A barrister (or an advocate in Scotland) is a lawyer who gives expert legal advice and represents their clients in court. The majority of barristers are self-employed, either working on their own or in partnership with other barristers.
Barristers are also retained by other solicitors and law firms for matters involving court appearances or for providing specialist input on certain cases.
A barrister doesn’t tend to be a jack of all legal trades. In fact, they usually focus on a specific area of law. For instance, they might only deal with criminal law cases; they might only represent companies in commercial law matters; or they might solely focus on medical negligence lawsuits.
Essentially, this profession involves providing advice on legal matters and representing clients before judicial entities. Yep, that’s right - barristers are likely to do a fair bit of advocacy work!
Furthermore, barristers are required to carry out research into legal issues, case histories and precedents.
They’ll also be interpreting laws, judgements and legislative requirements, before preparing case briefs and other legal documentation.
Moreover, barristers will frequently be required to meet with their clients and arrange settlements outside of court.
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Salary & benefits
The annual income for barristers depends on their location, the amount of post-qualification experience (PQE) they have and the area of law they practise in.
Pupils working in chambers can earn between £12,000 and £50,000 whilst they are still qualifying. It all depends on the area of law and the size and reputation of the chambers.
Upon qualification, barristers with less than five years of experience may earn anywhere between £25,000 and £100,000.
With over five years of experience you could earn between £50,000 and £200,000.
Once you have got over ten years of experience and have developed a sterling reputation you could earn up to £1,000,000 per annum. The very best QCs might earn even more than that!
An important point to remember is that your earnings will be significantly lower in the initial years of your career. Furthermore, there are huge variations in the earning potential for barristers, even if they have the same talent and amount of experience.
Working hours are not fixed, since barristers have numerous tasks to complete even if they do not have a court appearance scheduled.
There’s a lot of background research and paperwork to be completed, often within short deadlines, overnight or early in the morning before court proceedings. Understandably, this often means working irregular hours!
As you may already know, becoming a barrister is pretty competitive. You’ll need a consistently high record of academic achievement, all the way from GCSEs to your degree.
You’ll need a minimum 2.1 undergraduate degree. This doesn’t have to be in law. However, if you do a non-law degree, you’ll need to complete a law conversion course first (a.k.a. the GDL or the CPE).
All applicants that aspire to be barristers need to submit applications through an online screening system for entry onto the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).
Finally, it’s all about securing a pupillage, which is similar to the training contract for solicitors.
Training & progression
The pupillage runs over a period of 12 months. Here, pupils learn and work under the guidance and supervision of a trained barrister.
The pupillage is divided into two six-month terms, known as ‘sixes’. Pupils will receive an interim practising certificate in the second term, which makes them eligible for handling their own cases and making court appearances.
Career progression is dependent on establishing a good reputation and joining well-known chambers as a tenant.
A barrister with more than ten years of experience as a full-time practitioner can apply to become a Queen’s Counsel (QC) or take up a judicial appointment.
Other barristers develop specialist expertise and take up positions as permanent legal advisers for large commercial organisations or government bodies.