Introduction

Becoming as a barrister in England and Wales is a four-stage process:

  1. The Academic Stage: You will need either an undergraduate degree in law at 2:2 or higher; or an undergraduate degree in any subject at 2:2 or higher plus a one year conversion course known as the GDL or CPE.
  2. The Vocational Stage: A one-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) [see Getting Qualified].
  3. Pupillage: A one-year training period in a barristers’ chambers.
  4. Tenancy: Being accepted (‘taken on’) as a full practicing member of a barristers’ chambers.
Of the four hurdles, securing pupillage is by far the biggest challenge. It is the gateway to the profession and it is where upwards of 75% of aspiring barristers fall down. Being ‘taken on’ as a tenant in your chosen chambers is also a considerable challenge but statistics show that the sizeable majority of those who finish pupillage but are not offered tenancy will secure a tenancy in another chambers if they wish to (of 562 barristers beginning pupillage in 2007/2008, 497 became tenants in 2008/9).

What is pupillage?

Pupillage is a one-year ‘apprenticeship’ spent in a barristers’ chambers or, far less commonly, with the Government Legal Service (GLS). It is both a period of training and a year-long interview during which you will be assessed for tenancy.

How difficult are they to get?

Hmm, well…very. In 2007/8, 1749 people graduated from the Bar Course (now known as the BPTC). In the same year, 562 pupillages were available. Factoring in applications from those who had failed to secure pupillage in anything up to the preceding 5 years and the numbers fighting for those pupillages rises to something around 3,500 thus putting the odds of securing pupillage in a given year in the region of 15%. Even allowing for multiple applications, the troubling fact remains that of those candidates that spend up to two years in full-time study and anything up to £23,000 in tuition fees, the sizeable majority will never get to practice what they trained to do. 

The challenge is considerable, but so is the prize. This site exists to give you as much information as possible to put you on the right side of the odds.

How do I apply for one?

Around half of chambers use a centralised application system called the Pupillage Portal (formerly OLPAS) which operates annually beginning in April. The remainder use their own application forms for which deadlines can vary. For more information see The Application Process.

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Will I make it?

The first thing to appreciate is that the Bar is now very much open to individuals from all walks of life. To the extent that they ever existed, the days of old-boy networks, family connections and the like are thankfully now over. The Bar is without doubt an elite profession in the sense that only the very best applicants will succeed in getting their foot in the door, but these days it is academic merit and fortitude rather than old-school ties that will determine who is best. Combine top grades with the necessary skills and commitment, and you will be snapped up by chambers regardless of your accent, family background, race, age or anything else. Believing yourself to not be the right ‘type’ for the Bar based on any of these considerations should never be a reason not to go for it.

 

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Getting Qualified

Although getting a pupillage is the most significant challenge standing between you and becoming a barrister, there are also some courses you will need to complete that make up the academic and vocational stages of qualification. With a reasonable amount of work, both courses are not prohibitively difficult, but doing well on them can be a challenge. 

A word of warning, however….don’t get lulled into thinking that completing the courses alone makes you a barrister.  Unlike other professions, you will not be able to hold yourself out as a qualified barrister at the end of the course. You need to have completed a pupillage to do that. 

The GDL/CPE

This is a one-year crash course in law for those whose first degree is in another subject or whose law degree has lapsed (law degrees only remain valid for 7 after graduation). The course covers the seven foundation subjects that normally take two-years on a full law degree. These are: Criminal, Land, Equity and Trusts, Public, EU, Contract and Tort. 

The course can be taken part-time or full-time and the variety of modes of study available (from distance-learning to evening classes) ensure that whatever your circumstances, you should be able to fit the course around your other commitments. 

The cost of the course currently ranges from around £5,000 to £9,000.

The Graduate LLB

This is a two-year course which may be taken instead of the GDL/CPE. Being a full-law degree in its own right, the course is inevitably more in depth than the GDL/CPE and ordinarily involves taking ‘elective’ subjects on top of the core subjects that the one-year course covers.

The cost of the course is around £9,000.

The Bar Professional Training Course

The BPTC (previously the BVC) is a one-year course aimed at giving you the practical skills and knowledge required of a barrister. Key modules include criminal and civil advocacy, drafting, opinion writing, conferencing, professional ethics, alternative dispute resolution and the rules of civil and criminal litigation. 

The course is practical in as much as ‘on your feet’ advocacy training forms a decent chuck of the course, but there is still a good deal of straight-up learning to be done. As with the GDL, the BPTC may be taken part-time over two years and the cost of the course currently ranges from £10,500 to £15,500.

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What to do, When

This site is about getting pupillage. If this is your goal, the sooner you start working towards it the better your chances of succeeding. Whatever stage you are at, there are things you can do to increase your chances of success.

 

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Money, Money, Money

The GDL will cost you from around £5,000 to £9,000 while BPTC fees currently range from £10,500 to £15,500. The main determinant of cost is where in the country you do the course. As you might imagine, London courses are the most expensive: the cheapest BPTC course in London is currently £14,670 while the same course in Manchester only costs £10,000. 

The (limited) good news is that the course fees do generally cover all the books and other materials you will need for the course and so you needn’t worry about that as an extra expense. Living expenses are not covered however (a shame really considering you will probably sleep in the library for some parts of both courses). You can obviously do your own calculations for these expenses but as a rough guide you might need an extra £8-10,000 per year to cover rent, travel and food etc.

Do you know of some other scholarship or source of funding that we have missed? Pass on the details to us at info@thepupillagepages.com and we’ll post up the information.

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Glossary of Bar Terms

Appellant The party bringing an appeal.                
Advocacy The act of persuading another party (normally a judge, jury or the other side) of your point of view either in writing or orally.
Advocate Another word for a barrister.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) A blanket term for various methods of resolving a dispute out of court (including mediation, negotiation or arbitration).
Arbitration A form of Alternative Dispute Resolution in which parties to an agreement allow a third party to determine a particular dispute without the need to go to court.
Authority A source of law (previously decided case or statute) that supports a legal proposition.
Bands The two white pieces of cloth that hang around a barrister’s neck.
The Bar The collective term for all barristers.
The Bar Council The representative body for all barristers.
'Bar School' Another name for the BPTC.
Bar Standards Board (BSB) The Bar’s regulatory body.
Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) The vocational training course for the Bar.
'Being lead' on a case Working as a junior counsel on a case being run by a more senior barrister (normally a QC).

The collective name for the judiciary.
Bencher A senior member of an inn (QC or judge).
Brief A set of instructions to act on a case sent by solicitor.
Bundle A folder containing all the documentation required for a case (witness statements, court documents etc). This will be provided to the court in advance of a hearing.
'Cab-rank rule' A rule contained in the Bar Code of Conduct which states that a barrister must take on any case that he or she is competent to do and may not refuse a case on the grounds of any personal objection with the client or their actions.
Call The ceremony by which you become a non-practicing barrister (your “call to the bar”).  Being of “ten years call” means being in practice ten years after your call date.
Chambers A group of self-employed barristers that join together in order to share costs. (also refered to as a ‘set’).
Circuit A geographical division of the courts in the UK. The six circuits are the South Eastern, Wales and Chester, Midland, North Eastern, Northern, and Western.
Claimant The party to a civil litigation who is bringing the claim.
Clerks A barrister’s administrative assistant. A clerk will help bring in work for the barrister, negotiate fees and organise his or her diary.
Conference or 'Con' A meeting between a barrister and his or her lay client in which the client’s case is discussed.
Counsel  Another word for a barrister.
CPE Common Professional Examination. The one-year law conversion course for non-law graduates. Also known as the GDL.
Dwelling Doing paid work for another barrister without actually being instructed on the case.
Employed Bar The collective name for the small proportion of barristers who receive a salary as an employed member of an organisaation rather than being self-employed.
Feet, Being "on your feet" A colloquial expression for speaking in court (oral advocacy). The opposite is “in your seat” meaning writing opinions and similar in chambers (written advocacy).
First and Second six The two six month periods which make up a full pupillage. A pupil is not allowed to accept instructions until their ‘second six’.
FRU The Free Representation Unit, commonly referred to as FRU (pronounced ‘frew’). This organisation trains student lawyers to represent members of the public in Employment and Social Security Tribunals.
GDL The Graduate Diploma in Law. The one-year conversion course to law for non-law graduates. Also known as the CPE.
GLS The Government Legal Service. The overarching organisation that employs barristers for most government departments.
Higher Rights of Audience  The right to appear in the Crown Courts, High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court. Barristers have such rights automatically whereas solicitors are required to take further exams in order to obtain them.
Independent Bar The collective name for self-employed barristers.
Inns of Court An institution similar to a guild to which all practicing barristers must belong. The four Inns – Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Grays Inn and Lincolns Inn  - organise training, house libraries and crucially provide scholarships to aspiring barristers.
Instructing Solicitors The solicitor employing a barrister to handle a case.
Judiciary The collective name for the judges in England and Wales.
Junior A barrister who is not a QC.
Jurisprudence The theory and philosophy of law.
KC Kings Counsel. A title given to senior barristers during the reign of a king (See QC).
Lay Client  The party being represented by the barrister. A barristers professional client is his or her solicitor given that it is the solicitor who employs the barrister. The lay client is the individual or organisation who is bringing or defending the claim.
Mess A particular seating arrangement at an Inn dinner.
Mini-pupillage A period of work experience (usually a week) in which students shadow practicing barristers. Some involve assessed work and form part of the application process for full pupillage while others are more informal.
Moot A mock court competition in which participants play opposing counsel arguing an unsettled point of law at a hearing.
Non-OLPAS A Chambers that does not participate in the OLPAS application system for pupillage instead recruiting through their own application form or similar.
OLPAS The Online Pupillage Application System. The centralised application system by which around half of chambers recruit pupils.
Opinion A written document in which a barrister provides his opinion on a question raised by instructing solicitors.
Pupillage A year long apprenticeship with a barristers chambers. See Becoming a Barrister.
Pupillage Portal The website that hosts OLPAS.
Pupilmaster/Pupil Supervisor  A barrister who supervisors a pupil during pupillage.
Qualifying Session An activity, such as a dinner or advocacy day, arranged by an Inn. A student must complete 12 qualifying sessions to be called to the Bar.
QC Queens Counsel. A title given to senior barristers during the reign of a queen. Also known as a ‘silk’. See KC.
Respondent The party against whom a civil action is brought. See Claimant.
Second Six The second six months of a twelve-month pupillage where a pupil is permitted to conduct cases alone.
Senior Junior A junior barrister over 10 years call.
Set Another name for a chambers.
Silk Another name for a QC.
Squatter A barrister who practices temporarily from a chambers without being a tenant.
Being 'taken on' Becoming a tenant in a chambers after the completion of pupillage.
Tenancy  Becoming a permanent member of a chambers.

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BPTC Providers

Name  Contact
BPP Law School – Leeds Whitehall, 2 Whitehall Quays, Leeds,  LS1 4HR

Tel: 0113 386 8250  
BPP Law School - London 68-70 Red Lion Street, London, WC1R 4NY

Tel: 0207 430 2304  
Cardiff Law School CBVC Department, CPLS, Law Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX

Tel: 029 2087 4964
City Law School 4 Gray's Inn Place, London, WC1R 5DX

Tel: 020 7404 5787
The College of Law - Birmingham 133 Great Hampton Street, Birmingham, B18 6AQ

Tel: 01483 216 112   
The College of Law – London 14 Store Street, London, WC1E 7DE

Tel: 01483 216 000
Kaplan Law School Palace House, 3 Cathedral Street, London, SW1 9DE

Tel: 0207 367 6429        
Manchester Metropolitan University School of Law, All Saints West, Lower Ormond Street, Manchester, M15 6HB

Tel: 0161 247 3053
Northumbria University School of Law, Elison Terrace, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 8ST

Tel: 0191 232 6002
Nottingham Law School Belgrave Centre, Chaucer Street, Nottingham, NG1 5LP

Tel: 0115 848 2920
 University of the West of England Bristol Faculty of Law, Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, BS16 1QY

Tel: 0117 328 2604/3769

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FAQs

In this section we hope to answer some of the common questions pupillage applicants have about the process of becoming a barrister. If you have a question that you would like guidance on, contact us at faq@thepupillagepages.com. We will put the most commonly asked questions to our advisory panel of pupils and barristers and post their response on this page.

Should I do a Masters?

A masters degree is another significant time and financial commitment to add on to the list of expenses. It should only be taken on for good reason. Some good reasons  for doing a masters include:

  • You have looked at the website of your target chambers or top few chambers and found that most of the junior tenants have masters degrees. 
  • You have a 2.2 or 2.1 and want another chance to get a top grade. Most chambers – as ever, some more than others - will want to see evidence that you excelled at some stage of your academic career. If you did not do that in your undergraduate degree and you think you could do considerably better given a second shot, then go for the masters and sweat blood to get those top grades.
  • You have set your heart on a particular area of law and want to demonstrate your commitment to that area (while also deepening your understanding of that field). If you are interested in employment law, for example, a well-regarded LLM in Labour Law may well be a good option. Bear in mind that you may need to then explain this away if you change your mind and decide that criminal law is where your heart is.

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Useful Links

Pupillage Portal site where you make OLPAS applications: www.pupillages.com

The regulators of Barristers in England and Wales: www.barstandardsboard.org.uk

An excellent blog written by Simon Myerson QC containing a considerable archive of useful advice on how to successfully navigate the pupillage application process. Essential reading for all those in the hunt: http://pupillageandhowtogetit.blogspot.com/

Become a Duty Adviser by offering assistance to those facing possession hearings in court. This is a perfect opportunity to gain experience in client interviewing, establishing a defence and representing the client before a judge: www.dutyadvisers.yolasite.com

Gown and out is written by Lyndon Harris, the Editor of Banks on Sentence. Covering predominantly legal issues, most notably the criminal law, the blog also features quirky pieces on politics and other topics. A recommended read to all TPP Community members, fusing whimsical back stories of pink teacups and so forth to current legal issues, for boosting your knowledge or for an entertaining read: http://gownandout.wordpress.com/

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