I am an barrister in England. A barrister is effectively a specialist court advocate / lawyer. You can find us in England, Wales and various parts of the old British Empire. Traditionally we wear wigs and gowns when appearing in court.

I defend and prosecute criminal cases as well as act in personal injury matters. I have been practising for five years.


The profession is one that is often misunderstood and considered to be elitist / upper class / ridiculously British. I hope that this AMA can help to dispel some of those views.

EDIT: I'm genuinely surprised by the amount of interest this has raised. I can't believe this is top post in IAMA. This is an anonymous throwaway account but I have still tried to answer questions with the Bar Code of Conduct in mind. Any views I have are mine and do not represent the views of the bar at large, nor any representative group.

Comments: 1300 • Responses: 40  • Date: 

wjbc233 karma

Non-wig questions:

  1. How realistic is Rumple of the Bailey?

  2. How many cases do you try per year?

  3. How long does the typical case last?

  4. You both prosecute and defend criminal cases. Does that ever create a conflict of interest?

  5. What is your preferred method of cross-examination, or some of the guidelines you follow?

  6. Have you observed the American system? What differences come to mind?

Edit: If you just want to answer the Rumpole question that's okay.

ebarrama246 karma

  1. I've tried watching Rumpole of the Bailey. The main thing I take from it is how antiquated the whole thing is. There are far more women and people from ethnic minorities at the Bar than there were at the time Rumpole was written. Sexism and racism at the Bar seems (from my perspective) to have been virtually eliminated. Barristers are also less stuffy and more grounded in reality than they used to be.

  2. Most of my work is civil work. I can do advisory paper work on a number of cases a day but very few run to trial. In terms of criminal work, most matters tend to lead to guilty pleas - trials are few and far between because there are strong incentives for Defendants to plead guilty early.

  3. My typical criminal trial lasts only a day but some take longer. Most personal injury trials also last a day. More complex cases tend to go to more experienced barristers.

  4. If there is a conflict of interest we are told by the Bar's Code of Conduct to excuse ourselves from the case. I've never had to excuse myself from a case for that reason. I know people who have found themselves prosecuting people that they had previously defended; this usually ends with the barrister politely telling the judge what has happened.

  5. I don't have a 'method' as such for cross examination. I tend to pick and choose elements from other barristers that I have seen. If I had a style, I would say that I just tend to bark at people.

  6. The American system seems to be very much based around money and the representation the parties can afford. Also, when it comes to damages the English system is meant to put wronged parties in the position that they would have been in if the wrong had not taken place. The American system seems to have a disconnect between the actual loss and damages. In the end I know very little of American law, so I can't really give a proper answer.

All_Your_Base146 karma

I understand the power of tradition, but isn't it time for the old fashioned wig thing to settle comfortably into history? Do any movements exist for this, or is it just universally loved?

ebarrama177 karma

I wouldn't say the wigs are universally loved. At best they are seen as a benign and traditional presence, like the monarchy. At worst they are seen as a bit of an annoyance. I think the public like the idea of having a barrister who wears one. Barristers like the idea of wearing them, even if they are not the most practical thing to wear.

They had a government consultation a few years ago and stripped away their use in all but the most serious non-criminal matters. Criminal barristers continue to wear them regularly. I don't think things are going to change soon.

CaisLaochach14 karma

You civil or criminal? They've been done away with here mostly, but the criminal judges are often fairly diehard about them. Anonymity being more valued amongst them than most of the judiciary.

ebarrama26 karma

I am civil and criminal. I'm tending towards the civil though as it is hard to maintain a practice in multiple disciplines.

MyCatTypesForMe116 karma

Can you choose the style of wig you get or is it all just one style? Because I think I'd like a fluffier one.

ebarrama282 karma

There are a few different companies in London that make them and each have their own style. I bought a more traditional one. They cost about £500 ($800) and come in different sizes. The storage case that you can see in the proof photo is my personalised wig tin.

The wigs do tend to flatten and fray over time with use. They also go a bit greyish (or yellow if you're a smoker). The ironic thing is that the older and crappier looking your wig is, the more 'experienced' you are considered. People with brand-new wigs were traditionally mocked. I've heard stories of times gone by when new barristers would put their wigs next to car exhausts to make them look dirtier.

jimicus33 karma

Where does this leave the 50-year-old experienced barrister who is by no means wet behind the ears if his wig (which he's been wearing regularly for 25 years or so) falls to pieces?

ebarrama68 karma

You can get it stitched back together again or repaired as necessary.

vtbeavens94 karma

Is there any difference between a barrister and lawyer or are they literally the same thing?

Do you get sick of wearing the wig and getup?

ebarrama167 karma

In England there are two types of lawyers - solicitors and barristers*. Solicitors make up 95% of all lawyers and traditionally are the people who do the advisory work and deal with the clients. Barristers are the minority and specialise in court work and litigation.

To be honest, I do not wear the getup that often. It is impractical to lug around from place to place and so the courts only make us wear it when there is a particular large or important civil trial. Family barristers seem to never wear them. Criminal barristers wear them nearly all the time, though. I've never heard anyone complaining about the getup - people tend to like the perceived authority it gives them.

EDIT: *There are also Legal Executives who are usually people who have taken the non-university route to working as a lawyer. Apologies for leaving them out.

yonkeltron38 karma

Thanks for an explanation! Could you expand on the difference at all and possibly include some examples? Does that mean Solicitors never go to court?

ebarrama62 karma

In say, a personal injury case, the solicitor is the one who meets the client. If the defending party denies that they are to blame, the solicitor will often seek a barrister's opinion on the chances of success. The solicitor will continue to manage the client, but it is the barrister who will represent the client at trial and deal with the substantive legal issues.

In minor criminal matters (under 6 months in prison), solicitors will generally represent clients in Magistrates' Courts. For more serious matters in the Crown Court, the solicitor will instruct a barrister to act on the client's behalf. The lines are blurring and many solicitors now have the right to appear in the Crown Court on serious matters.

Most solicitors are those who have an advisory role or draft contracts. Solicitors who deal with transactions, properties, regulation or the drafting of contracts will usually never need to deal with a barrister.

faintdeception82 karma

A friend was telling me that you guys have to put forth the best defense possible even if you know your client is absolutely guilty.

He went on to say that the best barristers are really good at doing this, but leaving the prosecution with an opening to hang their client with.

How true is this comment?

AHoddy221 karma

I note this hasn't been answered so ill put forward my view as a UK solicitor.

If you know the client is guilty (ie they told you they did the crime) then you cannot represent them in bringing a defence that they didn't. Solicitors and barristers have an overriding duty to the court and must not mislead the court for fear of punishment.

However, if the client says he didn't do it, all you can do is advise him on the evidence against him and represent him the best you can.

There are always cases where you "know" a person did commit a crime as the evidence is overwhelming. But if they instruct you that they didn't do it, then you do your job.

Hope that makes sense

ebarrama124 karma

I agree with AHoddy.

ChromeDeagle63 karma

My brother is a qualified barrister but he struggled to get a pupilage because he went to UCL, not Oxford or Cambridge. He's now curator of a Mercedes Benz museum. So my questions are:

How hard was it to get a pupilage?

What university did you attend? (I'd ask what you got but I'm guessing a first).

Do you come from a wealthy background? (Sorry to ask but it will help dispel some common misconceptions!).

Is is true that you cannot sue clients who don't pay? If so, how do you deal with this kind of situation?

Finally, I have a client who works at Lincoln's Inn (11 Stone Bulidings). How secretive do you have to be or rather how much can you talk about a case to a fellow barrister?

Thank you!

EDIT: Keyboard ran out of batteries and left out half my letters.

ebarrama68 karma

  1. It was very hard to get a pupillage. I had to really fight to get one.

  2. I went to a red brick unviersity perhaps lower on the rankings than UCL. I did get a first.

  3. I come from a moderately wealthy background. My parents have been financially supportive but were certainly not able to pay for the relevant courses themselves. I took out a substantial student loan as well as a professional development loan.

  4. We cannot sue solicitors who don't pay. We can have them blacklisted though.

  5. We often talk amongst ourselves about work. That is how we can learn from each other. When talking to friends and family about cases, we tend to anonymise them. Once cases have gone to trial (family and youth cases excepted) they are in the public domain and we are generally free to talk about them as we wish.

Also, UCL is a very very good university.

randombabble111 karma

For anyone wondering, a "First" means 70% and above in the UK.
60-69 is called 2:1
50-59 is called 2:2
40-49 is called a third

39 and below is a Barista

ebarrama81 karma

Not to toot my own horn, but having studied in America on exchange, I can say that a 70% in the UK is the equivalent of 85%ish in the US. You cannot compare grades directly.

bhalp150 karma

You think you're some big wig.

ebarrama34 karma

Nope. Just a bored guy sitting in an office. People always ask me about my job, so thought Reddit might be interested.

[deleted]49 karma

Have you ever put the wig on while having sex?

ebarrama49 karma


groomingfluid28 karma

why not?

ebarrama64 karma

I'll ask my wife.

Dimezz17 karma

op will surely deliver

ebarrama40 karma

She laughed and said no.

reepicheepi46 karma

Is the Bar Council ok with this AMA?

ebarrama98 karma

Probably not. Hence the throwaway account and anonymity. Still, I am not one to want to bring the profession into disrepute. If anything I was hoping that this AMA, if on a small scale, will promote some of the positive things about the English Bar.

Zagorath10 karma

Could you elaborate? Why would they not be happy with this AMA?

ebarrama40 karma

I suppose because it is not officially sanctioned. They and the Bar Standards Board have concerns about the profession being brought into disrepute. I hope that I have answered questions in a professional and courteous manner and portrayed the Bar in a positive light.

Apathetic_Superhero41 karma

How many minority ethnicity barristers are there? My ex is Indian and she passed the Bar but couldn't get into chambers. She always told me it was harder because she was Indian and a woman. What are your experiences that could confirm or deny this?

ebarrama64 karma

From my perspective, I don't think that ethnicity is a factor that prevents people from coming to the bar any more. Accents can be a problem for some, as can foreign qualifications that cannot easily be recognised or compared to British ones.

There seems to be an even 50/50 split between male and female barristers. There are fewer older female barristers because it was harder for women back in the 70s and 80s. Also, it is more likely that women will take career breaks.

GunstarCowboy30 karma

How long did it take for you to get to the bar from University?

And did you have to eat at the Inns of Court? What were the meals like?

ebarrama65 karma

It took me about 6 months to find pupillage from the time I first started applying.

In order to qualify as a barrister you have to join one of four organisations called 'The Inns of Court'. My organisation is called 'The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn'. I had to eat 12 meals there in order to qualify as a barrister. It's an old fashioned attempt at forcing people to network and meet each other. The food can be rather good.

jxj2427 karma

You said that you defend AND prosecute criminal cases. How does that work? I am used to the U.S. system (what I think I know of it) where the prosecutors are in the employ of some government agency, whether at local, state or federal level, while the defense attorney is either in private practice, or is in a different governmental department.

ebarrama42 karma

It does not seem to cause a problem. If anything it allows advocates to have a better understanding of the system as a whole. People who act for one side only tend to either be a little too 'gung ho' about the process or have difficulty sympathising.

Briskbas10 karma

How does that work pragmatically, though. In America, the prosecutors work for the state, and the defense attorneys are approached and hired by the criminal defendants. How does the state go about hiring you to prosecute a case?

ebarrama16 karma

They have a panel which you have to apply to be on. Look here for more information

Moregunsthanpatience3 karma

How does the process work for being called to prosecute a case if you do both?

Drawing from my experience in the US legal system and having watched 3 episodes of Law & Order: UK, I assume to CPS solicitors make a decision to prosecute and choose to contact the bar and hire a barrister?

ebarrama3 karma

Yep. They have a list of barristers of different grades. They will have barristers that they know and like. They'll instruct one of them (or sometimes two in difficult cases) to prosecute the case.

Guest-Account23 karma

Does becoming a barrister require a higher/different level of education in the field of law than becoming a solicitor?

ebarrama46 karma

There are a slightly different set of qualifications and courses that are needed. Barristers take a course called the 'Bar Professional Training Course'. The professions are considered 'separate but equal'. However there is more competition for places at the Bar and so the Bar often attracts a different calibre of candidate.

kilowhisky23 karma

Is the wig itchy?

ebarrama55 karma

A little bit, but you get used to it. It feels like wearing a heavy hat. It's the weight more than the itchiness that is annoying. It is made out of horse hair.

kilowhisky13 karma

Next question(s), how do you feel defending someone when / if you know they're guilty and what do you think about some of the sentences the courts hand out?

For example, there was a man who is a persistent sex offender / paedophile who had committed lots of offences in the UK and he was jailed for only five months... he got out then travelled over to my peaceful little island and then raped a 10 year old boy in his hotel room, the whole island was in uproar that he was here but that he also served such a short sentence in the first place for his other offences.

ebarrama21 karma

I've never known for sure that someone is guilty and yet defended them. I always have my suspicions, but it is not my role to judge. I represent the client as best I can and it is for the system to find him/her guilty or not guilty.

There is a person who answers this question really well on this AMA but I can't find the message.

Blackcrusader20 karma

As an Irish barrister, hello from across the Irish sea. Does the old rule that solicitors are not required to pay barristers still apply in the UK?

How much experience does it take to prosecute cases in the UK? In Ireland it is a minimum of 4 years- in practise much more before you are on the DPP panel. I Heard something about a project where barristers become regular employees of the state practising purely in prosecution. The prospect of a regular wage and holidays etc is pretty tempting- how did it work out?

How hard would it be to gain tenancy in the UK with a few years Irish practise under my belt?

ebarrama22 karma

  1. Yes unfortunately. It's all a 'Gentleman's Agreement'. This is ridiculous rule and it ought to change.

  2. There are four levels of prosecutor. I am a Level 1 prosecutor and can do small appeals from the Magistrates' Court and various bits and pieces. Level 2 prosecutors are more experienced and do more complex matters. Level 4 is murders and the like. I think the CPS seems to be stopping taking on full time barristers as it is actually cheaper to use self employed counsel. I'm not really the person to ask though!

  3. Shouldn't be too difficult if you can prove to the chambers that you are able to actually make some money.

megmet18 karma

Sweet! I cannot tell you how exciting this is especially because I'm taking American law courses right now in advanced paralegal studies. We briefly have talked about barristers and solicitors because the American legal system is based on the British common law legal system, however we haven't really gone all that in depth about barristers and solicitors at all.

My biggest question would be what is the educational structure for barristers (and solicitors). How does the amount of education you must acquire vary from the American system where you must have a 4 year bachelor degree from an accredited university and then a Juris Doctorate degree from an accredited law program. Plus you must pass the state bar for whichever state you wish to practice in before you can legally practice law. Do you all have a similar system to that? What are the main differences and commonalities between the American legal education system and the British legal education system?

messrmo21 karma

British system is: You come out of school at 18 and do an LLB at university which lasts 3 years. Then you do the BPTC (Bar Professional training course) which lasts 1 year. Then you have to get a pupillage which lasts minimum 1 year, can be longer. Then you are called to bar, you get a tenancy and can start practicing.

ebarrama42 karma

I can add to messrmo's message. Many English lawyers did not do a law degree. I did a 3 year humanities degree followed by a course called the Graduate Diploma in Law where they squeeze all the necessary legal knowledge into a year. The BPTC is more of a practical course which focusses on advocacy and procedure.

Once you have qualified you have to apply for work as a 'pupil'. This is an apprentice barrister. You spend your first six months shadowing a more experienced barrister, and the second six months doing straightforward work. After that, If you are liked by your 'Chambers' you are made a tenant.

The majority of barristers are self employed but work together in groups called Chambers. Resources such as buildings and administration staff are shared between the members of a chambers. We have people called clerks who act as middlemen and agents to bring in the work on our behalf.

elmonoenano11 karma

In History on Trial, Deborah Lipstadt talked about how her barrister used his wig as a piece of advocacy. He would slide his wig down and pretend to nap while David Irving testified. How much of this will the Judge let you get away with and any other wig tricks?

ebarrama5 karma

This sounds like the kind of trickery that you can only get away with if you are very experienced and have a lot of gravitas.

beable8 karma

I don't think I've ever been so envious.

The profession is one that is often misunderstood and considered to be elitist / upper class / ridiculously British.

OK - so how upper class are you? Cambridge/Oxford? 'public' school? How about your peers? What about the solicitors - I have an impression of them as being more upper crust than the barristers actually.

ebarrama22 karma

Solidly middle class. Not public school. Not Oxbridge. Most of my peers are state educated but about half of them are Oxbridge. Very few are upper class. There are some of us who come from very modest means, but by the time they have been through university have the trappings and values of a middle class person.

girlnoise8 karma

Are you anything like Mark Darcy from Bridget Jones' Diary?

ebarrama44 karma

You mean smooth, attractive and a bit of a charmer? No.

Baludo7 karma

Is it true that you are often required to argue a case the same day you receive it? If so, how do you manage?

ebarrama18 karma

I used to prosecute 'lists' quite a lot. I'd be given up to 8 trials that morning to prosecute. THey would be simple matters such as assaults, thefts and public order offences. I'd have an hour to prepare them all. Once you can do that, you can do anything. It's great practice for thinking on your feet and learning to improvise in court.

Paperwerk7 karma

Do you ever wash the wig?

ebarrama12 karma


forr6 karma

Do you mean to say that the British legal system leaves prosecution to private lawyers? That's fascinating.

ebarrama22 karma

More as agents or consultants. It creates symmetry between prosecution and defence. On the whole it is more fair.

SilentTsunami6 karma

Are you allowed to practice law in more than just England (like Wales, Australia, or other parts of the Commonwealth - I'm really fuzzy on how much you guys are still intertwined.)?

What motivated you to become a Barrister? Do you enjoy your work/find it satisfying? I ask the second question because it seems strange to me that you both prosecute & defend criminal cases.

ebarrama17 karma

Nope. I can't even practise law in Scotland or Northern Ireland without jumping through a lot of hoops.

I started to study law thinking I would become a solicitor. I spent a week on 'work experience' with a barrister and immediately thought that this was the job for me. I really enjoy what I do. There is something very gratifying with working on something with identifiable goals and dealing with real people..

CaineFaraday5 karma

I am poor. Can I become a barrister?

ebarrama25 karma

Yes with loans and scholarships. Don't be stupid though - make sure you look into your chances of success before you embark on what could be a pointless and expensive mistake.

The cheapest way of becoming a barrister is to become a solicitor first. Find some big corporate behemoth to pay for you to qualify. Work for them for a few years then leave and become a barrister.

stuckupatree5 karma

I see you are at Lincolns Inn could you explain a little more about what this means?

[deleted]16 karma

In basic terms it's like a club. All barristers in the UK must belong to one of the four Inns. Lincolns Inn is one of the oldest, with records dating back to 1422. They provide services to barristers like a law library, offices and each either has a church or chapel attached to it.

All the Inns are located in the City London (which is another city, inside London).

stuckupatree4 karma

That's so strange WHY do they have to belong to a club? (also thanks for answering)

ebarrama7 karma

I'm not entirely sure. They traditionally offered support and the availability of services such as libraries and lunch. From my perspective, my Inn helped me a lot by giving me scholarships to help pay for my training.

CaisLaochach5 karma

How is the training for you lot? In the King's Inns in Dublin at the moment, so we get to play at barrister all day.

ebarrama7 karma

I hated the BVC. The people without pupillage were permanently despondent and the people with pupillage just wanted the year to be over. Pupillage was good though.

Arghgonaut5 karma

Ever do any work for the CPS? Any choice words m'learned friend?

ebarrama13 karma

The CPS are hilariously underfunded. If Defendants are acquitted, it is often because the CPS has not prepared the case properly. On the whole I think that CPS staff are excellent but stifled by inappropriate cost-cutting and the misallocation of resources. Once you get your head around this, working for them becomes a lot easier.

boraxx5 karma

Hold on, why isn't this a major scandal? It completely devalues the work of the police and everyone else involved?! Have there just not been enough visible failures?

ebarrama6 karma

There are little failures like this across all public services, all of which are becoming increasingly common as the austerity measures come into play. The CPS is not a government service that is easily visible to the public and the press (compared to the police, education, hospitals etc) so it tends to fall by the wayside.

Xaethon4 karma

Did you opt to buying an older wig rather than a new one when you became a barrister?

How much did everything cost to become one?

Is it possible to become a barrister by doing something like the CPE, or is it best to have done an LLB first before following on to either a solicitor or barrister?

Did you find it difficult to get a pupilage?

ebarrama14 karma

  1. Old wigs are hard to come by. They also tend not to fit. I bought mine new.

  2. I qualified in 2007. The Bar Course was about £12,000. Wig was £500 and gown was £200. I didn't buy the wig or gown until I knew I had a job. Lincoln's Inn gave me a significant scholarship that helped towards paying for all of this. A bank loan supplied the rest.

  3. Chambers don't seem to care whether you did a law degree or the CPE/GDL.

  4. Getting a pupillage is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It meant spending months applying for places, building my confidence and perfecting an interview technique. Only about 1 in 6 people who do the BVC/BPTC actually get a pupillage.

flawed_remix3 karma

What is your take on 'no win no fee'?

ebarrama5 karma

Most of my personal injury work is on 'no win no fee'. It is a self regulating system that prevents the courts from being filled up with useless cases. I think it is quite a good system. It also allows people who could not normally afford to bring a case to use a lawyer.