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Barristers - training
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Education & training

Student Barrister


Ashley Spriggs graduation photograph

There are three ways to gain access to the vocation stage to becoming a barrister.

  1. By having at least a second-class honours law degree.  There are no exceptions, also the law degree must be a "qualifying law degree" or

  2. By completing the Common Professional Examination (CPE) after having completed a degree in another subject, or

  3. By following an approved Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) after having completed a degree in another subject.

Qualifying law degree

Not all law degrees are sufficient, the law degree must be a "qualifying law degree", which will normally comprise the core subjects of:

  • European Law

  • Public Law

  • Equity and Trusts

  • Property Law

  • The English Legal System

  • Contract Law

  • Criminal Law

Some universities are now offering four year "Exempting Degrees" that include the Bar Vocational Course or the Legal Practice Course.  These are claimed to be cheaper and better.

See Northumbria University prospectus here.



The National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) was conceived in 2003 by a group of eight leading universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and University College London (UCL), to provide an additional means of differentiating between candidates for their highly competitive law degree courses who had scored top grades at A-Level.


The group has now grown to 10 universities: Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Glasgow, King's College London, Nottingham, Oxford, UCL.

Vocational stage

The Bar Vocational Course (BVC), a one year course costs up to £10,000 for tuition alone.  50% of BVC students are male, 18% of ethnic origin.


Must join one of four Inns of Court

Before being called to the Bar a student barrister must join one of the four Inns of Court which are:

  • Middle Temple

  • Inner Temple

  • Lincoln’s Inn

  • Gray’s Inn

The Inns are responsible for "calling to the Bar" the newly qualified barrister.


Must "keep terms"

A student barrister must keep terms at his Inn.  This can mean on at least twelve occasions dining at his/ her Inn before being called to the Bar. 


Keeping terms can also include training sessions or training weekends.  Dining is declining.

Must secure pupillage funded by chambers

Only about 20% of newly qualified barristers secure a pupillage .


A pupillage lasts 12 months (or can be two six month pupillages).


In Edmonds v Lawson [2000] CA it was held that there is no requirement for a pupil to be paid, but a Bar Council scheme requires chambers to offer pupils a minimum of £10,000 a year, some offer £40,000 to the best candidates.


Pupil funding is based on sets of chambers wishing to attract the best candidates.


Under The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 there can be no discrimination against an applicant for pupillage on the grounds of age.


Bar Council pupillage website

The Bar Council has provided a comprehensive focal point for would be pupils and chambers offering pupillages.

Web site here

Pupil master

The pupil master trains the pupil barrister the pupil master will always be an experienced barrister approved by the Bar Council.


Second 6

The second 6 months of a pupillage is called the second 6th during which the pupil barrister will be able to appear in court on behalf of clients after, and earn fees.


Can be done with a solicitor

Recent changes to the rules allow pupillage to be undertaken in a solicitor’s office in certain circumstances.


Tenancy or squatting

After pupillage the barrister must find a set of chambers from which to work.

Alternatively, if his/her application to become a tenant at chambers of his choice he might "squat" in the chambers where he finishes his pupillage until he is settled.

Continuing Professional Development


New barristers have to undertake forty-two hours of advocacy training in first three years of training.


The Neuberger recommendations in brief

Neuberger report

In 2007 a 220-page report with 57 recommendations from the Law Lord, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury was published on how to ensure recruitment to the Bar is based on merit alone.


The report is available here


Law module in national curriculum

There should be a new law module in the Personal Social Health Education (PSHE) element of the National Curriculum.


Course should be improved

There is an urgent need to improve the course as too many students are coming out with the 'very competent' grade when they are 'barely competent'. There are also too many students taking the BVC -- about 2,000 a year -- when there are only 500 pupillages on offer.


BVC should be dependant on pupillage

Applicants should know whether they have been offered a pupillage before risking the loss of the deposit for the course.


Students are coming to the BVC with debts of around £30,000 and face a cost for the year on the course, including living and travel expenses, of about £25,000.


English language requirement

There should be an effective English language entry requirement

2:1 degree should be minimum

Research is needed on the impact of imposing a 2:1 BVC entry condition, given a third of current students have a 2.2 or a third and very few of those will get pupillages. This would eliminate 600 potential students a year.

However, the report warns that might impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.


Bar entry exam and loans

The report also calls for an investigation as to the feasibility of a Bar entrance examination, which is fair as between all applicants;

a soft loan scheme to support study for and entry to the Bar (now in place, see below);

and the ability to convert the BVC into a Masters qualification to make it more portable.


More pupillages

There should be more employed and other pupillages, with a funding pool sponsored by the Government.


Guaranteed income schemes

There should be guaranteed income schemes for barristers in their early years as well as mentoring and support schemes for particular groups, such as women on maternity leave or practitioners with disabilities.


HSBC and Bar Council act on Neuberger Report


Jan 2008

The HSBC bank has teamed up with the Bar Council and the four Inns of Court to offer bar loans to students intending to become a barrister in England and Wales. The interest rate is an extremely low, just one per cent over HSBC’s base rate.

The bar loan scheme will be open to students that have obtained a place on the Bar Vocational Course (BVC).

The appointment of Queen's Counsel (QC)

Queen’s Counsel ‘QC’

A barrister will remain a ‘junior’ until he becomes a QC.


Any barrister or a solicitor may apply to the independent Application and Selection Panel for Queen's Counsel to become a Queen’s Counsel (QC).


Otherwise known as a ‘Silk’, from a QC’s right to wear a silk gown in court.


Becoming a QC is a mark of professionalism and status but competence is not guaranteed.

Ultimately, a barrister will probably seek promotion to the judiciary.


May 2003
Lord Chancellor suspended promotion to QC

The Office of Fair Trading branded the old system of selection obscured by "secret soundings" and the perceived privilege it represented, as a restrictive practice. 


It was alleged that the rank of QC operated as an unaccountable means of entry into the judiciary that failed to reflect the diversity of the profession, let alone wider society, by favouring certain groups.


In addition, it served to artificially inflate legal fees.


An Office of Fair Trading report, 'Competition in the Professions', lead to the current system of promoting QCs


However, a working party representing the judiciary from top to bottom, excluding law lords, announced that the QC system was not simply a quality mark, but "an important part of the machinery of justice".


Solicitor QCs

Only one solicitor was made a QC in 2003 out of a record 121 appointments.

This brings the total number of solicitor QCs to eight since they were allowed to apply in 1996.


Application and Selection Panel - appointed by the Queen


Website here

The public competition for appointing Queen's Counsel (QCs) was introduced in England and Wales on 19 July 2005, an independent panel - Queen’s Counsel Appointments - now makes the selection, which is approved (or not) by the Lord Chancellor and passed to the Queen for approval.


Previously, the Lord Chancellor recommended barristers (and solicitors) for appointment by the Queen following consultation with judges and senior practitioners (traditionally this would occur on Maundy Thursday). 


Only barristers and solicitors with higher rights of audience should apply

Eligibility Requirements
Applicants must be either

(a) called to the Bar of England and Wales and have a current practising certificate; or


(b) a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, with Higher Court rights of audience under the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 and have a current practising certificate.

Seven headings, self assessed

Under the new scheme, which was developed by the Bar Council and Law Society, applicants will assess their own suitability to take silk under seven headings:

  1. Integrity

  2. Understanding and use of the law

  3. Analysis of case material

  4. Persuasiveness

  5. Response to the development of a case

  6. Working with the client

  7. Teamwork.

12 judicial referees

Applicants must provide the names of referees who have recently seen them at work, including 12 judges or arbitrators, fellow practitioners or professional clients.

The fee for successful applicants £4,050 (QC's in previous years were earning not less than £120,00).

Constitution of the selection panel

The Selection Panel includes a retired senior judge and other eminent persons drawn from the law and lay professions.

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (the Lord Chancellor) will transmit the panel's recommendations to the Queen.

The procedure whereby a barrister Member of Parliament who becomes a Minister is automatically made a QC appears not to have been changed.

First selection procedure - 2005 - attracts fewer minority ethnic candidates

The new transparent scheme for selecting QCs was meant to attract more minority ethnic lawyers. It appears to have failed before it has started. Only 21 have applied to become QCs a smaller proportion (5%) than under the old system.

It is thought that the fee of £1,800 paid on application has deterred black and Asian lawyers, who are known to earn less than other lawyers. The £1,800 is not refundable and as only one in four gets selected there is a considerable risk. 97% of the applicants were barristers.

Details here

So, you want to become a barrister?

Read the "Task Force on Funding Entry to the Bar" report by the Bar Council, which shows that new barristers start their pupillage with £15,000 of debt, here.


Barristers in Parliament

In 1960 25% of the members of the Commons were barristers and in 2001 the percentage was 5.2%. Despite this fall, the bar is still well-represented in government.

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