I want to know
where they work
What do they do?
Where do they work?
What do they earn?
How many are there?
What do I need to be one?
What’s the training?
How do I apply?
When we think of lawyers, we often think of people arguing a case in court. That’s pretty much the job of a barrister – other lawyers don’t actually appear in court so much.
But that’s not all a barrister does. They represent their client in any dispute, so that might be by writing letters, preparing court documents (known as ‘statements of case’), and appearing in legal meetings or tribunals, as well as court hearings.
Being a barrister who specialises in IP means you avoid some of the harrowing stuff in criminal law, but some would argue it’s more interesting than certain other areas of law like tax or land and tenancy.
It can often mean long hours and so you’ve got to be able to be your own turbo-driven ball of energy. It’s tough, high-flying work, but the rewards fly just as high – including the financial ones once you’re fully qualified.
Although barristers do meet their clients, more usually they work with their clients’ solicitor instead.
Barristers are self-employed, but they work in groups called ‘chambers’ where they share office buildings and a team of staff to support them. Among their staff are the clerks who act as the barristers’ assistants and organising the work between them.
The main chambers for IP law are in London although there are just a few barristers elsewhere around the UK. That’s because the main IP courts are in London (in the Chancery Division of the High Court, which includes the relatively new Intellectual Property Enterprise Court).
Rather than being in chambers, some IP barristers work in industry or for firms of solicitors.
About 100 in the UK.
To become a barrister you need to start with a degree with a good grade. If your degree isn’t in law, you’ll have to do the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) conversion course at a law school afterwards. That qualifies you to start the training process (see below).
The competition at every stage is strong. To get in and get on, you’ll need the skills to get to the heart of a complicated dispute quickly, tease out the relevant issues, give clear advice and guide the case to a successful conclusion. This takes top communication and language skills, both in writing and in person. To succeed as a barrister, you have to love the cut and thrust of debate in public.
Did you know?
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After your law degree or GDL (see above), the next step is the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Both the GDL and BPTC are offered by a number of law schools (some are standalone and some are uni departments), mostly in London, but elsewhere too.
After the academic training – which is usually at your own expense – comes a year of paid, on-the-job training in chambers known as ‘pupillage’. Pupils work with a supervisor, generally for three or four months at a time, during which time, you sit in on their supervisor’s practice, draft court documents and learn the barrister’s craft.
When the pupillage is done, if you’ve done well, you may be offered a place (known as a ‘tenancy’) in the same chambers. If not, you can try another pupillages in different chambers or switch to another areas of IP practice, such as becoming a IP solicitor or getting a job in a legal department in industry.
If you get a tenancy though, you become a ‘junior’ barrister. After working for a while, you might apply to get the letters QC after your name (which stands for ‘Queen’s Counsel’). A QC is sometimes known as a ‘silk’ because they wear a silk gown in court.
Being a barrister can be exciting when a courtroom battle hangs on your arguments and your performance. Passions rise and the emotions are intense.
It’s tough to get in and the work is challenging – for many though, that’s all part of the reward.
IP chambers all welcome work experience students to come and find out what being a barrister is really like. From there, you need to apply to the relevant courses (see above).