If you’re thinking of becoming a solicitor, take a look at our specific "Solicitor finances" page here.
The total cost of qualifying as a barrister is not to be underestimated. Prospective practitioners should investigate potential sources of funding at each stage of qualification.
Firstly, there are your undergraduate degree tuition fees to consider, which used to be commonly set at around £3,000 per year (the maximum amount chargeable for the 2009-10 academic year was £3,225). From 2012, however, the government will allow universities to charge fees of up to £9,000 per year; as universities are free to determine how much they charge up to this amount, you should check the cost of with individual institutions.
For this stage of your education there are two types of student loan available:
- A student loan for fees (commonly called the ‘tuition fee loan’) covers the full amount of your fees. For 2011-12, the amount available will be £3,375 a year; from 2012-13, it will be £9,000.
- A student loan for maintenance (usually called the ‘living costs loan’) will depend on your city of study and whether you live independently or with family. For example, in 2011-12, the grant if living independently and studying in London was £6,928. In 2012-13, that will rise to £7,675.
Most students have to borrow both, but the loans are repayable only after graduation and even then you pay only 9% on earnings more than the repayment threshold; this is set at £15,000 if you start your course before September 2012, and £21,000 if you start your course in September 2012 or later (subject to approval by Parliament).
Some grants are also available from your university or indirectly when you’ve gone through the normal loans application process (the money actually comes from your local education authority). Grants, based on your earnings or those of your parents, can be up to £2,906 a year (until 2011-12; up to £3,250 from 2011-12) and you don’t have to pay them back.
The body that administers financial support for students is called Student Finance Direct and its website is www.studentfinance.direct.gov.uk.
If you did a non-law degree and have to study the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), expect to pay up to £8,950 (for a full-time course in London in 2011-12). Added to these fees are your own living costs.
Course fees for the 2011-12 Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) were as much as £15,750. Again, courses in London are the most expensive, and of course you still have to pay living expenses.
The GDL and the BPTC are not funded under normal grant and student finance arrangements because they are not usually eligible for local education authority funding. However, occasionally some funds are available, but these depend on your personal circumstances and you’ll have to contact your local education authority for more information.
The standard way of funding the GDL and/or the LPC is with a high-street bank loan. Some banks (eg, NatWest) used to offer special loans to postgraduate law students which had preferential rates and allowed longer time for repayment, but in 2011, these were withdrawn. Nevertheless, most banks should see you as a good investment because you will be a professional and should be able to earn enough money to repay them. However, unlike the government student loans, you will have to repay your bank loan as soon as the course is over, regardless of what you earn.
HSBC plans to offer a loan specifically for BPTC students through its Bar Professional Loans Scheme, details of which are to be announced shortly. The bank's previous Bar Loans Scheme offered a low interest rate of 1% over HSBC’s base rate and a three-year repayment holiday. The bank suspended the loan in November 2010 while it conducted a review of the product, but announced in March 2011 that it would be reinstated.
If you study the GDL or the BTPC at BPP Law School you are offered the possibility of 'The Law Loan' from Investec Bank. From September 2012, the scheme was extended to include part-time, as well as full time, students on the BTPC course. The Law Loan allows you to take out a loan to cover the cost of multiple courses, up to a total of £25,000. BPP students can find out more information here.
Note that the government-subsidised career development loan offered by some banks does not cover the GDL (because it leads to another course rather than employment).
Inns of Court scholarships
Between them, the four Inns manage to dish out over £4.5 million in awards every year. They all seem to use the umbrella term 'award' to describe scholarships, bursaries and grants. Curiously, few wannabe barristers know about all the awards available, and although the Inns’ websites provide some information, there is a complex web of requirements, application procedures and exactly what is available for what.
Each Inn is a completely separate entity and so the rules governing scholarships differ. Amounts vary from £100 up to £20,000 and all are awarded on merit, although some Inns have awards for certain achievements. Most awards are given to students on the BPTC, but the Inns also have funds available for those on the GDL.
It’s advisable to apply in the final year of your degree or in the year before starting the GDL or BPTC. The Inns’ websites have application forms which ask for character details, legal experience, income/funds and references. You can apply for scholarships only at one Inn. If the scholarships committee likes your application, it will invite you to an interview.
Some grant-making trusts and charities may offer financial assistance to those seeking to qualify as a barrister. You can find information about grants, loans and other funds from your local education authority awards officer.
You will be paid a minimum of £12,000 for the year of pupillage, although the prestigious sets pay upwards of £30,000.
Combined with servicing the debt inevitably accumulated in getting this far, the financial outlook for many is grim. In many cases the only way to progress is to take out (more) loans. If you find yourself in this situation, reflect on the fact that around two-thirds of BPTC students never even get a pupillage. It cannot be stressed enough that attempting to become a barrister is an expensive, high-risk project.