Mini Pupillages are an essential part of training to be a barrister – you’ll find it very difficult to find a pupillage without at least a few on your CV. However, to people outside of the legal world, or those just getting into their barrister route, they often seem a bit confusing and can be notoriously difficult to find. This article offers a comprehensive guide to securing one, as well as how to prepare for one and how to follow it up.
Mini pupillages (or “minis”) offer you an insight into how a particular chambers functions and gives potential employers the chance to meet and even assess you. It’s also a chance to watch lawyers in action and gain an understanding of the different components of a barrister’s life. They tend to take between 2-5 days, and can involve a mixture of desk work and shadowing people in court.
Like many parts of qualifying to be a barrister, the competition for mini pupillages can be quite intense. The most straightforward way to secure one is to go to the chambers website and take a look at their individual policy on taking on mini pupils – some high-profile sets such as Matrix Chambers do not offer them, preferring Open Days for prospective applicants instead. Others may only take on a very limited number at certain times of year, or only accept people from particular backgrounds. Sometimes, moots and debating competitions will offer a mini pupillage as a prize. If you’re stuck for options but are lucky enough to know any barristers personally, it can be worth asking them whether you’d be able to shadow them or their colleagues for a few days.
When finding and applying for mini pupillages, it is worth bearing the following things in mind:
• Does the chambers or “set” in question operate in the areas you are interested in working in? If you are exclusively interested in commercial law, it is probably not worth applying to a criminal set and vice versa.
• That said, it’s often a good idea to try and see a mix of different areas of law, particularly if you are new to the subject. Many people start out aiming to qualify into one area and discover that they’d much rather work in a different area once they’ve seen what it is like in practice.
• Write specific applications for every set of chambers – there is no point in cutting and pasting applications across chambers as you need to stand out from the many others applying. Think about what it is about that specific set which makes you want to visit them. Look at their previous record for interesting cases, and be specific about which area(s) in particular you would like to observe.
• Read the questions that are set for you and answer them in a way that demonstrates you understand what the chambers is asking you. If they’re asking for examples of a certain skill, don’t be afraid to use non-legal examples where needed but back up whatever you say about yourself with evidence.
• Be professional and courteous when emailing. Every set you email is a potential future employer and clerks are often very busy so being as clear, polite and helpful as you can will greatly aid your application. Be prompt with responses or you may miss out on a particular time slot..
So, you’ve had a response telling you that you’ve been offered a Mini and the date has been confirmed. If you’re unsure of what you need to bring with you, here is a useful list to get you started:
• Smart, dark office-wear. Barristers have their own uniform but everyone else working in a courtroom tends to wear fairly non-conspicuous suits in black, navy or dark grey. If in doubt, you can’t really be too formal for a courtroom (but you can definitely be too scruffy!), so err on the side of caution.
• Sensible shoes that you can walk in all day – some chambers will have you working at a desk all day, but be prepared to follow people around a very large courtroom all day, and potentially carry heavy books and cases.
• Food and water for the day. Many barristers will offer to take mini pupils out for lunch but it’s very unwise to assume this is the case, and a lot of courtrooms no longer offer catering. Bring enough food for the day and anything else you might need, as you may not know when you’ll next get a break to eat. (My personal recommendation is cereal bars)
• A notebook and a laptop if instructed. Some sets may ask you to bring a laptop to complete work on, while others may provide you with a work space. Either way, it’s best to come prepared.
A quick note on finance – mini pupillages are almost always unpaid but some sets are willing to offer travel expenses. This is worth checking if money is a concern – keep hold of travel receipts just in case. Some of the Inns of Court will also offer funding for one mini pupillage if you are from a disadvantaged background, for example through the Inner Temple Pegasus Access and Support Scheme (PASS).
Make sure that you get plenty of rest before the first scheduled day as the days can be quite tiring and you want to be able to make the most of the time you have. If you’ve been given a specific barrister to shadow or a case to follow, do some research into them before you start as this will give you a good idea of what sort of thing you will be observing. It’ll also help you to make a better first impression!
On the day that you are due to start, arrive at the chambers office with time to spare unless you’ve been specifically instructed otherwise. This will give you time to sign in with the clerking team, who will be able to tell you who you are shadowing. Depending on the set, shadowing someone may involve sitting in on client meetings, observing court proceedings or even completing small tasks under someone else’s supervision.
For some people, a mini pupillage may be the first time you’ve been to court. If so, there are a few rules to be aware of:
• Rise and sit down when instructed to by the court usher – this is generally whenever the presiding judge enters or leaves the room. (NB – check whether your chair is a fold-out chair that folds away when you stand up and remember to fold it out again before sitting down. A common, embarrassing and painful error)
• Sit in the public gallery unless told otherwise. Some barristers will let you sit behind them and may be able to give you copies of evidence and court papers to read – if this is possible, make the most of it as it will help you to understand what’s happening in the case.
• Do not use your phone or talk while court is in session (i.e. when the judge is sitting) – you don’t want to risk a judicial reprimand before your legal career has even begun…
In general, make the most of the opportunity to ask questions, demonstrate your understanding of the cases you’re observing and get an idea of what it would be like to work at that particular chambers. You may well come into contact with witnesses, defendants and family members – be aware that it may be a difficult or emotional time for them and when in doubt, don’t speak unless spoken to.
Etiquette varies but if you’ve spent a lot of time with one particular lawyer, it can be nice to thank them personally for the help they gave you. The chambers may well have assessed you during this time, and it’s well worth making a note of the people you have met in case you encounter them again in the future. Make a note of the cases you’ve shadowed and the lawyers who worked on them, as well as anything else you found particularly useful.
Mini pupillages can vary enormously: one might involve a few days of shadowing lots of cases while some chambers may prefer to show you more of the day-to-day desk work in their offices. Whatever you do, make the most of it and gain as much knowledge and insight as you can – you could be observing your future employers.
There is plenty of helpful advice out there (for example, this twitter thread) but above all, be sensible, professional and make the most of a fantastic opportunity to further your legal career.
Article by Hannah Forsyth