How to become a barrister

Find out how to become a barrister in the UK. You can also see advice about becoming a solicitor, magistrate or judge and how long it takes to become a lawyer.

Lawyers at a mock trial in a mock court room at the University of Sussex

Information is correct as of March 2020. Before deciding whether to pursue a career, you’re advised to contact your careers service for the most up-to-date guidance.

How do you become a barrister

Barristers are lawyers who work in courts of law representing clients. They work on criminal cases in magistrates or crown courts, civil cases, employment tribunals or other specialist areas.

Already a Sussex student? See our barrister sector guide.

Qualifications required 

You can:

  • study an accredited undergraduate law degree and pass with at least an upper second-class (2.1) or above
  • take one of the new Bar vocational courses (some undergraduate law degrees will already include the vocational component).

You will then be able to apply for a tenancy as a self-employed barrister in chambers or join a practice or agency such as the Crown Prosecution Service. 

In addition to the above, later on in your career, you may also choose to study for a Masters-level Law degree and/or PhD in Law. 

If you haven’t studied a degree yet, and you’re considering one, you may want to browse our related subject areas at Sussex (you should check your course is accredited by the correct body): 

How to become a barrister without a law degree 

If you have a degree in another subject you can still train to become a barrister. If you have a 2.2 or above you will be able to go on to a:

You will then need to take one of the new Bar vocational courses (some undergraduate law degrees will already include the vocational component).

How to get a law degree

To get on to a law degree you usually need three A-levels and a range of GCSEs.

Your subjects don’t have to be law-related but it might be helpful to take courses with strong research and communication elements, such as law, history, geography, politics, the sciences and languages.

Taking these kind of subjects may also help you when writing about your decision to study a law degree in your personal statement.

See our guide to writing a UCAS personal statement and writing a Masters personal statement

Skills required 

You will need to be: 

  • analytical  
  • accurate, logical and methodical
  • a good problem solver 
  • confident
  • meet deadlines and work well under pressure
  • a good communicator.

Careers website Prospects has good advice about becoming a lawyer and a job profile of a barrister.

Earning potential for a barrister

  • International Students

    £25kstarting salary for a fully qualified barrister (but this depends on your employer)

  • International Students

    £30kaverage salary (but this depends on your employer). 

  • International Students

    40hours a week (but hours are variable with some weekend and evening work)

  • International Students

    5 years is how long it takes to become a barrister although this does depend on whether you decide to study a postgraduate degree or if your first degree was not in Law 

salary based on information from careers website Prospects.

How to get experience as a barrister

It is important to get as much work experience as possible if you want to become a barrister.

You could try: 

  • contacting legal firms locally and see if you can join them for a week, or marshall a judge
  • sitting in the public gallery at criminal court hearings so you can witness proceedings
  • getting a part-time job at a solicitors or law firm
  • getting experience at a barristers’ chamber by undertaking a mini pupillage of up to one week
  • taking advantage of any schemes your university might run, for example at Sussex, we offer a Sussex Law Clinic for members of the community to seek legal advice from our law students who volunteer their time
  • joining a law society while you’re at university
  • working in a court in roles such as a court usher. 

Other career paths in law

See some of the other legal roles/careers you can go into in the UK:

  • How to become a solicitor in the UK

    Solicitors give legal support to clients and usually work for organisations, government, private practices or within the court system. 


    You usually need:

    • an accredited undergraduate law degree, which you may need to pass with at least a lower second-class (2:2) or above
    • a Legal Practice Course.

    You may then need to do a two-year training contract with a law firm.

    If you already have an undergraduate degree in a subject that is not law, you may be able to do a conversion course. 

    New qualification route from 2021

    From 2021 the qualification route for becoming a solicitor will change.

    Students starting a law degree in 2021 (or undergraduate students studying a different subject from 2020) will need to study the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).

    You will be able to gain qualifying experience through voluntary or paralegal work rather than a two-year training contract with a law firm.

    Learn more about this new qualifying route.

    How long does it take to become a solicitor

    It usually takes around six years to qualify as a solicitor. 

    Find out more about becoming a solicitor from careers website Prospects.

  • How do you become a magistrate

    Magistrates sit and hear criminal cases in a magistrates court. They hear from a defence lawyer and a prosecution lawyer and then, based on the defendant’s plea, make a decision on sentencing or send the case up to crown court. 

    Magistrates work on a voluntary basis and do not get paid for their time. Some people balance their magistrates duties with a full-time job. By law, employers must allow you to take time off for magistrate duties. 


    There are no formal qualifications to become a magistrate. But you should:

    • be aged between 18 and 65
    • be able to volunteer for five years
    • not have a criminal record.

    Some professions are not allowed to be a magistrate because of potential conflicts of interest, such as the police. 

    You will need to be organised, a good communicator, logical and have the ability to understand complicated documents.

    If you think you meet this criteria, you can apply to become a magistrate through the UK government’s website. If you’re accepted you will be given around 21 hours of training. 

    Find out more about becoming a magistrate on the UK government's website


  • How do you become a judge

    A judge officiates at a court hearing. The judge will hear from defence and prosecution lawyers, a number of witnesses, and sometimes police or medical staff over the course of a trial.

    They will ensure the trial runs smoothly and fairly and may address the jury from time to time, they also sum up the case at the end of a trial. If the jury returns a guilty verdict, it is the judge who decides on a defendant's sentence. 


    You may need to have studied an accredited undergraduate law degree and either a Legal Practice Course or Bar Professional Training Course. From September 2020 the Bar Professional Training Course will be replaced with a series of vocational courses.

    You may then need to work as a qualified solicitor or barrister for around five years before you can apply.

    During this time, to prove you are committed to becoming a judge you could: 

    • volunteer
    • develop a specialism
    • join a professional legal body
    • write articles and get them published in law journals.

    You may benefit from work shadowing a judge. If you’re a qualified lawyer, the Judiciary Office runs a work shadowing scheme where you can spend three days observing the main duties of a judge. 

    Find out more about becoming a judge from the Judiciary Office

Studying at Sussex

If you choose to study your degree at Sussex, you’ll benefit from:

  • careers support for up to three years after you graduate
  • the chance to join our alumni network Sussex Connect
  • mentoring schemes so you get real-world advice, support and experience while you study.