Becoming a Barrister

To become a barrister you must complete:  

  1. A qualifying law degree or a graduate law conversion course (Graduate Diploma in Law)
  2. The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) 
  3. A Pupillage
  4. Tenancy  

Competition to become a Barrister

There are always many more BPTC students than pupillages available which makes entry into the profession extremely competitive. The Bar Council states that every year there are usually around:

  • 2,500 applicants for the BPTC and 1,500 places
  • 500 pupillages with slightly fewer tenancies

View the statistics via The Bar Standards Board.

Improving your prospects through work experience

It is crucial to get relevant work experience. Ideally you should research the chambers where you wish eventually to work, complete a mini pupillage with them and also with other chambers which focus on similar areas of law. Consider also doing a placement in a solicitor's firm to show that you are making an informed decision about The Bar.

Mini pupillages usually last between 2-5 days and involve shadowing barristers, reading papers and discussing cases, court visits and attending client meetings. There is no central admissions procedure, instead you should write to individual chambers. There is a list of chambers offering mini pupillages in the Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook (available in the Careers Centre) or search on Law Careers.Net.    

Our leaflet about improving your prospects in law describes how to secure other types of relevant work experience, including placements in law firms. 

The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)

The GDL (sometimes also called the GDip or Common Professional Exam) is a law conversion course for those wishing to become a solicitor or barrister and who haven't completed a qualifying law degree. Here are a few key facts: 

  • It is comprised of seven foundation subjects: law contract, law of tort, criminal law, property law, public law, equity and the law of trusts, law of the European Union.
  • Search for and apply via Lawcabs for full time courses. There is no official closing date, but courses may fill well before the start date so ensure you apply early (eg. by the start of December  for courses starting the following September). The form is available at the beginning of October.
  • Apply directly to institutions for part time and distance learning courses.
  • The course lasts 1 year full-time, or 2 years part-time.
  • At time of writing the cost can be anything from £7,000 to £12,000 for a full-time course and varies according to provider.  
  • Funding is limited. See the Bar Council for details.

The Bar Professional Training Course

This is the essential vocational training stage which lasts 1 year (or 2 years part time). Here are a few key facts:  

  • Apply for the first round via the central admission system run by the Bar Standards Board between early Nov and early Jan. Once you have submitted your application you can not amend it.  
  • You can choose three institutions for the first round and will be asked to give your reasons for choosing your institutions - so research each institution carefully.
  • Institutions will see the order of preference in which you have placed their course, but not where else you have applied or your reasons for choosing those courses.
  • There is also a clearing system for those who haven't been offered a place in the first round and for late applications.
  • Fees are usually between £11,000 and £17,000. Funding is limited; see the Bar Council for details.
  • You must pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) before your offer of a place can be confirmed.
  • Before starting, you must join one of the four Inns of Court. These are professional associations which provide support and training.  
  • At the end of the BPTC, successful students are 'called to the bar' which is a ceremony held by the Inns of Court. 

Find out more about the content of a BPTC at Target Jobs and The Bar Standards Board.  

Pupillage

A pupillage is the final stage of training which takes place in chambers and lasts for one year. This is split into two six-month blocks, known as 'sixes'.  In the first six you observe and receive mentoring from an experienced barrister; in the second six you take on your own case loads. Here are a few facts:

  • Apply centrally via the Pupillage gateway or direct to barristers' chambers.
  • Chambers that aren't part of the central system can also be found on the pupillage portal.
  • They recruit 1.5 years in advance, so apply during your final year (law degree students) or GDL (non-law degree students).  
  • Submit your pupillage portal application for the first round between the end of March to end of April. Offers are made August to September. Students choose up to 12 chambers to apply to via the system.
  • Students can also submit a clearing application by mid September. Chambers with vacancies begin looking at clearing pool applications in October.  

The Training Contracts and Pupillages Handbook lists chambers with details of their specialist areas and numbers of pupillages. Also research opportunities for pupillage via lawcareers.net and read the guidance on selecting chambers and applying at Target Jobs and Bar Council.

Further information

Download our list of useful law sites, resources and directories.