Qualify as a barrister
An overview of the route to qualifying as a barrister in England and Wales
How do I become a barrister?
There are three components of training to becoming a barrister in England and Wales and there are four routes through which these can be completed.
The three components
To fulfil the academic requirement of becoming a barrister, you need to have either:
- a law degree, which meets the criteria outlined below, or
- a degree in any subject with a minimum 2:2 award, plus a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
If you are seeking to fulfil the academic component of the Bar qualification journey through a law degree, the Bar Qualification Manual stipulates that your law degree must:
- be awarded in the UK/Republic of Ireland at Level 6 (or above) of the ‘Framework for Higher Education Qualifications’,
- be awarded by a recognised degree-awarding body;
- be awarded at a minimum 2:2 (or above);
- comply with the QAA Subject Benchmark Statement for Law (Nov 2019)
Your law degree must also incorporate study of the foundations of legal knowledge subjects, which are:
- Criminal Law;
- Equity and Trusts;
- Law of the European Union;
- Obligations 1 (Contract);
- Obligations 2 (Tort);
- Property/Land Law; and
- Public Law (Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Human Rights Law).
And finally, your degree must have been completed no more than five years ago. If your law degree was completed more than five years ago, it is regarded as ‘stale’ and you will need to do a GDL before you can commence the vocational stage of your training.
If you have a degree in any subject, or a law degree which does not meet the criteria outlined above, and you are seeking to fulfil the academic component of the Bar qualification journey through a GDL, you must commence the vocational component of qualification within five years of completing your GDL.
If you do not have a UK degree of the required standard, you will need to apply to the Bar Standards Board for a Certificate of Academic Standing before you start a GDL course.
The Bar Standards Board states that If you hold a law degree from outside the UK/Republic of Ireland and wish to qualify as a barrister, you must apply to them for a Certificate of Academic Standing (see Part 2D of the Bar Qualification Manual).
The next stage in your training is the vocational component which can be sat in one or two parts and trains you in the specific skills you need to become a barrister.
This component requires:
- Completion of a Bar training course
Previously known as the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), this can now be called a Bar/Barrister Training Course, Bar Practice Course, Bar Vocational Studies etc.
In order to enrol on a Bar training course, you must:
- be fluent in English
- be a member of one of the Inns of Court, and
- have passed the Bar Course Aptitude Test
To find out more about more about Bar training courses. please refer to the Bar Qualification Manual (part 3) where you will also find a list of Authorised Education and Training Organisations (AETOs) which offer the courses leading to Call to the Bar.
- Attendance at qualifying sessions with your Inn of Court
Before being Called to the Bar, you have to have attended a certain number of Qualifying Sessions, organised by your Inn of Court. From 1 September 2020, the number of sessions that must be attended is 10.
These sessions aim to complement existing academic and vocational education and help prepare you for pupillage. They can comprise e.g. academic lectures, conferences, residential weekends, networking dinners, advocacy sessions, as well as moots and debates. They can be very practical and help you develop essential practice skills as well as network with future employers and chambers.
The third and final component of qualifying as a barrister is the work-based learning part, called pupillage. It lasts one year (two years if part time) and is divided into your 'first six' months (non-practising) and your 'second six' months (practising on your own, under supervision).
You can apply for pupillage once you are in your final year of a law degree or law conversion course/GDL or after graduation. Note certain time limits as a future barrister.
Pupillage can be completed in a 'set' of chambers or in another approved organisation.
The four routes
You can complete the three components of your training through four potential routes. Although not all are necessarily available yet, training providers can offer any of the following options to complete your training:
+ pupillage/work-based learning
+ vocational (part one)
+ vocational (part two)
+ pupillage/work-based learning)
Single combined academic and vocational pathway
+ pupillage/work-based learning
Single combined academic, vocational and pupillage/work-based learning) - not currently available
International applicants: If your degree was gained outside of England and Wales and you wish to apply for a GDL with the intention of going on to qualify as a barrister, you should apply for a Certificate of Academic Standing from the Bar Standards Board (BSB) before beginning a GDL course.
How do I complete the academic stage of my barrister training?
If your undergraduate degree was in a non-law subject, your law degree was completed more than five years ago, or did not include each of the seven foundations of legal knowledge (outlined above), you will need to complete a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)/law conversion to meet the academic component of barrister training.
For those seeking to qualify as a barrister (or solicitor, or those who are not yet sure which law path they want to take), a GDL/law conversion aims to condense the knowledge and skills needed to bring non-law graduates up to the same standard as law graduates before they go on to the next stage of their qualification journey.
On completion of a law conversion course, those wishing to wanting to qualify as a barrister can apply for a Bar training course (BTC) to complete the vocational component.
What else do I need to know?
Obtaining pupillage is very competitive. The Bar Council’s Pupillage Fair is designed in partnership with the Inns of Court and Specialist Bar Associations and is the largest recruitment event for students and graduates aspiring to join the Bar of England and Wales. Other organisations also hold virtual pupillage fairs including Legal Cheek and some universities.
The Pupillage Gateway is the centralised recruitment portal for pupillages and any vacancies for pupillages must be advertised on the Pupillage Gateway.
The Inns of Court, of which you must be a member prior to beginning your vocational component, run annual events and training, including qualifying sessions, for pupil barristers.
To help you better understand the work of a barrister and gain insight into different practice areas, you should undertake several mini-pupillages from your second year at university onwards, to gain vital work experience and make connections. Those successfully applying for pupillage complete 3-5 mini-pupillages.
See the work experience FAQ below for further links on mini-pupillages.
Overseas pupil barristers
The Bar Council has guidance on immigration issues relating to pupil barristers.
Funding your pupillage
Chambers fund your pupillage, but the Inns of Court can offer further financial support. The Bar Council has further funding guidance.
On successful completion of pupillage, pupils can be offered tenancy in the chambers at which they completed their pupillage, with decisions usually made about ten months into pupillage. For those who are not successful in gaining tenancy, they may be able to apply for a third six (or a “fixed-term period of practise”) at another set of chambers. This will also give you another chance to apply for tenancy.