You’ve made it this far which can only mean one thing: you are interested to learn how to qualify as a Barrister.
Thankfully, you’ve come to the right place as this blog post will look at how you can qualify as a Barrister in Ireland.
Table of Contents:
So – What is a Barrister?
A Barrister is one of two traditional routes that any graduate of law, or otherwise can pursue once the relevant criteria have been met. Another route that many graduates pursue is the solicitor route. If you’d like to know more about what a solicitor does, then check out my blog post here on how to qualify as a solicitor.
The Bar of Ireland describes a Barrister as ‘a specialist advocate or trial lawyer’. Essentially, this means that a Barrister will represent a client in court. A Barrister will argue on behalf of the client and make representations as to why the judge and/or jury should agree with their argument. They are, essentially, experts in presenting their arguments.
A Barrister has three main duties
- Duties to promote the interest of their client;
- Duties to the Court and;
- Duty of Independence.
BTW – A Barrister cannot refuse to take on a case ‘because they don’t like the client’ or ‘they don’t agree with their beliefs’ or ‘because they believe that they may be guilty or not guilty of a crime’ for example. Once a Barrister has chosen their field and decides to practise in said area, they cannot turn around and ‘pick and choose’ their clients. As it stands, this is simply not allowed.
More details can be found on the Bar of Ireland website.
So now that you have a general understanding of what a Barrister is, we now turn to what a Barrister does.
Some of the duties undertaken by a Barrister include the following:
- Provide legal advice and opinions on complex areas of law
- Appear as an advocate in arbitration and statutory tribunals and many other forms of dispute resolution
- The promotion and protect fearlessly and by proper and lawful means the best interests of the client they represent.
- To remain independent
- To represent clients in court (advocacy)
“Okay, okay, I understand what a Barrister is. I understand what a Barrister does. But I want to BE a Barrister. How do I do that?“
Before one can qualify as a Barrister, there are a number of steps that must be taken.
Before dreaming about advocating for your client’s interest in court, the first step to qualifying as a Barrister is education. You will need a law degree as recognised by the Honorable Society of King’s Inns, the institution that trains students to become and qualify as Barristers. The Bar Council of Ireland regulates the practice of Barristers.
If you have a degree in another discipline, unfortunately, you are at a disadvantage as you will not be eligible to sit the Entrance Exams and go on to qualify as a Barrister.
But, hold on. There is a way.
The Honorable Society of King’s Inns provides for a Diploma in Legal Studies course for those whose primary degree is not in law or recognised by King’s Inns. Here, candidates would undergo the Diploma in Legal Studies course, which is a 2-year part-time course that would allow candidates to move to stage two of qualifying as a Barrister in Ireland.
It is essentially the equivalent to a law degree as recognised by national universities but more importantly, it is recognised and undertaken by the body that TRAINS Barristers too.
2. Entrance Examinations
Once you have secured your law degree or obtained the Diploma in Legal Studies from King’s Inns, next comes the Barrister-at-Law Entrance Examinations.
Now, this is tough one. There’s no easy way of saying this. The Entrance Examinations consist of 5 consecutive days of 3 hour-long exam papers. Candidates make an application to King’s Inns in early March (ish).
Candidates pay a fee and make a formal online application.
Once this is done, a checklist will be sent to the candidate of a number of items that King’s Inns will require. This includes a declaration, your degree results from the institution you attended, two references and two passport-sized photographs.
As most university students would not obtain their final year results until late June/July, King’s Inns understands this and therefore candidates will have until 1st July to submit their results.
Now, this is the fun bit..!
You have to study day in and day out. There’s no time to waste. Once a candidate has decided to embark on this route, do your best to stay on top of your work.
Doing the Bar exams in 5 days is no easy feat. After day 3 of your exams, tiredness and exhaustion will descend upon you and this isn’t me trying to be dramatic – just be ready for that.
So it is important that you ensure that you are ready and prepared for that one tough week.
Some tips that I would suggest are:
- Gather all of your study materials and organise them into relevant compartments/folders as you see fit.
- Set up a reasonable, fair and manageable timetable that you can stick to
- Make sure you have enough food throughout the day – and water because water is brain food.
- If worried that your criminal law notes from first year are not up to scratch for these exams, then check out a variety of prep courses that will teach you how to tackle and sit these exams. (They are costly but worth every penny.)
- Check out the syllabus on the King’s Inns website. Sometimes the syllabus may change from year to year and it is important that you are up to date on this.
- Keep up to date with what’s happening in the news. Although they won’t be your saviour, sometimes examiners may base a question on current affairs from the past 10-12 months.
Due to the pandemic, the timing of exams has changed from 5 days to 10 days. Therefore, every 1-2 days you would be sitting these 5 exams, which is manageable. However, I will say that it is fair to say that this is more of a marathon than a sprint. It is a tiring time and so I would urge you to be super mindful of yourself. There’s a lot of information to consume across 10 days and you may burnout at the end. It is not impossible but I figured that I would flag this now.
4. Barrister-at-Law Degree Programme
You’ve done it! You have passed the Entrance Examinations! Lucky you and well done on such a monumental achievement!
Onto the BL Degree Programme!
As soon as you have passed the entrance examinations, you can embark on the training programme. You can either do it full time for 1 year or part-time for 2 years.
One major advantage of doing the BL Programme part-time is that it allows you to work part-time and earn some money whilst you study. Should you choose to do the BL, candidates must have at least 90% attendance throughout the whole year, which makes it a little harder for students to seek part-time employment if pursuing the fulltime course..
Depending on your circumstances, be it full-time or part-time, you will become a Barrister in a year or two! Which is the ultimate goal here, right?
As part of the BL Programme, students will undertake further examinations, which are more practical and training based.
Some of the modules that you will undertake include:
- Civil Procedure
- Criminal Procedure
- Alternative Dispute Resolution
- Legal Research
- Irish Language (non-examinable but compulsory for all students)
More details on the modules for the BL programme can be found on The Honorable Society of King’s Inns website.
Upon completion of your BL Training, you will then be called to the Outer Bar where the Chief Justice of Ireland will call you. (This is the bit that you’ve worked the hardest for.) All of your hours and days spent studying have been leading up to this moment because you are now a qualified Barrister!
Once you have been called to the Outer Bar, you have a choice of going to practise as a practising Barrister or to remain as a qualified Barrister. A practising Barrister is one who practices in the Courts. A qualified Barrister does not practise in the Courts.
If you would like to practise in the Courts, then it is mandatory for you to devil with a master. Devilling means shadowing behind an already practising and experienced Barrister of at least 7 years experience. You’ll watch them advocate in court and sometimes you may be given the opportunity to handle a matter on your own! This element is crucial for any and all aspiring practising Barristers. You must do this for 1 year in Dublin or go on to do a second 2nd year of devilling. Most newly qualified Barristers tend to devil for 2 years. This means that you can practise in one area of law for first year and then practise another area of law in the second year of your devilling years.
If we add up the years, it is 3/4 years of a Law degree, 1/2 years of the BL programme, 1/2 years devilling… the shortest amount of time to qualify is 5-odd years.
The Barrister profession is hugely dignified and commendable. It is not easy to stand up and advocate in court and argue someone’s else story on their behalf. The skills necessary to become a Barrister are varied and include advocacy, legal research and drafting as well as interpersonal skills, good communication skills, ability to work on your feet and more.
For anyone wishing to qualify as a Barrister in Ireland, this is the way to go.
If you have any extra questions, leave a comment for me down below. Alternatively, you can find me sharing my journey to qualifying as a Barrister on my Instagram account and if you have any specific questions – drop me a DM!
Or, you can get in contact with me.
Until the next blog post,
Disclaimer: Featured image designed from Canva.