The roles of a barrister and solicitor are fundamentally the same and both involve a lot of interchangeable skills there are few but clear distinctions. A solicitor is an initial point of contact in an incident, a barrister specialises in a particular issue and represents the client in court, and the solicitor liaises with both client and barrister.
Becoming a barrister can be difficult but yet attainable. This is because it is less popular, less advertised and less understood. Likewise, there are fewer vacancies at the Bar than in a law firm. Barristers are organised into small chambers usually, about 5-50 barristers, unlike a law firm. An advisable step in becoming a barrister is considering the Bar because; it is more rewarding financially, more interesting, it also has an old-fashioned terminology and an old-fashioned dress when in higher courts. Although the majority of barristers act independently they can also be employed by institutions such as the crown persecution service, Government Legal Service and the armed forces or a variety of commercial organisations.
Here are some of the defining features of the bar:
Advocacy: if you have a passion for speaking in court (cross-examining a criminal defendant or arguing a legal point in a civil case) then you should probably consider becoming a barrister.
Independence; most barristers work in chambers, and barristers do not share profits or liability for inefficiency with each other: barristers are self-employed. This means that what they charge the client they get to keep (after the tax) and that they have more control over their working week and careers.
So how do you actually become a barrister? I hear you ask.
- Attain a law degree or a non law degree and one-year legal conversion course called CPE or GDL.
- While attaining your law degree you would need to acquire work-experience in a chamber. This usually takes up to 3-5 days of shadowing barristers this term is called the ‘mini-pupillage’.
- During your final year of your law degree or CPE/GDL, you’d need to apply for ‘pupillage’ (a one year paid apprenticeship at the chambers). You apply for this through a system called the OLPAS (just like the UCAS system you may be familiar with)
- After acquiring a ‘pupillage’, you then do a Bar Vocational course this is self-funded except a scholarship is obtained from one of the Inns of Court (The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, The Honourable Society of the Inn Temple, The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple and The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn). After Pupillage, you get accepted for a permanent place (hopefully) in chambers called tenancy.
- Number of barristers in practice; 15,716
- Number of BPTC applications: 2,941
- Number of students enrolled on BPTC: 1,565
- First pupillage: 448
- Called to the Bar: 1,456
Written by Yvonne Oparaku