Life at the Employed and Self-Employed Bar
There are two contexts in which barristers practise: the one that you are likely to be most familiar with is the self-employed Bar, where barristers are based in chambers. The lesser known option is the employed Bar, where barristers work as part of an organisation. Although most barristers are self-employed, this doesn’t mean that there is a better or worse way of working: the pros and cons of each will depend very much on your working style.
What is the Self-Employed Bar?
Around 80% of barristers are self-employed, which is similar to running your own business in that barristers take control of a great many aspects of their work, such as the areas in which they practise and their working hours. Self-employed barristers are attached to a set of chambers: barristers can’t form partnerships or companies but will work as a loose “collective” based in a building, sharing the cost of hiring administrative staff, clerks, the operational costs of running the building and funding pupillages. Cases tend to be allocated via clerks, who take care of the administrative aspect of work in chambers.
Since barristers are self-employed, they have a great deal of flexibility in terms of the way they work. In addition to the areas mentioned above:
- There is no limit to what you can earn! But some practice areas are known to be more lucrative than others. Furthermore, while there is no limit to your earning potential, there isn’t a guaranteed minimum salary so barristers must ensure they take on enough work to cover their costs and earn a living.
- Self-employed barristers can decide when and how long to take a holiday. However, unlike working for an employer, they will not receive holiday pay; the same is true of sick pay.
- Ultimately, self-employed barristers have ownership over how their practice develops and its reputation.
What is the Employed Bar?
A far smaller number of barristers work at the employed Bar, for institutions such as:
- Government Legal Service (legal teams in central government)
- Crown Prosecution Service (responsible for prosecutions in criminal cases)
- Armed Forces
- Firms (working in solicitors’ firms)
- Commerce Finance and Industry
Life at the employed bar is very different from that in chambers: for example, in this context, barristers will know how much they are getting paid each year, which can provide greater stability. Since barristers will be working for an organisation, they won’t have to cover the costs that come with working at the self-employed Bar and can take advantage of annual leave, maternity/paternity leave and sick pay.
Carolina Bracken at the self-employed Bar and Hannah Smith at the employed Bar offer some excellent information on what it’s like to work in these distinct areas.