40 year old mate wants to leave job and retrain as barrister

Very good public speaker. Quick on his feet. Bright. Bored of his job (in the arts). Would be happy at the criminal bar. But wonders if his chances of pupillage are less than zero, and if it’s worth sinking money and time into. Thoughts?

Thank you all, this is tremendously good advice. And great to get clarity on the pupillage/BPC timeline issue. I am going to go away and cogitate, talk to more barristers, look into mini-pupillages and read that testimony.



Ebit, it was a broad brush response to the alternative areas OP expressed an interest in, but I take your point.

OP, the Media bar is tiny, not to say you shouldn't apply for some mini pupillages. Public Law is a very difficult and complex area of Law, and it is mostly proper black letter law, absent a Distinction in your GDL, it is going to be nigh on impossible to get an assessed mini pupillage or even an unasssesed mini pupillage. Oh and do remember even the ones that aren't assesed you should act as though it is. If you impress you will be remembered at any subsquent application.

OP, do the GDL, and ride both horses whilst doing it and see what comes out in the wash???

If I knew you personally I would strongly advise you against this.  There's a chance you might make it, of course, but the likelihood is that you wouldn't.

I know a crime junior - 5 years call, accomplished, 5 years relevant career before that - who is still totally hand to mouth.  Also the things you are good at - the things you want to do, like connecting and argumentation - are not really like the life of a junior criminal barrister.

Media / public sets - where i instruct a lot - are fiendish to get into.  Loads of "top 1st in her year at Cambridge" stuff.   

On the plus side, Gringo 3 is my favourite telenovela character.

"'His BD is largely playing the online SEO game' ??"

A lot of his work comes from Joe Public typing into google:"I need an employment barrister" and the like.  So he buys the right google adwords, optimises his website for search eingines, etc.  It's not for everyone and I'd imagine its highly competitive.  I only raised it it to show that there are different career paths that can be taken beyond criminal or top end commercial work.


For what it's worth I'm on the solicitor side of the legal profession and all other things being equal I'd rather hire a career changer than a university graduate as they tend to be more commercially minded from Day 1, have a better idea of how business people/non-lawyers think, and tend to have promotion records that show they aren't hopeless in the workplace.  All of which are more important to me than academics.   So age & prior careers can be a selling point to some people.  But it's rarely a unique one, nor one that is going to make you overlook other desireable traits, qualities, abilities etc.

Yeah if it wasn’t already obvious I would also advise against this if I knew you.  I think it sounds like you have an impressive and interesting career and I think you should build on that rather than start again. There must be places you can go. I think you may be idealising the bar and underestimating the competitiveness.  Giving up everything and then not succeeding would be really difficult I think and it’s probably the likeliest outcome. Sorry to be negative.

"If you don’t get pupillage or a major inn scholarship do not do the BPTC.  Just don’t.  It’s very expensive and only valuable as a stepping stone to pupillage.  If you don’t get pupillage on your first run (or at least you don’t get final stage interviews, shortlisted etc) then I would take that as your answer. At 21 you might be able to do a masters and come back a year later a better candidate but at 42 really your CV is what it is and if you don’t get interest one year I wouldn’t place too much hope in the next year being different."

This is garbage. Most pupils don't have big scholarships, didn't get pupillage on an early attempt (certainly not pre-BPTC) nd don't improve their applications by doing a Masters. 

Being realistic, however, is necessary. The further away from the commercial bar (and big money) you get, the easier everything is, but pupillage interviews are awful.

Also assuming you just want to be in court, go for a common-law pupillage - lots of crime, some civil stuff to pay bills, lots more options etc.

Also, advocacy isn't the preserve of the courtroom, it's a state of being if you want it to be.  

Thanks, Twelve. I suppose I am anxious about the possibility of not getting pupillage and then having to wait another year before attempting it, with zero salary and limited possibility of any income in between. I'm not sure my circs would accommodate multiple runs at this.


You do what everyone in that situ does and go work for a law firm, or one of the county court advocacy firms etc, or you change tack and go for the solicitor / NY bar route.

It's the ultimate test of your risk management / self confidence skills. Do you believe you will fail?

Do what makes you happy - if it’s this - and your family will support it - then do it. Win or lose does it matter in the end? 

Some great and no doubt accurate advice on here but I’ve been following this message board for 10 years and IMO it’s on the conservative side when it comes to change.

I like your sense of adventure re it and the desire to change. 

Good Luck. 



Actually although i've advised you not to do it, Moo's got a point about conservatism.  I haven't been on this board anything like that long but lawyers generally are not good at change, which is why so many of them get stuck in a career they hate.  

Also, advocacy isn't the preserve of the courtroom, it's a state of being if you want it to be.  


^ this is very wise. I would argue I advocate a lot in my role, and enjoy it; but I'm not and never will be a lawyer of any kind.

well I have done a shitload of change and am good at it, and I've practiced at the criminal bar and have a half decent sense of what it takes to have a passable practice at the bar or in a law firm and the transition from industry to law and the different parts of the legal profession's expectations of its new arrivals.  Self-belief (see 14.55) is essential but not in itself the answer to the riddle. 

The bar from afar is a very different looking beast to the up close reality.  The truth of the matter is that so much of the everyday business of the criminal bar is practical obstacle-clearing and problem solving admin.  So little is testing of your advocacy skills and encyclopedic legal knowledge (but there are little landmines that go off unexpectedly mid-hearing and, like land mines, you don't know where or when you'll need the A Player Lawyer to resolve them. So you need to be ready.

That A Player sits in the back pocket waiting for an outing in case you have something that needs more than the idling you.  but the idling you can do most of what you are called upon to do.  It is frustrating that the best of you does not immediately influence your success or income to the extent luck and bad luck do. 

It is frustrating that it took so long to train that A Player and you don't know if it is still fit to play because it sees such a small proportion of the action. What will happen if it is called upon? Do you still have it? Are you getting work because of it or despite its absence? Are you not getting work because there's no work around or because you're not an A Player in some invisible idiot's eyes?

When you get a good brief and income, is that the new deal or the last lucky break? Will it be famine or feast? Which is worse? Can you manage the feast?  Will the famine kill you? 

These insecurities will get louder and there will be other frustrations. It is frustrating how you are just another part of the care system for much of the time and a cog in the rusty administrative world of criminal justice where, if it wasn't for clever people like you and the judiciary, the whole thing would collapse like scrap iron. 

To all intents and purposes, to make a good decision here, you need to ask yourself whether you want to opt into a pro bono social care commitment with a legal-knowhow entry requirement. Wheter you want to do something which doesn't objectively add up, for the shits and giggles of it, regardless of outcomes.  If so, do it.

If outcomes, measurable progress, stable intellectual demand, steady workflow and rational justification for the grind and pressure matter, do not take this step. 

‘If outcomes, measurable progress, stable intellectual demand, steady workflow and rational justification for the grind and pressure matter, do not take this step.’

They do matter, Muttley, so thanks for the rundown. Did you switch up from the criminal bar for these reasons? 

And how much of the rundown still applies to life as a junior barrister in other areas of practice eg family?

Yes, these and other things were important to me and did not deliver. I had stopped an emergent management career in telecoms and reformulated, went to law school and pushed in there, but I was much younger than you are now.  For me it was only a couple of years doing other things, a few years re-aligning and then feeling disappointed, so typical impatience of a late 20s chap you might say, but on an alternative analysis I was perhaps an early adopter of issues others recognize above.

I cannot speak for other areas such as family. Over to others. But I really do think we have hit on an important values list in the extract at 19.17 so please take care.  It makes no sense. The only sense that exists is an irresistible, irrational vocational sense of obligation and intrigue. 

The criminal lawyers I trust are the ones you ask "why do you do this" and they reply "I dunno - it doesn't add up but it feels important to be one of the ones who doesn't stop doing it" . I will call them if I am ever in need.

Thanks so much. You’ve been very generous, it’s much appreciated.

no problem whatsoever, and mine is only one opinion among many

Forgive me for saying but I’m still not understanding why you want to do this. I’ve thought of doing the same (I’m a doctor) but have never progressed it. What are you hoping to get from the criminal bar that you cannot get from your own job or something more allied to do? If you’re interested in the law and criminal justice then why not become a JP? I’m thinking about it. 

Yes, I think that is a fair comment, Crypto, though in your case your views above in relation to your concerns as to the morals of defence counsel in advocating the instructions they are given (no, we don't need to go over the issues again) cause me to wince at the thought that someone might progress to the role of deputy district judge without that prejudice being ironed out through legal education.  But you would bring many, many other valuable aspects to the role and there is always the clerk to nudge the lay magistrate in the direction of a less appealable decision.

Hi Crypto - like I said in my first post, I'm not totally fixated on the criminal bar, it was just one area of law I was interested in exploring that I felt was more likely to align with my sensibilities and interests than the commercial end of things. Needless to say I am at the start of my journey with this so my knowledge base is underdeveloped. 

I guess I'm hoping for a more dynamic, varied, challenging and ultimately impactful career,  and to flex some different aspects of a skillset that I suspect I have but where there is little outlet currently. But sounds like it's a good while before you get to do that at the bar. 




tbf you'd get all that and an outlet for your public speaking / arguing fetishes if you took up some lecturing at University of the Arts alongside your curation. Then get yourself aligned with a film foundation who will fund your doco projects. Get yrself a portfolio that plays to the knowledge and contacts you've gathered over the last 20 years.

Carman got a First in Law from Balliol and was top of his year (1952) at Oxford overall.

That is super impressive getting a first in those days. My old man who graduated in the 80s read PPE at Pembroke College and he reckons about 4 people got firsts in the whole of the college.

Yeah that’s a remarkable achievement. Getting a first in law seemed pretty hard when I was there and only true sociopaths achieved it. 

Yup, Crypto getting a first in Law is even now very difficult . The issue is there is no GCSE, or A Level subject has the same approach, technique , or analysis skills that enables you to do automatically well in Law. Academically really great people often struggle in their Law degrees.

The Professors at Bristol, said  they do well to get ten firsts PA .They  took a great buzz out of leaving people hanging on 68/69%

A bisexual binge drinker! How horrifying!

I think your 19.17 post settles it. At first I thought it was an adventure for the bored with no expectations. But if you have those expectations you will be disappointed. Do not underestimate how long it takes to develop the basic skills to a point where you are trusted with eg a trial. If you are 25 that is fine but at 40 you will just find it humiliating.

Retraining as a media lawyer is more realistic if you can get on board with that. Most lawyers are robot pedants so if you give them eg a contract relaring to the arts they will try to negotiate it like any commercial contract. Having a sophisticated understanding of the practical requirements of the client is invaluable.

Her Tawkin don’t believe a word of it that’s all I’m saying. His bitter and twisted son wrote a tabloid style sensational book when he had been left out of the will , and despite several challenges to the will all of which were unsuccessful he continued to speak about his dead father . He drank a lot , so what. He may or may not have been bisexual, so what , etc, etc, getting a 1st in the 50s is an exemplar of academic brilliance.

Crypto16 Feb 21 18:23

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Isn’t there a roffer who did something like this? He was an actor then a barrister. Can’t think who it is but he’s pretty regular on here. 


Me. Then I left because it was a silly thing to have done.

Which was the silly bit? The acting,  the roffing or the bazzing

Crime then moved into Family - mainly Children. Was told unequivocally by counsel I instructed as a Paralegal not to keep on going for pupillage as legal aid was a mug's game but I knew better.

fairynuff. I was once interviewed by a Freeth's Partner who very proud of being an extra on the Bill

That’s a remarkable career. Two fiercely competitive and hard to crack fields. What made you give up the law?

Family is a bit of two tales. Legal aid family stuff and the private stuff. HNW divorces, custody battles, asset tracing and stuff which is more akin to commercial stuff.