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Barristers are most often self-employed and are not directly employed by law firms. Traditionally barrister's will work as part of a private practice, known as chambers. Chambers are made up of a group of barristers, known as 'tenants', who have their own cases, but pay a percentage of their earnings to the chambers in order to be part of them.
Barristers working in chambers are still technically classified as self-employed because they have their own individual cases, but the chambers are often used as a directory to find a particular barrister. Solicitors or direct clients will approach the chambers in order to find a barrister to represent them. The chambers is not the direct employer, but acts more as a type of agency, whereby the fee paid to the chambers is a sort of rent. This rent contributes towards the payment of staff (clerks, administrators and paralegals, principally), upkeep expenses and services.
Similarly to individual barristers, private practice chambers will quite often specialise in particular fields, including:
The size of chambers can vary drastically in size. Some chambers can often grow to be large and sophisticated offices with a very corporate feel, with regional or national clients.
Becoming a tenant of chambers is very competitive. Chambers will offer mini-pupillages (work experience) or pupillages to trainee barristers, who then may be able to gain tenancy with them once fully qualified.