Stages of qualification

There are three stages to qualifying as a barrister:

  1. The academic stage
  2. The vocational stage
  3. Pupillage

Academic stage: two (main) routes

  1. Law degree + Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)
  2. Other degree + Law Conversion (GDL) + BPTC

You do not need a law degree to become a barrister – you can do the GDL (a one year course covering the core subjects). It’s tough but interesting.

During the academic stage, you should aim to complete a handful of mini-pupillages (shadowing a barrister) and/or some marshalling (sitting with a judge) in different practice areas, participate in some moots and/or debates, and volunteer with legal or relevant non-legal organisations. This will let you decide if the Bar is for you and if so, what areas of law appeal.

Vocational stage: Bar Professional Training Course

The BPTC is a one- or two-year course (studied full- or part-time respectively) covering civil and criminal procedure and advocacy and writing skills. Passing every part of it is essential.

It leads to a formal qualification – a post-graduate diploma – but, crucially, allows the Inn of Court that you join before you start (everyone must be a member of an Inn before starting) to confer upon you the degree of utter barrister. This is what happens when you are “Called to the Bar.”

The BPTC costs a lot of money – almost £20,000 in fees alone in London (slightly less in the regions), and then there are materials and living costs. It’s a big investment.

All four Inns of Court offer generous scholarships (for both the GDL and the BPTC), and BPTC providers often have other funding available.


Pupillage is essentially a year-long apprenticeship. For the first six months, you follow one or more barristers in court and help with their paperwork. You train as you go. In the ‘second six’ months, you also undertake your own cases under the watchful of eye of members of chambers, who will be assessing your skills and determining your long-term value to them with a view to (potentially) inviting you to join them as colleagues. At the end of the year, you look for permanent tenancy or another job.

You have to complete pupillage in order to get a practicing certificate. All working barristers must hold a practicing certificate. Put simply – to become a barrister, you must complete pupillage.

Getting pupillage is incredibly tough – see the rest of this website for more details.

For more information on this topic, please also see other websites!

Next page: Mini-pupillages