Graduate Careers: Fast Track: Brief advice for young Rumpoles

How To Make It In Your Chosen Career 4. Barrister
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The Independent Culture
Job description (what it says): Specialises in advocacy, presents cases in court on solicitor's instruction. Has rights of audience in higher courts on contentious matters. Advises on points of law and evidential matters. Drafts legal documents.

Job description (what it means): Do not even consider it unless you are an insomniac and you can absorb information quickly, memorise complex facts and work under severe pressure. You will be one of the hardest-working professionals in society. Of the 9,000 practising barristers, 70 per cent are men. You will be required to understand and interpret the law, master briefs, research points of law, write opinions and advise solicitors and other professionals. In terms of litigation, you will be prepare cases, present arguments in court and examine and cross-examine witnesses.

Qualifications: Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a law degree: just take a one-year conversion course. Ensure you have a 2:1 honours, though. Competition is fierce, so do not make the mistake of thinking it is an easy ride: "It was like Army boot camp," one graduate said.

Way in: Join the crowds of law students competing for a place at Bar School. Half are successful. Then, it is at least a year of pupillage. The first six months are observational, then you will get responsibility for small cases. In-service training is compulsory during this time. Finally comes the role of junior barrister. That is, if you are one of the 60 per cent of pupils successful enough to get membership in chambers.

Starting salary: From pounds 6,000 to pounds 20,000, depending on the nature of your clients. Legal aid work pays less. Earnings in London are likely to be higher but, as you are paid by the case, income tends to be sporadic.

In five years you could be earning: Anything between pounds 20,000 and pounds 75,000. (By the time you are 40, you can earn between pounds 100,000 and pounds 160,000 annually.)

Perks: Research shows that barristers tend to live to a ripe old age. You will never have a boss. You will probably be rich and certainly be admired. The work is exciting and challenging. What is more, you can make a huge difference to people's lives. If you like the sound of your own voice and you look good in black, this may be the job for you.

Drawbacks: You will end up working all hours. You will need rich parents or friends to pay for the training and, to top it all, it is entirely speculative. Only one in eight Bar School applicants becomes a barrister.

Read: Chambers Pupillages and Awards Handbook, Rumpole of the Bailey (yes, it really is like that), Ivanhoe's Guide to the Legal Profession, Bar Council careers literature and the GTI Law Journal.

Role models: Kavanagh QC (above), Rumpole, Cherie Booth QC, Helena Kennedy QC.

Need not apply: Anyone lacking self-confidence and stamina; anyone who is not articulate and quick-thinking and who cannot put forward a brilliant argument in favour of something they believe to be utter rubbish.

Career prospects: Excellent. You can either take silk or wait to be appointed a judge. Taking silk usually happens in your forties, becoming a judge in your fifties.

Do say in interview: "Of course I play golf, I'm a member of several clubs and would be glad to invite my esteemed colleagues to my country pile."

Don't say: "I've been known to break the law on a few occasions, but only in a minor way."


An item in last week's Directory gave an incorrect number. For copies of the information booklet `Making Applications', contact CSU (0161-277 5200), or consult Prospects Web (www.prospectsccsu; look under `Choosing your career and taking action' and then `Getting jobs and other options')