updated on 04 March 2021
Here is the process of how to become a barrister, from studying, to pupillage, to qualifying. Your own journey might differ slightly if you take a break from studying or study part time, so make sure you consider closing dates for the various Bar courses and pupillage applications.
First-year law and second-year non-law students
Winter holiday and spring term
The key to this year is thinking ahead. Focus on doing as well as you can in your studies, do your homework on the Bar and get involved in activities that will build up your skills and look good on your CV (eg, joining your student law society and getting involved in its activities, Duke of Edinburgh awards, debating/mooting, writing for the campus newspaper or playing for a sports team).
Research and apply for work experience (be it a mini-pupillage or a non-formal placement) in chambers for your summer holiday. Try to arrange a few stints in different chambers to get an overview of the various work areas. For an alternative way to pick up much-needed experience, see our “Pro bono initiatives” section. Remember that without work experience, any application for pupillage is unlikely to be taken seriously. Work experience will not only give you a stronger CV, but should also help you to decide whether the Bar really is for you.
Join one of the four Inns of Court, which are non-academic societies that provide activities and support for barristers and student barristers. You must join an Inn before 31 May of the year you start your Bar course, but it is a case of the earlier, the better in terms of getting involved with the activities or using the facilities (eg, library and common rooms). All students must also pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) before enrolling on a Bar course.
Second-year law and final-year non-law students
Autumn term, winter holidays and spring term
Attend relevant careers events, including careers fairs, presentations and talks and pupillage fairs). Look into funding possibilities for postgraduate training (eg, local education authority grants and inn scholarships). Keep applying for mini-pupillages – you want to have completed a few of these by the time you apply for a real pupillage.
Non-law degree students will need to apply for a law conversion course (often called the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) but it can be found under other names too). If you intend to study full time, you should apply through the Central Applications Board (www.lawcabs.ac.uk) from September onwards in your final year at university. There is not a closing date for applications; rather, applications are dealt with as they are submitted and institutions are notified weekly of new submissions. Applications for part-time courses must be made directly to the provider.
Find out about pupillage applications. Look at the different Bar course providers and check their application details. Gain work experience.
Final-year law and GDL students
Hot on the heels of your mini-pupillages, start making applications for pupillage. Finalise your funding options and be clear about closing dates for funding applications. For more on funding, see "Barrister finances".
Applications for a place on the Bar course must be made directly to the university or law school providing the course. This is a change from the old BPTC application process made through barsas – the barsas system has been discontinued.
Attend pupillage fairs (but note that the National Pupillage Fair is usually held in late November – if you can attend this during the winter term, be sure to go along).
Applications for pupillage are made through the centralised site, the Pupillage Gateway. Most chambers enable you to apply through the Pupillage Gateway, but some still require direct applications. Nevertheless, all pupillage vacancies at both types of chambers are listed on the system, so wherever you plan to apply, you should start by checking the Pupillage Gateway. Be aware that chambers that are not members of the Gateway (but still have to list their pupillages on the system) will have varying deadlines and methods of application, so check their individual websites for details.
The Pupillage Gateway opens for applications every January, with applications closing a month later. However, candidates can log in to the Gateway to browse vacancies and start preparing their applications from late November.
As a rule of thumb, you should apply for pupillage at least a year before you wish to start (ie, in January 2022 for a pupillage beginning in September 2023). You can apply to up to 12 member chambers (but as many non-member chambers as you like). For more information on when to apply, see Pupillage deadlines.
Pupillage offers via the centralised system will be made during May (the next date being 7 May 2021). If necessary, obtain a certificate for completion of the academic stage of legal training from the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
If you were unsuccessful in your pupillage applications last year, apply again this year in the same way as above.
Pupillage is one year spent in an authorised training organisation (either a barristers' chambers or another approved legal environment), usually split into two six-month periods referred to as 'sixes'.
Without practising, you will observe and assist your pupil supervisor and other barristers in chambers. The intention is that you share your supervisor’s daily professional life.
During these six months you will be entitled to supply legal services and exercise rights of audience as a barrister. You may have cases and your own clients, who you will represent in court. This is when you start to build up your reputation as a barrister.
At the end of the second six, you must submit a certificate to the BSB certifying that the second six has been satisfactorily completed. Provided that certain training conditions are met, you will be granted a full qualification certificate. Congratulations – you are a barrister!