How to become a barrister: requirements, education and training
What is a barrister?
A barrister, in England and Wales, is a specialised legal advocate. He will advise on knotty legal or factual questions, and will appear in court.
In many courts, such as the Crown Court or High Court, barristers have exclusive rights of audience (meaning the right to be heard in a case).
A few solicitors now undergo additional training to give them "higher rights", which means they too can appear in the higher courts.
Barristers are the lawyers who appear in dramas and films wearing a wig, collar, and gown.
The top 10% of so of barristers are Queen's Counsel. This does not mean they work for the Queen or government, rather it is an acknowledgment of senior status and ability at the Bar.
All barristers must be Called to the Bar by an Inn of Court. Each barrister belongs to one of the four Inns, Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Gray's Inn, and Lincoln's Inn. In order to be Called, there are academic, vocational, and other requirements.
What qualities does a successful barrister have?
In order to do well at the Bar, it is necessary for a barrister to have the following abilities and attributes:
- quick and thorough intellect;
- able to make decisions quickly;
- able to analyse and select relevant facts;
- good at research;
- write grammatically and well;
- good at public speaking.
What is a barrister's daily life like?
It depends to a large extent on how many years' call a barrister is (how long he's been doing the job) and what area of law he specialises in.
In criminal law, barristers will for many years spend most working days in court, in the Magistrates' Courts to start with, for less serious offences, and in the Crown Court as time goes on.
At the other extreme, barristers who do tax or chancery work might be in Chambers reading papers and writing advices most of the time, and only go to court rarely.
Other areas, such as personal injury, employment, and immigration, are somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Barristers will divide their time between court and paperwork.
At the independent bar, barristers are self-employed. All barristers must be in a set of Chambers for a number of years after they qualify, and most barristers stay in Chambers. A set of Chambers shares the rent of the building, pays clerks to book work, get papers in, and chase fees, and barristers within a Chambers may well share marketing, recruit and train pupils, and help each other out with difficult case.
In London, many of the Chambers are in or around the four Inns of Court. Most barristers are based in London.
To have a decent chance at becoming a barrister, you need good A levels. It doesn't matter what subjects you take, except that you would be well advised to avoid less academic subjects. Doing one A level in Art, Music or Drama is fine, but the rest should be solid, academic subjects. Media Studies, English Language, and Business Studies are not ideal. Instead, do English Lit. and Economics.
I did English Lit, History and Geography. My boyfriend did Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Economics.
To meet the academic qualifications, you need either a qualifying Law Degree, or a degree in any subject plus the CPE one-year course. The degree in either case must be a minimum of 2.ii.
A "qualifying law degree" has to include the seven core legal subjects - Administrative & Public Law, Crime, Tort, Contract, Land Law, European Law, and Trusts. Most universities have other compulsory units in their law degrees, such as the English Legal System, or Jurisprudence.
So in my first year at university (University College, London, in the Faculty of Laws) I did English Legal Systems, Contract & Tort I, Property I, and Public Law. In my second year, Contract & Tort II, Property II, Criminal Law, and European Law.
Equity, trusts and land law are all included in Property I and Property II.
All of those first and second year subjects were set - no choice at all. In my third year, I did Jurisprudence, Law of Evidence, History of English Law, and Media Law. Only the first of those was compulsory.
- Middle Temple
Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court, situated between the Strand / Fleet Street and the River Thames.
- The Inner Temple
Inner Temple shares a site with Middle Temple, and they also share the Temple Church
- Gray's Inn
Gray's Inn is the furthest north of the four Inns, situated in Holborn.
After you have the academic qualifications, you need to undertake and pass the one-year Bar Vocational Course. This provides training in civil and criminal procedure, opinion writing, advocacy, legal research and drafting.
Before you start the BVC, you must join one of the four Inns of Court.
The next stage, and the most difficult, is pupillage. Once a person has passed the BVC, he can become a pupil, the final stage of qualification. Pupillages are provided by sets of Chambers, and some organisations such as the Crown Prosecution Service. They are paid (currently a minimum of £5,000 for the first sixth, and £5,000 guaranteed earnings for the second sixth). The competition is extremely fierce, and it often takes a couple of years to get a place in Chambers.
Pupillage is divided into halves. The first half consists of going to court with the pupil master or pupil mistress,sitting in on his client conferences, and working on his papers.
The second sixth stage is when you start work on your own. "Getting on your feet" as it is known starts with simple hearing such as case management reviews or bail applications. The pupil is still under the direct supervision of a pupil master.
Some pupils do their first and second sixths in the same Chambers, some do them at different Chambers.
Call to the Bar
Before the start of the second sixth, and preferably before the start of pupillage, a would-be barrister must be Called to the Bar. Call is done by the person's Inn of Court.
In order to qualify for call, the person must have the law degree (or other degree plus CPE), and have passed the BVC. In addition, he must have eaten his 12 dinners in his Inn of Court.
Call Night is a grand ceremony, held 3-4 times a year in each Inn's Hall.
Once pupillage is finished, a barrister must try to find a tenancy. This is a permanent place in Chambers.
Most pupils will apply to the Chambers in which they did their pupillages; this is the best bet as a pupil has already spent 6-12 months in the set, getting to know the tenants.
Most sets will, however, have more pupils than tenancies. A lot of pupils have to do a "third sixth", also known as "squatting", and apply to more than one set of Chambers before they get a tenancy.
Legal education doesn't end with tenancy. A new barrister must complete 36 hours of Continuing Professional Development in his first 3 years of practice, including 12 hours of advocacy and 3 hours of ethics.
Thereafter, all barristers still have to rack up CPD yearly, but writing books or articles, or giving lectures, qualifies.