Bar Careers

If you have any questions, please email me or contact me using the UCL Laws year group Facebook pages.

Matt Hastings
Bar Careers Secretary

Latest News

Welcome to the fourth event of the Bar Careers programme to be held on Monday 22nd February 2016

This week we'll be looking at Commercial Law.

For those of you who didn't think that the (potential) doom and gloom of the Criminal or Family Bar or the heavy emotional involvement of the Public Bar was for you - it might be your week! We will have two Barristers from highly successful commercial sets coming to speak to us. The pupillage awards for the two chambers we have visiting are £60,000 and £65,000. This is a different world entirely - it might be for you!

If you like contract law, trusts law or are super-keen to be commercially aware (I'm still not quite sure what that means(?)) - this is for you.

We'll be having two Barristers in who practice at the Commercial Bar:

Simon Gilson - One Essex Court - call 2013 (MA at UCL)
TBC - 3 Verulam Buildings

As normal, space is limited. Panel/ Q+A session followed by a reception.

If you wish to attend please sign up here

Barristers' Cocktail Party

The UCL Law Faculty's Barristers' Cocktail Party will be taking place on 24th February 2016 (venue tbc). For one night only senior members of the Judiciary and Bar will be coming to UCL to talk to students about life as a barrister or judge, as well as their particular practice areas, over cocktails and canapés. The dress code is business dress: dress as you would for an interview, NOT in cocktail dresses. The UCL Law Society would also ask attendees to bear in mind that we are very lucky to have such distinguished guests, and therefore to remember that displaying the correct etiquette towards them is paramount.

SPACES ARE LIMITED so keep your eyes peeled as the link to reserve tickets will appear here when available.


For those students currently applying for pupillage, please note the following dates:

  • 1st March 2016: The Pupillage Gateway may be accessed for browsing vacancies.
  • 1st April 2016: Applications open.
  • early May 2016: Applications close.

Please visit the Pupillage Gateway website for more information.

Please also note that some chambers operate independently of the Gateway, and students should visit chambers' websites to check how and wen they ought to submit their application.

Inns of Court

There are four Inns of Court:

  1. Lincoln's Inn
  2. Inner Temple
  3. Middle Temple
  4. Gray's Inn

If you wish to be a barrister you must join an Inn of Court prior to commencing the BPTC since the Inns alone have the power to call a student to the Bar. The Inns are principally non-academic societies which provide collegiate and educational activities and support for barristers and BPTC students. They all provide the use of a library, lunching and dining facilities, common rooms and gardens.

They also provide a number of grants and scholarships for the various stages on the way to becoming a barrister. As well as awards and scholarships, the Inns are able to offer advice to their student members, for example, assistance with completing CVs and application forms for the BPTC and for pupillage.

A student's choice of Inn does not affect the area of law in which they wish to practise or their choice of pupillage or tenancy. It is usually a matter of personal choice.

Important Dates to Keep in Mind are as follows:

6th November 2015
Closing date for applications for BPTC scholarships provided by the Inns of Court. Please note you may only apply to one Inn for a scholarship.
31st May 2016
Closing date for applications to join an Inn of Court.

Please visit the respective Inns of Court's websites for further information.

What it Involves

Generally speaking, individuals or companies will turn to a solicitor when they face a legal issue. When litigation is involved, a solicitor may turn to a barrister either to instruct them to fight the case for the client, or for a legal opinion. A career at the bar is exciting, dynamic and challenging but it can also be very hard. The route to the profession is certainly less well-mapped than it is for aspiring solicitors, but that's where the UCL Law Society will try to help you out.

Getting Started

The bar can be quite an academically challenging career, so if you want to make it at the bar, it's important to work hard from year one and keep those grades high! One of the pros of a life at the bar is that you will be dealing rather exclusively with the law and legal theories (unlike solicitors who may also have to tackle the business side of things). You may need to propose a new legal outlook/theory to a judge in order to secure victory for your client and it goes without saying that these submissions will have to be watertight.

You should also actively participate in extra-curricular activities in order to nurture the skills you will need as a barrister, such as public speaking and advocacy. The various mooting and debating competitions within UCL Laws are a great opportunity to gain experience and, importantly, good fun!

It is also important to gain experience and exposure to the bar whilst at university. The road to the bar is long and expensive, so you need to ensure it is the right career for you and that you know your intended areas of specialism. Chambers (the buildings in which barristers work, grouped according to specialism) offer mini-pupillages (which can range from one day to a full week) which will enable you to gain this sort of exposure. Some chambers will only open these experiences to students at a certain stage of their degree (e.g. second year and above), so please check the criteria and application procedures on the relevant chambers' website before applying.

Vocational Training

Once you have completed your university studies, you will have to complete a year of vocational training called the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Many solicitors will have their equivalent vocational course funded by a firm they will be joining, but this is unfortunately not the case for barristers, as the members of the profession are generally self-employed - chambers are merely a way of grouping barristers together efficiently. This course can cost anything up to £18,000, so it is important to know the bar is definitely where you want to end up. More recently, an aptitude test has been introduced (the BCAT) so as to filter out candidates who will not be capable of passing the course.

Financing and Pupillage

If you are sure a career at the bar is for you, then don't let the costs dishearten you! There is financial help and support available, though it is less publicised than that for solicitors. All barristers must join one of the four Inns of Court (historically the gateways to the profession), all of which offer generous scholarships.

Once you have passed the BPTC, you must complete a year of training at a Chambers, which is known as pupillage, for which you will be paid. It must be noted, if you manage to attain a pupillage prior to commencing the BPTC, some Chambers may allow pupils to draw down some of their wage to help fund the course. Pupillage is notoriously hard to attain, so you shouldn't necessarily be disheartened by not being successful first time around.

After a year of pupillage, if everything goes according to plan you will be kept on in chambers - i.e. given a tenancy - and that's it, you've made it! Some chambers will only be able to take a certain number of their pupils, which means those not given a tenancy will have to complete a third six (another six months as a pupil) in another chambers and hopefully be given tenancy there.

SUmmary of Practice Areas

The following practice areas are some of the most prominent, overarching areas of the bar, though it is possible to break down these areas more specifically, as one may see by looking at chamber specialisms.

The Commercial Bar

The Commercial Bar deals with business disputes in all manner of industries from construction, shipping and insurance to banking, entertainment and manufacturing. Almost all disputes are contract and/or tort claims. Further, cross-border issues including competition law, international public and trade law and conflicts of law are all growing in prominence.

Commercial barristers steer solicitors and clients through the litigation process. Advocacy is key, but as much of it is paper-based, written skills are just as important as oral skills. Commercial cases can be very fact-heavy and as a result barristers often have to work closely with instructing solicitors to manage documentation. Junior barristers commonly handle small cases including common law matters such as personal injury and employment disputes. However, gradually a junior's workload will increase in vale and complexity. Competition for pupillage at the Commercial Bar is fierce. A first-class degree is commonplace and don't underestimate the value of non-legal work experience; commercial exposure of any kind is going to help you understand the client's perspective.

The Common Law Bar

Most common law cases turn on principles of tort and contract. At the edges, common law practice blurs into both Chancery and Commercial Practice, yet the work undertaken in Common Law sets is broader still, and one of the most appealing things about a career at one of these sets is the variety of instructions available.

Common Law barristers tend to engage with a full range of cases throughout their careers with employment and personal injury being the bread and butter at the junior end. Dealing with the volume and variety of cases requires a good grasp of the law and the procedural rules of the court, as well as an ability to quickly assimilate the facts of each case. Advocacy is plentiful and juniors can expect to be in court three days a week. Interpersonal skills are also important. Many clients are ordinary people who have never been to court before and may have to be put at ease. Personality and oral skills are, therefore, key to gaining a pupillage at a top Common Law set.

The Chancery Bar

This is quite hard to define. Traditionally this area of law concerned cases such as real property, trusts and wills, but now there is more of a crossover with commercial work, such as company law, banking, shareholders, intellectual property (IP) and tax.

This is an area of law for those who want to tackle its most complex aspects. Chancery barristers must be very practical in the legal solutions they offer to clients. Suave and sophisticated presentation when before a judge is also vital. However, although advocacy is important, the majority of time is spent in chambers, perusing papers, drafting pleadings, skeletons and advices, or conducting settlement negotiations. Variety is a key attraction to the Chancery Bar since you can get involved in a family argument over a will or a boardroom dispute. However, the early years of practice often feature low-value cases such as possession proceedings in the County Count or appearances before the bankruptcy registrars. It must be noted that most pupils at leading Chancery sets have a first-class degree. You should enjoy the analytical process involved in constructing arguments and evaluating the answers to problems.

Public and Administrative Law at the Bar

This area of law concerns the principles which govern the exercise of power by public bodies, such as government departments, local authorities and the NHS. Judicial review is the most important procedure in this area of law, though there is some bigger, more prominent work like public inquiries, such as the recent Leveson inquiry. Cases in this area can span a whole spectrum of issues, so long as they concern a public body: welfare, immigration, planning applications and much more. Human Rights also play a big role in this area.

Complex arguments are common in public law, as there often aren't simple answers to the problems at hand, and so potential Public Law barristers should have a feel for academic perspectives and a genuine interest in current affairs and the country's legislation. That said, it can be very easy to get lost in the overarching principles of public law, so it is important to also have a practical outlook, getting to the heart of the issues efficiently and succinctly. Junior barristers often hone their advocacy skills at the permissions stage of judicial review in short 30-minute hearings. The competition for a Public Law pupillage is fierce. Having the highest possible academic credentials is key when applying to a Public Law set but most successful applicants will also have impressive hands-on experience in the public or voluntary sections. Opportunities within the Government Legal Service are also noteworthy, and may suit some individuals more than the self-employed bar: the pay is likely to be somewhat lower, but GLS employees have all the benefits of a constant salary, holidays, pension schemes and less instability.

The Criminal Bar

This area encompasses all prosecutions in the UK courts: theft, assault, rape, murder and everything in-between. Criminal barristers need a sense of theatre and dramatic timing, but good oratory skills are only half the story. Tactical sense, a level head and great time management skills are also important. Some clients can also be tricky or unpleasant. Some will also have led pretty unfortunate lives. Pupils cut their teeth on motoring offences, committals and directions hearings. There is a lot more advocacy in this area of law, and a barrister may have many cases in one day; the flip side of this is that the barrister has less time for preparation although for some this adrenaline-filled, fast-paced lifestyle is the perk of the job.

Legal aid reforms are hitting this area of law hard because so much of it is publicly funded. If this is something that scares you, it may be worth looking into sets that have also branched into healthier areas of law, such as private (white collar) crime, employment and regulatory law. Criminal law is another area of law where there are employed bar opportunities, namely through the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Mini-pupillage experience and plenty of mooting and debating is required before you can look like a serious applicant.

The Family Bar

This area of law concerns a variety of issues including marriage, divorce, cohabitation and children; as such, cases here also have the potential to be distressing and therefore emotional resilience is required from a family law practitioner. The key thing an advocate in this area provides is communication: often the litigation arises because the parties are no longer able to communicate with each other directly, so a barrister will take their place. Accordingly, mediation has a big role in attempting to resolve issues.

As with criminal law, legal aid reforms are hitting family law hard. A lot of money can be made through big ticket divorces (think of the celebrity divorces one may read about in the newspapers), but not many family lawyers can expect to be involved in this sort of work. The Family Bar is quite small and so competition is strong. Potential pupils should look to gain related experience through pro bono and work with children.

The Employment Bar

The Employment Bar deals with any and every sort of claim arising from the relations or the breakdown of relations between employees and employers. Such claims may relate to, among others, unfair dismissal, discrimination, harassment or whistle-blowing.

This area of law brings a lot of advocacy, though perhaps less formal than with other practice areas since most of the advocacy takes place in employment tribunals. In the tribunal hearings are conducted with everyone sitting down and barristers do not wear wigs. The emphasis is on oral advocacy, with witness statements generally read out aloud.  Employment specialists need great people skills since clients frequently become emotional or stressed. Also try and get involved with the Free Representation Unit. No pupillage application will look complete without some involvement of this kind. Further, any kind of job will give you first-hand experience of being an employee - an experience that is not to be underestimated.

The Bar Proces

The Bar Process