Barristers are professional advocates who deal with court work at all levels. Barristers specialise in providing an advisory and/or advocacy service for which they are briefed by a solicitor (or professional body). Barristers can be seen as consultants to solicitors. Much of their work involves conducting research. Some specialise in specific areas: criminal, commercial and family law are the most common, while other specialisms can include employment or labour law and human rights law, personal injury and litigation.
Barristers do not usually deal with the public directly. A barrister may only carry out work if instructed by specified categories of professionals, including solicitors (for all types of work) and in connection with non-contentious matters – accountants, surveyors, architects and tax experts in their areas of expertise.
- Giving opinions on whether a case would be successful if taken to court.
- Researching similar cases for examples of case law.
- Representing individuals in court by presenting the facts of the case to the judge and jury, examining and cross-examining witnesses and summing up.
- Representing organisations who appear before public enquiries and tribunals.
- Advising on legal matters, draft legal documents and giving expert legal opinions on particular issues.
Travel: travel within a working day is a common feature, although it is relatively rare to travel or work overseas.
Working hours: frequent long, unsocial hours involving evenings and weekends, particularly for the newly qualified, despite courts sitting at regular hours during the day.
Location: most of the 2,000+ barristers in Ireland practise in Dublin, but approximately 100 practise in Cork and 130 in the rest of the country.
Opportunities for self-employment: most barristers are self-employed as sole practitioners.
Barristers are self-employed. They are forbidden to establish ‘chambers’ and cannot form partnerships with another barrister; they work as sole practitioners and are entirely independent.
However, some are employed outside of practice in in-house legal counsel positions with corporations and large organisations. In the public sector, barristers can find work in the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, the Law Reform Commission, the Courts Service, and the Legal Aid Board.
Practising barristers in the Republic of Ireland can work in one of nine circuits (geographically defined legal practice areas): Dublin Circuit, Cork Circuit, Northern Circuit, Midlands Circuit, Eastern Circuit, South Eastern Circuit, Western Circuit and South Western Circuit. Barristers will normally practise in one circuit.
In Northern Ireland, barristers are based at the Bar Library in Belfast, which provides office and library facilities. Barristers work from a new library building in Chichester Street and the old library at the Royal Courts of Justice. They also work at a number of other courts and tribunals around Northern Ireland. Like all barristers, they will do much preparation work at home.
In the public sector, barristers in ROI can find work in the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, the Law Reform Commission, the Courts Service, and the Legal Aid Board. They may also take on prosecution work on behalf of the state. The Civil Service has been a traditional career path for many qualified barristers, who can enter at Administrative Officer level or higher, working in any government department. Some in-house legal counsel positions arise with corporations and large organisations, and are usually open to barristers or solicitors.
In Northern Ireland, there are a limited number of opportunities for barristers in the public sector. In most cases, they will need to have between three and five years’ experience to be eligible to apply. The Attorney General's Office and the Public Prosecution Service provide the main opportunities for barristers.
A barrister (or 'counsel') at the start of their career is known as a junior counsel and it usually takes a few years to build up a practice. After approximately 12 years in practice, a junior counsel can apply to become a senior counsel – a status awarded by the Government and reserved for barristers of particular ability and experience. About 12 per cent of barristers are senior counsel.
Republic of Ireland: Income is by fees rather than regular salary and can be low during the first few years. Experienced barristers earn between €55,000 and €110,000 a year. Top earners can make over €280k a year. This can be a very lucrative profession for some individuals.
King’s Inns School of Law is the only provider of professional training to prospective barristers in Ireland. Admission to the Barrister-at-Law degree course is via an entrance exam. To be eligible to take the entrance exam a candidate must hold either an approved law degree or the Society's Diploma in Legal Studies. On successful completion of the degree course students are conferred with the degree of Barrister-at-Law. Only holders of the degree may be called to the Bar by the Chief Justice and admitted to practise in the Courts of Ireland as a member of the Bar of Ireland.
Non-law degree graduates can study for a two year Diploma in Legal Studies at King's Inns instead of a third-level law degree. Students over 25 with no degree can also take the Diploma course.
Specific degree subjects required
- Legal studies.
Other relevant degree subjects
For list of approved degrees see the 6yKing's Inn website.
Republic of Ireland: Specialist law postgraduate degrees (both taught and research) in areas such as criminology, intellectual property and European law are available.
Northern Ireland: The Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queen’s University Belfast offers an internationally recognised one-year postgraduate course for trainee barristers and solicitors. See the Institute of Professional Legal Studies.
Students on the degree course are required to keep commons by dining in the Hall of the Society for ten days of each academic year. Newly qualified barristers have to train with an experienced Dublin-based barrister (Master) for a minimum of one year following their call to the Bar. This is commonly known as ‘devilling’. The work is unpaid and forms the essential learning period where they have an opportunity to apply their knowledge in a practical setting. Masters usually allocate a lot of background research, and much of the training period is spent drafting documents. The barrister accompanies their Master to court and observes the skills applied in the courtroom.
All practising barristers must take part in the Law Library’s Continuing Professional Development scheme.
Tips for applications
Get involved with law-based student societies and law related groups. Gain relevant work experience or an internship.
Skills and qualities
- Excellent written and oral communication skills
- Confidence and the ability to argue a case persuasively
- Thorough, methodical and patient approach to research
- Excellent analytical skills and the ability to absorb and interpret large quantities of often complex information and to use concise, plain English to explain this to clients
- Excellent memory
- Tact and discretion
- Excellent organisational skills to plan and prioritise cases
- Mental and physical stamina combined with the ability to work well under pressure and the ability to think on one’s feet
- Ability to network effectively.
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