How To Become a Barrister (With Steps and Duties)

Updated 25 January 2023

Barristers are legal professionals who can give individuals, companies and organisations advice or representation in court. Working in this career field can demand extensive training, but it can also be rewarding work because professionals working in these positions can help others reach resolutions. If you're interested in becoming a barrister, it's important to know what the requirements are so you can actively work toward your qualification. In this article, we define what a barrister is and what they do, provide seven steps for how to become a barrister and offer specific salary information.

What is a barrister?

A barrister is a professional who provides specialised legal support to individuals or companies. Solicitors may hire barristers to assist them when they're representing clients in court. Clients can also approach barristers directly if they feel they need their services or are currently underrepresented by their solicitors. Some barristers are self-employed, while others work in a chamber by themselves or alongside other barristers. Typically, these professionals work for various private and public entities, from charity organisations to multinational corporations, as well as government departments.

What does a barrister do?

The tasks and responsibilities of a barrister depend on the type of law they specialise in and practice. For example, a criminal barrister might spend a lot of time in court, whereas a barrister working in commercial law may spend more time drafting documents. Meanwhile, a barrister in family law might carry out a lot of mediations from their office to help avoid the courts. Barristers can work long and irregular hours, depending on their caseload. The time you spend on each case may vary depending on the case details and your level of experience. Some common barrister duties include:

  • Receiving instructions from solicitors and their clients

  • Understanding legal concepts within a specialisation

  • Managing legal cases

  • Carrying out case research

  • Advising other professionals

  • Preparing cases to go to court, including developing legal arguments

  • Preparing for client conferences

  • Advising clients on the legalities of their case

  • Representing clients in a court of law

  • Examining witnesses

  • Writing legal documents and negotiating legal settlements

  • Supporting chamber management

  • Recruiting pupils

How to become a barrister

Consider these steps if you want to pursue a career as a barrister:

1. Earn your bachelor's degree

A bachelor's degree is the minimum education requirement to become a barrister, with pre-law being a popular choice of major. Some other majors or supplemental courses you may consider include:

  • Political science

  • Criminal justice

  • English

  • Business

  • Philosophy

The specific requirements for graduation depend on the college or university you attend. Explore the various schools and degree offerings to find a programme that fits your schedule and interests well.

Related: A Beginner's Guide To Earning Your Undergraduate Degree

2. Complete a conversion course

Once you have earned your bachelor's degree, complete a conversion course, which is sometimes referred to as a graduate diploma in law. Conversion courses are usually a requirement if you didn't previously receive a degree in law studies. You may also need to take conversion courses if your law studies degree is over five years old. Rather than being uniform, conversion courses differ from each other in terms of required training and class schedule.

3. Gain vocational training

Once you have earned your bachelor's degree and completed a conversion course, if required, you can begin your vocational training. Vocational training provides barristers with the skills they need to select a legal speciality. Several vocational training courses are available in the UK, including:

  • Bar training course

  • Bar practice course

  • Bar vocational studies

If your schedule allows, you may be able to take these courses while earning your degree as a full or part-time student. Some degree programmes include vocational training as part of your academic studies, so check your school's programme details to determine if you'll need to complete vocational training post-graduation instead.

Related: Vocational Training: Definition and Examples

4. Pass the bar exam

Passing the Bar Course Aptitude Test is the next step in your path to becoming a barrister. Once you've passed the bar exam, you can join an Inns of Court, a professional association for barristers that provides educational and social assistance. There are four Inns of Court in the UK:

  • Gray's Inn

  • Lincoln's Inn

  • Inner Temple

  • Middle Temple

The Inn of Court you join may depend on your legal area of expertise or experience level.

Related: How long is law school? (With degree types and careers)

5. Complete pupillage

After you've completed your vocational training, the next step is to undertake a pupillage, which is similar to an internship or apprenticeship, and which you can apply for before starting your vocational training. A pupillage includes both six months of observation and six months of practice. The application process usually involves a series of interviews and assessments, so consider connecting with someone who has recently earned a pupillage to find out more about their experience.

Related: Types of law work experience to advance your career

6. Work professionally

To become a professional barrister, you'll most likely need some relevant work experience on your CV. While you won't have worked as a barrister yet, you can include any work you've done as part of your degree programme or any experiences you've had in law. These experiences might include:

  • Vocational training

  • Pupillage

  • Volunteer

If you want to add more experiences to feature on your CV, you can always try to secure a mini-pupillage, where you shadow qualified barristers in chambers. Then you can begin applying to barrister roles where you'll be working on real cases.

Related: How to write a legal CV (with steps, tips and examples)

7. Focus on career development

As you grow your professional experience, you might look towards leadership or management roles. Specifically, once you've worked as a barrister for 15 years and built a substantial client base, you can apply to the Queen's Counsel. Here, you can take on high-profile cases coming in front of the High Court or Supreme Court. You might also use these opportunities to network and connect with other barristers or legal organisations to build your reputation. Another part of your career development may include growing your professional skill set like:

  • Analysis: This skill can provide benefits for when you are evaluating cases and determining the best ways to approach them for your clients. You might also use this skill set to gauge situations in the courtroom and react with a solution for the benefit of your client.

  • Communication: Both verbal and written communication skills are important in your work as a barrister, as you may have to draft legal documents and communicate with clients and solicitors each day, among other responsibilities. Your communication skills are also beneficial if you're sharing ideas, producing arguments in court or working with other professionals to create evidence that supports your case.

  • Research: Working as a barrister, you may need to complete a variety of research, especially if you require some supporting documentation or information to assist you when building a case. You might also use research to stay up-to-date on new laws or best practices in the field of law.

  • Memorisation: Your memorisation skills can help you retain more knowledge about laws and legal cases that you can reference during relevant discussions or while you're in the courtroom. Effectively using this skill set may help showcase your legal knowledge.

  • Problem-solving: As a barrister, you'll likely need to solve a variety of problems. Your problem-solving abilities can help you succeed when you have tough legal cases that require creative solutions or need to present a variety of suggestions to your clients or the solicitors you work with.

  • Ethics: This skill can provide benefits for when you may have to make hard decisions in relation to the clients or cases you represent. Showcasing your ethics to the clients you serve can help establish trust and confidence in your work.

  • Organisation: It's common to manage multiple cases at the same time as a barrister, which may mean you have many files to keep organised. Your organisation skills can also help you manage your caseload without compromising your work quality.

Related: How To Improve Your Communication Skills

Salary of a barrister

The average salary of a barrister in the United Kingdom is £33,360 per year. Your specific salary amount may vary depending on your professional experience and the legal area of expertise you choose. Other factors like location and clientele might also contribute to differences in salary amounts.

Related: FAQ: How much does a barrister make?

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate’s experience, academic background and location.

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