How to Become a Barrister or Advocate in the UK
If you decide to become a barrister, the starting point is a degree. It can be a law degree or a degree in a different subject, followed by a law conversion course or graduate law degree – but a good grade is vital. After the degree, specific vocational qualifications and in-work training are then required to practise as a barrister or, in Scotland, an advocate.
The route to qualify as a barrister or advocate differs for each legal system in the UK. If you aren't yet sure if this is the legal career for you, see our page on the work of solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives.
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) regulates barristers in England and Wales; they decide what is required to qualify as a barrister and practise here.
Students will also need to join one of the four Inns of Court in London: these historic societies are responsible for 'calling' student barristers to the Bar. They also offer educational and financial support, including grants and scholarships – competition for these is fierce! Membership is for life, so choosing which Inn to join is an important decision. Each of the four (Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple) has its own character, and after qualification offers a professional and social network for its barristers.
There are three stages to qualifying as a barrister:
- Legal knowledge – law degree or law conversion course
- Vocational qualification – the BPTC
- In-work training – the pupillage
Usually the starting point for any legal career is a degree, whether a law degree or a non-law degree followed by a law conversion course or graduate law degree. A 'qualifying' law degree includes all the elements of legal knowledge specified by the regulating body. To find out more, please see our page on qualifying law degrees and law conversion courses. Graduates of these courses can progress into any legal career.
A degree is required to become a barrister – and good grades are vital. Students should choose a subject they think they’ll do well in. Although the minimum requirement is a 2:2 in a first degree, higher grades are more likely to lead to a pupillage, i.e. the in-work training required to qualify as a barrister.
Next, the BPTC gives a grounding in the practical work of a barrister. The BPTC must be started within five years of completing a qualifying law degree or graduate law conversion course. It is followed by pupillage, the final stage to become a barrister.
The Bar Standards Board have issued a Health Warning urging students to consider carefully before they start a BPTC to become a barrister. There is huge competition for pupillage places – and, after qualifying, for a tenancy in order to practise. BPTC applicants should carefully weigh up their chances of securing a pupillage.
What does the Bar Professional Training Course cover?
The course covers the core knowledge and skills required to practise as a barrister. Legal knowledge focuses on civil and criminal litigation (legal action) including evidence and criminal sentencing, plus professional ethics. Practical activities develop skills including advocacy (representing clients within courts or tribunals), writing and drafting (opinions, or binding legal texts), conference and negotiation skills. There are also elective options, depending on the provider.
Assessments in legal knowledge are examined centrally by the Bar Standards Board via multiple choice exams or, for professional ethics, short answer questions. Skills are assessed by the provider.
About BPTC Courses
BPTC providers are accredited by the Bar Standards Board. Currently there are eight providers, with some running the course in multiple locations. The BPTC takes one year if studied full-time, or two years part-time, and may be offered as part of another course such as the undergraduate Exempting law degree (please refer to our page on qualifying law degrees and law conversion courses) or as a combined LLM masters degree. The latter opens up the possibility of postgraduate loan funding, dependant on eligibility. The masters qualification in itself may not aid the student’s chances of a pupillage.
In 2017 the Bar Standards Board were consulting on widening future options for the BPTC. These may include a new two-part BPTC where Stage 1 focuses on knowledge and Stage 2 on skills, or a degree apprenticeship incorporating the BPTC . It may take some time for these proposals to be developed; please refer to the Bar Standards Board for updates.
Entry requirements and applications
Entry requirements are a minimum 2:2 in a qualifying law degree, or in a non-law degree followed by a law conversion course. Provider entry requirements may be higher. Excellent English Language skills are also required (both written and spoken). Applications are made online via a centralised system used by all the providers – the Bar Student Application Service (BarSAS). Applications are open from December to January, with places offered in April.
Following application, but before starting the BPTC, applicants must also pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT), a multiple-choice exam testing critical thinking. It's recommended to take the test in good time, before the start of the BPTC.
Applicants must become a student barrister with one of the Inns of Court by 31st May of the year their BPTC is due to start (please note, this may change; see the panel on changes for pupillage).
How much does the BPTC cost? Is funding available?
Fees range from £14,000–18,520 for the course, varying across providers; fees are often higher for international students.
- If the BPTC is combined with an undergraduate or masters degree, students may be eligible for a loan.
- Scholarships for the BPTC may be available from one of the Inns of Court. Students do not need to be a member before applying for a scholarship. Scholarships are normally awarded on merit.
- Providers also offer scholarships, these will be competitive.
In Autumn 2017 the Bar Standards Board were consulting on changes for pupillage; this may change the requirement to register as a student barrister before starting the BPTC. Please refer to the Bar Standards Board for updates.
On completion of the BPTC, trainees have five years in which to seek a pupillage. Currently pupillage places are scarce and highly sought after. Pupillage is undertaken with a registered training organisation, under the supervision of an experienced barrister. Pupillage places are advertised on the Pupillage Gateway. Vacancies can be advertised up to 18 months in advance. They may be in the 'employed bar' or more commonly in self-employed practice, and can focus on different areas of law. Before applying, trainees should decide which best suits their experience and preferences: work experience and mini-pupillage can help with this.
The pupillage is completed in two parts. First, a non-practising six months where trainees shadow and work with their approved pupil supervisor. Secondly, six months' practise where, with their supervisor's permission, pupils can supply legal services and exercise rights of audience (ie appear in court on behalf of a client). Since the second six months are the 'practising six', pupils must be called to the Bar before starting this. Pupils must attend two courses during pupillage: Advocacy Training and Practice Management, organised by the Inns of Court. A Forensic Accountancy course must also be completed, either during pupillage or in the first three years of practice.
During pupillage, trainees apply for tenancy – this is the entitlement to continue to practice from a set of chambers. As with pupillage, securing a tenancy can be challenging. On completion of pupillage, pupils must apply for a full Practising Certificate in order to commence practising as a barrister; they will then appear on the Barristers Register.
Barristers in Northern Ireland are regulated by The Bar of Northern Ireland, with professional training for both barristers and solicitors overseen by the Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queens University Belfast. The stages of training are:
- Legal knowledge – law degree or law conversion course
- Vocational qualifications – PgDip Professional Legal Studies
- In-work training – Apprenticeship
In Northern Ireland, 'recognised law degrees' include eight foundation subjects, as here the Law of Evidence is required –although it can be taken as a separate exam if necessary. The IPLS has a list of acceptable law degrees on their website. It includes certain degrees from England and Wales, the Republic of Ireland or Scotland but NOT the LLB in Scots Law. To become a barrister in Northern Ireland, you'll need a minimum 2:1 award. To find out more about law degrees, please refer to our page on qualifying law degrees and law conversion courses.
The Institute of Professional Legal Studies (IPLS) at Queen’s University, Belfast is responsible for training the legal profession in Northern Ireland. Trainee barristers and solicitors complete a similar course, being awarded a Postgraduate Diploma in Professional Legal Studies (Bar or Solicitor as appropriate).
What does the Barrister's course cover?
Students gain knowledge of practice and procedure in a broad range of areas. These include high court, county court and consumer law, as well as criminal procedures, family law, company law and partnership. They learn about accounts, insolvency, and revenue. Trainee barristers receive training in practical evidence and the full trial programme. The course also has elective options. Skills focus on advocacy and client care – developed through a Citizens Advice Bureaux placement.
In areas of joint training, separate tutorials or practical exercises may be given to solicitors and barristers. Other areas are taught separately. The barristers course runs full-time from the end of August–June, and includes compulsory work experience. Bar students can apply to the IPLS to study the course part-time.
Entry requirements and applications
Entry requirements are a 2:1 in a recognised law degree, or a non-law degree followed by a law conversion or graduate law degree. Check the approved courses on the IPLS website. International students must be able to prove their English language skills. Applications are made online from September to mid-November and students also sit an admissions test.
After they receive the offer of a place, and before starting the course, trainee barristers must be admitted to the Inn of Court as a student. Before the course starts, students should find a master with whom they will serve their pupillage – the IPLS will provide a list.
Fees and funding
In 2017/18, UK/EU fees are £9,350.
Eligible students may be able to access a postgraduate loan. Another option is a Professional and Career Development Loan. Scholarships may be available from Queen’s University Belfast.
After the Barristers course, students begin a 12-month pupillage with a master. This is a barrister of no less than seven years’ experience. Pupils generally can’t accept work on their own account until the second six months of their pupillage.
Barristers in Northern Ireland must be registered with the Bar of Northern Ireland, the country’s regulating authority for the profession.
In Scotland, advocates perform a role similar to a barrister. The Court of Session has responsibility for admitting advocates and the criteria for training is determined by the Faculty of Advocates. However, as part of the training covers the same ground as solicitors, prospective advocates should also check requirements set by the Law Society of Scotland.
- Legal knowledge – LLB in Scots Law
- Vocational qualifications – PEAT 1 (Diploma in Professional Legal Practice)
- In-work training – PEAT 2 (traineeship)
- Training specific to advocates
Scotland has a separate legal system to that of England and Wales, and trainee advocates must complete a degree in Scots law. Accelerated courses are available for non-law graduates. Students must take exams in the subjects specified by the Law Society (the solicitors' regulator) to continue onto the vocational qualification, where part of their training will be as a solicitor. Students should also ensure they cover the subjects required by the Faculty of Advocates, and achieve a minimum 2:2 degree.
To find out more about law degrees and the LLB in Scots Law, please refer to our page on qualifying law degrees and law conversion courses.
Professional Education and Training Stage 1 (PEAT 1) is commonly known as the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP). It is taken by both trainee solicitors and advocates, who follow the same path as solicitors – only going their different directions after 21 months of in-work training. As elsewhere, getting in-work training after the vocational qualification is highly competitive. Some firms recruit years in advance, while other places may become available while students are on the DPLP.
What does the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice cover?
Six Scottish universities are accredited to run the course by the Law Society of Scotland. The course is nine-months full-time, or two-years part-time. Assessments are determined by the university. They may include exams, written assignments, online multiple-choice tests, or client interview scenarios using actors.
Entry requirements and applications
Entry is via the LLB in Scots Law, assessed on the marks achieved at first exam sitting in the subjects specified by the Law Society. International students must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English.
Applications are open from February–April. Applications are submitted to the university where students completed their law degree, even if their first choice for studying the DPLP is at another university. Exact requirements vary by provider so please refer to university websites. Applicants can also indicate any university where they would not wish to study. Candidates should indicate if they have secured a training contract to follow the DPLP.
How much does the DPLP cost? Is funding available?
In 2017/18, UK/EU fees range from £7,100–8,000 (including materials), with international fees from £7,400–18,250. Part-time fees are pro-rata.
Eligible students may be able to access a postgraduate loan. Another option is a Professional and Career Development Loan. Scholarships may be available from universities.
PEAT 2 is known as the traineeship, where the skills and values learnt on the DPLP are honed in a solicitors' practice – for trainee advocates, this is for 21 months. The DPLP diploma is valid until the end of December two years after it was awarded; extensions can be applied for. Before starting PEAT 2, trainees must first apply for an entrance certificate.
Large firms often advertise for traineeships up to two years ahead – so students completing an LLB may apply during the final year of their degree, before starting the DPLP.
The Law Society recommends that trainees are paid £18,000 in their first year of training and £21,500 in the second (figures from June 2017).
After their 21-month traineeship, advocates complete a nine month unpaid pupillage known as 'devilling'. Before this they must matriculate as an intrant with the Faculty of Advocates and then pass the Faculty’s examination in Evidence, Practice and Procedure.
Devilling is under the guidance of a ‘devilmaster’, an advocate of no less than seven years standing. The Scheme for Assessment tests devils’ written and oral advocacy skills. There is only one intake of devils each year, in late September or early October.
Following successful completion of all vocational and academic requirements, candidates are admitted to membership of the Faculty of Advocates, and by court to the public office of advocate.
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