In order to become a barrister you will need to complete at least two distinct academic steps:
- Acquiring a qualifying law degree, either by studying law as an undergraduate subject at university or by obtaining a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) after completing another subject at an undergraduate level.
- Successfully passing the Bar Professional Training Course.
There is a helpful list of BPTC Providers from Chambers Student Guide.
In addition, the blog Legal Cheek has also ranked the various providers according to their success at having their students pass on to the final stage of training, pupillage.
Pupillage is a training year where prospective barristers are attached to a chambers for 12 to 18 months and learn how to do the job of being a barrister, first by observing (in the first six months, or ‘First Six’) and then by speaking in court and managing their practice (in the ‘Second Six’). Some pupils go on to do a ‘Third Six’ with another chambers, but if they complete this stage of training successfully then they are considered fully qualified.
Most chambers offer pupillage through a central Gateway
However, an increasing number of chambers operate their own systems.
Facts and figures
The demographic profile of the Bar is in a process of change, chronicled by regular reports from the Bar Council,
As of 2016, there are around 16,045 practising barristers in England and Wales. Of those, 12,775 (or 79.5%) are self-employed.
Broken down by gender and ethnicity, the Bar is currently around 64% male to 36% female, and 79% white to 12% BME. By contrast, among those 1,300 people called to the Bar in 2015/2016 the gender ratio was about 53% female to 47% male and the ethnicity ratio about 44% white to 35% BME).
Although these ratios do seem to show an improvement over time among those who qualify at the Bar, diversity at the Bar is still very much a work-in-progress.
In 2015/2016 424 bar students went on to commence their first six of pupillage. In the same year, 295 pupils went on to achieve tenancy.
Inns of Court
In order to be called to the Bar in England and Wales, every barrister must first be a member of one of the four Inns of Court:
You will normally join one of these before you start your BPTC at least.
In the past these institutions were primarily educational, but these days they mainly serve a support role for barristers, both calling them to the profession and giving them opportunities and resources for networking, further training and other activities.
A big part of the social function of the Inns is the provision of Qualifying Sessions, formal dinners which all BPTC students must attend a certain number of in order to qualify as barristers. Many older practitioners attend these sessions post-qualification, for their own enjoyment as well as for networking purposes.
Each of the Inns are important providers of scholarships and financial support for both students and barristers, in everything from assisting with funding a course of study at GDL or BPTC level to assisting pupils who might otherwise struggle.
The page for each respective Inn can be found here:
- Lincoln’s Inn Scholarships
- Gray’s Inn Scholarships
- Middle Temple Scholarships
- and Inner Temple Scholarships
The Kalisher Trust
Visit the Kalisher Website.
The Kalisher Trust transforms the lives of bright young people through the development of advocacy skills. They have two central aims: to help bright youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve their potential through advocacy and to help those with the requisite ability and ambition to develop careers as barristers at the criminal bar. They help arrange legal internships, provide education and apprenticeships and work with a number of legal partners to assist students and barristers.
Many barristers have written about their experiences of life at the Bar, and whether humorously or seriously or anything in between they can provide a compelling insight into life at the Bar in all its idiosyncrasy.
The prolific Tweeter and blogger known only as ‘The Secret Barrister’ will soon publish an account of their own, ‘Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken’, which is well worth a look both for its humour and its discussion of some of the challenges presently facing our legal system. See the Secret Barrister’s Twitter feed here.
For the accounts of more established practitioners with their own highly personal takes on the profession, Geoffrey Robertson’s ‘The Justice Game’ or Michael Mansfield’s ‘Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer’ are highly recommended.
Meanwhile Thomas Grant’s book ‘Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories’, as the cover suggests, contains highly readable accounts of his extensive case history, including his role on the defence team in the famous 1960 criminal prosecution of Penguin books at the Old Bailey under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
There are also some excellent books on the law and legal method which can provide a grounding for a lay-audience. The late Lord Bingham, one of the most decorated members of the judiciary in recent history, would be worth reading for ‘The Rule of Law’.
Those looking to improve the skills of verbal persuasion vital to any career at the Bar could also do a lot worse than look to either ‘Advocacy Skills’ by Michael Hyam or ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ by Ian Morley.
Most chambers will offer prospective pupils or students short periods of work experience known as ‘mini-pupillages’, where you will have an opportunity to visit a set of chambers, usually for about a week, and follow their members as they go about their work.
Check the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners (see above) and go to individual chambers’ websites to see which of them offer mini-pupillages, and which of them you might find interesting!
The Bar Council Website
There are is a wide range of opportunities available to undertake various forms of pro bono work, and a helpful list can be found at LawCareers.net.
The Free Representation Unit (FRU) is a service which trains and provides advocates who can then represent claimants and defendants, free of charge, on a range of civil matters including social security and employment tribunal matters.
Although it deals with civil rather than criminal matters, the experience of being a FRU advocate can still be a valuable one for a prospective criminal barrister. Representing real clients in meaningful cases with (for them) high stakes, and having to demonstrate the skills of live advocacy in front of a tribunal, is excellent preparation for the experience of your first Magistrates’ Court matter!
Since so much of life at the Bar involves speaking in public and learning how to formulate and deconstruct an argument, debating is an excellent way to foster these skills. Some of the conventions differ from those of the Bar (and at times the exchanges can become much more heated!) but it fosters many of the same skills.
One type of debating in particular, known as ‘British Parliamentary’ debating (since it mimics the speaking conventions of the House of Commons) has become a popular competitive sport in the UK and even around the world – every year universities host their own competitions with secondary schools from across the UK, and there are other competitions from the local levels all the way up to the World Debating Championships.
Many schools have societies dedicated to competitive debating in this style: see if you can find one at your school. Or, if there isn’t one, think about founding one yourself! The organisation Debate Mate does a lot of work to encourage debating in schools and has some useful resources. Find out more here.
When you hear someone describe something as a ‘moot point’, in the sense of something being arguable but ultimately not relevant, they are borrowing a term used to describe the process of holding a mock trial on an imaginary legal case – a moot.
Rather than being a mock trial with witnesses and evidence being adduced (as with the Citizenship Foundation Mock Trials), moots generally take the evidence and facts of the case as read and instead concentrate on arguments relating to fine points of law; the kind of thing more commonly heard in the Supreme Court. Each team is generally given a bundle with documents (and sometimes relevant case law or legislation) ahead of time, and must then present their legal submissions to a mock panel of ‘Law Lords’.
As with competitive debating, while this may feel a little different from the kind of courtroom work at the junior end of the Criminal Bar, it fosters valuable skills of public speaking and strategic thinking, and can also be a lot of fun! Most mooting competitions in the UK are university-level, with law students competing in a range of competitions like the English-Speaking Union and London Universities Moots. Chambers like Essex Court and Francis Taylor Buildings also run their own mooting competitions. Ask around to see if there is a mooting society near you, or think about setting up your own.
Shadowing a judge
The Criminal Courts now routinely welcome students from school, college, university and at all professional training stages to shadow them and see what it is like being a judge in court.
The CBA is able to assist you contact the right court centre for further information.
Alternatively many criminal court centres allow schools to attend by prior arrangement to open days or to see the courts working in action.
Gaining work experience with a judge at court is one of the best ways to learn about the Criminal Bar and to see real barristers in action prosecuting and defending.