Back in January, I undertook my first mini-pupillage (which was assessed) with a public law QC at a set of chambers in the Midlands. It was a great experience, and you do really learn a lot. I went in one of the four weeks that I had for my Christmas vacation, and it was definitely time well spent. It is also a great way to understand the real work of barristers in a world where programmes like Judge John Deed and Silk produce a rather unrepresentative view of the Bar. If you are an undergraduate, I would highly recommend that you do some formal work experience. It gives you a real feel for the life that you could be leading after you finish you degree, particularly as, after at least four years of examinations, you can start to lose focus on why exactly you are putting yourself to all of the effort.
Oliver Wendall Holmes
Doing a mini-pupillage will show you that the effort is worth it. When you see the work that goes on – preparing cases, writing advices, and conducting advocacy in a court – you see that you can actually imagine yourself doing this, and writing those long essays really is worth it if this is the life that you can lead after your academic and professional training is completed.
I spent a week with the barrister that I was shadowing. During that week, I went to court on several occasions, conducted research and sat in on conferences. I also had the opportunity to chat with other barristers and with clerks, which gives you a feel for the chambers I was with. After all, they all have their own unique ethos, and being able to walk around freely can give you a real insight.
Something that you should consider is that some of the more prestigious sets will only normally consider you for pupillage if you have undertaken an assessed mini-pupillage, and others like you to have done one in their chambers. This gives them a good impression of the sort of person that you are, and allows them to assess your potential ahead of the pupillage application process. Mini-pupillages have been described as being an ‘open shop window’ into the Bar – you can peer through the window, but somebody will be looking back so be sure to make a good impression!
In terms of preparation, I advise making sure that you have a solid understanding of the law that you will be coming across during your time. Make sure that you research the barrister that you will be shadowing too. It will be useful to have read their CV, which can normally be found on their Chambers’ website, and it helps if you can remember the notable cases that have acted in. If you can do that, and make a good impression by being polite and – above all – asking intelligent questions, then you will be on the right track. Also, it is important to remember that somebody once gave them the same opportunity, and you might be able to do it one day too.
Not only do mini-pupillages give you a great insight into life at the Bar, they are incredibly helpful to you personally. As mentioned above, they are often required when applying for pupillage. Not only that, but they can help you network – other barristers in chambers may notice you and be willing to lend a hand later on, and, of course, the Barrister that you are shadowing will probably be more than happy to answer any questions that you have and give you advice on your future career path. It’s also a great confidence boost when you see that you can keep up with some of the brightest people in the UK!
Whether you want to be a barrister (or not), or even if you don’t know whether you want to practice as a lawyer, I would suggest trying to secure and undertake at least one mini-pupillage whilst you are an undergraduate.
The experience alone is enough to make you want to work as hard as you possibly can to achieve the best outcome from your degree. It is also a great thing to have on your CV when it comes to applying for the BPTC as it shows that you have a real commitment to the Bar – the main thing that is looked for after assessing academic ability and aptitude. They’re also great fun!