Are you interested in performing advocacy in a court or tribunal? Are you happy to be self-employed with the potential financial insecurity that can bring? Do you have the ability to read large volumes of information in a short period of time? Are able to cope with the stress of long hours, tight deadlines and immense responsibility? Do you like working alone, often into the evenings, but also in a team? Are you willing to argue for an unpopular cause? If you have answered ‘yes’ to the above then a career as a barrister might be for you.
The work of barristers is attractive to those who would like an extremely challenging, rewarding and independent life. Self-employed barristers work in buildings called 'chambers' (sometimes referred to as a ‘set’), which they share with other barristers and become a member of. This aspect allows you to become an expert in your chosen field while developing a stimulating career. The competition to become a barrister is very real and entry standards are high; you need to research this option thoroughly before committing yourself. In recent years the Bar has taken an assertive stance in encouraging entry into the profession of the most able from all backgrounds.
Barristers' professional bodies and Inns of Court
There are over 17,000 practising barristers in England and Wales, working independently in sets of chambers (about 80%) or employed in organisations such as the Government Legal Department, the Crown Prosecution Service and industry, commerce and the armed forces.
The two organisations which have responsibilities and obligations to the profession are:
- The Bar Council, which looks after the interests of barristers, and
- The Bar Standards Board (BSB), which is the regulatory body.
Additionally every barrister has to become a member of one of the four Inns of Court; Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn. The Inns provide support for barristers and students through a range of educational activities and training, lunching and dining facilities, access to common rooms and gardens, and the provision of various grants and scholarships for aspiring barristers worth over £6 million. Your choice of Inn is a personal decision - like Oxford colleges, each Inn varies slightly in character – and has no effect on where you can apply for pupillage.
Some areas of work at the Bar have Specialist Bar Associations representing the interests of that sector, e.g. the Commercial Bar Association, the Family Law Bar Association and the Criminal Bar Association. These are a useful source of information and advice about the profession and the different roles in which barristers work. Visit their websites for details.