Article written by Jonathan Tsang
Mini-pupillages serve as a fundamental work experience for one before setting foot in the barrister field. Most chambers would expect one to complete a certain number of mini-pupillages, subject to the chambers you are applying to. As glamorous as it may seem, does it live up to the expectations of both the chambers and applicants themselves in aiding, and, therefore, accessing their experiences throughout the whole process?
The standards of gaining a mini-pupillage vary from different chambers. However, either a detailed application form or a combination of curriculum vitae and covering letter will not miss the chat. Most, if not all, chambers require candidates to hand in one of which to apply their mini-pupillage schemes. Common questions in application forms include but are not limited to: why you? Why are you interested in our chambers? Which area of interest are you interested in? Why are you generally interested in the bar? Alongside, it includes a detailed description of your experiences, law or non-law related. Having researched the chambers and the answered the questions, you will finally have completed one application. To secure one mini-pupillage, on average it takes around 5 to 10 applications. The in-depthness of the work during mini-pupillage is, however, imbalanced, in comparison of the amount of hard work paid for the application.
Using an example of a criminal mini-pupillage, the duration of it would last for approximately a week, depending on the trial that is set. The usual work routine would be attending court at 9:30 am, waiting for the barrister to come. At 10 am, it is usually when the court is risen and proceeds with the case. At 1 pm, it will be the lunch break, and trial resumes at 2 pm, whilst the day ends at 4 pm. The trial will begin with the selection of jury, opening speech by the prosecution, the defence counsel; then examination in chief for witnesses called by the prosecution; then cross examined by the defence. After all the witnesses from prosecution have been examined and cross-examined, the same procedure will apply again for the defence. At last, both the prosecution and defence counsel will give their closing speech, and the judge giving legal directions to the jury to consider the verdict of the case in their retiring room.
As efficient as it may have sound, things may not usually go accordingly. Jury stuck at traffic, motions brought up by either the prosecution or the defence, questions from jury in amidst of the trial that may require the absence of the jury and lead up to a debate amongst counsels; the list goes on. At times, there may also be logistic difficulties such as any of the participating party is affected by their work schedule and must be elsewhere on the day of trial. These cause delays of the trial and stagnate it. Some days, it could end up in leaving as early as at noon, after a bail hearing in the morning. It has to be emphasised that no one should be held accountable for these kind of situations as things do happen. However, in general, the mini-pupil may not have gained much experience of exposure with these events happening. After the effort paid to get in a highly competitive internship scheme, what was taken is too imbalanced.
As for the chambers, although most of them do not access their mini-pupils during their mini-pupillages, a general opinion of one would still be formed due to basic human nature. The limited time spent with the mini-pupil may not be sufficient to form an accurate assessment for their performance.
Therefore, it is believed that a more thorough insight will deem more fit to the title of ‘mini-pupillage’. Being a pupil involves in both case preparation and attending courts, whilst liaising with solicitors and clients as well. In contrast, the main area of focus in mini-pupillages is attending courts. Notes are taken mainly for the mini pupil’s reference.
Meanwhile, mini-pupils may not be brave enough to ask for feedbacks on their notetaking, as barristers’ work are hectic enough already. If possible, that chambers and barristers allow mini-pupils to observe the working process of barristers in case preparation from the beginning of a case to the end of a trial, it will hugely broaden mini pupils’ horizons; apart from the glamorous advocacy in court, there are paperwork to be dealt with as well. This will serve a better view of what a barrister do as their job in whole, and more importantly, it will increase the value of mini-pupillages itself instead of a gather-more experience.