INFORMATION FOR NON-LAW STUDENTS
A common misconception is that non-law students are better off becoming solicitors if they are interested in a legal career, rather than barristers.
This is absolutely not the case, as more and more barristers are coming from a range of academic and professional backgrounds. However, the route to the Bar is slightly different if you don't study law, and it can be a bit confusing, so here are the key things to know.
You can also explore our 'Careers at the Bar' tab to find out more about how to become a barrister.
If you don't study law, your route to the Bar will most likely be as follows:
Non-law degree -> Legal education (usually GDL) -> BPTC -> Pupillage -> Tenancy.
The GDL course
The Graduate Diploma in Law, a.k.a. the 'law conversion course', 'law conversion' or most commonly the GDL, is the course non-law students need to take in lieu of a law degree, unless they choose undertake a masters in law or the graduate entry LLB.
When taken full-time, the course covers one academic year.
All GDL courses cover seven core modules: contract law, criminal law, tort law, land law, EU law, equity & trusts and public law. Most providers will also offer an additional module or research unit.
A wealth of universities and colleges throughout the UK provide the GDL or other graduate law programmes. BPP and the University of Law are two popular providers that have centres in various locations. The University of Bristol does not offer the GDL, but it does offer an MA Law, or alternatively UWE offers a GDL course.
These are generally likely to be less stringent than for your first degree. Some private providers simply require a 2.2, others are more selective and require a 2.1 or above.
The non-law route to the bar is considerably more expensive than if you have studied law at university, as GDL fees are often relatively high, especially when added to a first degree and then a BPTC.
However, this should not put anyone off, as there are so many funding options in place to help you through your studies.
The Inns of Court offer GDL scholarships as well as BPTC ones. It is definitely worth applying for one as every little helps and additionally scholarships look fantastic on applications. Each Inn offers varying amounts but their selection criteria tends to focus on academic achievement and your commitment to the bar.
Many providers also offer scholarships and bursaries.
The GDL is often more expensive in London, so if you anticipate funding issues it might be a good idea to look into regional providers as they tend to charge less.
Many chambers' mini-pupillages are open to final year non-law students, and the mini itself will mostly consist of shadowing, so there is no reason not to start applying as early as possible!
How do I choose between being a barrister and a solicitor?
Try to get an experience of both! Come to Bar Soc events and try to do a mini-pupillage, and then you can compare to any vacation schemes you've done. Remember that being a non-law student is not a disadvantage to the bar, and some of the best barristers (like Dinah Rose QC) started out in a different degree!
What can I do to improve my chances of becoming a barrister if I don't study law?
There are two key parts to this: show your commitment to the Bar, and familiarise yourself with the profession.
Join Bar Society! Come to our networking events (including the Annual Dinner) to meet barristers and judges, come to careers talk to understand the different practice areas and ask barristers your questions directly, and generally use us to increase your exposure to the profession. Become a member to receive our emails with key information and deadlines.
Mooting and advocacy - whilst the academic moots for each year are only open to law students, Bar Society's moots are often open to everyone. Of special interest to non-law students will be the non-mooting advocacy competitions run in conjunction with UWE, such as the Plea Mitigation or Bail Application. These require NO legal knowledge and we run them every year, and participation alone will be amazing on your CV. Mooting/debating and advocacy are the key skills that separate applications to the Bar from law firms, so try to debate if you aren't ready to moot.
Make sure you get a good first degree - at least a 2.1 or above is key. Just because it's not in law it doesn't mean it won't be looked at. The Bar is very academic and your degree classification will always be important!
Spend time on websites such as LawCareers.Net, AllAboutLaw and Chambers Student Guide, as well as our website.
Keep up to date with legal news by signing up to email bulletins from the above websites, as well as reading blogs such as Legal Cheek to stay in the loop with the legal field. All major newspapers will also have a Law section.
Apply to become a non-law rep for Bar Soc, and come with us to the Inns to immerse yourself in the legal world.