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What do barristers do?

updated on 21 February 2024


Barristers working in sets of chambers are known as tenants. Tenants are self-employed barristers who come together in chambers to share resources and costs. Chambers usually have at least one senior barrister at the head and clerks to allocate and manage incoming work.

New tenants will often be expected to pay towards the cost of running the chambers (although costs are usually divided on a sliding scale by earnings). Joining a chambers may also involve, for example, buying into the company that owns the chambers building.

According to the Bar Standards Board’s most recent statistics from 2023, there are more than 14,000 self-employed barristers in England and Wales. They work within 404 sets of chambers, including sole practitioners. There are also just over 3,000 employed barristers (including those at the Crown Prosecution Service and Government Legal Profession).

Completing pupillage at a chambers doesn’t guarantee being offered tenancy. There were 346 tenancies offered in 2021/22, a significantly lower number than in 2019 (502). In 2022/23, 543 aspiring barristers began pupillage, demonstrating that there aren’t enough permanent places in chambers for everyone who completes pupillage. Inevitably, not every chambers can keep expanding every year.

If a barrister arrives at the end of pupillage without an offer of tenancy, a common path is to undertake a ‘third six’ at another chambers, where they continue to work as a pupil for another six-month probationary period. This can sometimes extend to a fourth six at the same or another chambers. You can access LawCareers.Net’s list of chambers and search by work area and city location to find possible tenancies.

For those unable to secure a tenancy, it’s sometimes possible to stay on at the chambers where you completed your pupillage as a 'squatter', which is like being a temporary tenant. Even though squatting may provide some work and income in the short term, it’s very difficult to build a practice as a non-permanent member of chambers and so this situation cannot go on indefinitely.

We spoke to practising barristers about their journeys to the Bar, the benefits of pupillage, the types of work they’re involved with now and their advice to you – read our Meet the Lawyer interviews for the insider knowledge. 

Continuing professional development

All barristers in the first three years of practice must fulfil at least 45 hours of continuing professional development (CPD). This requirement is in place to ensure that barristers maintain high standards and stay up to date with the changing needs of clients. According to the BSB, ‘CPD’ means “work undertaken over and above the normal commitments of your role” to:

  • develop knowledge, skills and professional standards in areas that are relevant to their area of practice;
  • keep barristers up to date; and
  • ensure high standards of professional practice are maintained.

Barristers are responsible for assessing what training they think they require to keep their skills and knowledge of the law up to date.