I want to be a barrister but now I’ve been offered a training contract — what do I do?

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This is a life-changing decision for me

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one aspiring barrister has been thrown a curve ball, and he’s wondering whether to catch it.


I have just finished my second year studying for my LLB. My heart was set on the bar, practising as a criminal barrister and I am an Inns of Court student member. However, I have just been offered a training contract (all in writing with terms of employment) from a small but very good reputable firm in North London. As I understand it, it is very rare to get an offer like this at this stage in my academic studies and I had no prior dealings with the firm and randomly met through a client. I am very unsure to say the least so I wondered what your readers would think. I would really appreciate some honest feedback even though I know I will be trolled. This is life-changing and I really need to make an informed choice before I sign on the dotted line.

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Take it and shut up…



Take it and rights of audience.



“from a small but very good reputable firm in North London”

Dat dere quality oxymoron fam.



No one else can answer this question for you, sadly.

However, if you want outside input, it really depends on how good you are, and what you think your final grade are going to be.

If you think you are an outstanding candidate, then there’s no reason to go for the first offer that comes your way. Yes, it is competitive to get a TC or pupillage, but on the other hand very good candidates are often choosing between multiple offers.

So you need to try to have an honest look at yourself – did you get this offer because you have great academics and/or a really strong background of extracurriculars and/or come across extremely well in person?

If so, then why not take a risk – you’ll be able to get another TC if you don’t get pupillage.

If you think you’re extremely lucky to have got this offer, then maybe take it.

Another thing – are you likely to do well in your degree? If you’re on track for a first you’ll be in a better position in applications. If you think you haven’t got a hope in hell of that happening, then again, consider accepting the TC.

The other thing you have to do is think about how much risk you are willing to accept? Are you going to be bitter if you reject this TC, don’t get pupillage, and end up para-legalling for a few years before getting a TC that puts you in the same position you would have been in in the first place if you’d accepted. Unless you are a really stellar candidate, I think you have to make peace with this possibility.



Take it.

You can always move to the bar later in life


Junior tenant

Don’t do the criminal bar. I’m sure you have heard it all before. I am 5 years call at a decent public law set and all my criminal contemporaries are, almost without exception, regretful. The now seem, with varying degrees of success, to be trying to move and/or carving out general civil practices at a criminal/common law set.

I would certainly recommend the bar if you are intent on pursuing a different area of law; this comes with the usual caveats that you should probably have a first from a decent uni. NOTE. I obtained a 2:1 and managed to crawl my way through but not without a great deal of luck. Looking back, knowing the odds, I would probably have suggested getting a training contract at a great firm and then transferring across. If you do the BPTC and fail to get pupillage, you are mostly (but not always) stuck in the legal profession without the LPC.

This brings me on to the firm offering the training contract. I don’t know what they do but if they are paying your fees, then it is worth considering. If not, then you do not need to jump at the very first opportunity which presents itself. If you are going to get a 2:1 from a decent university, then you may want to back yourself to get a training contact at another firm.


Penny Millionaire Criminal Barrister

Says a lot about your talents (or contacts) if you’re getting unsolicited offers like that at this stage. I wonder how far you could go if you were actually trying to sell yourself? Is this worth settling for?

Ultimately, it’s about what you want from your career. If you’re 100% focused on a career in criminal law, a few years as a solicitor might be the best way to achieve it. Get rights of audience and, if you want, transfer to the bar once you have a reputation and an established client base. That seems to be the way forward these days – it’s tough for new entrants to the criminal bar.

Best of luck!


Mike Mansfield QC

Qualify into litigation at a City, SC, MC or US / transatlantic firm and then hop across. Unless you have a certain profile it’s not worth the risk.



Is it actually you Mike?


Robbie Williams

No sorry I was pretending



Unless you’re at a top 5 uni and on track to get a first, take the TC and move to the Bar later if you still want to.

I respect those who pursue their dream of going to the bar, but it’s way too unlikely to risk everything on unless you’re the kind of candidate I mentioned above



Or if mama and papa can let you live rent free in their pied à terre in Knightsbridge whilst they sun themselves on the yacht (that is when they’re not skiing in Courchevel )…



I had a similar conundrum and decided to take the training contract. You can always do your higher rights in civil and crime and then move across to the bar a few years PQ as a solicitor. You might find that you are a more attractive proposition to chambers at that point and you will also have a better idea as to whether the criminal bar is your thing or something other practice area is your cup of tea.

You never know, you might really enjoy being a solicitor! I do not regret my choice and I think I will be a more rounded lawyer as a result.

That said though, if your heart is set on being an advocate then you will naturally be more anxious to get to the bar asap. But I would think very carefully before turning down this offer, especially if the firm is respected and the firm is good, because you can only go forwards by accepting it. The only question is how fast. Turn it down and you might end up with nothing, for a long time to come.



Oh no, poor guy. What a conundrum.



I know people who turned down a TC offer and now are still paralegals years later with no further offers. It is a very depressing situation to be in. Don’t listen to the “follow your dreams” people here, take the TC, try four different practice areas, and then decide what you want to do later.



Talk about First World problems.



Simply….don’t take it! Unless its a TC from a leading international firm focus on the bar, knowing you can gain a TC in the future if needs be. You’re still young and have time to learn and find out what you *really* want.



I’m 10 years call at the criminal bar. Take the TC. You can go to the bar later if determined and you’ll lose nothing by cutting your teeth as a solicitor first. If it’s a decent firm the experience you’ll gain will be as good if not better than many pupils and you’ll be a much better candidate to join chambers then than you would be now as an unknown, untested and inexperienced student.
Pupillage is so hard to get why take the risk of wnding up on the slag heap of rejection when you’re being offered a perfectly good entry into the profession?



I had a similar situation.

I was always set on the Bar, and in early 2014 I applied for a BPTC scholarship and started to think about what chambers I would apply to for pupillage. However, being aware of the greater scarcity of pupillages than training contracts (TCs), I applied for TCs as a fallback (said with the greatest of respects for, and without undermining, trainees/solicitors).

I was offered a BPTC scholarship in May 2014.

I was offered a TC in July 2014, to commence in September 2015, with me undertaking the LPC from September 2014.

I had applied for pupillage in 2014, but I was unsuccessful.

I decided to defer the TC by one year so that I could I complete the BPTC (2014-2015) with the scholarship I had. I also applied again for pupillage during the BPTC.

I was offered pupillage in 2015, which I accepted. I then told the firm that had provided me with the TC that I would not be proceeding with the TC.

If you can defer your TC offer to give you time to make BPTC scholarship and/or pupillage applications, then I would consider this option. Taking this approach allows you to test the waters in respect of your suitability for the Bar, based on the success of those aforementioned applications, whilst also ensuring that you have a fallback of a similarly enjoyable and great career as a solicitor (usual LC banterous comments aside).


Criminal NQ

The independent Bar is dead
Firms are hiring their own in house Higher Court Advocates and Barristers. Our firm very very rarely instructs Counsel.
If you want job security and a job after Uni take the TC. You may find your firm supports you going for Higher Rights in a few years.



where you train is very important if you’re considering to switch firms/become a barrister. if its not one of the big city firms, I suggest you hold out. Coming from a small firm would be hard for you to move into bigger firms in the future, whereas start big, if you wanna move somewhere smaller would be so much easier.

there’s a reason why all the in-house/dual-tracked practitioners are mostly from MC/US firms



Very, very untrue.



Take it, pop it in your back pocket and see how you feel when you finish university. You can always turn it down later if you decide to pursue the bar (and stop inadvertently bragging).


Sir Geffroy De Joinville

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.


Rejected from an unreputable South London firm

Take it you fucking mug.



Or even “Take it, you mug” if you insist on being on the rude side?



“Oh no, two women love me. They’re both gorgeous and sexy. My wallet’s too small for my fifties AND MY DIAMOND SHOES ARE TOO TIGHT.”



Beta boi problems – Reputable north London firm? Crim law? Snoozeeeeeville. I’ll see you in 10 years from my yacht whilst you’re still trying to make up your mind.



Easy Alpha snowflake






I’m a trainee at an MC firm and doing mini-pupil ages at commercial sets in my spare time (i.e using my annual leave!). This may be different at your firm, but the truth of the matter is at my firm, the life of a corporate solicitor is very dull and procedural. There is no substantive law.

Luckily, I did inexplicably well at undergrad (first from Ox) so transferring across to the commercial bar is possible although obviously still bloody difficult.

In hindsight I wish I’d waited and tried for the Bar. I would go with your gut but also try to be honest about your chances of getting pupillage (I don’t know your profile) because getting a pupillage and/or a TC is hard.



I DO agree that LITIGATION in a law firm is tedious and procedure though.

But other than that, this is grass is greener tripe. In the MC, as a trainee in particular, you are an absolute grunt with very little, if any, responsibility. You can’t generalise across all departments, all firms and all experience levels esp when you’re still in your 2nd seat. If you wanted earlier responsibility, you should have gone to a US firm.

And likewise, you can’t generalise about the bar. Sets are not homogeneous. There are probably about a dozen or so really good sets. It’s a tiny, tiny fraction of what the bar is. 11KBW is a great set where you get a mix of commercial and public. Fountain Court, you’ll be working on some of the biggest financial disputes going. But e.g. Devereux is a middling commercial set where there can be a lot of cookie cutter grunt work and where many people are struggling/doing just about OK.



To be clear, I’m not bemoaning what I do as a trainee, of course it’s grunt work. I’m also looking at the work those much, much, senior to me and again I think much of it is very procedural and administrative. Again with very little law. I agree with your comments regarding the really good sets, I would say most barristers I know at decent commercial sets are doing very well, and are usually financially better off than an equivalent associate at a law firm. I’m not suggesting the grass is objectively much better on the other side, it’s just my take on it.



Absolutely. If you’re gearing towards one of those sets, it is a good career choice. You’d quickly make more than you would have than if you stayed in the MC too. It is just a very small coterie of people. With your background, you have a real shot, but you have to be specific that it is too end commercial work that you’re gunning for.

In terms of looking up at partners and senior associates, I get it and I know others like you. My point is basically that the bar has plenty of downsides too, but all my friends in the magic circle sets feel very fortunate and are genuinely passionate about it. Good work if you can get it.



I didn’t even know what you are doing was a possibility. Does your firm know that you are undertaking a mini pupillage whilst still employed by them? Do they mind?



For heavens sake take it



Lots of mini essays on here about irrelevant crap. The crim bar is a joke, end. The TC is the only offer on the table, so take it unless you don’t want to be at such a firm – I wouldn’t, but I would continue applying anyway. The SRA Code I think has a 1 September rule in any case which the firm has disregarded.

I had a real, not hypothetical, with an OK commercial set and MC/US TC offers on the table. I went down the latter route. If I hadn’t gotten one of those firms, or the set, then I would have done something else like a FTSE grad scheme. I also think the public sector has more varied, interesting opportunities than doing the public bar. My opinion, corroborated by dozens of bazzas I mini’ed with etc, is that the bar is lonely and at a certain level a cult of misanthropes with Cheshire cat smiles.


Heinz career advice

You think you want wasabi mayo. You are being offered garlic mayo. You may be offered another type of mayo.

What if you turn out not to like mayo?

The answer – try some mayo. You are being offered garlic mayo, so try that.



Don’t worry. Take the training contract and then change to the Bar later on. That’s what I did. 14 years as a solicitor then 20 years plus at the Bar. The two roles are distinct but complimentary and to learn both is an advantage. You will bring so much practical experience with you to your work at the Bar if you qualify as a solicitor first. You will also appreciate the valuable work that a good solicitor brings to a case. The deprecation of solicitors by some at the Bar is as ill-informed as it is unjustified. We are all one profession. It is true that the criminal bar is going through a tough time at the moment (but who isn’t?) but who is to say that it will still be so in years to come? In any event, your experience as a solicitor may lead you into different, unexpected but fascinating areas of law – it did with me. Whatever your choice I wish you good luck and never give up.



The criminal bar has ALWAYS been going through a “tough time” and for the last 30 years precious few have actually been able to make a living in it. Speculating about a Utopian is badly informed drivel.

And giving up is great. If it’s not working, change. Moving to the bar later on, definitely happens in a lot of sets. It’s not something the majority would consider – its a big salary hit if you’re anywhere decent and if you have a family, it’s a non starter.



Things are very hard at the criminal Bar. I am down to £500,000 a year.



Unless ur a silk with a regular murder practice I call BS



Hi Anonymous, who wrote: “The two roles are distinct but complimentary and to learn both is an advantage…”etc.

I love language, and all lawyers need precision in language, don’t they?

So do you mind if I mention – with respect – a very prevalent error:
complementary means combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another. It carries with it the idea of completing something, or making something ‘more complete’. Clearly this is what you meant, and of course your context makes it clear and I appreciate the helpful suggestions you made.

But ‘complimentary’ means more to do with giving someone courtesy. So e.g., a free drink is often given “with compliments” and is therefore ‘complimentary’. You’re paying a compliment to someone.

BUT you see often on menus “and a glass of prosecco (or something else) to compliment your meal”. Same error. The wine doesn’t pay compliments to the meal but enhances and augments it. So it complements it.

My language is excellent because of my exposure to and love of it, but I was once corrected for an imprecise and erroneous use of ‘which’ where ‘that’ should have been used. I took the point on the instant and never do it now! They do not have the same meaning.

Was my grammar point worth mentioning?






I’d say that was worth mentioning. I’ve never thought about this before and will be more aware of it in future.


Lord Harley of Counsel

Do the legal executive route.

I did and now I am Senior Counsel.



Don’t take it! If you’ve been so impressive at this stage to attract this offer – your abilities will likely provide a fallback if you really need it in the future.

I was at the Criminal Bar for five years – there is no other training like it. It was life changing. I’m now employed and prosecuting in-house. It suits me and is an absolute hoot. I would never have got where I am now had I not taken a bit of a risk and threw myself at trying to get a pupillage.

The Bar taught me so much (advocacy/drafting/banter) I can only highly recommend giving it a go despite the odds and then the difficulties once there. (I have a red brick 2:1 and went to a high ranking criminal set in London. It took perseverance and a lot effort.)



Forget the bar and the training contract offer. Apply to the Big 4 legal services departments – you will earn more money faster, with genuine meritocracy (none of the horseshit Oxbridge nonsense, i.e. you won’t be stuck with a bunch of privileged arrogant thickies from trainee to partner) and the world is yours.



Take it.

I’m a paralegal at a criminal defence firm, doing my law conversion part time. Whilst I want the bar, there’s an understanding that the paralegals get first dibs on the TCs. My plan is to take it, build a rep, then transfer later.



“Privileged arrogant thickies”?

Is it possible that you are actually a competent lawyer, given that your powers of logical and factual perception seem so completely disabled by what seems to be an infantile emotional response to the fact that we are not all intellectually equal and we must compete for the best places at Uni as well as in life generally?

Are you saying it is wrong of Oxbridge and other highy regarded Universities to try to maintain the highest standards?

Was it my son’s ‘privileged’ background from a shabby west London home with both parents (neither of whom was at school after age 16 but our state schools were good) working to pay the bills, that got him 6 ‘A’ levels, all grade A, two with a double star and one with a star?

Or could it possibly be – oh no! – that nature was kind to him with a decent brain AND THEN as if that wasn’t bad enough, he slogged away from age 3 onwards working diligently until he got accepted at Oxford. What a scandal.

Was it his glittering social background that got him a First at Oxford and a 90% scholarship to Bar School? Or – goodness gracious me!- could it possibly be that he worked hard there too?

And naturally, surely it was a stroke of luck – or perhaps his parents’ posh origins (one from council house, one from ordinary tradesman’s private house ) that counted in this obviously biased and corrupt selection process – that he applied for pupillage and was one of the Ca 25% of barristers that actually got one.

And finally, how improper and corrupt it must be that having done all the work to get there, he got a six-figure job. Oh dear! That’s unfair to the rest of society.

What a rotten system that rewards people just because they work hard and show gratitude by using the gifts they were lucky to be born with.

Your opinion and the astonishing blind ignorance with which you spread it is the true canker, perversion and corruption that has disabled your thinking and that of many others.

And you really a lawyer? A logical thinker?

Wake up! Wake up and be grateful that someone told you straight.



On a scale of 1 – a girlfriend who is DEFINITELY fine – how much do you love sarcasm? Also.. why are you on a legal gossip site if you have a son who sounds about 30? Shouldn’t you be attending local village meetings and reading the Sunday times?



What useful comment can you make about the substantive arguments?



In honesty, Reggie, my old boy – I generally agreed with most of what you said. Victim culture is incredibly prevalent in modern society and many are far too ready to poor scorn on the talented/successful/hard-working.

Nonetheless, endless dollops of sarcasm and repetition of the same tired joke is, above all, just poor word craft.



Well, I’m certainly not saying the writer is stupid but the comment itself was so blindly and demonstrably senseless and unknowing (even ignoring the offence it might cause) that I thought it necessary to knock it out with sharp sarcasm step by step.

I would change my mind on any subject at any time if I hear an argument that convinces me. So I hope s/he reads it and genuinely gets it.

It is the issue that is important. I feel no obligation in the circumstances to be concerned about my ‘word craft.’

I retain that for my poetry and lyrics, where I am not casting pearls before swine.



Alright, we’ll drop the privileged in your case. “Arrogant thickie” however is thoroughly substantiated by your turgid rant above.



Thickie? My IQ is 140. You have an emotional perspective problem that facts cannot fix. Incomprehensible.



Oooh an IQ of 140! How very, very impressive. Bet your mum is pleased.


My final note – I would prefer to deal with the issues really. A question of logical argument.

Are you unreasonably prejudiced or do your arguments truthfully make sense to you? And should we castigate people just because they were born into money or status?

It takes a level of intelligence and a considerable amount of other qualities to get into the Big Four.
I have worked for 3 of them as external, sometimes on issues that required judgement, and I have never heard anyone there have a view that was not supportable by some logic and a factual or sensibly estimated factual basis. So I’m surprised that an intelligent person can make your sweeping statements and argue them to be true in fact.

So I leave it with you. I think as before that you should be pleased to get an opposing view that makes sense.

Good luck with your endeavours.

Al Litigator

Patronising much? If, as you claim, the boy went to varsity, then surely the boy can pipe up here himself rather than leave it to chippy papa.


Not amused

What’s happened to me? I haven’t been trolling on here for a while…



If you really wanted to be a barrister you wouldn’t be asking this question, so take the contract.


john herrmann bpp

i was both a solicitor and a barrister, now i work for bpp. lesson of the story, lawyers have no morals. I con thousands of students.


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