16 December 2018

Becoming a barrister

The education and training of barristers is very important because barristers play a vital role in the administration of justice. As such, they must demonstrate a high standard of professional behaviour to justify the trust placed in them by the public and other professionals.

A career as a barrister can be very varied and rewarding, however becoming a barrister is highly competitive. There are many more people who want to become barristers than places available.

In this section, we explain what it takes to become a barrister and the skills, knowledge and attributes that you will need to acquire and demonstrate before you will be allowed to practise. These requirements are specified in the  Professional Statement for Barristers.

How to qualify as a barrister

The diagram below shows the current training pathway for prospective barristers before they are authorised to practise.

The pathway is made up of three components - the Academic Component, the Vocational Component (currently fulfilled by the BPTC) and the Work-based Learning Component (pupillage). Under the current training rules, these three components must be studied in the sequential order shown in the diagram and described underneath.

Qualifying as a barrister

The Academic Component

A career at the Bar is a graduate profession which means you will need an undergraduate degree (at least a 2:2 classification) before you can become a barrister. Although you do not need to have a law degree to become a barrister, if your degree is in a subject other than law, you took your law degree more than five years ago or your law degree did not include each of the seven foundation subjects listed below, you will need to complete a conversion course commonly referred to as a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). A GDL can be completed either full-time over one year, or part-time over two years.

The academic study of the law in England and Wales is a very important part of the knowledge expected of all barristers. This component of the qualification process is known as the  Academic Component.

Your law degree or GDL must include the seven foundations of legal knowledge which are:

  • Criminal Law;
  • Equity and Trusts;
  • Law of the European Union*;
  • Obligations 1 (Contract);
  • Obligations 2 (Tort):
  • Property/Land Law; and
  • Public Law (Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Human Rights Law)

and the skills associated with graduate legal work such as legal research.


*Subject to the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union and/or any agreement made on European Law in future, European Law will continue as one of the foundation subjects for the foreseeable future.

The Vocational Component

The next component of training is known as the Vocational Component.

Before you begin this component you will need to pass the  Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT), which will test your aptitude for critical thinking and reasoning; it does not test legal knowledge. Its aim is to ensure that those undertaking the Vocational Component of training have the aptitude to succeed. The test consists of 60 multiple choice questions, lasts 55 minutes and is completed on a computer at a test centre. The current cost of the BCAT is £150 if taken inside the EU, and £170 if taken outside the EU.

Under the current qualification requirements the Vocational Component is fulfilled by studying a  Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The BPTC can be completed either full-time over one year, or part-time over two years. The BPTC is designed to ensure that you acquire the specialist skills, knowledge of procedure and evidence, attitudes and competence to prepare you for becoming a barrister. The BPTC is currently available from eight different providers at 14 locations in England and Wales. The cost of a BPTC ranges from around £13,000 to around £18,000 depending on location.

Before you begin your BPTC course you will need to join one of the Inns of Court. The Inns of Court are the professional associations for barristers in England and Wales. Your Inn will "Call" you to the Bar after you have successfully passed a BPTC and completed (currently) 12 "qualifying sessions" at your Inn. There is a range of qualifying sessions offered by each Inn, such as guest lecture events, advocacy workshops and debate activities. The purpose of these sessions is to provide you with additional opportunities to hone the skills you will need when you start practising as a barrister and to provide you with valuable networking opportunities with experienced barristers.

Upon being Called to the Bar you will become an unregistered barrister, but you will not be allowed to practise as a barrister until you have completed the final Component of qualification, the Work-based Learning Component.

Integrating the Academic and Vocational Components

It is possible to combine the two components so that by the end of your studies, if successful, you will have completed both an undergraduate degree and a BPTC. At present only one provider delivers training in this way. The pathways that are permitted under Future Bar Training include this type of delivery, so it is possible that more providers may come forward with a model in future which integrates the academic and vocational components in this way.

The Work-based Learning Component

The Work-based Learning Component of qualification is a recognised period of training commonly known as "pupillage" and consists of your gaining practical training under the supervision of an experienced barrister. Work-based learning (pupillage) is divided into two parts: a non-practising six months (also known as the first six) and a practising six months (also known as the second six). All pupillages are advertised on the Pupillage Gateway. Obtaining a pupillage is very competitive; our last survey, published in May 2018, showed that of the UK/EU domiciled graduates of the BPTC, 42.7% of those who enrolled on the course between 2012-13 and 2015-16 had so far started pupillage. 

Our rules stipulate that, as a pupil,you must receive a minimum award whilst you train during your pupillage, although some pupils earn more than the minimum amount. The current minimum for pupillage awards is £12,000pa.

To complete the Work-based Learning Component successfully, your supervising barrister must confirm to us that you have me the required standard. When this is done you may apply to us for your first Practising Certificate. You cannot practise as a registered barrister in England and Wales unless you hold a valid Practising Certificate.

                              Future Bar Training (FBT) - What's changing?

Subject to Legal Services Board (LSB) approval, new training requirements for the Bar will come into effect in early 2019. The new rules are designed to make training more flexible, more accessible and more affordable whilst at the same time sustaining the high standards expected of everyone who becomes a practising barrister.

A key aspect of the new training requirements will be that in future, the three components of education and training may be delivered through one of four approved training pathways. Under the new rules these could be:

  • A three-step pathway: Academic, followed by Vocational, followed by Pupillage/Work-based Component (same as the current pathway);

  • A four-step pathway: Academic Component, followed by Vocational Component in two parts, followed by Pupillage or Work-based Component;

  • Integrated academic and vocational pathway - combined Academic and Vocational Components followed by Pupillage or Work-based Component; and

  • Apprenticeship pathway: combined Academic, Vocational and Pupillage or Work-based Components.

As to which pathways will be available to students, this depends on what applications we receive from Authorised Education and Training Organisations (AETOs). The new rules will permit us to authorise the delivery of any one of these pathways. We have issued much more detail about the possible pathways in a draft Authorisation Framework. Any applications for authorisation to deliver a pathway under the Authorisation Framework must meet our criteria of accessibility, affordability, flexibility and sustaining high standards.

Prospective AETOs may apply for authorisation from early 2019. Once they are authorised by us, AETOs are likely to need to go through further internal approval processes to set up their new pathways. We anticipate that the first new pathways are likely to be up and running from September 2020.

When new pathways start, we will update the top part of these webpages accordingly to make it clear that training via different pathways is available.

In addition to the introduction of new training pathways, more detailed changes are being made to each of three components of Bar training. You can read more about the changes within each component on our Academic Component webpage, our Vocational Component webpage and our Work-based Component webpage.

If you would like to read more about all the FBT changes in one place, please visit our Future Bar Training webpage.

Further reading

For more information on a career as a barrister, please visit the Bar Council's careers webpages.