What’s a mini-pupillage and how do you get one? We’ll explore work experience for future barristers and discuss how you can secure one for yourself.

By Christopher Harley

So you’re thinking of becoming a barrister? Then you need a fair amount of work experience under your belt – preferably legal work experience. It is never too early to start and the earlier the better. The legal profession is awash with wannabe lawyers, some of whom have no idea about what they are letting themselves in for. I have noticed that a lot of students see a law degree as a ‘safe bet’ in that they will get whatever job they want at the end of their studies, but that is far from reality. The main objective of a law degree is, first and foremost, to prepare students for a career in the legal profession, whether that be as a lawyer, a paralegal, a legal executive, or any other job which involves knowledge of the law. The problem is that most students don’t realise this until they decide that a career in law simply isn’t for them.

But for those students who are serious about a career in law (primarily as a barrister), and want to know what they are letting themselves in for, then you need to ‘pull your finger out’. It is for that reason that most barristers’ chambers now offer mini-pupillages to allow students to experience exactly what life at the Bar will be like.

What are Mini-PupillageS?

To explain, mini-pupillages are exactly what they sound like. They are a short version of a pupillage which can run from anything between one day to two weeks. However, like pupillages, they are hard to obtain. You can find out if a chambers offers mini-pupillages by simply accessing their website. The application for these is usually very straightforward, with most chambers asking for a cover letter and CV whilst others may require you to fill in an application form – but both are pretty candid.

What are Chambers Looking for?

There is no set requirement for the number of mini-pupillages that you are allowed to do and they are a fantastic way to show your commitment to joining the Bar. However, too few and you may risk looking like you have doubts about joining the profession, but too many may also run the risk of appearing uncertain of what area of law you are most interested in or want to work in. For example, I am most interested in criminal law and so I have done most of my mini-pupillages in criminal sets, but I have also experienced some civil and family law so I have experience of other areas of law that I may potentially end up practising. I would say that a good number of mini-pupillages to have would be around four to six, but there is nothing wrong with doing more.

Who can Apply?

One of the great things about mini-pupillages is that even non-law students can apply. The legal profession is abundant with barristers and solicitors who didn’t plan to have a career in law but later decided to have a change of career by doing the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), otherwise known as the conversion course. Most mini-pupillages are offered to students who are in the second and third year of their degree or to those studying the GDL. It is very rare that a mini-pupillage will be offered to a student who is still in school or college, but that shouldn’t stop you from looking at different chambers and finding out as much about them as you can for when you do come to apply for a mini-pupillage.

What will You do on a Mini-Pupillage?

So far I have told you a lot about what a mini-pupillage is for and when to apply for them, but I haven’t told you anything about what you will do on a mini-pupillage. Each chambers is different in the way they run mini-pupillages. Generally, you will be assigned to a barrister who you will shadow. What this means is that besides following their every move, you will attend court, meet clients, look at case papers and have the chance to ask the barristers anything you want.

Also, depending on the chambers, you may have the chance to do an assessed mini-pupillage whereby you will be given a task to perform, whether that is to write an essay, draft defence statements in a criminal matter, or give advice on quantum in a personal injury matter for example. You may also have a pupillage supervisor who will assess your performance, but this is nothing to be afraid of. If anything it allows you to show the chambers that you are exactly what they are looking for in a pupil.

It is also likely that you will be asked which areas of law you are most interested in and that you will be circulated around the areas that are available for you to watch. You may also get the chance to speak to a current pupil which is a great opportunity for you to ask them about any concerns you may have and seek advice on what you can do to make yourself stand out from the crowd. In my opinion, these are the best people to talk to as they have recently been through what you are going through and know how the modern legal system works – so ask them as much as you can.

Stand Out From The Crowd!

I have heard many people describe the pupillage application as a lottery in that you need a hell of a lot of luck to succeed. I have never heard a truer phrase. The same could be said for mini-pupillages. Although the number of mini-pupillages offered by chambers is a lot more than that of pupillages, the same principle applies. In short, apply for as many as you can. There is nothing wrong with making the most of every opportunity, especially when it comes to the legal profession.

There will be hundreds of students applying for the same place as you and you need to do as much as you can to make sure that you are chosen. One of the best ways to do this is to write a cover letter which is tailored to each chambers you apply to. There is nothing worse than sending out a generic cover letter which says the same thing about each set when one may specialise in criminal law the other in family law. You need to do your research. Look at the chambers which specialise in the areas that you most want to get experience in and understand what their aims and values are, what achievements they have received and anything that you think distinguishes that set from another. Chambers want to know why you are applying to them and why a mini-pupillage at that set would be good for you. So tell them.

Be Yourself and Ask Questions

Obviously chambers are looking for highly intelligent and capable people who they have confidence in, but they are also looking at your personality. Your personality is a massive factor in deciding whether you will be granted a pupillage or tenancy and will play a huge part in interviews. So you need to be yourself.

Asking questions is also a hugely important factor when doing a mini-pupillage. Treat a mini-pupillage as an interview. Don’t be shy. After all, you do want to be a barrister and asking questions is a massive part of the job, as is being able to talk to anyone and everyone. Even if you think it’s a silly question, just ask it. There are no silly questions apart from the ones that you don’t ask. That’s not to say that you have to write a huge list of questions or get ridiculously nervous prior to doing a mini-pupillage. Most questions will just pop up in general conversation or when you are talking about a case. All of the barristers that I have had the pleasure of working with have been extremely friendly and easy-going, so there is nothing to worry about. Just enjoy the experience!