No doubt that securing a pupillage is hard work; it could even be harder work than pulling out Excalibur, in the Arthurian legend. Below are some of the tips which we at Congrapps have gathered that will make your journey to a pupillage less arduous
When recruiting pupils, all chambers’ pupillage and recruitment committees will only hand out pupillages to those applicants who show that they have the intellectual ability to understand and use the law – that they can have a good grasp of legal knowledge, ability to identify and apply relevant legal concepts and principles. This applies whether you are on a law-related degree or not. To date, there is no better way of displaying intellectual ability than through your academic ability – grades. People may argue otherwise that an aspiring lawyer’s intelligence should not be measured by his/her memorization skills and effort level which is how they claim grades are gotten. In reply to this, I will kindly bring your attention to the fact that over the years, there has been an extensive body of research that has been developed to understand the relationship between intelligence and achievement in different domains, particularly in educational settings. The findings are that intelligence plays a crucial role in learning and academic performance. Several studies have shown high correlation indices between them. So please do not listen to a person that tells you grades cannot be used to measure your intellectual ability. If you have trouble believing your grades matter, go in front of a mirror, call your name and say: ‘my academics matter at the Bar’. To satisfy this requirement, aim for a First or a 2:1 in your undergraduate degree.
Start Applying Early
If you need a good reason to start early, please read on. In 2021 the Bar Standards Board – the Body in charge of regulating barristers and specialised legal services businesses in England and Wales in the public interest – released certain statistics that showed that 1,685 students were enrolled on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) in 2019/20 (a downward movement from the 1,753 that enrolled in 2018/19), but only fewer than 400 pupillages were available each year. Furthermore, it was also discovered that the number of BPTC graduates with pupillages had also fallen in the last couple of years, to fewer than 200 in 2018. Now you are thinking that the odds are not too bad, but then when you factor in that not all the BPTC graduates from previous years would have landed a pupillage, as such will still be hunting for one, you’ll rightly realise just how mountainous the work in getting a pupillage is. Currently, in England and Wales, there is an excess supply of candidates in the system. According to the Bar Standards Board in a given year, more than 3,000 very capable candidates vie for pupillage. Bar Standards Board statistics show that of UK and EU domiciled BPTC graduates who graduated between 2014 and 2017 only 47% had managed to gain pupillage by January 2020. Remember, however, that significant numbers of those graduates most likely had to search for several years before securing pupillage after completing the BPTC. Thus you must start the application process early, from the beginning of the second year of your law degree (or the third year for non-law undergraduates). By that above-mentioned period, you should start considering your options and acquiring standout traits. What kind of traits? I am glad you asked.
The pupillage is essentially a work experience; for chambers to help them determine if you have what it takes to do this particular work experience you’ll have to convince them through previous work experiences that you have what it takes to excel at their chambers. Many types of work experience will put you in a positive light in an application for a pupillage but the most important are mini-pupillages, advocacy and pro bono. To clarify our position on whether non-legal related experiences are valuable, we believe they are.
In the past, we have written extensively on mini-pupillages through our piece on ‘Mini-Pupillage: What to Expect’. A mini-pupillage or mini as it’s sometimes called is a work experience program designed to provide students with valuable insight into the realities of life at the Bar and improve their understanding of how the Chambers’ areas of expertise operate in practice. A mini-pupillage involves shadowing a barrister, possibly with the option of attending court hearings. The length of a mini-pupillage can vary from a day to two weeks. The mini-pupillage is geared towards people aspiring to be barristers. It is the equivalent of a vacation scheme for aspiring solicitors. You do not have to have completed your mini-pupillage at the chambers where you are making a pupillage application but you must have done one or more if possible. However, truth be told in certain scenarios it may be beneficial to do a mini-pupillage at the chambers you would like to apply to for your pupillage as some chambers [just like their solicitor counterparts] solely pick their pupils from those who have undergone mini-pupillages with them.
Secondly, while a mini-pupillage may be viewed as the apex experience, another valuable experience is engaging in Pro bono work or volunteering. Engaging in pro bono work or volunteering not only shows that you can be involved or perform legal work to a professional standard (to a certain capacity) to the public for free but is also useful to your CV as a pupillage applicant. Performing volunteer work especially ones that involve the law will also help you specialise your skillset for the type of legal practice area you would like to work in. For example, if you have worked in your local community centre that was involved with public law or family law, you’ll be more believable if on your pupillage application you are claiming that you have an interest in those areas. Thirdly, any form of advocacy experience you can gain will do your application great justice whether it’s mooting, negotiation competitions, debating or mock trials. The skill you gain here will not only be good for your application but beneficial for your confidence moving forward in your quest to become a barrister. If you can also participate in the organisation of those activities, you’ll be doing yourself a world of good.
Submit Your Applications
It sounds redundant but I’ve to say it if you do not submit pupillage applications you will not get a pupillage. I’ve never heard of someone that got a pupillage without having to apply, it does not mean it has not happened but I have never heard of it. In England and Wales, a large number of chambers use the Bar Council’s online Pupillage Gateway system, www.pupillagegateway.com as their primary method of receiving applications from candidates. The Gateway opens up to applicants throughout January and the start of February. However, preparation for applications can begin as early as November as this is often when vacancies are posted. Conversely, some chambers that are not members of the gateway will take applications directly. However, their applications and deadlines will vary, and you will have to check each website for these. Non-Gateway chambers’ application forms and CVs will have their formal structures and rules to abide by just as legal papers do. And your ability to follow that structure will help make your application easier to read. Whether you’re writing a CV or filling in an empty and dateless pupillage application form there are rules to abide by.
Nevertheless, all pupillage vacancies at both types of chambers are listed on the Pupillage Gateway system, so wherever you plan to apply, you should start by checking the Pupillage Gateway. You can apply for up to 20 chambers on the Gateway but as many non-member chambers as you like. When preparing and submitting your applications regardless of the chambers make sure that you create an excellent application.
If you have put into practice the above tips, you will increase your chances of receiving an invitation from the fortunate chambers for you to come in for an interview, the onus is on you to attend the interview. Most times chambers hold their interviews in rounds – two rounds should be the most that chambers hold. Chambers usually begin to hold interviews for pupillages in February and April. As it is very competitive to get a pupillage, you must find a way to stand out, particularly in first-round interviews. There is a separate post on our website on succeeding on the pupillage interview – do endeavour to read it. After you have gone through all the process of securing a pupillage, you might be smiling when you are contacted by the chambers saying you have been successful. On the other hand, it might not be a smiling experience if your application has been rejected. There’s a reason why I italicized the above words. Why it is normal to feel that you have been rejected when your application fails; it’s important you believe and know that you were not the one rejected but your application was the thing that was rejected. This will help you not to lose focus in your journey towards a pupillage.
Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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