Suppose Barry graduated law school and receives all of the necessary qualifications necessary to practice as a barrister, but doesn’t like the idea of being self employed or perhaps doesn’t have the startup capital to be able to rent out space in a chambers or to pay a paralegal so he opts to work for someone else like a large corporation whom he will exclusively serve full time by doing all of the functions of a barrister for them like drafting opinions and appearing in courts to represent them etc, so that he can in return get a steady salary and not have to spend money on office space himself.

Or his good friend is a solicitor who has his own firm and they enjoy working with each other so much that the majority of his instructions are received from his friend Sol anyway, so one day they figure it would just be more convenient for him to come “in house,” so that they can consolidate their finances, accountancy fees, and website etc. So Barry takes a job at Sol Law LLP to work as a barrister.

Is there anything that actually prevents this or is the norm for barristers to be self employed purely just customary?

  • Short answer: no, nothing prevents any of those things. A full answer would be rather complicated (i.e. what are the advantages of self-employment) which is what I think you really want to know. Dec 19, 2023 at 13:26

2 Answers 2


No, there is nothing to stop any of those things

Barristers may practice in various ways - see the Bar Code of Conduct rS16. These include being self-employed, employed or a manager of a "BSB entity" (a corporate structure or partnership) or in various other ways. This is on the assumption the barrister wants to be regulated by the Bar Standards Board.

Barristers may also practice via "Alternative Business Structures" and be regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.

Mixed bodies (barrister and solicitor together) are possible under either regulator, subject to a lot of complicated rules.

The differences between each form of practice are quite complicated. However, an independent barrister will have all the problems of being self-employed (no entitlement to paid holiday, maternity or paternity leave and so on) unless and to the extent that they have worked out some other way to provide for them. For example, by being a member of a chambers that collectively provides them. But there will also be advantages - such as lower national insurance.

Independent barristers tend to have much lower overheads. Their insurance premiums are much lower (via a mutual indemnity fund). They are bound by the cab rank rule - which is more or less effective depending on the area of practice.

Only about 3,000 out of 17,000 barristers are employed. Being employed actually comes in two forms. You can work for a company and be "their" lawyer. This means you cannot represent in court (as counsel) anyone else. You can also work for a law firm, something I do, which allows you to advise multiple clients via the firm.

So, working for a big firm is an option. I nearly applied for a job as legal counsel a month or so ago. It would have been attractive for the reasons you suggest.

Going into partnership or otherwise forming an ABS or whatever with a friend who is a solicitor is also an option.

Why this complexity? Partly history of course, and partly that the result of that is different sorts of skill set and training.

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    Can you represent someone other than “as counsel”? Dec 20, 2023 at 14:02
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    @TylerDurden - that might be worth a separate question, because it is complicated. Barristers get a right of audience in court, but you do not always need a right of audience (eg in tribunals, with permission of the court, if representing yourself or as an officer of a company) in those sorts of case you could act outside your role as barrister provided you made it very clear that was what you were doing. Dec 20, 2023 at 23:59
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    very well, then. law.stackexchange.com/questions/98171/… Dec 21, 2023 at 1:23

Short Answer

Is there anything that actually prevents this or is the norm for barristers to be self employed purely just customary?

he opts to work for someone else like a large corporation whom he will exclusively serve full time by doing all of the functions of a barrister for them like drafting opinions and appearing in courts to represent them etc, so that he can in return get a steady salary and not have to spend money on office space himself.

Barristers are not permitted to form law firms as a matter of the occupational rules that apply to them, although they can have what amounts to office share arrangements (called "chambers") and third-party client development and compensation negotiation through a para-profession in England called "clerks" who brokers work for barristers.

The high paying work for barristers is sufficiently great, and their chambers and clerks coddle them to such an extent, that being self-employed involves much less conduct of business than other kinds of lawyers or self-employed professionals.

The lack of barrister firms avoids conflicts and undue specialization, while maintaining high quality standards and professional independence as advocates for their clients, in a profession that is small now and was historically even smaller.

Long Answer

Or his good friend is a solicitor who has his own firm and they enjoy working with each other so much that the majority of his instructions are received from his friend Sol anyway, so one day they figure it would just be more convenient for him to come “in house,” so that they can consolidate their finances, accountancy fees, and website etc.

Professional regulation of barristers, such as the "cab rank rule", prevent this kind of relationship from developing to the same extent that it does in other legal professions:

The cab rank rule is a bedrock obligation for the independent referral Bar. The rule means that barristers cannot discriminate between clients, and that they must take on any case provided that it is within their competence and they are available and appropriately remunerated.

The cab rank rule promotes access to justice. It means that clients will not be deprived of the advocate of their choice because the client or the client’s cause could be seen as objectionable or unpopular. People with unpopular causes or accused of serious offences do not need the additional challenge of having first to persuade a lawyer to take them on.

Barristers do not choose their clients, nor do they associate themselves with their clients’ opinions or behaviour by virtue of representing them.

The independent referral bars of England & Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland collectively re-affirm our commitment to the cab rank rule. It:

  • Promotes access to justice

  • Recognises that it is for judges and juries to decide and to judge, and that passing judgment is not the role of advocates

  • Imposes an obligation on the independent referral bar to accept work even from those with whom we profoundly disagree, and of whom we profoundly disapprove

  • Means that our role and duty as advocates is, and is only, to advise, and then to represent, always subject to our duties to the court.

The English legal profession is divided between barristers, who are elite trial lawyers who office share but are all sole practitioners and try cases prepped for them by solicitors to a great extent, and solicitors who do pretty much everything else that lawyers in the U.S. do. As Wikipedia explains:

Solicitors tend to work together with others in private practice and are generally the first port of call for those seeking legal advice. Solicitors are also employed in government departments and commercial businesses. The Law Society is the professional body representing solicitors.

Barristers, on the other hand, do not generally deal with the public directly, but take their instructions from a solicitor representing the client. Barristers then represent the client at court and present their case. The Bar Council is the professional body representing barristers. . . .

The main actions of barristers involve going to court, especially to the higher courts. They make speeches in front of the court, they write briefs, they give legal advice, and they provide expert opinion for difficult cases. Usually they use briefs of professional clients, solicitors, and accountants. The barristers analyze the briefs and bring the results to the court. . . . [T]here are approximately 10,000 barristers in England and Wales. Most of them have their offices in London. Their elite still form the Queen's Counsels, of which many of the judges for higher courts are chosen. . . .

A solicitor stays in direct contact to his clients and gives them personally legal advice. A solicitor prepares the lawsuit for his clients and represents his parties personally in the lower courts (magistrates' courts, county courts and tribunal). In cases on higher courts (High Court or higher) where a barrister is necessary, a solicitor acts as an agent. Moreover, solicitor's practice is comparable to notary public. Dealing with conveyancing as well as trust businesses, developing last wills, and administrating estates are parts of solicitors' practice. Furthermore he oversee contract conclusion and consulting in various fields of law like tax, competition, insurance and company law. Profitable real estate businesses makes over 50% of his income. . . . [T]here are approximately 100,000 solicitors in England and Wales. 25% of it stay in employer-employee relationship at companies, bigger solicitor offices or administrations. 75% of it works as self-employed.

Barristers don't look for their own work. They have a profession called "clerks", a well paid profession unrelated to American law clerks, that makes rain for them, mostly from solicitors seeking seeking litigation counsel for the clients that they develop more conventionally.

The story below also captures very well the way that key aspects of the legal economy in England are driven more by traditional and culture than sterile theories of economics, which provide boundaries on what can be viable, but miss so much that a more descriptive approach to economics can reveal.

Clerks have co-existed with chimney sweeps and gene splicers. It’s a trade that one can enter as a teenager, with no formal qualifications, and that’s astonishingly well-paid. A senior clerk can earn a half-million pounds per year, or more than $650,000, and some who are especially entrenched make far more.

Clerks—pronounced “clarks”—have no equivalent in the U.S. legal system, and have nothing in common with the Ivy League–trained Supreme Court aides of the same spelling. They exist because in England and Wales, to simplify a bit, the role of lawyer is divided in two: There are solicitors, who provide legal advice from their offices, and there are barristers, who argue in court. Barristers get the majority of their business via solicitors, and clerks act as the crucial middlemen between the tribes—they work for and sell the services of their barristers, steering inquiring solicitors to the right man or woman.

Clerks are by their own cheerful admission “wheeler-dealers,” what Americans might call hustlers. They take a certain pride in managing the careers of their bosses, the barristers—a breed that often combines academic brilliance with emotional fragility. Many barristers regard clerks as their pimps. Some, particularly at the junior end of the profession, live in terror of clerks. The power dynamic is baroque and deeply English, with a naked class divide seen in few other places on the planet. Barristers employ clerks, but a bad relationship can strangle their supply of cases. In his 1861 novel Orley Farm, Anthony Trollope described a barrister’s clerk as a man who “looked down from a considerable altitude on some men who from their professional rank might have been considered as his superiors.”

Fountain Court is among the most prestigious groups in London practicing commercial law, the branch that deals with business disputes. . . . the barristers had tried to walk an aesthetic line between modernity and the heritage that clients expect of people who are sometimes still required to wear a horsehair wig to court. Barristers are self-employed; chambers are a traditional way for them to band together to share expenses, though not profits. The highest-ranking members, barristers who’ve achieved the rank of Queen’s Counsel, are nicknamed silks, after the plush material used to make their robes. But even the silks cannot practice without the services of clerks, who operate from a designated room in each chambers, matching the ability and availability of barristers to solicitors in need. . . .

Clerking has historically been a dynastic profession monopolized by white working-class families from the East End of London; Taylor’s son is a clerk. Predominantly, clerks hail from Hertfordshire, Kent, and above all Essex, a county that’s ubiquitously compared to New Jersey in the U.S. . . .

London’s barrister population is getting more diverse, but it’s still disproportionately made up of men who attended the best private secondary schools, and then Oxford and Cambridge, before joining one of four legal associations, known as Inns of Court—a cosseted progression known as moving “quad to quad to quad.” In short, barristers tend to be posh. Being a successful clerk, therefore, allows working-class men and, increasingly, women to exert power over their social superiors. It’s an enduring example of a classic British phenomenon: professional interaction across a chasmic class divide.

One of the most peculiar aspects of the clerk-barrister relationship is that clerks handle money negotiations with clients. Barristers argue that avoiding fee discussions keeps their own interactions with clients clean and uncomplicated, but as a consequence, they’re sometimes unaware of how much they actually charge. The practice also insulates and coddles them. Clerks become enablers of all sorts of curious, and in some cases self-destructive, behavior. . . .

A more unsavory side of this coddling relationship is apparent elsewhere. At a chambers called 4 Stone Buildings, a clerk called Chris O’Brien, 28, told me he was once asked to dress a boil on a barrister’s back. Among clerks, tales of buying gifts for their barristers’ mistresses are legion. But they maintain a level of sympathy for their employers, whose work is competitive and often profoundly isolating. Clerks speak of how their masters, no matter how successful, live in perpetual fear that their current case will be their last. . . .

Junior clerks, traditionally recruited straight after leaving school at 16 and potentially with no formal academic qualifications, start at £15,000 to £22,000 ($19,500 to $28,600); after 10 years they can make £85,000. Pay for senior clerks ranges from £120,000 to £500,000, and a distinct subset can earn £750,000. The Institute of Barristers’ Clerks disputed these figures, saying the lows were too low and the highs too high. . . .

Money is tightest in criminal law. One chambers, 3 Temple Gardens, lies 200 yards from Fountain Court but might as well inhabit a different dimension. Access is via a plunging staircase lined with green tiles similar to those in a Victorian prison. The clerks room, in the basement, is stacked with battered files detailing promising murders, rapes, and frauds. . . . Even the barristers appear harried and ashen in comparison with their better-fed commercial-law counterparts.

The mean income of a criminal barrister working with legal-aid clients is £90,000, meaning even a successful criminal barrister likely makes less than a top commercial clerk. At Fountain Court, once described as a place so prestigious that “you could get silk just by sitting on the toilet,” I watched Taylor casually negotiate a fee above £20,000; at 3 Temple Gardens, the clerks wrangled deals for a few hundred pounds. The best-paid criminal clerks make perhaps £250,000 per year—and yet there’s an excitement and pressure to a criminal clerks room that’s absent in the commercial field. Some barristers only work as defense counsel, some only prosecute, and some alternate roles, depending on the case . . . Many in the criminal field are motivated by a belief that they’re a crucial part of the British judicial machinery, and their work closely corresponds with the public’s imagination of what it is to work in the law. . . .

As a chancery chambers, dealing with wills, trusts, banking, and other matters, 4 Stone Buildings is an establishment from the old school, with a facade still pockmarked by World War I bombs. Guests stride down a corridor with deep red wallpaper to a waiting room equipped with a fireplace and shelved with aged lawbooks. The best of the silks’ rooms face out across a low dry moat to the gardens of Lincoln’s Inn—one of the four Inns of Court, along with Gray’s Inn, Inner Temple, and Middle Temple, all less than a mile apart. There are 34 barristers at 4 Stone[.] . . .

One vital function clerks play is finessing a “cab rank” rule, set by the Bar Standards Board, that states a barrister must take the first case that comes, regardless of their interest. Clerks can invent or manipulate commitments to allow their barristers to turn down work that doesn’t appeal.

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    This is an odd answer. Roughly one in seven (slightly more) barristers are in fact employed - many work in solicitors firms. Barristers are also able to be partners in solicitors firms as well as forming other forms of business (BSB entities being one example). A great many barristers do direct access work and many absolutely do seek out work - clerks do not do it all. As to "coddle" - that was not my experience. Dec 19, 2023 at 13:25
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    @FrancisDavey Feel free to provide your own answer, especially if you have first hand experience. I am relying heavily on the sources cited and second hand knowledge, since I practice law on the other side of the "pond."
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 19, 2023 at 15:39
  • Generally in UK, if you must do the work assigned to you, and cannot choose or reject it, you must be an employee. For years, professionals sidestepped the employment rules by choosing to be on a 'self-employed' basis, but that is no longer the case. I wonder how the legal profession gets around that. Dec 19, 2023 at 18:56
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    @WeatherVane The key point is the the work is not assigned to you by your "boss" or employer. It is assigned to you via a bar approved process. How you work is your business, how much you work is your business, and you get the money for your services and then pay it out to others you owe (at least in theory) unlike in an employment relationship.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 19, 2023 at 19:11
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    @ohwilleke - I've added an answer. My own experience is of having been both sole and in chambers at the independent bar and then both kinds of employed barrister; as well as providing direct access. Dec 21, 2023 at 1:53

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