Barristers have an exciting, fast-paced job, where there is never a dull day. On Monday they might be in court, on Tuesday they might be giving legal opinion – and once in awhile they might have a day off!
Being a barrister isn’t your typical office job, and becoming a barrister requires dedication, effort and a passion to get there. But how do you become a barrister? And what does “joining the bar” mean?
If you’re up for the challenge and are ready to take your first steps, here is how and why to become a barrister in the UK.
Why Study To Be A Barrister?
A barrister a type of lawyer, like a solicitor. Barristers tend to be specialists in specific areas of law and as such, are vastly outnumbered by solicitors. If you are the type of person who thrives on the idea of speaking in court on behalf of a client and like the idea of the mastering the intellectual side of law, becoming a barrister is likely to suit you.
Barristers are often called upon when legal cases go to court, where solicitors advising their clients will request the expert knowledge and advice that barristers can provide. Barristers may provide their legal opinion on cases in the form of written advice or in person. Barristers may also be required for their advocacy skills, which means speaking in court on behalf of their clients.
Most barristers are self-employed, sharing working premises with other barristers in groups known as ‘sets’. Remaining barristers are employed by law firms, companies and other public bodies. Whilst self-employed barristers benefit financially from keeping their earnings, a certain percentage of their income will go towards upkeep of the chambers that they share with their sets.
Being self-employed gives barristers a certain level of flexibility within their roles, but the ‘Cab Rank Rule’ prevents barristers from refusing cases based upon factors such as the identity of the client, the source of the clients funding and the nature of the case. This rule ensures that barristers acting for a potentially unpopular person do not receive criticism for providing them with legal advice, and that legal representation is always available regardless of a person’s popularity or reputation.
Becoming A Barrister In The UK
To become a barrister, you have to take the same initial steps as those who want to become a solicitor. This means you’ll need to head to university and take an undergraduate degree, which is usually law. But you could also take a non-law degree if you’re willing to spend a bit more time in education, as doing so means you will need to take a conversion course before taking the next step.
And it is this next step where those wishing to become a solicitor head one way, and those wishing to become a barrister head another way. To become a barrister, you will forgo the legal practice course, and instead will enter the Bar Professional Training Course – or simply “The Bar”, as it’s often referred as. The Bar Professional Training Course covers negations, mock trials in what is known as a Moot court, and advocacy.
The next step is to obtain your pupillage, and this part of the process is tricky because it’s so competitive. Pupillage is where you begin to apply the knowledge you have learned on your BPTC and is the essential final step to becoming a barrister. The year you spend in pupillage can be thought of as your training year and must be completed if you are to secure a permanent position, or tenancy, at a set of chambers.
There are actually no minimum grade requirements to become a barrister, but as you will be competing for places with other students, a 2:1 degree is almost a necessity. You must apply to chambers to attain pupillage, and perhaps only a third of those that apply will secure a position.
Once you obtain a pupillage, your one-year apprenticeship begins. This will be divided into two sections:
Both of these last for six months, during which you will shadow professional barriers, fill in paperwork, and carry out research. You will also be responsible for a caseload.
Once the twelve months are completed, you will become a qualified barrister. You will still need to secure a tenancy within a set, and this may not always be the set in which you served your pupillage.
Studying To Be A Barrister
The first step to becoming a barrister is to take an undergraduate degree. Most students who have already decided that becoming a barrister is their long-term goal will take up a law degree, but you can take a non-law degree and then follow this with a law conversion course later.
Should you choose to take a law degree, there are a number of universities in the UK that you could take a look at, including Liverpool, Manchester, London and Birmingham. Law degrees last for three years when studied full-time.
Law can be studied as a stand-alone degree, but you could also pair it with a second discipline, such as Criminology or Business. Being a barrister is an intellectually demanding job, and pairing your law degree with a second subject is a useful way of supplementing your base of knowledge.
Upon graduation, you could choose to study a Masters degree, or you could apply for the Bar Professional Training Course. This is offered up and down the UK at various universities. It’s aimed squarely at aspiring barristers, during which you will hone your advocacy skills and legal knowledge. It costs £18,500 per year if you study full-time, and lasts for one year. If you choose to study part-time, you will be required to pay £9,250 per year for two years.
To be considered for an undergraduate law degree, you will typically need A-Levels of ABB. If you are taking a BTEC, DDD is usually required. GCSE Maths and English at grade C or above is also mandatory.
The requirements to get onto a Bar Professional Training Course are a bit more basic, but the competition is fierce. Most successful applicants have an undergraduate degree, usually in law. 2:1 is usually the preferred award, but it isn’t requisite. Lower second-class honours degrees will also be considered, while passing the Bar Course Aptitude Test is also a key part of the application process.