skip to content

Where to start

A career as a barrister is very competitive. Getting on the first steps of the career ladder (pupillage) can take a long time, and be expensive, although some external funding is available. The Bar Council which regulates all barristers has produced a guide to becoming a barrister, and the routes to qualification can be found on LawCareersNet. Our own Cambridge Careers Guide to Succeeding in Applying to be a Barrister  is invaluable reading. 

Our Supporters are committed to supporting the development of Cambridge students and graduates.

How to know if you’re suited to this sector

You’ll need to be analytical, with a natural attention to detail and an ability to stay focussed on the main issue. You’ll be happy to check dense texts for errors and omissions of content and/or fact.

As a barrister you’ll work as an individual liaising and consulting with others, but not often as part of a team. You’ll need to be self-directing, highly organised, and able to prioritise and meet deadlines.

Advocacy is a key part of this career. You need to be confident speaking in public and able to think through arguments ‘on your feet’. Don’t worry if your performance isn’t yet polished, as this will come with experience and training. You must, however, be comfortable taking on the task.

How to get the experience to be credible

There are several formal schemes (a proportion of which have migrated to virtual delivery). Most will apply to both law and non-law students. The times at which they are available may vary. Conventionally, aspiring barristers complete one or more mini pupillages, which are unpaid periods of up to a week and are spent shadowing a barrister in chambers and court and doing administrative tasks. Applicants usually write an unsolicited submission to Chambers (either the Clerk or Head of the Pupillage Committee). Students usually try to complete three or four mini pupillages, including one in the Chambers they favour most. It is also possible to “marshall” with a judge (also a short period of time spent shadowing).

Further study or certification required

Barristers need to complete a law degree or law conversion course, the vocational stage on a Bar Course, and a period of supervised training or pupillage. The latter can be 12 months long but may stretch to 18 months. Gaining pupillage is the most challenging part of the process and may require two or three attempts, with these repeated each annual cycle. Barristers often work as paralegals while they go through this process.

Each barrister also needs to become a member of one of the four Inns of Court. An Inn often provides a major chunk of the funding for a barrister’s pupillage.

How to find employers or training courses

Applications to practice privately (ie self-employed within Chambers) are made through the Pupillage Gateway. Once the Bar Vocational Course has been completed, however, qualified barristers can apply for salaried jobs as a barrister in organisations such as the Government Legal Profession, Crown Prosecution Service, or Employed Bar.

Tips for succeeding in the application or selection process

Demonstrate your certainty (and confidence) through thorough research. You should be able to rank the different chambers by their level of appropriateness for you. Use personal contacts, alumni and college contacts, and LinkedIn to provide personal insights validating your choice. The Bar is a close-knit community despite often being adversaries in court. Connect with this community as soon as you can and ask for advice, support, and guidance.

Demonstrate intellectual ability and enthusiasm through academic achievement, essay competitions, and relevant extra-curricular activities (writing reports for student societies, debating, law-related volunteering).

What Cambridge offers to help with this career

Both law and non-law students can practice mooting (competitions that simulate court hearings): the university law society (CULS) has a programme of mooting competitions. There is also an extensive alumni network to draw on with access provided by colleges, LinkedIn, and the community section of Handshake.

There is one local Chambers (Fenners), and courts in Cambridge sit regularly and allow public access when sitting. Demonstrate your interest by observing barristers in action.

Here are some resources on Handshake to help you get recruitment ready for legal careers.

Other things you should know

Whatever their area of practice, barristers remain keenly interested in the delivery of justice and the administration of the justice system. Follow The Secret Barrister blog and website to stay in touch with critical issues facing the profession and system.

Look at ''Pupillage and how to get it'', written by a barrister and a KC.

What to do next

Now you have looked at this page, think about your next steps. Everyone's journey is different. There are many ways to move forward. Here are some actions you could take now: