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If you’re thinking of becoming a solicitor, take a look at our specific "Solicitor finances" page.
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. Universities are able to charge fees of up to £9,000 per year, so you should check the cost of with individual institutions. However, be aware that the majority of universities have opted to charge the maximum tuition fee of £9,000 per year.
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 - the full amount available being set at £9,250 for the academic year 2017-18.
- 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 the academic year 2016-17, the loan if living independently and studying in London is up to £10,702.
Most students have to borrow both, but the loans are repayable only after you have graduated and even then you pay only 9% on earnings more than the repayment threshold; this is set at £21,000 in 2016-17, meaning that you must be earning at least this to start repaying (NB this figure can change year to year).
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). Government maintenance grants, based on your earnings or those of your parents, can be up to £57.90 a week for single students aged 16-24 and you don’t have to pay them back.
Visit the government’s student finance website for more details of how financial support is administered.
If you did a non-law degree and have to study the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), expect to pay up to £10,590 (for a full-time course in London in 2016-17). Added to these fees are your own living costs.
Course fees for the 2016-17 Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) were as much as £19,040. 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. However, 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.
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.
Career development loans are deferred repayment loans that are available to help pay for vocational courses, including fees and any related expenses, not exceeding a total of £10,000. One month after finishing the course, you must begin to repay the loan to the Cooperative Bank over an agreed period and at an agreed rate. In July 2016 The University of Law announced that it would be providing loans to its master's and LPC students, via the Student Loans Company, for up to £10,000.
Worth noting is that career development loans cannot be used to fund a course that leads to another course rather than employment, so the GDL is not covered.
Inns of Court scholarships
Between them, the four Inns manage to dish out millions of pounds 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 £22,000 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.
For a summary, read our feature "Be part of the Inn crowd: joining an Inn of Court". Contact the Inns direct for more detailed info: www.lincolnsinn.org.uk, www.innertemple.org.uk, www.middletemple.org.uk and www.graysinn.org.uk.
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 £60,000.
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.