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Becoming a Barrister in England and Wales
Have you ever wondered about the things you could do being a barrister? To get a fair idea, your day would include attending court, doing extensive reading, addressing intellectual questions and constantly interacting with clients or other professionals over the phone, in meeting rooms or at a restaurant. Barristers are specialist legal advisers known for wearing wigs and gowns, and presenting legal arguments in court. They can appear in all courts, including the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
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Benefits of studying an LLM
If you are considering becoming a barrister in England or Wales an LLM program could help you to demonstrate your high level of academic skills as well as your ability to focus and think clearly under pressure. Although it isn’t a necessary qualification for would-be barristers, a Master of Laws is a great addition to any CV as it demonstrates academic achievement and an ability to learn at a high academic level. Studying an LLM program will also help you to develop skills necessary to become a successful barrister such as public speaking, presentation skills, research skills and attention to detail. Yoiu can find out more about studying an LLM program here.
Why becoming a barrister is an appealing career choice
The Bar Council (that represents barristers in England and Wales) states that becoming a barrister can offer a highly satisfying and rewarding career if you possess the following:
- A high level of intellectual ability
- Articulacy in written and spoken English
- An ability to think and communicate clearly under pressure and
- Determination and stamina
Overall there may be several reasons that appeal to you personally. These may include the idea of becoming a specialist legal advisor representing clients in courts or tribunals, or having the option to choose between a self-employed barrister (sharing office premises at chambers) or being employed in the Government Legal Services, Crown Prosecution Services, industry, commerce or the armed forces.
Total barristers in practice
Here is a table illustrating the number of practising baristers in England and Wales from 2006 to 2012.
Source: Bar Standard Board
Essential skills needed to become a barrister
So what essential skills do you need to become a barrister? Let's take a look.
• Excellent advocacy and presentation skills
• Attention to detail
• Ability to think and communicate clearly
• Ability to break down complex matters into simple language
• High level of intellectual and analytical ability
• Ability to deal with a wide range of people
• Excellent research skills
While a career as a barrister can be very satisfying and highly rewarding financially, it may come with several challenges and demand long and hectic working hours. There is no easy route to securing a pupillage and yet if you were convinced of your determined efforts, then proceed by following all the necessary stages.
A barrister's activities
A barrister’s activities would typically depend on a range of tasks including,
• Taking instruction from clients and their solicitors
• Managing legal briefs and preparing case documents for court
• Undertaking legal research and drafting opinions
• Representing clients in court and presenting arguments, examining and cross-examining witnesses
Steps to becoming a barrister
The steps to becoming a Barrister involve 3 key stages that include obtaining minimum academic qualifications in law, completing vocational training and attaining a pupillage.
Academic: A qualifying law degree or a degree in another subject supplemented by an approved Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) course.
Vocational: Bar courses – formerly known as Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) – can be completed in one year of full-time study or two years of part-time study. It is a practical course that involves developing advocacy skills, training in drafting of legal documentation and opinions. You will be taught civil and criminal procedure, research methods, ethics and practice management. Applicants must also pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) and join an Inn of Court before commencing the BPTC.
Pupillage: This is the final leg to be completed before becoming a Barrister. You can start pupillage as soon as you successfully completed the BPTC course. You must ideally start pupillage within five years of passing the BPTC. Typically to complete a pupillage it would take 12 months. The first 6 months are non-practising while in the second six months, you may accept instructions on your own account provided that you have the permission of your pupil supervisor or head of chambers and hold a provisional practising certificate. Various forms of external training, such as working for a solicitor firm, marshalling with a judge or working with an EU lawyer can also count towards pupillage.
Applying for pupillage
You will ideally apply for pupillage in your final year of a law degree or GDL year to become a barrister. Chambers accept pupillage applications through a system called the Pupillage Gateway, although some may receive them directly from candidates. Each applicant is allowed to apply to a maximum of 12 chambers each year. Unless pupils attend an Advocacy Training Course and Practice Management course during their pupillage a full qualification certificate will not be issued.
Handy tips while applying
• Take time to research about the chamber’s area of practice
• Check your application form thoroughly, have it proofread and write information in a concise and articulated manner
• Demonstrate relevant work experience and highlight achievements
• Understand carefully what you’re applying for and state relevant areas of interest being specific where needed
• Don’t exaggerate and instead mention specific points that generate interest
• Watch out for deadlines!
Being Called: Once you successfully complete your BPTC course, you are eligible to be Called to the Bar. You cannot commence your second 6 months in pupillage until you have been Called. Basically it is like a graduation ceremony for BPTC students and is held at your Inn of Court where you registered as member.
Inns Of Court
Each of the four Inns, viz., the Lincoln's Inn, the Inner Temple, the Middle Temple and the Gray's Inn have three grades of membership – for students, barristers and Masters of the Bench or "benchers". The Inns provide support through educational activities, social engagement opportunities, access to common rooms and gardens and the provision of grants and scholarships.
Foreign qualified lawyers interested in transferring to the Bar of England and Wales must apply to the independent regulator of the Bar viz., the Bar Standards Board.
For international students who are interested in becoming a Barrister in England and Wales, they must refer to relevant guidance of the Bar Standards Board.
A BPTC course, especially if being pursued part time, can allow time for some paid work and gain useful legal experience. This can include undertaking mini-pupillages, marshalling, voluntary legal work ('pro-bono' work) or general work experience.
Mini-pupillages are short periods of work experience in a set of chambers and would involve shadowing a member of chambers and learning what their work involves.
Marshalling on the other hand involves sitting with a judge and provides the unique opportunity to see barristers making submissions in court and discuss cases with the judge.
Undertaking voluntary legal work ('pro-bono' work) is a great way to get experience of advising people on legal issues and representing them in tribunals.It would be good to sharpen one’s public speaking and research skills from day 1 of pursuing undergraduate law degree. Students would also do well in building a good CV by participating in moot court competitions or undertaking legal research.
Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE)
The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) was phased in during 2021 as the new centralised way to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. It will replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which is the former route to practicing law, and once the transitional phase is over law schools in England and Wales will stop offering the LPC. The SQE is a new system of exams divided into two stages – SQE1 and SQE2 – that will be introduced from September 2021, and all prospective candidates will have to pass both stages of exams to qualify as a solicitor. As well as passing both stages of the SQE, prospective candidates must complete two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) and demonstrate that they have suitable character to work in this field.
Put simply, to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales through the new SQE route you need to:
1. Have a university degree in ANY subject.
2. Pass SQE1 and SQE2 exams.
3. Complete two years’ Qualifying Work Experience (QWE).
4. Demonstrate suitable character.
The SQE differs from the LPC in that it is a series of exams rather than an actual course, as a result of this the SQE does not involve any direct education or training. New law conversion course options will be launched alongside the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to offer students a range of options to prepare for the SQE.
Read our article on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination for the complete lowdown.
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