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The Bar Council of England and Wales

updated on 24 July 2023

The Bar Council represents approximately 17,000 barristers in England and Wales. It promotes the Bar’s high-quality specialist advocacy and advisory services; fair access to justice for all; the highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession; and the development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.  

A strong and independent Bar exists to serve the public and is crucial to the administration of justice. As specialist independent legal advocates, barristers enable people to exercise and uphold their legal rights and duties, often acting on behalf of the most vulnerable in society.

The Bar makes a vital contribution to the efficient operation of courts and tribunals in England and Wales. It provides a pool of talented individuals from increasingly diverse backgrounds from which a significant proportion of the judiciary is drawn, on whose independence the rule of law and our democratic way of life depend.

The Bar Council exists to act in the interests of the Bar on all matters relating to the profession. The Bar Council also supports barristers from the start of their careers, through their professional development and even after they retire. Barristers can always turn to the Bar Council for help at any point in their careers. They can access support and assistance on a range of issues, including professional ethics, wellbeing, career development and mentoring.

The Bar Council is a representative body that remains at the forefront of many campaigns in the public interest: defending the rule of law, supporting access to justice and promoting the legal services sector. The Bar Council also campaigns on a range of issues linked to conditions at work, including earnings, the allocation of work, parental leave, bullying and harassment, and promotional opportunities.

It offers a range of training courses and events for barristers, including meetings and networking opportunities at a range of locations in England, Wales and other jurisdictions. This helps to assist barristers in developing a list of contacts and clients, while helping to strengthen and extend international work and networking opportunities.

The Bar Council provides a confidential equality and diversity helpline as well as an ethical enquiries service for barristers. These resources help barristers with any problems they may encounter, offering information and advice about best practice on topics ranging from anti-money laundering to social media. As well as practice-focused support, the Bar Council provides access to a range of services, such as accountancy, financial planning, insurance and healthcare that’s often tailored to barristers’ needs and offered at competitive rates.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator for the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board (BSB). The BSB regulates barristers in England and Wales, and it’s responsible for setting standards of conduct for barristers and authorising barristers to practise, monitoring the service provided by barristers to assure quality. The BSB remit also includes the education and training requirements for becoming a barrister as well as setting continuing training requirements to ensure that barristers’ skills are maintained throughout their careers, and the organisation handles complaints.

Deciding whether you want to become a barrister

Bar mock trials

The Bar Council sponsors the annual Young Citizens Bar Mock Trials competition. The competition involves 15 to 18-year-olds taking on the main roles found in a criminal trial – such as prosecutor, defendant and witness – with legal case examples that have been written by legal experts.

Students compete against opposing teams from other schools, in real courtrooms, with the support of judges and practising barristers. The competition is the largest and longest running of its kind, involving hundreds of schools and thousands of students each year.

The Bar mock trials are just one way to get first-hand experience and see whether you’re interested in pursuing a career as a barrister.

Bar Placement Scheme

The Bar Placement Scheme is one of the Bar Council’s initiatives that’s designed to provide insights into the profession for talented sixth-form students who’ve shown an interest in a career at the Bar.

The scheme enables students to spend up to four days shadowing a barrister in chambers and in court. Participants receive training from the Inns of Court College of Advocacy and the scheme is an excellent opportunity to build up your skills and CV, and to work out whether a career at the Bar would be suitable for you.

Bar Pupillage Fair

The Bar Council’s Pupillage Fair is a great chance to find out everything you need to know about a career at the Bar. You can meet pupillage providers and hundreds of barristers from different chambers, and also get advice on everything from CVs and applications to funding and support.

The Pupillage Fair is the annual free-to-attend exhibition and networking event that offers all the essentials to kickstart a career at the Bar. It’s the only recruitment event run by the Bar and for the Bar of the future.

It’s the place to meet practising barristers from every area of the law, find out about their work and gain real insights into what life is like as a barrister. The fair is organised and run by the Bar Council with support from the Inns of Court and the Specialist Bar Associations to make sure it covers every angle of interest. Hundreds of volunteers at different stages of their careers are on hand to answer questions and offer advice and guidance.

It’s a huge event and a fun day, but there’s a lot happening so it’s worth planning in advance to make sure you get the most out of it. You can find out more information about the annual fair via the Bar Council website.

Different types of barrister

Barristers exist to serve the public. As specialist, independent advocates, barristers help people to uphold their legal rights and obligations, often acting on behalf of the most vulnerable members of society.

Barristers in England and Wales are mostly self-employed and operate independently under the ‘cab rank’ rule. This rule requires barristers to accept work (otherwise known as instructions) in any field in which they’re an expert (this is the area of law that they practise in) and they get paid a fee to do the work. The cab rank rule means a barrister must take a case that’s within their knowledge and expertise provided they’re free to do so, no matter how unpalatable the case.

The cab rank rule exists regardless of the barrister’s personal views or opinions about the client or the case. The rule is highly regarded and a fundamental part of the rule of law. In its simplest form, the rule of law means that “no one is above the law”. For the rule of law to be effective, there must be equality under the law, transparency of law, an independent judiciary and access to legal remedy and representation.

While many barristers are self-employed and work in chambers, approximately 3,000 are currently employed and work in-house. Employed barristers practise in a range of organisations and sectors, varying from business and government to social and health services. Employed barristers work across a range of areas of law and remain independent but only accept instructions from and provide legal services to their employer.

The Bar Council has an Employed Barristers’ Committee that represents and promotes the interests of the employed Bar on everything from career development opportunities and building practice to ensuring a diverse and dynamic profession.

Supporting the Young Bar

Junior barristers can gain access to the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC), which represents barristers in all areas of legal practice who are in their first seven years at the Bar.

A research report about young barristers, commissioned by the Bar Council, recently found that self-employed young barristers’ incomes vary considerably depending on their area of legal practice. Commercial law was on average the most highly paid area of work and criminal law the lowest paid. The research also found that increasing access to flexible working patterns and the opportunity for remote working were among the most common aspirations of young barristers today.

The YBC provides a collective, representative voice for young barristers at the Bar and helps to identify and resolve key challenges.

Volunteering at the Bar

Many barristers commit to doing voluntary legal work and they’re involved in this ‘pro bono’ work as members of Advocate or the Free Representation Unit. These organisations facilitate legal assistance between barristers and members of the public who otherwise would have no access to legal representation or support.

More information

For more information on a career at the Bar, please visit the Bar Council website and LawCareers.Net’s Barristers hub. If you have any questions, you can email: [email protected].

A note from Nick Vineall KC, chair of the Bar of England and Wales

"A career as a barrister is both enjoyable and hard work. The role combines intellectual challenge and the opportunity to help people from all walks of life who need specialist advice and help. It's a good choice if you're bright, able and willing to work very hard, be resilient, and are interested in the idea of justice. If you can't tick all of these boxes it's not a good choice. But if you do tick all those boxes, it doesn't matter what your background is. The intake to the Bar is very diverse in terms of race and gender and the profession is open and welcoming.

"Barristers are legal experts and specialist advisors who provide individuals and organisations with information so they can understand, exercise and defend their legal rights. Being a barrister is a hugely rewarding career and no two days are the same.

"Pupillage (training) provides aspiring barristers with the practical skills and experience needed to become a barrister. Vocational training and pupillages equip barristers for success in the profession, and barristers continually develop and maintain the skills they need to sustain and advance their practice for the duration of a life at the Bar. 

"For more advice and guidance, read our Becoming a barrister guide, co-produced with the Inns of Court and have a look at the Bar Council’s Pupillage Gateway Report for an overview of the data available about the application process.

"Good luck to all of you who are applying for pupillage. I hope you’ll enjoy a career in this wonderful profession, as I have. If you have any questions about careers at the Bar, please contact [email protected]."

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This information is supplied by the Bar Council.