitive and candidates who do not succeed their first year must reapply. The Pupillage Fair run by the Bar Council is designed to facilitate application. Unless you have obtained an extension from the Bar Standards Board (BSB), you must start pupillage within five years of completing your BPTC.
Do I need relevant work experience to become a barrister?
Generally legal chambers do not offer work experience to anyone who has not completed the academic stage of their legal training. Once you have this, however, work experience in any aspect of the legal system is desirable, whether paid or voluntary.
As public speaking is so vital to the role of a barrister, any experience related to this (such as debating) will be an asset to applicants. Particularly prized is experience in a moot court – a mock legal hearing where students compete against each other by arguing their cases in front of a ‘judge’, who declares the most persuasive as the winner.
Candidates who are not accepted onto pupillage at their first attempt are advised to seek legal work experience in the interim period before their next application as this will substantially improve their chances of success on re-application.
What are the prospects and salary of a barrister?
The salary of a barrister is exceptionally variable, especially during the early stages of their career.
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) states that the minimum salary for barristers in pupillage is £12,000 a year. Some chambers offer more and depending on the type of law in which you are working you could earn up to £45,000.
Once qualified, a barrister can expect to earn anywhere between £25,000 and £300,000.
You will rise or fall on the basis of your reputation, and that will be the direct result of what you put into your cases, the relationships you build with solicitors, and the results you get for your clients.
Kate Strange, The Lawyer Portal 2
Is the role of a barrister right for me?
There are both pros and cons involved in the role of a barrister.
Pros of being a barrister include:
- An exceptionally high salary once fully trained and experienced
- A stimulating and intellectually challenging role
- A high degree of investigation and research makes the role of a barrister highly suited to the academically-minded
Cons of being a barrister include:
- Long hours, overtime, weekend and evening work are usual, especially in the early stages of your career
- High responsibility and all the stress that comes with it – you are making decisions that have enormous impact on the lives of others
- Extremely low pay at the beginning of a barrister’s career is common and there is also frequently a large delay between working and receiving pay
- A large amount of academic and practical training, as well as industry experience, is required to become a barrister
- A hugely demanding role, both intellectually and emotionally
- A highly formal work environment
- As most work is based in urban environments like London, many barristers are restricted to living only within commuting distance of a large city, especially while they are still accumulating experience