Barrister - Career Profile
Barristers work within the legal system of England and Wales. There are two main aspects of their work: giving specialist advice on complex legal issues and representing people in court.
Barristers do not usually deal with the public directly. Instead, they receive their work and instructions through solicitors or other professionals who act as agents.
This career is worth thinking seriously about if you like …
Being interested in aspects of law (e.g. business, personal, criminal)
Influencing people´s viewpoints
Speaking in front of groups of people
Asking questions to gain information
Making decisions that affect other people
Presenting ideas and information in writing
Explaining ideas and information to people
Keeping accurate records or reports
Finding and analysing information
Being accurate and paying attention to detail
Working under pressure
Using a computer
Dealing with paperwork
Planning how work is to be carried out
Making agreements through negotiating and bargaining
- Dealing persuasively with awkward or difficult people
Barristers are experts in the art of advocacy, which means presenting a case in court, or at a tribunal or public enquiry.
They also give specialist advice on all aspects of the law. Barristers are also asked to provide opinions on a wide range of legal problems that do not involve court cases.
Most barristers are 'independent' or self-employed, and their income comes from the fees they earn. They share offices (or 'chambers') with other barristers, who all contribute to the cost of rent, clerical help and equipment.
Some independent barristers work from home (still technically called a chamber) and are known as sole practitioners.
Independent barristers receive a brief from a solicitor - they are not usually approached directly by the client.
Barristers spend a large amount of time in preparation for court cases. In civil law cases, the barrister will prepare written pleadings, which are very important to the client's case.
Preparing for a case involves thorough research to become familiar with all the facts. Barristers will read through reports and statements. If necessary, the barrister will meet with the client (usually in the presence of the solicitor) to clear up any particular questions or to obtain other information.
During the court proceedings, barristers present all the relevant facts to support their argument. They ask witnesses questions, hoping to gain information that will support their argument in front of the court. Before the jury reaches a decision, the barrister will sum up the argument as persuasively as possible.
Barristers usually specialise in one, or perhaps two, specific areas of law, including criminal, civil or commercial law cases, shipping law and medical litigation. Computer law and environmental law are examples of newer specialist areas.
Some barristers spend more time in court than others, depending on the area they specialise in. For example, chancery work (involving wills, trusts and the land) involves giving lots of advice and spending little time in court, while barristers who are involved in civil and criminal law cases spend longer periods in court.
About 3,000 barristers are 'employed', meaning that they are salaried staff who work for organisations, for example, in commerce, industry, and central or government departments.
Some large commercial companies have their own in-house legal teams. This gives the company an advantage, as its barristers can get to know the company and its activities very well.
Barristers in commerce advise on internal procedures and regulations, such as managing pension funds or applying for leases on office premises.
They also advise on complex aspects of employment law, tax law, health and safety issues, patents, environmental legislation and company mergers.
You must have the ability to understand and interpret complex arguments, often in a short space of time.
In advocacy, you must be able to present your case clearly and with confidence. You must be able to draft documents and write opinions in plain English.
Preparation for cases requires problem-solving skills and a thorough, methodical and patient approach to research.
You will often be working to tight deadlines, so you must have excellent time management skills and be able to work well under pressure.
Barristers must be skilled in dealing with all types of people, including other barristers, solicitors and clients.
You may deal with cases where good number skills and knowledge of business are useful. Increasingly, computer skills are an advantage. You may need to use spreadsheets, financial accounting programs, email and information databases.
Independent barristers must be able to manage their own businesses.
Independent barristers in practice at the Bar are self-employed. Fees vary widely, depending on the type of legal work undertaken and the length of time in which they have been established in the career. The pay rates given below are approximate.
Barristers earn in the range of £24,000 - £32,000 a year, rising to £45,000 - £82,000. At the highest levels, equity partners in a practice can earn £100,000 - £300,000 a year.
Experienced employed barristers earn in the range of £50,000 - £100,000, depending on the employer and the type of work undertaken.
Employed barristers work standard office hours. However, late finishes and weekend work may be required. Independent barristers are less likely to work regular hours because they rely on solicitors to contact them with cases.
There are around 8,000 independent barristers in England and Wales and of these about 5,500 are based in London.
Employers include local authorities, the Government Legal Service and the Crown Prosecution Service. Other employers include large commercial companies.
Barristers may also work in a law centre, which offers free legal advice to members of the public. A small number of barristers work for the police and the armed forces.
You must go through three stages of training before you can practise as a barrister.
In the first (or academic) stage, you must obtain either:
- A law degree (at least second class), which must cover the following seven Foundations of Legal Knowledge: Criminal Law, Equity and the Law of Trusts, Obligations 1, Obligations 2, Property Law, Public Law and the Law of the European Union.
- A non-law degree (at least second class) followed by a one-year full-time or two-year part-time Common Professional Examination (CPE) or an approved postgraduates Diploma in Law (PgDL). You must check approval with the General Council of the Bar.
During the academic stage, you should try to get further insight into barristers' work through mini-pupillages. These are periods of work experience, usually lasting a week.
In the second (vocational) stage, you must join one of the four Inns of Court. All four are based in London (Lincoln's Inn, Gray's Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple). You can not apply to join more than one of the Inns.
You then complete 12 qualifying units, and then the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) at one of the eight validated institutions. The BVC takes one year full-time or two years part-time.
You will then be 'Called to the Bar'. However, you cannot practise as a barrister until you have completed the third stage, which is 'pupillage'. This is one year of in-service training, split into two six-month periods.
In the 'non-practising six', you shadow an experienced barrister. In the 'practising six', you can, with permission, practise as a barrister and appear in court.
Foundation degrees in law are available at various universities and colleges of higher education throughout the UK; progression is usually possible onto a law degree.
This career is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to. This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
Study and Training Options
To enter a degree course in law, you usually need:
- 3 A-levels
- GCSEs at grade C or above in your A level subjects.
- A further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C or above, including English and Maths.
Because of very strong competition for places on all legal courses, successful applicants usually have high A level grades - you should check prospectuses carefully for specific requirements.
To do a relevant foundation degree, you will usually need:
- 1 A level
- A GCSE at grade C or above in your A level subject
- A further 3/4 GCSEs at grade C or above.
However, entry requirements for appropriate courses vary - check prospectuses carefully.
There is no formal upper age limit for entry into this occupation.
If you are a non-graduate and are aged over 25, you should contact the General Council of the Bar to see if the experience and qualifications you have enable you to enter training (this is at the Council's discretion).
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter your chosen degree or HND course, a college or university Access to Law course could be the way in. No formal qualifications are usually required, but you should check individual course details. You need to be 19 or over.
Alternatively, if you have a non-law degree, you can take the Common Professional Examination (CPE)/Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), part-time or by distance learning over, over two years.
A number of centres offer degrees in law by distance learning. Applicants should check whether these courses are validated by the Law Society and the Bar Council.
The Open University offers a qualifying law degree by distance learning.
Adults can apply for a scholarship from the four Inns of Court, for either the CPE or Bar Vocational Course (BVC).
Most pupillages are funded by chambers or other approved training organisations. From 2003, all chambers offering pupillages are expected to make an award of £5,000 for the first six- month period and then to award or guarantee receipts of £5,000 in the second six.
The Inns of Court also provide a limited number of awards for the pupillage year and a small number of loans are available from the Bar Council Scholarship Trust.
If you intend to become an employed barrister, you can receive sponsorship from the employer, for example, from the Crown Prosecution Service or Government Legal Service.
- Hobsons Law Casebook 2005. Hobsons Publishing plc.
- Working In: Law. Connexions. (Downloadable from www.connexions.gov.uk)
- College of Law, Braboeuf Manor, Portsmouth Road, St Catherines, Guildford, Surrey GU3 1HA. (Most suitable for enquirers aged 18+)
- General Council Of The Bar, 289 - 293 High Holborn, London WC1V 7HZ.
- Holborn College, Woolwich Road, Charlton, London SE7 8LN. (Most suitable for enquirers aged 18+)
- Inns of Court School of Law, 4 Gray's Inn Place, Gray's Inn, London WC1R
Career Profile taken from Adult Directions, produced by CASCAiD Ltd”.