Barristers give legal advice to professionals employed in positions related to the law and also represent clients in court.
Barristers, who primarily work in chambers on a self-employed basis, present cases in court and usually specialise in one of several areas. These areas include criminal law, commercial law, and common law. They will be expected to provide expert advice to individuals including solicitors. Some barristers spend a lot of time in court, whereas others spend more time in an office environment. Those involved with criminal law tend to be more focused upon the court environment, whereas those involved with family or property law will provide individuals with advice from a base in an office.
It is estimated that almost three-quarters of practising barristers are male. Sadly, some outdated traditions and opinions still exist within this profession and women barristers sometimes encounter frustrating situations.
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Starting out as a barrister is not particularly lucrative. Those starting pupilages can expect to earn approximately £10,000 per year. However, these salaries will rise rapidly in a short space of time. Precise salaries vary depending upon the reputation of the barrister and the area of law they are involved in. However, an annual salary of below £25,000 is uncommon and it is not rare for salaries to rise to above £100,000. Senior barristers often earn in the region of £1,000,000.
The typical tasks undertaken by barristers include:
- Liaising with individuals involved in law, including solicitors, to provide advice about the cases of their clients
- Deciding which cases to take on
- Looking at previous cases to see how points of law have been treated in the past
- Interpreting legislation with regards to specific cases
- Giving general legal advice
- Preparing cases and writing legal opinions
- Making sure arguments are fit for court
- Representing clients in the court environment
- Cross-examining witnesses in court
- Holding regular meetings with clients to advise them on progress
- Drawing up legal documents on the behalf of clients
- Settling legal disputes
- Performing mediations
You will need to follow a formal training route in order to become a barrister. The qualification process falls into three separate stages.
The Academic Stage
A strong academic background is simply essential. Individuals with a 2.1 should not be surprised if they are turned away since the competition is fierce. Degrees should be held in law or a traditional academic subject. For those who have not studied law at university, a conversion course (otherwise known as a CPE) will need to be taken.
The Vocational Stage
Prior to starting this stage, you will need to join an Inn (either Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, Gray’s Inn, or Inner Temple) and undertake the Bar Vocational Course. This course teaches individuals skills including negotiation skills, interpersonal skills, research skills, and conference skills. Furthermore, it teaches individuals how to deal with evidence in court and how to maintain professional ethics at all times. After the completion of this stage, you will be officially “called to the Bar” by the Inn you initially joined. A total of twelve qualifying sessions will also need to be completed before the vocational stage can be completed.
This is the final stage of the training process. One year will be spent in a pupilage training organisation and this stage will provide the individual with invaluable practical experience. The first six months provide the individual with theoretical knowledge and the opportunity to shadow barristers, whilst the following six months see greater practical involvement.
Barristers will need to possess the following skills:
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- Excellent literacy skills
- The ability to describe complex matters of law in a simple manner
- Good research skills
- Excellent advocacy skills
- The ability to keep information confidential
- The ability to distance oneself emotionally from cases
- A logical mind
- Problem-solving skills
- Attention to detail
- The ability to remain calm whilst under pressure
Barristers spend their time working in court or in a comfortable office environment. Working as a barrister can be extremely stressful. Hours are long and evening and weekend work is a common part of the job, particularly when individuals are just starting out in the profession. Barristers still need to remain competitive, even when they have secured a job and this can be hard to become accustomed to initially. However, most barristers enjoy their job, which is just as well considering the hard work which goes into the training process. Travelling throughout the country is common and is sometimes expected at short notice.
During robed hearings, barristers will be expected to wear a wig, a black gown, strips of cotton commonly known as bands, and a shirt. These items of clothing can be extremely expensive with a horsehair wig costing hundreds of pounds.
Most individuals who succeed in securing a pupilage have undertaken one or several mini-pupilages beforehand. These are periods of invaluable work experience which are usually performed during university holidays. Since all potential barristers are likely to have extremely strong academic backgrounds, gaining as much previous experience as possible is essential. It may also be worth asking for the opportunity to shadow a barrister for a week or two. Even having an informal chat with a trained barrister will be useful.
Most barristers are self-employed and usually end up becoming tenants in a particular set of Chambers. However, large organisations also employ their own barristers to deal with legal issues occurring in-house. Other major employers include the Crown Prosecution Service and the Government Legal Service.
Many barristers choose to remain in the profession for life, since training is such a formal process and the financial rewards are usually so great. Having said this, there is opportunity for movement within the job. Some barristers choose to move from the independent Bar to a different employer, such as the Government Legal Service. This provides new challenges for individuals seeking a change. However, others choose to enter other areas in the law profession.
Also known as…
- Advocates (Scotland)
What’s it really like?
Anna, who is now in her thirties, decided to become a barrister during her final year at university. She started pupilage in October 2000 at the mixed civil law Chambers and became a tenant there the following year. The first six months of this pupilage were spent shadowing and attending court with other members of Chambers. She visited court three times a week during this time. During the second period, she had her own practice and attended Court, gave written advice, and performed pleadings. Throughout this period, she attended court every day and sometimes attended one court in the morning and another in the evening.
Anna studied History at the University of Oxford and then did the CPE at the College of Law in London. She then made the decision to stay at the College of Law in order to take the Bar Vocational Course. Anna also needed to complete the required number of qualifying sessions at her Inn of Court.
Whilst Anna was still at university, she completed eleven mini-pupilages during the vacations. Her first mini-pupilages were undertaken at criminal sets of Chambers since they were more accessible to students with no experience of law. Anna made sure that she applied for mini-pupilages at a wide range of sets, covering both criminal and civil law, and both specialist and general sets of chambers. Eventually, Anna started to apply for mini-pupilages at the specific sets she wished to make applications to for pupilage. Doing this was particularly useful since there was one set which ticked all the boxes on paper but failed to live up to expectations in reality. Anna also attended Court during university holidays and sat in the public gallery. This gave her the opportunity to see barristers at work, enabling her to get a feel for the job on a practical level.
Anna believes that this experience helped her obtain a pupilage but a strong academic background also contributed towards her success. As with many industries, a lot of luck was involved too. She was lucky since she clicked with the barristers interviewing her at the Chambers she eventually joined but she also had some awful interviews along the way. With regards to securing a tenancy, Anna believes that hard work was once again a contributing factor. Individuals will have to dedicate themselves completely to Chambers during the pupilage year and learning quickly on the job is essential.
Anna enjoys meeting clients from all backgrounds and travelling around the country. However, she dislikes early starts, particularly when she has to start her working day at around 5am. Long hours can also be stressful and working six days per week is a decided negative. She also finds that many of the traditions in the profession are slightly pompous and outdated. Furthermore, a lot of the work is quite repetitive but Anna still needs to remain focused at all times.
Anna had some words of wisdom for those hoping to become barristers. Individuals need to be one hundred per cent certain that the job is the right one for them, since it is extremely difficult to get into the profession and is very hard work when a job has been secured. However, Anna believes that the financial rewards compensate for the hard work to some extent. Ultimately, according to Anna, it is always worth having an alternative plan just in case becoming a barrister becomes unrealistic.