The Vocational Stage of Bar training is your first step to learning the procedural and practical aspects of life as a barrister. This second stage of Bar training prepares you for the final Professional Stage and can be considered a bridge between academic study and pupillage/work-based learning.
To complete the Vocational Stage, you will need to take a Bar Vocational Training Course (often simply referred to as a Bar Course or Bar Training Course) with an Authorised Education and Training Organisation (AETO), such as the ICCA Bar Course.
When you have successfully completed a Bar training course you will receive a Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) qualification from your course provider, as well as a certificate from the Bar Standards Board to demonstrate that you have passed the Vocational Stage of training.
To enrol on a Bar Course, you must have achieved all of the following:
|1||Completed the Academic Stage (your undergraduate degree) within 5 years of starting your Bar Training Course||What are the time limits for commencing the Vocational Stage of Bar training?|
|2||Met the minimum degree/law conversion course entry requirements of the organisation providing your Bar Training Course||Learn more about Bar Course provider (AETO) entry requirements.|
|3||The ability to exercise good English language skills||What are the English language requirements for Bar Vocational Training?|
|4||Joined an Inn of Court||Read more about when to join an Inn of Court.|
Previously, students enrolling on a Bar Vocational Training course were required to pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) which was a short multiple-choice test designed to test aptitude for Bar training. However, following a review of its effectiveness, the BCAT has now been discontinued for all students enrolling on their Bar Vocational Training Course after 31 July 2022. You can read more about this from the BSB here.
You must commence your Bar training course within 5 years of completing the Academic Stage.
This means that you must start your Bar training course within 5 years of 31st December of the year in which you received your law degree or, for non-law graduates, your GDL. The purpose of this is to ensure your legal knowledge is reasonably current. For example, if you completed your degree in July 2019, you would have to commence your Bar training course by 31 December 2024.
If you are out of time you can apply to the BSB to reactive your ‘stale’ qualification (which will only be granted in exceptional circumstances where you can demonstrate your legal knowledge is current), or you can take a law conversion course to bring yourself up to date.
All Bar Training Course providers must impose the minimum BSB entry requirements (a 2:2 degree plus a pass in a law conversion course for non-law graduates), but providers may require higher grades to accept students. For example, the ICCA requires a law degree 2:1 or, for non-law graduates, a 2:2 in your degree plus a GDL Commendation or Distinction.
You should look carefully at the entry requirements on the websites of all course providers you intend to apply to.
It is worth noting that providers may accept students who have failed to achieve expected grades where this is due to mitigating circumstances. For example, where applicants have achieved a 2:2 in their law degree, or a pass in their GDL, the ICCA would consider their application if there were mitigating circumstances involved which prevented them from achieving their expected grades. For more information on the ICCA’s approach, see the ICCA Mitigating Circumstances Application Guidance.
Given that the BSB requirements are for a minimum 2:2 grade in an undergraduate degree, any candidate who has achieved less than this will be unable to commence Bar training. Other than taking another degree, candidates in this situation can apply to the BSB for the exercise of discretion to disapply the minimum requirement (see the Bar Qualification Manual Parts 2B and 2C).
Good written and oral English language skills are vital for barristers and for completion of the Vocational Stage of Bar training. This requirement is for candidates upon admission to a Bar training course to:
‘Exercise good English language skills. They will have an effective command of the language and be able to use it appropriately, accurately and fluently so as to handle complex and detailed argumentation. They will use correct English grammar, spelling and punctuation. Barristers should: a) Use correct and appropriate vocabulary, English grammar, spelling and punctuation in all communications. b) Speak fluent English.’
(see Professional Statement for Barristers, paragraph 1.8)
To fulfil this requirement, candidates must demonstrate English language ability at least equivalent to a minimum score of 7.5 in each section of the IELTS academic test, or 73 in each part of the Pearson test of English (academic).
This does not mean that you have to take such a test when you apply for a Bar training course, but rather you can be called upon to do so if there is any doubt about your English language ability. It is up to each course provider how they verify that this requirement has been met. The ICCA, for example, assesses English language skills during the application process which includes an advocacy exercise for shortlisted candidates.
You must apply to join an Inn of Court at least 12 weeks before commencing your Bar Training Course, although for courses in two parts, such as the ICCA Bar Course, you can commence the first part without joining an Inn. However, joining early is recommended.
Applications to join an Inn are made through the Inns’ individual websites (the Honourable Societies of Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple). There is a one-time fee of up to £115.
The Inns of Court are first and foremost educational institutions. Part of training to become a barrister requires you to undertake 10 Qualifying Sessions with your Inn which you would normally do during your Bar training course, but which must be taken within the 5 years before you are Called to the Bar. Qualifying sessions comprise a mix of educational training exercises, such as advocacy workshops, training in professional ethics, legal knowledge, equality & diversity and preparation for pupillage.
When you have completed your Bar Vocational training, completed your Qualifying Sessions and been passed as a ‘fit and proper person’ (including a standard DBS check) by your Inn, you will then be called to the Bar.
Which Inn you choose to join is a matter entirely for you. Each Inn has its own unique character and part of the excitement of training to become a barrister is making the decision for yourself as to which Inn suits you best. Where possible, visit each of the Inns to discover this for yourself. Each provides open days and numerous educational facilities for students.
The Inns provide scholarships to Bar and GDL students irrespective of where they choose to do their Bar training, so where you apply to take your course has no bearing on your prospects of receiving a scholarship. You can read more about Inns’ scholarships in What does it cost to train for the Bar?
Applications for the Vocational Stage of Bar training are made direct to individual course providers (also known as Authorised Education and Training Organisations, or AETOs). There is no central application system or unified application timeline.
The precise application process differs between course providers. Typically, candidates will make applications approximately one year before their Bar training course commences (e.g. an autumn application in 2023 for a September 2024 start), but some course providers accept applications far closer to course start dates.
You can read here about the ICCA Bar Course application process.
Before you decide to apply, please read the section on What will I study on a Bar Training Course? which will help you make an informed decision.