Back to overview

Features

Bar courses: a student’s guide to barrister training 2023-24

updated on 22 November 2022

The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) was replaced by a range of new Bar courses in September 2020. To become a barrister, students must pass a Bar course approved by the Bar Standards Board. All approved Bar courses lead to the same destination – being ‘called to the Bar’, which enables you to apply for a pupillage. Here’s LawCareers.Net’s guide to Bar courses.

Reading time: eight minutes

The Bar Standards Board states that the new qualification route makes barrister training more flexible, accessible and affordable than ever before. Bar courses take one year to complete when studying full time, are now provided in one or two parts,  the courses are provided by different universities, and also vary in fees (between £12,000 and £19,340), contact time with tutors, materials provided and learning styles catered for. 

Bar courses are titled differently depending on your course provider (eg, 'Bar Vocational Course’, ‘Bar Practice Course’, ‘Barrister Training Course’ ‘Bar Vocational Studies’ and more). But all are assessed the same and lead to the same postgraduate diploma required to be ‘called to the Bar’. Students must pass their Bar course to be eligible for a pupillage – the final stage of qualifying before being able to practise as a barrister. 

What are the requirements to qualify as a barrister?

Qualifying as a barrister is a three-stage process:

  • The academic stage: an undergraduate law degree or any non-law degree plus a graduate law conversion. The minimum undergraduate requirement is a 2.2, but you’re realistically likely to need at least a 2.1. 
  • The vocational stage: a postgraduate Bar course (see more about the new Bar courses below).
  • The pupillage/work-based learning stage: one year practising as a pupil barrister at a barristers’ chambers or other organisation, with the first six-months spent shadowing a senior barrister and the second six working on cases as a junior.

In addition, prospective barristers must join one of the four Inns of Court and complete 12 ‘qualifying sessions’ run by their Inn – this takes place during the vocational stage. The Inns also administer the ‘fit and proper person’ test that prospective barristers must pass when they’re called to the Bar after graduating from the Bar course.

The vocational stage of training can be completed in the following ways:

  • Three-step route: this is similar to the old route. The academic stage (a law degree on its own or a non-law degree plus law conversion) is followed by the vocational stage (a postgraduate Bar course). The Bar course is followed by the third and final step: pupillage or work-based component.
  • Four-step route: the academic stage, followed by the Bar course divided into two parts, followed by pupillage or work-based component. One part of the Bar Course may be delivered through self-study (ie, no tutor contact). In this route, students do not pay fees for part 2 of the course until they’ve successfully completed part 1. Part 2 is the much more expensive part of the course, so this means that students who fail part 1 aren’t locked into paying the full fees (as they were on the BPTC). Students can also take a break after completing part 1 and return to part 2 later.
  • Integrated route: combined academic and vocational stages (where the Bar course is integrated into an undergraduate law degree) followed by pupillage.
  • Apprenticeship route: academic, vocational and pupillage components combined in an apprenticeship. However, while plans for barrister apprenticeships have been discussed and are considered a “viable option” to qualifying as a barrister, this route is not yet available.    

Part-time study options are available on the three-step and four-step routes.

The Bar course can be combined with a master’s (LLM) qualification, which makes it eligible for postgraduate student loan funding.

The BSB states that students will have unlimited attempts to pass the Bar course assessments within five years. That said, the academic regulations of the vocational course providers may differ from this for their associated academic awards. 

What are the transitional arrangements for BPTC students?

From September 2020 bar courses replaced the BPTC. BPTC students had until Spring 2022 to complete their course. BPTC students with assessments still to pass after Spring 2022 will be affected in several ways, including that they’ll need to take the new centralised assessments for civil litigation and professional ethics. Full details are on the BSB website.

Bar courses

Here are the institutions and Bar courses that enable students to complete the vocational stage of barrister training. To secure a place on one of the below courses, students must apply directly to a particular university or law school. This information applies to the 2022/23 or 2023/24 academic year dependent on Bar course providers' most up-to-date information.

University/law school Name of Bar course Locations Routes offered Annual start dates Study format Fees
BPP University Law School (2023-24) Barrister Training Course (BTC)

Birmingham

Bristol

Leeds

London

Manchester

Course in one part

Course in part with LLM

Course in one part with Professional Legal Studies

Course in one part with Professional Legal Studies (LLM)

September (and January for London only)

Full time

Part time

BTC outside London: £14,121 or £15,151 in London

BTC (LLM): £14,770 outside London or £16,315 in London

BTC with Professional Legal Studies outside London: £14,121 or £15,151 in London

BTC with Professional Legal Studies (LLM): £14,770 outside London or £16,315 in London.

City University London (2023-24) Bar Vocational Studies (BVC) London

Course in one part (LLM)

Course in one part (PgDip)

Course in one part (PgDip  with specialism)

September

Full time

Part time

LLM: full-time per year £19,730, part-time per year £9,860     

PgDip: full-time per year £16,670, part-time per year £8,330

PgDip with specialism: full-time per year £18,710, part-time per year: £9,350    

The Inns of Court College of Advocacy (2023-24) ICCA Bar Course London Course in two parts September and January

Full time

Online learning (part one)

Course in two parts: total £14,830

Part one only, including ICCA fee, textbooks and BSB intake fee: £2,669

Part two only, including ICCA fee, textbooks and BSB intake fee: £12,161     
Northumbria University (2023-24) Bar Course Postgraduate Diploma Newcastle

Course in one part

Course in one part (LLM)

Integrated MLaw (course with undergraduate law degree and LLM)
September

Full time

Part time

Course in one part: £12,300

LLM: £12,300

MLaw: £9,250 a year undergraduate fees

Nottingham Law School (2022) Barristers Training Course (BTC) Nottingham

Course in one part (PGDip)

Course in one part with LLM
September Full time

Course in one part (PgDip) for 2022: £12,200

Course (LLM) for 2022: £14,800

The University of Law (2023-24) Bar Practice Course (BPC)

Birmingham

Bristol

Leeds

London Bloomsbury

Manchester

Newcastle

Nottingham

Course in one part 

Course in one part with LLM
January 2023, June 2023, September 2023, January 2024

Full time

Part time

Course in one part: £14,200 outside London, £15,650 in London

Course in one part (LLM): £16,600 outside London,£18,350 in London

Cardiff University (2023-24) Bar Training Course Cardiff

Course in one part (PgDip)

Course in one part (LLM)

September Full time

Course in one part (PgDip): £18,700

Course in one part with LLM: £18,700

Bristol Law School (2023-24) Bar Training Course Bristol

Course in one part (LLM)

Course in one part (PgDip)

September Full time

Course in one part full time (LLM): £15,750

Course in one part, part time (LLM): £7,875 per year

Course in one part, full time (PgDip): £13,750

Manchester Metropolitan University (2023-24) Bar Training Course Manchester

Course in one part

September

Full time

Part time 

Part-time flexible

Full time: £12,500

Part time: £1,042 per 10 credits studied per year

University of Hertfordshire

Bar Practice

Hertfordshire

Course in one part (LLM)

Course in one part (PgDip)

September  Full time

Course in one part (LLM): £14,100

Course in one part (PgDip): £11,970  


Case study: The University of Law

To give students a better sense of the different learning options now on offer, we’ve outlined what The University of Law’s (ULaw) Bar Practice Course (BPC) involves in more detail below.

ULaw’s BPC is taught continuously in one part and involves face-to-face learning with tutors throughout the course. Like all new Bar courses, the BPC comprises the knowledge areas of:

  • criminal litigation;
  • civil litigation;
  • evidence and sentencing; and
  • evidence and resolution of disputes out of court.

It will also cover the following core skills:

  • advocacy;
  • conferencing;
  • drafting;
  • opinion writing;
  • professional ethic; and
  • legal research.

Students also have the option to combine the BPC with an additional master’s qualification, which can be gained in the following three ways:

  • Pro bono pathway: Students carry out pro bono work throughout the year, providing free legal advice to members of the public under the supervision of a master’s solicitor. At the end of the year, the students write a critical reflective review of their pro bono experiences.
  • Dissertation pathway: Students complete a dissertation in addition to their BPC studies.  
  • Optional modules pathway: Complete a range of optional assessed modules to help shape the direction of your career. Students will then sit the exams once they’ve finished the BPC.

The BPC also provides the option to study knowledge and practical skills separately or together. “There are two different ways that students can undertake the course full time,” explains Jaqueline. “The first is to start the course in July and sit centralised assessments in December. In this option, students study civil and criminal litigation from July to mid-September, then practical skills and advocacy are brought in from September onwards once they have covered the basics principles of litigation. Revision sessions will then run concurrently with skills training so that students are fully prepared for the assessments.

“The second option for full-time students is to start in September, following the more traditional academic timetable. Students who take this route study litigation, advocacy and practical skills simultaneously throughout the course, and sit the centralised assessments in April.”

Jaqueline continues: “We believe in teaching the practical skills alongside the litigation, so that even in our July-start course, students will have benefited from exposure to advocacy and other skills before they sit any assessment. This puts the litigation in context and makes it much easier to understand.”

Supplementary online learning is another important resource for students: “The virtual learning environment is a valuable resource that sets out required learning and reading in an engaging way. It also includes short videos and demonstrations. We provide an app, ‘Synap’, which enables students to practise the kind of multiple-choice questions that they will face in the litigation assessments. It also has a ‘space learning’ feature which tests students on the sorts of questions that they’ve failed previously to help them improve.”

More flexibility, more to think about

Current Bar courses offer one immediate positive for students – generally lower fees than the old BPTC system and the vital option to divide the Bar course into two parts, which eliminates some of the financial risk of pursuing this highly competitive career path.

But with a much wider range of choices in terms of course structure and fees, prospective barristers must spend time familiarising themselves with all the options to make an informed decision about where they study.