How to become a barrister: Christian’s story

Meet Christian, 26, a barrister from Nottingham. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

What is your job?

I am a barrister. I provide written advice and represent people in court. The chambers (which are like offices where barristers work) that I'm at has a focus on human rights work. My specialisms are prison law, immigration and asylum law, and legal processes like inquests and inquiries.

What is a typical day like?

It really does vary. I think that’s something you learn to love about the job.

Earlier this week, for example, I was in a completely different part of the country for a trial. I had to travel down there on Sunday night… I had my trial all day on Monday, went back into court on Tuesday and made my way back home that evening.

The rest of this week will be mostly paperwork. I am writing a legal argument on why I think an immigration case was decided wrongly by the judge. If the argument succeeds, it may help stop my client being deported.

I think most people will think of a barrister as somebody who wears a wig and gown but, depending on the type of work you do, your wig and gown may be something you hardly ever touch! In many cases you will simply be wearing a suit, or if you’re doing paperwork from home – your house attire.

Why did you decide to become a barrister?

It tapped into my genuine interests as a person – the rights of those people maybe society doesn’t look out for as much, like those fleeing their country to come to ours, or those in our prisons. Being a barrister allows you in some small way to make a difference to people.

I felt that being a barrister also utilised some of the more natural skills I had, like public speaking.

What other skills do you use?

  • Time management is very important. You often have a number of different cases on the go, all requiring different things.

  • People skills, certainly for the areas of law that I work in. The ability to not be a lawyer and just be a human being is incredibly important.

  • Passion for the job. You sometimes have to work very long hours. If you don't enjoy what you do and see it as important, I think you’ll really struggle. There’s only so far that determination and motivation can take you!

What qualifications do you need?

At A-level I did Law, Economics and Government and Politics. Then I did a Law degree.

After my Law degree, before I started the Bar course, I had to join one of the Inns of Court. There are four Inns – I’m part of Lincoln's Inn. You also have to do something called ‘qualifying sessions’, which are professional development events or formal dinners.

On completing the Bar course and your qualifying sessions, you are ‘called to the Bar’. The next step is trying to get a pupillage, which is a year of practical training.

How did you get into your job?

I got a pupillage at Garden Court North Chambers in Manchester, where I currently practise as a barrister. There was a first round interview, which included a conversation about current legal issues and why I want to be a barrister, and a second round interview with an advocacy exercise (a role play exercise where I had to pretend to represent a client in court).

Getting a pupillage is very competitive. For many people, it’s one of the most mentally challenging times. You have to become someone that is willing to push forward in the face of rejection and be willing to take on feedback.

It does give you good training to be a barrister, because you have cases that don’t go your way and the ability to be able to bounce back and be ready for your next case is a huge part of the job.

What top tips would you give to other people wanting to become a barrister?

Have perseverance. It’s also important to have an awareness of social issues, so start to watch the news.

Many barristers are self-employed… Get into the habit of managing your time well now. Fitting in time to be healthy, to have a social life, and to be still and breathe. It will transfer nicely when you become a barrister.

What to expect if you want to be a barrister

  • Barrister average salary: from £17,000 to £200,000 per year
  • Barrister typical working hours: 36 to 38 hours per week. You could work some evenings and weekends.

What qualifications do you need to be a barrister?

You could get into this role via university course(s) or by starting work at a law firm and gaining qualifications whilst working, with the support of your employer. You'll usually need two to three A-levels, or equivalent, to get a place on an undergraduate course. Alternatives to A-levels include taking a T-level (England-only), which is equivalent to three A-levels. There is a legal T-level available from 2023. Check with your course provider which alternative qualifications they accept.

Sources: LMI for All, National Careers Service, GOV.UK.

This information is a guide and is constantly changing. Please check the National Careers Service website for the latest information and all the qualifications needed and the GOV.UK website for more on T-levels.

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