Why become a barrister?

The Bar is a profession and a vocation. Barristers of all backgrounds, genders, ethnicities, religions and sexualities are united by a desire to ensure everyone has a voice.

Why become a barrister in independent practice?

  • You want to help: find the meaning of a badly-drawn will or contract; negotiate sensible childcare arrangements; mitigate for someone facing a prison sentence, represent victims of accidents; help businesses with commercial disputes; challenge irrational or inconsiderate decisions made by public bodies.
  • Fundamental (un)fairness bothers you. Shouting loudest shouldn’t work, the deepest pocket shouldn’t always win, and public bodies shouldn’t be able to rely on resources unavailable to individuals.
  • You need your work to be varied and intellectually stimulating.
  • You (usually) want to work for yourself. If not, but the rest still applies, think about the employed Bar.
  • You want a friendly atmosphere that allows you to retain your independence.

Key skills of a barrister

  • You’re the sharp end of every case. Initial decisions are made as a team but on your feet, they’re yours alone and must be made quickly.
  • Work ethic. Want to get the judgement calls right? Prepare like a demon.
  • Problem assessment. You need to see all sides to anticipate the dangers in your case and your opponent’s case. You need to solve your problems and exploit theirs.
  • Academic ability. You don’t need an Oxbridge first but you do need good results.
  • Articulacy. You should be able to express complicated concepts in simple language to anyone.
  • Integrity. You must be utterly trustworthy and your ethical standards must never slip.

How and where barristers work

Barristers (usually) work together in what is known as a set of ‘chambers’ (or simply ‘a set’). This is the pooling-together of expertise, reputation and resources, and in London is usually formed of individuals working in the same practice area. Regional sets are far more likely to house multiple practice areas, and thus provide you with more choice. The administration is shared and each tenant (self-employed barrister) pays a fee into the kitty to allow that to happen (ways of calculating contributions vary widely); this covers overheads, staffing and pupillage awards.

The chambers structure allows barristers to practise in a collegiate atmosphere with like-minded individuals, offer help and support, give opinions when asked, and laugh at you when it goes dreadfully wrong – there is no better medicine.  Because each barrister remains self-employed, it also permits them to retain their independence. 

How often a barrister is in court, conference or in chambers doing paperwork depends on their practice area. For example, criminal barristers are almost always in court while their commercial counterparts don’t attend court nearly as often. 

Barristers can also work for other people or organisations – the employed Bar. This includes solicitors’ firms, governmental organisations (e.g. Crown Prosecution Service, Government Legal Department) and other businesses, organisations and charities. 

Next page: Stages of qualification