Routes to becoming a barrister in the UK

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

As of last year, there were approximately 16,000 practising barristers in the UK according to Patrick Canon statistics. This makes the barrister profession one of the most highly sought and competitive professions in the UK with unprecedented amounts of students applying to undertake the law degree. Barristers are especially known for their expert advocacy skills in the courtroom and unique court attire consisting of a wig and gown.

The primary role of a barrister is to lay out the facts of the case to the judge and in some criminal cases, a jury. A barrister is skilful in formulating an argument through careful questioning of witnesses and presentation of supporting evidence. Becoming a barrister would appeal to the person who doesn’t mind public speaking and can handle the pressure of often highly sensitive cases with elements of public interest.

So, what is the route to qualifying as a barrister in the UK?

Under the traditional route, it will take you just under 5 years to qualify as a barrister. This includes;

1. The degree

This is the three-year law degree studied full time

2. Academic training

Eight and a half months of full-time study of the postgraduate Barrister training course (BTC)

3. Vocational training

One year of practical training known as the pupillage which a training barrister will undertake at a Barristers Chambers. Before a student can commence training at the pupillage level, they must first apply to an “Inn” which is simply the professional membership associations for barristers. There are four Inns in London; Lincolns Inn, Grays Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple.

Can I still qualify as a barrister without a law degree?

In short yes. You can qualify as a barrister without a law degree by undertaking a conversion course namely the GDL. The GDL is a one-year course taken after a university degree (not in law) but essentially equivalent to a law degree. It will take a student slightly longer i.e. six years to qualify as a barrister under this route.

Advice for students:

Engage in as many school debates and mooting competitions as possible to show your interest and commitment to becoming a barrister. It will also build your confidence with public speaking and make your application stand out of the crowd!

You may also benefit from visiting your local courthouse and sitting in the public gallery to observe how barristers advocate in the courtroom. This will help you pick up legal terminology and jargon, mannerism and court etiquette; all vital components of court advocacy.

Lastly, it cannot be emphasised enough how important building your network is through communities such as these and utilising other professional platforms such as LinkedIn where you can connect with professionals within your area of interest. Doing this will allow you to ask questions to the right people, gain insight and expand your network!