Training to become a barrister
There are three components to training to become a barrister. These are:
- the academic stage
- the vocational stage
Lawyers who have qualified in another jurisdiction, for example solicitors based in England and Wales or lawyers from overseas, may be exempt from some or all of these components, depending on their qualifications and experience.
Academic Stage: law degree or non-law degree + GDL
Aspiring barristers must complete either:
- An undergraduate degree in Law (LLB) or
- An undergraduate degree in any subject followed by a conversion course (Graduate Diploma in Law, GDL) or Senior Status Degree.
An online application system at the Central Applications Board (CAB) contains details of, and links to, all GDL course providers, a number of whom attend the annual Oxford Law Fair in Michaelmas term. Applications for the GDL can be made on a rolling basis throughout the year and all applications for full-time courses are made through CAB. Different institutions may respond and fill their courses at different rates. While there is no CAB closing date, some institutions may ask for applications to be made before a certain date in order to have a place guaranteed or to be considered for awards or scholarships (subject to meeting their criteria). Research the institutions carefully and, when ready, make your application in good time. Please check the CAB website for the latest up-to-date information.
Vocational Stage: Bar training from September 2020
The vocational stage of training to become a barrister used to be satisfied by completing the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) - and you might still hear that term being used. As of September 2020, the BPTC has been replaced by a more flexible and more affordable system. There is no longer one common course title; instead, course providers choose their course name and have more flexibility in how they offer the training. The range of names include: the Barrister Training Course, the ICCA Bar Course and Bar Vocational Studies. In this career briefing, we'll use 'bar training course' as the common term for all courses.
Despite the lack of common course name, rest assured that all course providers must be authorised by the Bar Standards Board (the profession's regulator) in order to train future barristers. In other words, the courses are still regulated to a high standard.
Courses are likely to offer more online elements, which will help providers to keep the costs down. Some, but not all, providers are splitting their courses (and course fees) into two parts, allowing students to pay for part one before committing to an (often more expensive) part two. Some course providers give students the option of pausing their studies between parts one and two. Check individual course providers websites for details on how they offer their courses as providers' offerings vary.
For information on these courses, check individual providers' websites and to keep up-to-date with changes, please check Bar Standards Board
Bar course providers for 2021/22:
The following nine organisations (Authorised Education Training Organisations or AETOs in the new BSB terminology) have been authorised to deliver Bar training from September 2020.
- The Inns of Court College of Advocacy
- BPP University (Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, London & Manchester)
- The University of Law (Nottingham, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, London & Birmingham)
- The City Law School, City, University of London
- University of Northumbria Law School
- Nottingham Trent University
- University of the West of England (UWE)
- Cardiff University
- Manchester Metropolitan University
Wherever you apply, your application for the Bar training will be assessed according to your degree results, and the evidence you can provide of having relevant skills and your references. Some authorised education and training organisations (AETOs) will require you to go through selection interviews or assessment. Like entry for the BPTC, entry to the new bar training courses is expected to be competitive.
Students used to apply for the BPTC via a centralised application system, similar to UCAS, known as BarSAS. This website has now been scrapped. You now need to apply to the individual providers (listed above) directly for a place on their bar training course. There is no centralised system.
The Bar Course Aptitude Test
In order to enrol on a bar training course (the vocational stage of training), you must have first passed the Bar Course Aptitude Test. The BCAT tests students’ critical thinking and reasoning and is similar in style to the Watson and Glaser critical thinking tests used by many law firms.
The BCAT test can be taken at home or at a Pearson Vue test centre and the cost to sit it in the UK is £150.Test results are a pass, a marginal fail or a significant fail, and the results are valid for 5 years. Check the Pearson Vue website for information on test delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic and if you want to take it outside the UK.
Support from the four Inns of Court
You must join one of the Inns of Court before you begin the vocational stage of training: Lincoln's Inn; Gray's Inn; Middle Temple or Inner Temple. Each Inn differs slightly in character but all offer similar support. Choosing an Inn is a personal decision but will have no impact on where you can apply for pupillage (just like all Oxford colleges differing in character, but whichever college you choose, you can still use the Careers Service!).
They provide educational and collegiate activities, library facilities, support for barristers and student members, advocacy training and other continuing professional development opportunities. If you are sure of your intention to train as a barrister, the earlier you join an Inn, the more advantageous it is for you.The earliest point that you can join is usually in the second year of your law degree.
Once you have joined an Inn you should start attending the 12 qualifying sessions that need to be undertaken before Call to the Bar (consisting of activities such as lectures, residential courses, moots and debates, often combined with dinners or other social events). Each Inn organises its own events for these purposes and will inform you of them.
The education office at your Inn can provide advice on matters such as mini-pupillages, choice of conversion, that Inn's scholarships or the bar training course. You can also be mentored via your Inn by a practising barrister and the Inns provide useful networking events. These officers can also be extremely helpful in arranging relevant contacts for you to speak to and in advising on the character of individual sets of chambers.
The Inns also provide a substantial amount of financial assistance for the various stages of becoming a barrister awarding over £6 million in scholarships every year (see Funding your training below).
If you successfully complete the vocational component of training, you are 'called to the Bar' by your Inn. However, you may not practise as a barrister until you have completed the pupillage/work-based learning component (see 'Getting a job')
Funding your training
Unlike the solicitors' side of the profession where the big global law firms sponsor their trainees' course fees, barristers' chambers are unlikely to sponsor you through the academic or vocational stages. This is partly due to the timing of recruitment. Chambers often offer pupillage once candidates are already on the bar training course whereas solicitors' firms recruit trainee solicitors two years in advance when they are still on their undergraduate degree. Some sets of chambers (notably the commercial and civil sets) offer the opportunity to 'draw down' some of your pupillage award early, during your bar training course, to help you make ends meet while training.
The costs involved to go through the different stages to become a barrister are considerable (check providers' websites). Although chambers don't sponsor their future pupils, there are other ways to fund your training:
Scholarships from the Inns of Court
All four Inns of Court offer scholarships and bursaries and the amount varies from Inn to Inn. In total, the four Inns offer over £6 million in scholarships.
You can only apply for scholarships at one Inn. The majority of these scholarships go to support those on the bar training courses, but smaller awards are also available for the GDL conversion course. When choosing an Inn to apply to for scholarships, consider the number of overall scholarships available, the size of the scholarships and the number of student members (the competition!) at that Inn.
Each Inn has its own set of criteria to assess students' eligibility for these scholarships but they are primarily based on merit rather than financial need. The Inns are likely to consider intellectual ability, motivation, research skills, your commitment to a career at the Bar and your advocacy potential. Check each Inn's websites for the scope of these awards and eligibility criteria.
Closing dates are typically: the November before you start your Bar training course for Bar training support or the May before your start your GDL for conversion course support.
A postgraduate loan from the Student Loans Company
You are not eligible to apply for postgraduate loan from the Student Loans Company for the Bar training course. Some Bar training providers, however, offer the chance to upgrade your course with a research element, which makes it an LLM Masters, allowing you to meet the Student Loans Company criteria and apply for a postgraduate loan of £11,570.
Check with the law schools that interest you, to see what sort of financial assistance they can provide.
There is some limited funding from a few organisations for students from ethnic minority groups, students with disabilities and overseas students. For example, the Inderpal Rahal Memorial Trust (deadline usually end of April), the Kalisher Scholarship Trust and Snowden Award Scheme.
There are a number of charitable trusts that are prepared to consider applications for financial help towards vocational training, e.g. the Thomas Wall Trust. Details of various trusts are included in The Grants Register, and The Directory of Grant-Making Trusts.