The academic stage
The academic stage is designed to ensure that you have a basic body of legal knowledge. This includes seven core subjects: obligations I (contract); obligations II (tort); criminal law; equity and the law of trusts; the law of the European Union; property law (land law); and public law (constitutional and administrative law). In addition, you build up the appropriate expertise in legal research skills, the English legal system and another area of legal study.
You will need to have an undergraduate degree in law - or potentially any other subject - at a minimum of 2.1. If you choose the route of an undergraduate degree in a subject other than law you must complete a one-year conversion course.
The vocational stage
The Bar vocational course (BVC) is where you really start to get down to the nitty-gritty of becoming a barrister, so this is not the time to spend too many evenings in the pub! This is the course that helps you to gain the skills, attitude, competence and knowledge of procedure and evidence to prepare you for pupillage (see below).
There are now one-year full-time and two-year part-time BVC courses offered at institutions around the country. All students are required to be admitted to an Inn of Court before registration on the BVC, of which there are four: Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn. The Inns have the power to call a student to the Bar and also provide collegiate and educational activities and support for barristers and student barristers. If you are really sure you want to be a barrister it is often a good idea to join an Inn during your final year of law at university.
Between them, the four Inns of Court award approximately £4m a year in varying amounts to ensure students have the chance to pursue a career as a barrister. Not everyone will win an award, but if you don't ask you don't get: start applying!
Pupillage is the final stage in the process of qualifying to become a barrister and is divided into two parts. First there is a non-practising six months, during which pupils shadow and work with their approved pupil supervisor in a set of chambers and complete advocacy training with their Inn. Then there is a practising six months when pupils, with their approved pupil supervisor's permission, can undertake to supply legal services and exercise rights of audience in court. This is when you really start to feel like you are getting there!
If all of the above sounds appealing, here are some top tips to make the whole process as smooth and rewarding as possible:
• It is a good idea to try to do at least one or two mini-pupillages before you apply for a full pupillage. This usually involves spending two or three days within a set of chambers, preferably one that undertakes work in areas of law that interest you.
• Contact the Bar Council to find out about placement and mentoring schemes. This will give you the opportunity to meet a barrister in an informal setting, who may be able to give you further guidance on becoming a barrister.
• Visit as many types of courts as you can during the second and final year of your law degree; that is to say Crown Courts (criminal), County Courts (civil), the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
• Get as much experience as you can in writing and any form of public speaking. One of the advantages of joining an Inn during the final year of your law degree is that you can take part in debating and mooting, as well as meeting barristers.
• The African, Caribbean and Asian Lawyers' Group runs a scheme to place ethnic minority students in mini-pupillages. Interested students should write to Elpha Lecointe at 1 Pump Court, Temple, London EC4Y 7AB, enclosing a copy of their CV.
• Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be yourself!
Desiree Artesi is a practising barrister at Three Dr Johnson's Buildings and is the Inner Temple's equality and diversity officer
The Inns of Court
Find out more about the four Inns, www.barcouncil.org.uk/about/innsofcourt
Access to all pupillages in England and Wales, www.pupillages.com
Advice on law careers, www.targetjobs.co.uk/law