The vocational course to qualification as a barrister
What is the bar course?
The Bar Course is the vocational course taken following a law degree or law conversion course for those wishing to practice as a barrister in England and Wales.
Until recently, the Bar Course was known as the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). However, the Bar Standards Board (BSB), the profession’s regulator, approved a series of training rules in 2018 in a bid to make the route to qualification more flexible and affordable.
As a result, since September 2020, all new courses are referred to collectively as qualifying ‘Bar Courses’. The individual names for these courses vary depending on where you study, with course names including the Bar Practice Course (BPC), the Barrister Training Course (BTC) and Bar Vocational Studies (BVC).
It should be noted that the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) from 1 September 2021 will have no impact on the route to qualifying as a barrister. This will still require a law degree or law conversion course, followed by the Bar Course and pupillage.
Membership of an Inn
The Inns of Court, also referred to as ‘Inns’, are professional membership associations for all barristers practicing in England and Wales. These are largely non-academic societies which provide support for aspiring and practicing barristers, including libraries, events and dining facilities.
Prior to starting a Bar Course, it is mandatory that you become a student member of one of the four Inns of Court. The four Inns are Lincoln’s Inn, Gray’s Inn, Inner Temple, and Middle Temple, all of which are based in London.
The Bar Course Aptitude Test
The Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) is a compulsory exam taken prior to commencing the Bar Course, administered by the BSB. The exam costs £150 to sit and seeks to test critical thinking and reasoning skills.
The minimum academic requirement for the Bar Course is a 2:2 at degree level and to have passed a law conversion course, if applicable — although some providers set their own entry requirements and may require a 2:1 or higher. It is advisable that you check these requirements at the individual institution you are seeking to apply to well in advance.
Course content and structure
One of the most significant changes to many of the new Bar Courses is the option to undertake it in two parts. This option, which was unavailable on the BPTC, is designed to make the course cheaper, more flexible and increase accessibility within the profession. However, it’s worth noting that some law schools have chosen to stick with a one-part structure similar to the BPTC.
As a result, depending on which provider you choose, the route to qualification will either be a three-stage process (law degree/law conversion course, one-part Bar Course and pupillage) or a four-stage process (law degree/law conversion course, two-part Bar Course and pupillage).
Three-stage route example: The University of Law’s Bar Practice Course (BPC)
1) Law degree or law conversion course
2) Bar Course
The University of Law’s BPC is taught as a one-part course. The course covers all the required knowledge subjects including criminal and civil litigation, evidence, and sentencing, alongside skills subjects such as advocacy, conference skills, legal research, opinion writing and drafting.
Students also have the option to combine the BPC with an LLM. This is done through supplementing the BPC with one of The University of Law’s three distinct pathways: the pro bono pathway, the dissertation pathway, or the optional modules pathway.
Four-stage route example: The Inns of Court College of Advocacy’s ICCA Bar Course
1) Academic stage
2) Bar Course –part one
3) Bar Course — part two
The ICCA Bar Course is spilt into part one and part two. Part one is delivered through online learning and self-study, covering knowledge subjects including criminal and civil litigation, evidence, and sentencing. Part one of the course takes roughly 12-16 weeks, although there is inbuilt flexibility around these timings. Part two focuses on practical skills such as advocacy, conference skills, legal research, opinion writing and drafting.
One of the main benefits of the two-part approach is that students pay the fees for each part of the course separately. Students are not required to pay part two fees until they have successfully passed part one of the course. This seeks to reduce the level of financial risk associated with the old BPTC route, where students were responsible for the full course fee prior to starting the programme.
During the Bar Course, students are also required to attend qualifying sessions with their respective Inns of Court, which they join prior to commencing the course. These sessions are designed to build on academic and vocational study and include professional development and educational events such as lectures, advocacy courses, moots, dinners and residential weekends.
The number of qualifying sessions required as a student member of an Inn is prescribed by the BSB and is currently set at 12. You can find out more about qualifying sessions here.
How long does it take?
Full-time Bar Course (one year): The most common Bar Course is the full-time course starting in September each year. Although, some institutions also offer start dates in January and July.
Part-time Bar Course (two years): This covers exactly the same content as the full-time course, but the learning is spread over the course of two years, with teaching only taking place one day a week.
Bar Course with integrated LLM (one year): Studying the Bar Course with an LLM is a popular route for students which have not secured funding prior to starting the course, as these combined options are usually eligible for postgraduate loans.
Where can I study?
Across the UK, nine law schools offer a mixture of one-part and two-part Bar Courses. You can view a full list of approved Bar Course providers here.
How much does it cost?
One of the main benefits of the new Bar Courses has been reduced costs and greater flexibility. While the BPTC cost between £15,000 to £19,000, fees for the one-part Bar Course start at £11,750.
Moreover, the two-part course offers far greater flexibility in its pricing because students are not required to pay for the more expensive part two of the course until they have completed part one. Part one costs anywhere between £1,575 to £4,500, while part two can set students back between £9,000 and £11,520. Students who fail part one are therefore not tied into paying the fees for part two. It also provides candidates with an opportunity to secure and complete relevant work experience between stages one and two.
Bar Course fees vary quite significantly, depending on the institution chosen, course location, and whether it is split up into two parts. For a complete comparison of Bar Course providers, including what they charge, see Legal Cheek’s Bar Course Most List.
Funding the Bar Course
The most common funding route for the Bar Course is through Inns of Court scholarships. In total, there are four different Inns of Courts, and each has its own set of criteria for course funding. For example, Lincoln’s and Gray’s Inn offer their Bar Course scholarships on merit alone, whereas Middle Temple and Inner Temple take a greater range of factors into consideration. You can find out more about scholarship opportunities on the Bar Council’s funding and scholarships page.
If you secure a pupillage prior to starting the Bar Course, some chambers will allow you to use a portion of your pupillage award (essentially your trainee salary) to help cover the costs of the course. This is known as a ‘draw down’. However, as this reduces the money available to cover your living costs during your 12-month pupillage, this funding option is only feasible for students who secure a pupillage with a sizeable award.
Next steps to qualification
Upon completion of the Bar Course, you will be ‘called to the Bar’ by your Inn. This is a mandatory ceremony, and the Inns of Court are the only UK institutions with the formal powers to do this. Pupillage is the final part of the qualification process to becoming a qualified barrister in England and Wales.