The role of a barrister is to translate and structure their client's view of events into legal arguments and to make persuasive representations that obtain the best possible result for their client.
What does a Barrister do?
Barristers' work varies considerably depending on the area of law in which they practice and their level of expertise. Typically, barristers carry out the following tasks:
Representing clients in court
This is likely to include presenting the case, examining and cross-examining witnesses, summing up all relevant material and giving reasons why the court should support the case.
Drafting of Documents
Barristers may need to draft documents to be used in court at a later date, and they may also draft letters on a clients behalf. For example barristers may draft documents which propose a settlement or some other form of negotiation.
Going to court is expensive. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is becoming more popular. Not all forms of negotiation are over a dispute, sometimes a barrister will play a part in the negotiation of a deal.
Advising clients on the law and the strength of their legal case, which often requires considerable amounts of legal research, followed by a written advice or 'opinion' for the client.
There is a lot of time spent preparing for court. They produce their skeleton argument, research & review the key facts of the case and decide on questions they could ask a potential witness. The key points of law also need to be remembered. Barristers will also be completing continuous research and reading up on the state of the law. Judgements which are relevant to their area of practice may be frequently released.
Steps to becoming a Barrister
- You need to complete an undergraduate LLB law course or a non law course at university.
- If you have a non-law degree you can then take a conversion course (GDL/CPE) for 1-2 years and convert your non-law degree to a qualifying law degree.
- You then need to take the Bar Professional Training course (BVC/BPTC). This course is designed to prepare you for your pupillage and will focus on advocacy, mock trials and negotiations.
- Next you need to secure a pupillage. Obtaining a pupillage is very competitive. In 2011, only 444 students got a pupillage. This was only 16-20% of those that took the BPTC. It will be to your advantage to secure mini pupillages in your holidays (usually one week in length). The pupilage can be with a barristers’ chambers or other organisation like the CPS or Government organisation.
- The pupilage training is split into 2 sections – non-practising and practising both of which last for 6 months. The first 6 months involve shadowing, filling in general paper work and research. The second 6 months the pupil will act in more of a practical role, often carrying out instructions and being responsible for a case load.
- After successful and satisfactory completion of the year you will be a fully qualified barrister.
- The last stage is to find employment. This could be with a commercial law firm or a tenancy in a chambers. This can be competitive.
About 80% of barristers are self-employed. The rest are employed in industry, commerce or central or local government. Self-employed barristers work in offices called 'chambers', which they may share with other barristers. On completion of their training, barristers apply for a permanent position known as 'tenancy' in a set of chambers. Barristers therefore effectively run their own business. Costs such as offices, clerks and bills are usually shared with the other members of chambers.
In considering a career at the independent Bar, you should consider whether you are suited to working in a self-employed capacity. Some of the key considerations include your commitment to manage your income so that you can pay your own taxes, save for your pension without employer contributions and manage without paid annual leave, sick leave or maternity/paternity/adoption leave. The advantages of being self-employed include greater scope to shape and determine your own career, to develop your specialisations and to be your own boss.
Government Legal Service (GLS)
The GLS employs around 2,000 lawyers and is the umbrella title for the legal teams in central government, agencies and public bodies. Working for the GLS, you will be involved in the enormous amount of legal work generated by the Government across numerous areas of law. GLS lawyers undertake drafting, advisory and litigious work and are given the opportunity to gain experience in a wide range of work. The GLS employs both barristers and solicitors and runs a training scheme for trainee solicitors and pupils.
Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
The CPS is a Government department, which employs around 8,300 staff throughout the country and is responsible for the majority of prosecutions in criminal cases. About 35% of staff are qualified prosecutors and more than 93% of all staff are engaged in, or support, frontline prosecutions. The work is carried out by barristers and solicitors known as Crown Prosecutors. They will review the evidence collected by the police to ascertain whether there is sufficient evidence and whether it is in the public interest to proceed. Once you have completed the BPTC, you can apply for a one-year pupillage at the CPS and qualify as a barrister. This is an alternative to self-employed practice for anyone interested in working in the Criminal Justice System.
Finance and funding
It is not cheap training to become a barrister. For 2011 admission, the course fees for the BPTC typically ranged between £10,000 to £16,000, depending on provider and location. GDL fees typically range from £4,000 to £10,000. You may find that you can get some of your fees funded.