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It’s astounding how many people have no idea what a barrister is, perhaps because the UK’s one of just a few places where there’s a distinction between solicitors and barristers. Other countries, like the US, have lawyers who deal with the client and go to court. Honestly, I’ve had people think that a barrister is a barista! Sometimes people think that the phrase “I’m doing the Bar” means that my aspirations are to become a bartender, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
In essence, a barrister is a specialist in court advocacy and an independent source of legal advice. They tend to be self-employed, but they work out of chambers. It’s important to note that chambers isn’t a law firm – think of them more as an exclusive co-working space. Joining chambers requires applying for pupillage, which is a form of paid work experience you do after completing the Bar course in order to qualify as a barrister.
This means that students who complete the Bar are not barristers. They could be referred to as unqualified barristers but that leads to confusion, so they’re often referred to as lawyers or aspiring barristers while during pupillage, individuals are referred to as a pupil. It’s only upon successful completion of pupillage that one can be referred to as a barrister because that’s when you have your practising certificate, which gives you the rights of audience needed to go into court and practice law.
Most barristers don’t deal with the lay client, which refers to ordinary people like you or me. Barristers have professional clients, who are solicitors and they’re the ones who deal with the lay client and take the legal problem to the barrister. A barrister’s role is to provide legal advice and present the case to court should the matter progress.
So, how does one become a barrister?
The first step is to get an undergraduate degree, whether in law or a non-law subject. If your undergraduate degree is non-law, you’ll need to do the law conversion course which is usually a year long. Step two is to join an inn of court, followed by step three which is to complete the Bar course (again this takes a year full-time) and finally, step four is to get and complete a pupillage. Pupillage itself is (you guessed it) a year long, but it can take a few years to get one. Between completing the Bar and commencing pupillage, you can do a range of jobs such as being a paralegal or a judicial assistant. Once pupillage is complete, you’re now a barrister! It’s a very long process and you’re likely to have many rejections, which is why you must persevere.
If you have the academics, extracurriculars and mini-pupillages then getting into the Bar is just a matter of time (and luck).