18 August 2018

Becoming a barrister

The education and training of barristers is very important because barristers play a vital role in the administration of justice. As such, they must demonstrate a high standard of professional behaviour to justify the trust placed in them by the public and other professionals.

A career as a barrister can be very varied and rewarding, however becoming a barrister is highly competitive. There are many more people who want to become barristers than places available.

In this section, we explain what it takes to become a barrister and the skills, knowledge and attributes that you will need to acquire and demonstrate before you will be allowed to practise. These requirements are specified in the Professional Statement for Barristers.

How to qualify as a barrister

Qualifying as a barrister

A career at the Bar is a graduate profession which means you will need an undergraduate degree (at least a 2:2 degree classification) before you can become a barrister. You do not need to have a law degree to become a barrister although if your degree is in a subject other than law or you took your law degree more than five years ago or your law degree did not include each of the seven foundation subjects listed below, you will need to complete a conversion course commonly referred to as a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). A GDL can be completed either full-time over one year, or part-time over two years.

The academic study of the law in England and Wales is a very important part of the knowledge expected of all barristers. This component of the qualification process is known as the Academic Component.

Your law degree or GDL must include the seven foundations of legal knowledge which are:

  • Criminal Law;
  • Equity and Trusts;
  • Law of the European Union[1];
  • Obligations 1 (Contract);
  • Obligations 2 (Tort):
  • Property/Land Law; and
  • Public Law (Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Human Rights Law)

and the skills associated with graduate legal work such as legal research.

[1] *Subject to the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union and/or any agreement made on European Law in future, European Law will continue as one of the foundation subjects for the foreseeable future.

The next stage of learning is known as the Vocational Component.

Before you begin this stage you will need to pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT), which will test your aptitude for critical thinking and reasoning; it does not test legal knowledge. Its aim is to ensure that those undertaking the next stage of training have the aptitude to succeed. The test consists of 60 multiple choice questions, lasts 55 minutes and is completed on a computer at a test centre. The current cost of the BCAT is £150 if taken inside the EU, and £170 if taken outside the EU.

Under the current qualification requirements the vocational stage is fulfilled by studying a Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). A BPTC can be completed either full-time over one year, or part-time over two years. The BPTC is designed to ensure that you acquire the specialist skills, knowledge of procedure and evidence, attitudes and competence to prepare you for becoming a barrister. The BPTC is currently available from eight different providers at 14 locations around the country. The cost of a BPTC ranges from around £13,000 to around £18,000.

Before you begin your BPTC course you will need to join one of the Inns of Court which are the professional associations for barristers in England and Wales. An Inn will "Call" you to the Bar after you have successfully passed a BPTC and completed 12 "qualifying sessions" at your Inn. There is a range of qualifying sessions offered by each Inn, such as guest lecture events, advocacy workshops and debate activities. The purpose of these sessions is to provide you with additional opportunities to hone the skills you will need when you start practising as a barrister and to provide you with valuable networking opportunities with experienced barristers.

Upon being Called to the Bar you will become an unregistered barrister, but you will not be allowed to practise as a barrister until you have completed the final stage of qualification, the Work-based Learning Component.

The Work-based Learning Componentof qualification is a recognised period of training commonly known as "pupillage" and consists of your gaining practical training under the supervision of an experienced barrister. Work-based learning (pupillage) is divided into two parts: a non-practising six months (also known as the first six) and a practising six months (also known as the second six). All pupillages are advertised on the Pupillage Gateway. Obtaining a pupillage is very competitive; our last survey, published in June 2017, showed that of the UK/EU domiciled graduates of the BPTC, around 37% of those who enrolled on the course between 2011-12 and 2015-16 had so far started pupillage. 

Our rules stipulate that barristers' chambers must ensure that you earn a minimum of, currently, £12,000pa whilst you train during your pupillage. This minimum amount is currently under review. Some pupils earn more than the minimum amount.

To complete the work-based learning component successfully, your supervising barrister must confirm to us that you have met the minimum requirements expected of all barristers on their first day of practice, as defined in the Professional Statement for Barristers. When this is done you may apply to us for your first Practising Certificate. You cannot practise as a registered barrister in England and Wales unless you hold a valid Practising Certificate.

Changes to the qualification process

We are working to change the training and qualification process to become a barrister. We are aiming to make it more flexible, more accessible and more affordable whilst at the same time sustaining the high standards expected of everyone who becomes a practising barrister. The earliest that some of the changes might start is January 2019, but you should keep an eye on our Future Bar Training webpages  for up-to-date information about the changes and their precise timing.

Further reading

For more information on a career as a barrister, please visit the Bar Council's careers webpages.