Life as a barrister


Barristers working within a set of chambers are self-employed and known as tenants. Tenants therefore work for themselves under the umbrella of chambers, but with an experienced barrister at the head and usually a clerk to manage the flow of work. New tenants will often be expected to pay towards the cost of running the chambers (although costs are usually apportioned on a sliding scale by earnings), and in some cases even to buy into a company that, for instance, owns the chambers building. As of 2014, there were approximately 12,709 self-employed barristers in England and Wales, with about 7,900 in London. They work within some 400 sets of chambers, including sole practitioners. There were around 2,800 employed barristers (including those at the CPS and GLS).

Even though you have completed pupillage, there is no guarantee that you will manage to secure a tenancy. In fact, only one-third of pupils find a tenancy. The most obvious place to look for a tenancy is the chambers at which you did your pupillage. Normally, a tenancy committee will consider your academic and practical skills as well as your personal qualities.

However, even if you are an exceptional candidate there may be no vacancies at the chambers, so you may have to look elsewhere. You can access our list of chambers and search by work area and city location to try to locate a tenancy. Also, if you are thinking of widening your search, you can get a detailed idea of what it is like to work at different sets of chambers in various work areas and locations.

For those unable to secure a tenancy, it is sometimes possible to stay on at the chambers where you did your pupillage as a 'squatter', which is like being a temporary tenant. Despite the fact that squatting may provide some work and income in the short term, it is very difficult to build a practice as a non-permanent member of chambers and so this situation cannot go on indefinitely. Another option might be to find a third, or indeed fourth, six to continue your pupillage until a tenancy emerges. Do not be too despondent if none of these approaches works and you fail to get a tenancy. There are many interesting and lucrative alternative career opportunities that you may wish to consider.

Continuing professional development

Barristers must complete a set programme of compulsory ongoing training. Continuing professional development (CPD) covers advocacy, case preparation and procedure, professional conduct and ethics, and accounting. In your first three years of practice, you’ll fall under the new practitioners’ programme in which you’ll have to fulfil 45 hours of CPD. This needs to include at least nine hours of advocacy training and three hours of ethics. Then, in the established practitioners’ programme, you'll have to do 12 hours per year. CPD activities include attending courses directly relevant to practice, teaching law on undergraduate courses, and writing law books or publications.