Becoming a barrister: the career path

Becoming a barrister can be highly challenging, as well as competitive. Those aspiring to become barristers can come from virtually any degree discipline but will need to complete a series of steps to reach their goal. Here is a comprehensive step-by-step guide to becoming a barrister.

  • Last updated Sep 19, 2019 2:57:41 PM
  • Jan Hill

Degree

You don’t need to have studied law to become a barrister, but it will require an additional qualification if you focused on another subject. Law students need to complete an undergraduate degree in law (LLB) at class 2:2 or above and then apply to take the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Students who did not study law will have to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) before they can apply for bar-specific qualifications. These courses are designed to prepare non-law students for specific legal careers—you also need to do the GDL if you’re a non-law student looking to become a solicitor. 

Mini-pupillage

Mini-pupillages, similar to vacation schemes, are formal law internships that are often essential to secure a training contract. A strong candidate should aim to complete the industry standard of three or four mini-pupillages since barristers chambers use them to assess candidates for full pupillages. Most mini-pupillages allow candidates an opportunity to shadow a barrister, accompany them to court, sit in on client meetings, assist on small projects, and generally build up their knowledge and contacts. 

BPTC

The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is a required postgraduate course for those wishing to become barristers in the UK. The BPTC builds on the academic study that students have already completed and requires them to apply it in a more practical context. Nine institutions in England and Wales are eligible to provide the BPTC, which can cost over £17,000 with some providers. There are between 1,000 and 2,000 BPTC graduates annually, but only 450–500 pupillage spots are typically available. Candidates who are unable to get a pupillage spot within five years will be required to retake the BPTC. 

Pupillage

After a candidate finishes the BPTC, the final stage of barrister training is to complete a pupillage in barristers’ chambers under the supervision of experienced barristers. A pupillage typically lasts for one year and is divided into two six-month periods, called “sixes.” During the first six months, the candidate will shadow barristers, assist them in the preparation of court documents, conduct legal research and complete the mandatory Pupils Advocacy Course. During the second six, students can take on their own cases and must complete a Practice Management Course. 

Qualification

At the end of the second six, if unsuccessful in obtaining tenancy, the student can apply to complete a third six at another chambers to gain more experience and the opportunity to gain tenancy at that chambers. Upon completion of the pupillage, the candidate is a qualified barrister, able to practice in a variety of areas of law, including:

- Criminal 

- Property

- Commercial

- Company

- Family

- Employment

The area of law in which the barrister practices will determine the type of work they do and the amount of time they spend in court. For example, criminal barristers spend a considerable amount of time in court while company and commercial barristers practice mainly outside the courtroom.

Next article: Inns of court 

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