Becoming as a barrister in England and Wales is a four-stage process:
- 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.
- The Vocational Stage: A one-year Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) [see Getting Qualified].
- Pupillage: A one-year training period in a barristers’ chambers.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com and we’ll post up the information.
|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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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/