How do you begin a career as a barrister?

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Beginning a career as a barrister is an unbelievably difficult task. Every year more than 1400 students graduate from the Bar Practice course and begin the process of trying to win one of around 400 pupillages.  

Once you add the students who plan to join the chase after completing  the final year of their undergraduate law studies and the candidates from previous years still chasing pupillage, you can see the likelihood of success is daunting to say the least.

But if the chances of successfully winning a pupillage to get your first foot on the Bar career ladder  are less than 4:1 against, why is becoming a barrister still such a popular choice?

Why should I consider a career as a barrister?

Although it is a challenging and highly competitive profession, there are several very obvious benefits to a career at the Bar.

1. Total independence

There is no office politics (at least in the traditional sense), and you won’t be up against your colleagues when it comes to the annual promotion round.  Your career will develop alongside your reputation and your relationships with solicitors.  All of this is in your hands.

2. Genuine advocacy

If you are driven by the desire to win by accurately and powerfully getting your point across, there is no finer opportunity than to advocate in court.

3. Satisfy  your calling

Being a barrister is more than a job, it will soon become obvious that you are having an incredible impact on people’s lives and futures, people who can’t argue for themselves.

4. The challenge

The ‘cab-rank’ rule means you could literally be doing anything (within your legal field) for anyone at any time.  This provides a variety of work and insight no other legal professional will see.

However, there are also drawbacks. 

Your workload (and, therefore, your income) will be totally unpredictable, there are no employee benefits and there is no pool of  work from which to draw during your quietest times.

The biggest drawback is arguably how hard it is to secure your pupillage.

We’ve already looked at the numbers so you won’t be left in any doubt as to how hard you will need to work to win a pupillage.  You should also take into account the level of debt you could rack up during your studies and the very real possibility you will never enter the profession you have paid so dearly to join.

If we haven’t put you off, perhaps we should look at what a pupillage is and how it works.

What is a barrister pupillage and what is involved?

During the first six months of a pupillage the pupil spends six months either shadowing one barrister or two different barristers for two three-month periods.

They will accompany them to court and client conferences and being to research and draft legal opinions and arguments although some of these will be for internal assessment rather than for clients.

Pupils will also complete an Advocacy Training Course during their first six months.

During the second six, the emphasis will switch to practising the law.  The pupil will be granted a provisional practising certificate so will be eligible to provide legal services under the supervision of their pupil supervisor. Depending on the fields of law their chambers do, this could also involve their first appearances in court.

Pupils will complete the Practice Management Course during their six months.

At the end of the year, their supervisors will assess their pupil’s work and decide whether or not to offer them tenancy, i.e. a place in chambers once their pupillage is over.  It’s important to note many chambers will take more pupils than they have tenancies so this detail is definitely worth checking at the application stage.

Whether you are offered tenancy or not, at the end of the of your second six months – the practising period – you will need to submit a certificate from your supervisor confirming you’ve completed the practising period. 

Then, as long as you’ve also completed the Practice Management Course, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) will give you a Full Qualification Certificate.

Once you have this you will need to apply for a Full Practicing Certificate so you can begin your career as a barrister and begin to practice as a barrister.

Westgate Chambers will be inviting applications for pupillage in due course. Please keep an eye on the website for details.