Each month we take a look at one of the 650 career pathways featured within Indigo. This month, we explore the role of a Barrister.

Barrister Sophie Smith-Holland shares her insight into a career working in law with this video career profile from the Indigo Careers module.

So what is a Barrister?

Barristers/advocates give legal advice to other legal professionals and act for clients in certain cases in the high courts. You will research information and pass cases before giving advice to solicitors on whether a case should go to court.

In court, you will examine witnesses and present the case for the prosecution or the defence.

You will also act for clients at tribunals or inquiries if asked to do so by a solicitor.


Barristers/advocates often have to work long hours.


Barristers usually work in offices called ‘chambers’, and advocates in groups known as ‘stables’, most of which are based in the Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh.

If you specialise in criminal law, you will spend more time in court than civil law specialists would.

Type of work

When working in the office and meeting clients you will need to dress smartly.

When appearing in court you will need to wear a uniform and be a confident public speaker.

Things to consider

Varied work
The work is varied. 

Some cases may put you under pressure, particularly if they attract media attention. 

Long hours/overtime
You will sometimes work long hours to meet deadlines. 

You will get satisfaction when you win a case. 


In private practice top earnings can be excess of £1,000,000. 

Most people have an undergraduate degree and you will need years of experience in the field

You will need either a qualifying law degree or another degree (minimum 2:1 Honours for both), followed by a postgraduate law conversion course, known as the Common Professional Examination, or a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Following this, you must pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) prior to applying for the vocational stage of qualification. This involves becoming a member of one of the four Inns of Court where you will undertake the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). This will prepare you for completion of two 6-month pupillages (a mix of work and training taking place in chambers). Training for the ‘bar’ continues for 3 years, working in one of the Inns of Court.

In Scotland you will need either an Honours degree in Scottish Law from a Scottish university (minimum 2.1 Honours); an Ordinary degree in Scottish Law from a Scottish university with an Honours degree from a UK university (minimum 2.1 Honours); or a Scottish Ordinary degree with distinction. You must also undertake a 1-year full-time postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice at a Scottish university.

Salary progression
Minimum salaries during pupillage are £12,000, but can range up to £45,000 in the first year of practice for some of the prestigious sets. As a trainee advocate in Scotland you may be unpaid for around 10 months.

Qualified barristers can earn between £25,000 and £300,000. Earnings of between £30,000 and £90,000 can be expected in the Crown Prosecution Service and Government Legal Service in England and Wales. Qualified advocates in Scotland can earn between £30,000 and £35,500 and around £105,000 as Advocate General in the Procurator Fiscal Service.

Many barristers in England and advocates in Scotland are self-employed. Earnings can reach up to £300,000, however this is entirely dependent on experience, location and reputation.

Top Tip

After 15 years’ experience, you can apply to ‘take silk’ to become a Queen’s Counsel. You could apply to become a judge in the higher courts. Some people work in central or local government where there is a clear promotion structure.

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