‘It is significantly harder to become a barrister than a solicitor’, claims barrister

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By Legal Cheek on


Sparks LinkedIn debate

A barrister has sparked a debate online after claiming it’s “significantly harder” to become a barrister than a solicitor.

Natalie Connor, who describes herself as a “recovering barrister” on LinkedIn, made the eye-catching claim in a post concerning the rules relating to qualifying work experience (QWE) and explained why, as a barrister, she is unable to sign off on trainees’ work.

Introduced alongside the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), the changes to on-the-job experience allow aspiring solicitors to bypass the traditional training contract process. They can now complete two years of QWE with up to four different employers, including law firms, in-house legal teams and law clinics.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) says that this work must be signed off by a solicitor or registered compliance officer.

This rule appears to be a source of frustration for Connor, who explains that she has been working as a general counsel in-house for tech companies for the past five years.

And while some agreed that the rule seems like a classic example of unnecessary red tape, it wasn’t the only talking point under Connor’s post.

SQE Employability: Discover how to make QWE work for you

This is because the barrister, who was previously a member of 7 King’s Bench and 11KBW before moving in-house, went on to say the following:

“It is significantly harder to become a barrister than a solicitor. It’s more competitive to train and qualify, and you’re then self-employed from day dot in a ‘learning by doing’ approach at the coalface of real-life legal disputes (hello courtrooms after 6 months, not photocopying client files…).”

Enter the solicitors.

“I have to disagree with this Natalie, and actually, it’s quite disappointing to see people still pushing this narrative to draw even bigger divides between solicitors and barristers in the legal industry,” wrote Pheobe Greenwood, senior legal counsel at tech company Xaar. “What’s significantly harder for one is not always the same for others — it’s all subjective and it depends entirely on your social mobility, your bank balance and your network as to which route is a) open to you and b) will be ‘harder’”.

Elsewhere, Keystone Law partner Andrea James commented: “maybe the fact that you’ve published a statement like ‘It is significantly harder to become a barrister than a solicitor,’ despite never having trained or qualified as a solicitor or worked in a solicitors’ practice, indicates that the SRA is right on this matter!”

Responding below the line herself, Connor appeared to double-down on her position, stating that it’s categorically harder being a pupil barrister in the first 6 months (and indeed the first 12 months which is the full duration of pupillage — we don’t get 2 years like trainee solicitors). And I stand by that.”

Even a fellow barrister struggled to agree with Connor’s viewpoint. “Having practised as both and for many years was a training principle, I can’t agree with you that training to be a solicitor is ‘easier’,” wrote Simon Heaney, a tenant at St John’s Buildings Barristers’​ Chambers. “I can’t see how a rigorous TC (as was) was/is a very tense and difficult experience not to do and to observe.”

In a further post this morning, the barrister sought to clarify her position, stating, ‘Many misunderstood my post and thought I was suggesting that it is harder to be a barrister than a solicitor. I don’t think that.”

“In many ways I think it’s actually harder to BE a solicitor — although realistically I think the jobs are so different it’s impossible to make an objective comparison,” Connor continued. “What I think we CAN objectively compare, however, is the relative difficulty of BECOMING a barrister versus BECOMING a solicitor.”

Connor then goes on to detail some of the difficulties of life as would-be barrister, including lack of financial assistance, challenges securing pupillage and “no structured training”.

Setting aside the question of who has it tougher, many students will likely share Connor’s frustrations around QWE. Legal Cheek reported on research earlier this month that found 17% of students described the sign-off process as “difficult” or “very difficult,” marking a four percentage point increase from the previous year.



I liked how we qualified in the old days.

Eat a bunch of dinners.

Follow your pupil master round for six months telling him what was in the case papers and writing out some cross examination questions.

After six months, take over all the cases nobody else in chambers wanted to do.


Isn’t that still the case?


Nah it’s gone woke now


All joking aside AI , I agree . The school dinners were ghastly so we had to spend hours beforehand in the pub and then have to beg for permission to visit the WC. I was lucky to have had 2 wonderful generous and busy Family Law Pupil Master / Mistress in my 12 months so I learned a lot (and about law too) and was paid for the work I did even though they didn’t have to in 1988 . I used to tease my Solicitor trainee flat mates -“I’ll be in Court before you and qualify before you .” In those days the Bar Exams were far easier to pass than the memory test book -worm Law Society exams . My former flat mates are doing very well as Senior Commercial Partners (good luck as they are great guys) and I followed my heart and went into Criminal Practice but fortunately now retired and hope that the younger generation have the opportunity to make a living from whichever path in law they feel passionate about . I was lucky .


She’s probably right.


I didn’t think the matter was even open to debate. Becoming a Barrister is, objectively, more difficult (although, with the introduction of the SQE, that gap has narrowed). It’s not only more difficult academically and financially, but also in its comparative lack of openness. The Bar is still behind law firms in terms of inclusivity of people based on background, disability etc. That’s not to say that genuine efforts aren’t being made, because they are, but it’s a different world with different circumstances to consider. I’ve certainly found that it’s been easier to get the attention of law firms than chambers when applying for, or even casually asking around about, training opportunities.

Sol Train

In terms of a numbers game she is right. There is a lesser need for barristers generally and fewer cases reach open court. This in turn limits the number of pupillages and so on to reach the independent bar. It’s only natural that competition will be fierce and the probability of qualifying at the bar post pupillage is much tougher than qualifying as a solicitor.

However, I would ask myself whether I would post something like that when I only did 6 years at the independent bar before jumping in-house. More the power to her but she is hardly in the strongest position when she has jumped into a completely different role so early in one’s career.


Definitely harder to be a barrister, with the advent of apprenticeships throwing open the door to the solicitor profession to all and sundry, regardless of ability and lack of academic qualification.

Old Skool Solicitor

Don’t know why this has so many thumbs down. There is a very clear trajectory and movement toward completely de-professionalising the Solicitor profession. Even taking last 10 years alone, we’ve been going from a graduate profession + quite rigorous assessment and training toward an open – ended ‘Go and round up people with a net in the car park” system where as I understand it basically everyone is in principle entitled to or able to qualify with next to no legal let alone academic training. We already had the lowest bars to entry of most developed country in terms of training time (its much more normal for it to not only be a graduate profession, but a post-graduate one like the USA and most of EU). It always surprises me for example that many Family barristers who did the GDL will be doing specialist family work having never, ever done any study of family law. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but lowering it even further seems to serve no one, seeks to fill a demand that doesn’t exist, and will eventually significantly devalue the profession – especially in litigation and dispute resolution,

Garden Pea Variety

The GDL covers core legal subjects only, and the LPC a handful more. Most practice areas don’t align directly with a single subject(s). It seems to be the thinking that the university stage covers enough of a foundation for people to then go on and learn the practice area with some knowledge of the approximate legals behind it.

A trainee in family might not have studied family law, but they have a working knowledge of dispute resolution, Wills, trusts, contracts, all of which are relevant to family.

Plus – even where such specialist options are offered, students can usually pick only 3 or 4, and most students at that stage won’t have knowledge of what seats they will be doing as part of their training contract, and so won’t know which to pick anyway. It really should therefore not come as a surprise that those starting in new practice areas have never studied that specific subject before..

An observer

The accepted wisdom has always been that securing pupillage is more difficult than securing a training contract.

As an undergraduate (Oxbridge), it was well known that the only people who intended on pursuing a career at the Bar were those who were on for a First – the remainder looked for training contracts.

I am not suggesting that securing pupillage at a criminal set on Circuit is more difficult than landing a TC at K&E, but generally speaking it is common industry knowledge that securing a pupillage at a non-criminal set in London is a more challenging career goal than securing a TC at a firm in the City.

The fact that Natalie made that post in LinkedIn in the tone that she did, however, beggars belief.

I would also suggest that a solcitior with their skillset is almost certainly better suited to being a GC than a barrister is. Barristers are, first and foremost, litigators.

Kirkland NQ

Regardless of how hard it is, how many newly qualified barristers appear at court, or pop in to chambers in a brand new Lambo? Life is definitely harder for them.

But none of us can afford a Lambo anyway

Commercial junior barristers earn more, work less, qualify faster, do more interesting work, and have far more control over how they work than Kirkland NQs. Soz…


Earn more (but have to pay chambers fees, indemnity insurance etc out of pocket), work less (in theory, but in practice the people working at top commercial sets work more because they’re self employed and it’s simply the kind of person they are). It’s a false comparison.

It’s not the life you think it is. To even stand a reasonable chance at a top set you need further education, ideally the BCL, and many have other practical experience (such as lecturing).

Talking from Experience

I agree with the original poster, it is far more difficult trying to become a barrister vs trying to become a solicitor. So much so that after trying to get pupillage for the 3rd or 5th year in a row, people apply for training contracts and get them in their first try. I know a few people who switched professions and now have thriving careers, meanwhile their criminal barrister-counterparts can’t afford anything and have to go into court on Saturdays – and are called ‘baby barristers’ (or junior junior barristers).

It is just as difficult to land a criminal pupillage as a commercial one in terms of what is required from you during the application and interview stage. Everyone wants to do commercial, but no one gets in unless you’re Oxbridge, top Russell Group AND you have a first and if not a first, a 2.1 with good extenuating circumstances.

I did 3 rounds of interviews all based on my advocacy ability and my answers to off-the-cuff questions thrown at me by a panel of 5 to 9 people (different numbers at different stages). There was nowhere to hide and whether you did well was proven by substance.

People tend to see crime as the ghetto of the specialisms, but it is academically challenging and complex in certain areas (granted perhaps, not the same complexity commercial lawyers face, but still complex). Most of my colleagues in chambers went to private schools, did very well academically and then chose to specialise in crime, so crime simply it is not the place to go if you can’t get into commercial per say, it attracts very talented people.

It takes a special kind of person to be able to handle the criminal justice system day-in, day-out, and most wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Not a doctor

Her point is kind of irrelevant in any event. Whether or not it is harder to become (or be) a barrister or a solicitor is neither here nor there. She is not a solicitor, and therefore cannot sign off on future solicitors work. It is as simple as that.

To take a comparison, it is (apparently) objectively harder to become a surgeon than it is to become, for example, an A&E doctor. That doesn’t mean that surgeons are therefore qualified or appropriate to supervise or sign off on an A&E doctor’s work. And if it is actually harder to be an A&E doctor than a surgeon (how would I know, I’m a lawyer), then equally it would not be appropriate for an A&E doctor to be signing off on a surgeon’s work. While there clearly is a huge overlap in skillset, and they will have had much of the same training and will be subject to 99% of the same ethical or other professional standards, they are ultimately different jobs with different requirements.


She’s right but I’m not entirely sure how that is relevant to her post.


It’s all individual perspective as to which is harder to do. A daughter of a senior Court of Appeal Judge will like find becoming a Barrister easier than John Smith with no prior legal connections becoming a solicitor.

Both professions require years of education, training and finances. Both have highly competitive recruitment processes for Pupilages and Training Contracts.

The original argument is lost amongst all the same old dividing points but why should the SRA allow someone who is not regulated by them to sign off on individuals, flip this around and there is no way the Bar is going to allow solicitors to sign off pupillages.

Logic operator

Paragraph 1: obviously the proposition is that it is harder to become a barrister all other things being equal i.e. for the same person. It would be easier for superman to jump to the top of a building than for myself to jump to the top of a chair, but that’s not because the chair’s easier.

Paragraph two: both have competitive processes — does not mean they are equally as competitive as each other

Pls fix

Legally curious

Clearly has too much time to post that nonsense up. You make a very valid point. The SRA has not jurispruduction over her.


Whether or not it’s objectively harder, it’s still irrelevant because they are not the same jobs. It’s like saying a brain surgeon should be able to sign off on the work of a tree surgeon just because the former is ‘harder’


She’s right.


She’s right when it comes to securing pupillage vs TC generally.

But, TC at a major law firm vs pupillage at a criminal law set of chambers – I’d say TC is more difficult to undergo due to the nature of the clients and the corporate world.


I did a criminal pupillage, worked 7 days a week, was paid £50 for hours of work and £150 for a full day trial…travelled up and down the country every week, paying for tickets that my fee wouldn’t cover, and dealt with cases with no papers, instructions or conference with client, having to prep the case as I was in court doing the case…

Having clients shouting at you, going through withdrawal from drugs in front of you, getting violent towards you…

Criminal pupillage is no easy feat, I don’t know why so many people have that belief. My commercial/civil/family colleagues have a far easier time during pupillage and after qualifying than I and so did my solicitor trainee friends.

Georg de Nearsay

Still sulking after being refused by Oxbridge? Wrong public school? Just because one pays does not make one’s school a feeder pond.

Meanwhile, ‘An Observer’ at least appreciates the proper hierarchy of life in regard to access to the professions. Keep the plebs down, what!

An observer

You are out of your tree if you think my previous comment stated anything other than the proposition that those with the strongest academic pedigree were the ones who opted for the Bar.

I would imagine it is the same story in other law departments at good universities across the country.

And, no, going to a good university (including Oxford or Cambridge) does not necessarilya mean that one had a privileged upbringing – a point which is almost too obvious to state.


I enjoy your commentary, brother.


As someone who has come to law in my 40’s and has a child, I feel excluded from the bar. Even though I got a First and am intellectually capable of doing it, it’s too competitive, the pupilage schedule too punishing and I’d need to be more mobile. Becoming a solicitor is an ‘easier’ choice for me because I don’t need to compete directly for a place or move to a city but this is in practical rather than intellectual terms. The SQE is no picnic, there’s still around a 50% fail rate! Becoming a barrister is more difficult but that doesn’t mean you have to be smarter! As well as aptitude, you need connections, flexibility, no dependants, ideally money and to be in a position to totally devote yourself 100%.

Anon pupil

Agree that within a given practice area, the bar is more competitive to get into.

But I think this analysis ignores the fact that once your in, the bar is much less triangular than firms are. Chambers are generally fairly evenly distributed across ages from 25 – 60ish. Once you’re a member at a set no one’s really going to try kick you out unless you’re really shit or you get handsy at Chambers Xmas party.

Firms have a big need for lots of trainees/NQ/ junior associates, and (by numbers) much less need for partners. (my understanding is) people not on partner track at city firms end up getting pushed out.

Saying the the bar is more competitive on entry, ignores the fact that sols have to fight harder to stay in the business once they’re in.


By her logic an astronaut can sign off on her work.


She’s certainly correct on the matter of difficulty of entry (I didn’t even think this was ever up for debate tbh); however, this is completely irrelevant to her original point. I mean she really says it all herself in her response, “I think the jobs are so different it’s impossible to make an objective comparison”. Given the jobs are so different there is no reason barristers should be able to sign off on a prospective solicitor’s QWE.


I think you’ve missed her point. It’s because she’s GC now and GC’s are the one who sign-off on SQE at a firm.


She is correct.

It is just irrelevant for the purposes of her post.


Surely it depends – getting a TC and qualifying in a Silver or Magic Circle Firm or basically any Firm that pays higher than the £50-60k TC salary (possibly £70-180k on qualification if it’s American) will be harder than obtaining many if not the majority of pupillages. Only getting a good Commercial or Chancery pupillage will be more competitive than that. Getting a run of the mill mixed civil pupillage or common law/crime/family etc will be easier than all of the above. Getting a random TC at an OK Firm or a High Street Firm will be easier still.


You’re wrong. Getting a ‘run of the mill’ (whatever that means) pupillage is not easier than getting a chancery or commercial pupillage in the sense that what is required for the interview and application stage is the same. There is a ghetto-isation of the common law Bar which is not fair.

You could argue that trying to get pupillage in a specialism where advocacy is essential is actually more difficult as there is nowhere to hide and you’re either good at it or not. You can’t hide behind drafting.

It is true that those who do commercial/chancery often come from the top schools in the country, but most chambers won’t give you a look in if you’re not academically capable regardless of specialism.

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