If you’re an aspiring barrister reaching the end of your studies, you are probably thinking about applying for a pupillage. Or perhaps you have bagged a pupillage but have no clue as to what to expect? What is a pupillage, will you receive training, and what will you learn? If you do not have the answers to these questions, don’t fret! This post will tell you everything you need to know about this crucial stage in your training while offering some advice to help you make the most of this sought after stage. So come with me as we explore what we can explore
What is a Pupillage?
Before a student is eligible for a pupillage, they will need to have completed either a non-law degree and a law conversion course, or a law degree, followed by the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) – head over to our article on surviving the BPTC for more on doing well on the BPTC. Law students need to apply for pupillage during the final year of their degree, while non-law students should apply during their conversion course year. You can only begin your pupillage after the BPTC. Pupillage is the final step towards qualification as a barrister for everyone that aspires to be a practising barrister. As it is the final stage of training to be a barrister, you will be encouraged to put into practice everything you have learned so far in your educational journey. You should also note that while I have hammered that pupillage is the final step, you should know that you can be called to the Bar without going through the pupillage – as the final requisite factor of being called to the Bar is when you pass the BPTC. A pupillage is essential if your goal is to practise as a barrister. Thus the pupillage is the equivalent of the training contract for the solicitors.
Normally beginning in September/October, pupillage usually lasts for one year (sometimes it may be extended to 18 months, but this is only offered on rare occasions), with the year divided into two six-month periods, known as ‘sixes’. The sixes are split into the non-practising period (known as the ‘first six’) and the practising period (commonly referred to as the ‘second six’). What this simply means is that during your first six months, you will not be eligible to take on your matters and instead will assist your supervisors with case preparation, hearings, and legal research. But during your second six months, as a pupil, you’ll be able to take on your matters, handle your cases and clients, and begin to develop your professional profile and reputation. This might be scary to someone reading this piece but it is very much doable. Pupillage is usually completed in chambers under the supervision of experienced barristers. However, a small number of pupillages are provided for at an employed Bar organisation – for example, in-house at a large commercial organisation, in a law firm or the Government Legal Department/Crown Prosecution Service. Notwithstanding this, if your pupillage is at an employed Bar organisation, it’ll be under the supervision and guidance of a junior barrister with at least five years’ experience. In some scenarios, pupils may spend their whole pupillage at one Chambers, while others will complete the first half at one set and the last half at another. When you complete all the necessary stages of the pupillage programme you will receive a Full Qualification certificate. Furthermore, without completing your pupillage, you won’t secure tenancy – tenancy is the securing of a permanent place within a set of chambers.
I must preface the ensuing sections by stating that the truth is that this post will not give you what to expect on your pupillage down to a tee because I don’t know what chambers you’ll be commencing your pupillage at, and all sets do different work, have different structures and different approaches, with the pupillages they offer varying wildly as a result. However, what I can assure you is that at least some of the following sections will apply to your pupillage
The Structure & What You Will Learn
As already mentioned earlier regardless of where you undertake your pupillage, your pupillage will be usually broken down into two (sometimes three) ‘sixes’. In your sixes, you will be assigned a supervisor (or more). Some chambers will offer one supervisor for the whole pupillage while others may be 2, 3 or 4 different supervisors, each for around three months. Your supervisor(s) will be an experienced member of the chambers specially trained to provide the necessary guidance for you during your pupillage. Their role is to provide an insight into life in full-time practice at the Bar. Your supervisor will support you in developing the procedural knowledge and practical skills required to succeed at the Bar. Your supervisor will also provide continual feedback and it’s good practice to make them your first port of call when you are struggling or have concerns or queries. During your first six, you will spend the majority of your time with your pupil supervisor(s) and the majority of the work you prepare will be for their cases.
- First Six
As you already know the First six is the informal name given to the first six months of pupillage. As I’ve mentioned earlier it is often referred to as the non-practising stage in the sense that you are not yet eligible to take on your matters and instead will assist your supervisors with case preparation, hearings, and legal research. The majority of your time during the first six will be spent attending court and conferences with your pupil supervisor, who will be an experienced barrister from your chambers. If you are a pupil in a commercial Chambers your work will involve more paper-based work than advocacy, as most of your time will be spent in your supervisor’s room rather than in court. Therefore expect to do a lot of legal research, drafting statements of case and sections of skeleton arguments and writing opinions and assisting your supervisor in his transactions. On the other hand, if your pupillage is in a criminal set – a busy one for that matter – you will be in court almost every day, and expect to assist your supervisor with preparation for court which may include conducting legal research and drafting documents such as advice, applications or skeleton arguments. You may be asked to do similar exercises for other members, with your supervisor’s approval. Towards the end of your first six, you will start to go to the magistrates’ court with more junior members of Chambers to see the sort of work you will be doing when you are in the second six and beyond.
- Second Six
The Second six is known as the practising stage because it is at this stage you are eligible to practise as a barrister in your own right once you have received a provisional practising certificate. As a second six pupil, you will have more independence and can take on your cases and appear in court. Most of the second six are spent in the magistrates’ courts. It is a very steep learning curve – you will have to learn to digest things quickly, though hard in the beginning it will get easier over time. The diary is often finalised at short notice. You often don’t know where you will be the next day until the end of the day. There can be quite a lot of travel. Every case is different and every single day you will be learning something new. Some chambers offer 18-month pupillages, which require pupils to undertake a further six months or ‘third six’ before completing their pupillage.
The truth is that your pupillage year will be a tough one as pupillage is tough. However, depending on the chambers you are a pupil at, you might partake in a fantastic training programme. For example, as a pupil doing your first six you’ll be required to attend assessed training courses in advocacy and advice to counsel, which is run by the Inns of Court and the various (regional) circuits. Most chambers will also offer an assessed in-house advocacy training course, which enables pupils to further practise their advocacy skills with experienced members of chambers. So in an instance where your Chambers is focused on providing excellent training before you take part in the assessed advocacy exercises, you may be prepped with unassessed advocacy training sessions, together with a briefing from a junior tenant to explain the format of the assessed exercises and good strategies for dealing with the material.
Furthermore, some chambers will provide in-chambers experts who offer specialised training for their pupils, including sessions on advocacy at remote hearings, negotiation, document presentation, cyber security and ethics. In the course of your pupillage expect to receive focused training sessions on key areas of law and other tailored learning. Some chambers will provide opportunities for you to submit a piece of written work which will be scored, with the provision of in-depth feedback and a grade. Alongside the detailed feedback, excellent chambers through their assessors will identify for their pupils’ important suggestions as to how the piece of work could have been improved. As a pupil, you might view your formal training as intense but you should bear in mind that your Chambers has your best interests as they are trying to prepare you for every possibility. This is especially important because the specialist Bar associations have detailed checklists of the ground to be covered during pupillage. At the end of each six months, your pupil supervisor must certify you have covered all points on the list satisfactorily.
Pupillage is not a feat of endurance or that you are the smartest pupil in the chambers (though having both certainly helps), but an opportunity for you to show your best during productive working hours – that you can hack the barrister profession. Make no mistake, during your pupillage you will be expected to work hard, as such you should endeavour to make the best impression you can, this will also help you to secure a tenancy. A few pointers for success during your pupillage:
- Know your Supervisor(s): To a great extent your supervisor’s approach will determine the quality of your pupillage, so it’s important if you can have a grasp of his/her style
- Be Available: If you do not make yourself available, you will not enjoy the pupillage. While most chambers will claim that they do not encourage their pupils to stay late, if your supervisor is still in the office it’ll be very smart to stay with him/her to complete whatever work he/she is doing.
- If going to court with your supervisor, be there early
- When in court, learn to take excellent notes for your supervisor.
- When taking on work for your supervisor or other members of chambers ask for a deadline.
- Network with the right people.
Lastly, while on your pupillage, endeavour to learn the practice of being able to get paid for the work you will do for your clients. It’s a simple fact of life that humans where possible will love to enjoy quality service without paying for it. You can do this by asking and watching your supervisor.
There we have it – now you know what to expect on your pupillage. It’s time you go enjoy yourself.
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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