Pupillage Explained

When a student finishes their Bar Professional Training Course they still have the practical requirement left of Pupillage before they can become a proper barrister. Pupillage is generally undertaken in a Barristers Chambers, but has been known to also happen in certain other approved organisations.

A pupillage takes one year to complete, and is divided into two halves. The first half is non-practising, just shadowing the supervisor/barrister, doing legal research, and drafting documents. During this first 6 months, pupils are also required to satisfactorily complete an Advocacy Training Course.

The second 6 months is considered the practising six months. This is when the pupils are allowed to start to undertake some of their own work in supervised conditions. Another requirement of these 6 months is to successfully complete a Practice Management course.

Pupillage has a minimum salary requirement from the chambers or company hiring the Pupil of £6,000 pounds every 6 months, meaning a total of £12,000 over the year.

At around 10months into the Pupillage the chambers or company will decide if they want to offer that student Tenancy. If Tenancy is not offered the student may go to another chambers for another 6 months and do some more training.

Tenancy means that the student becomes a self-employed barrister within that set of chambers. So the chambers is essentially giving them a free office, the offices’ reputation, and maybe tea and coffee, but the now qualified barrister will earn their own salary. You can also act as junior council to barristers during tenancy, in which case they will pay you.

Pupillage Interviews

The pupillage interview. Dreaded by many, revered by all. Horror stories do the rounds and reach their height as the Pupillage Portal opens. Rumours stating ’I heard he didn’t get offered it because he wasn’t wearing the right coloured tie’ or ‘if you shake the Committee’s hands, you definitely won’t get a second round interview’ are commonplace.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to a pupillage interview. Having been lucky in my quest so far, and been invited to three final interviews, the experiences vastly differed. No amount of preparation allows you to predict just how the interview will go.

I have come very close to securing a pupillage but just missed out. I am no expert, but do feel that I can offer some (hopefully helpful) advice on the interview process.

My top five pieces of advice would be as follows:

1) Stop listening to other people.

Simply because a fellow BVC (now BPTC) peer secured pupillage, that does not make them the expert on what is and isn’t right. Every committee is different, every chambers has a different way of interviewing, so do not worry yourself over the horror stories.

There are some general rules with regards to presentation and etiquette. Arrive early but not too early, ensure you are smartly dressed and not wearing any jewellery or items of clothing that are too distracting. Dress as if you were going to court and you will be fine. If you are comfortable standing in front of a judge with blue hair and wearing a hot-pink neon shirt, then maybe the Bar isn’t for you.

2) Know your application inside out.

The first round interview is usually where the panel will ask you about things you have listed on your application, and if you start giving conflicting answers, or can’t remember details of cases you saw on your various mini-pupillages, eyebrows may be raised.

3) Don’t be afraid to show your personality.

They know you have the requisite skills and knowledge as demonstrated by your law degree, GDL, BVC or BPTC. This is your chance to show the panel why they want you in their chambers, and why they would like to work alongside you.

4) Breathe!

They know you’re nervous, you know you’re nervous, so don’t be afraid to take a breath before giving an answer. This will allow you time to form a good response, instead of blurting out the first thing that comes into your head, for fear of looking like you don’t know the answer.

5) Read the newspaper the morning of your interview.

Not just from a legal perspective, but to show general understanding of what is going on in the UK that day. In the week running up to your interview, read up on the area of law in which you wish to practise so that you can show your current awareness.

6) Final advice

I hope the experiences I have gained from last year will enable me to turn the next final round interview into an offer for pupillage. If a career at the Bar is your ultimate goal, then whatever you do, do not give up hope.

If you are lucky enough to get through the first round interview, then do not over analyse the final round interview. I have been lucky enough to get three, and each were completely different. One involved a full day in chambers shadowing various barristers at court, and then meeting many members of Chambers at lunch. Another was a 30-minute interview crammed with lots of questions, all legally based, with a surprise advocacy exercise at the beginning.

Forums can be extremely useful for learning if interview or offer letters have been sent out, but can often result in panicked and conflicting ideas. Reading it too closely can leave you feeling more stressed about the whole ordeal.

It is an intimidating process, and it is important to prepare yourself as best you can. The best advice I can give is to just be yourself. If you put on a different ‘you’, and successfully gain pupillage, it is more than likely you will not enjoy it since you will constantly feel the need to put on a front.