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A Career as a Barrister

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Although changes are now taking place within the legal profession, barristers have traditionally been regarded as 'specialists' who work through solicitors in the same way that medical consultants work through general practitioners. In this way the solicitor consults barristers on aspects of the law in the case of complex legal issues and the latter will appear in court on behalf of solicitors' clients.

Such cases will initially be prepared by the solicitor, after which the barrister will be required to undertake a considerable amount of detailed research before presenting his client's case in court. The knowledge required in some specializations is quite considerable and those barristers specializing in patent work often have science or engineering degrees.

Most barristers will specialize, the main alternatives being in common law (family law, crime, divorce, etc.) or chancery (company law, tax, property, trust or estates work). In either case barristers usually specialize in one of these branches, particularly in London.

All barristers, however, do not necessarily spend most of their time in court. Much depends on the type of specialization they follow. Common law barristers will undoubtedly be involved in court work; those working in chancery, however, will not.

The Bar is a relatively small profession with approximately 6,000 in practice, at least 75 per cent of them in London. Barristers share chambers and the services of barristers' clerks and since they are not permitted to set up in practice on their own on completion of their pupilage, they are required to find a 'seat' in chambers. Once in chambers, however, they are in effect 'self-employed' and are dependent on solicitors offering them work, through their clerks in chambers.

After 15 years of experience at the Bar, a barrister can apply to the Lord Chancellor for a patent as a Queen's Counsel (taking silk). It is necessary to take silk in order to become a high court judge.

Barristers' Clerks should also be mentioned here since they occupy an important place in the lives of any barrister. A senior clerk and the juniors working with him service all the barristers in one set of chambers. They act as an intermediary between solicitors and barristers, decide which cases their barristers will accept and decide which barrister in their chambers will deal with a case and fix the fee. They will also arrange the times when the case will be heard and subsequently receive a percentage of each barrister's fees. In consequence their income can be very high (sometimes more than the barrister!). Recruitment is open to school leavers with a good educational background. Competition is considerable and training is mainly 'on the job'.


The following skills have been identified as relevant to barristers and will be taught to students as part of the vocational course: Legal Research, Fact Management, Opinion Writing, Interviewing, Negotiating, Drafting and Advocacy.

Initially, in order to prepare students for the discrete areas of skills training, there will be short courses in Communication Skills, Writing Skills for the Barrister and Numeracy.

Students will learn these skills mainly by gaining experience of them in dealing with realistic sets of case papers. A central part of the learning process will be role play and students will be encouraged to make full use of the equipment for videoing performances in their roles. Students will be called upon to interview one another, role playing both lay and professional clients; to negotiate solutions to legal problems with one another, to draft documents and pleadings as required; to role play the conduct of cases in courts and tribunals both as barristers and as others in the trial process; to carry out legal research using original source materials and practitioners' works; to write opinions on the merits of a case and on the evidence, and to experience how to develop and present a theory of the case and find a solution to the problem presented.

Have You the Right Qualities to be a Barrister?
  • Would you enjoy doing very detailed research into a subject?
  • Would you enjoy unraveling the legal intricacies of a subject?
  • Would you enjoy being able to learn about and then speak knowledgeably on the most technical aspects of a subject and even examine an expert witness?
  • Could you stand up in front of your class and explain a very obscure subject so that the rest of the class could understand it?

Qualifying to be a Barrister

The process of training to become a practicing barrister in England and Wales is divided into three stages which must be completed in the following order.

The Academic Stage

This stage is completed by studying Law or a combination of Law and another subject at degree level, or alternatively it is possible to study any subject to degree level which is then followed by a special one year Common Professional Examination (CPE) course at either City University or Central London Polytechnic. The third route is to be accepted by an Inn of Court as a non-graduate mature student and then follow a two year CPE course at the polytechnics at Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle or Central London. There are four Inns of Court - Lincoln's Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple or Gray's Inn - all in London. Prospective entrants to the Bar must be admitted as student members of one of the Inns of Court - the minimum entry requirement being a first degree with at least second class honors.

The Vocational Stage

The method of completing this stage of training varies according to whether a student does or does not intend to practice as a Member of the Bar of England and Wales or the Channel Islands, or in the territory of any Member State of the European Community.

Those wishing to practice must attend the full time course at the Inns of Court School of Law and satisfactorily complete all the tests, assessments and examinations set as part of that course.

A student who does not intend to practice in England and Wales is required to complete the Vocational Stage by examination by entering and passing the Bar examination set for that purpose.

The Vocational Course aims to provide a practical training in the specialist skills required by barristers, and to ensure competence in those skills. This will be achieved through practice in the tasks most commonly performed by junior members of the Bar during the early years of practice and most particularly, in the second six months of pupilage. Approximately two thirds of class contact time in the course will be devoted to skills training, whilst no more than 40 per cent of all class contact time will be spent acquiring new knowledge. All aspects of the course will emphasize the need for a professional approach to work, and will encourage the students to develop a respect for the principles of professional conduct. The student's successful completion of the course will be assessed in the practical work, and in tests and examinations carried out during the year.

Courses in preparation for the Bar Examination are at present offered by various colleges including:
  • City of London Polytechnic
  • Holborn College
  • West London Polytechnic
  • Manchester Polytechnic
  • School of Law and Social Science
  • South Bank Polytechnic
  • Polytechnic of Central London

Students should note that all institutions offering courses in preparation for the Bar Examination are independent of the CLE, and have sole control over admissions to their courses and the discipline of students attending them. Students should apply direct to the institutions for information on course dates, fees and registration procedures.


This is a twelve month period of apprenticeship which is, in general, served with one or more practicing barristers.

On successful completion of this third stage of training a barrister is qualified to enter practice.

Full details of training as a banister are available from the Council of Legal Education.

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