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Pupillage: a Guide for Aspiring Barristers

If you’re an aspiring barrister reaching the end of your studies, it’s time to think about pupillage. But what is pupillage, what will you learn, and what kind of salary should you expect?

This section will tell you everything you need to know about this crucial stage in your training. So let’s dive right in!


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What is Pupillage?

Pupillage is the final step towards qualification as a barrister. You can begin your training after the BPTC.

Pupillage is usually completed in chambers under the supervision of experienced barristers. Less commonly, it can be completed at an employed Bar organisation – for example, in-house at a large commercial organisation, in a law firm or in the Government Legal Department/Crown Prosecution Service.

Normally beginning in September/October, pupillage typically lasts for one year split into the non-practising period (commonly called the ‘first six’) and the practising period (commonly called the ‘second six’). And there’s an element of time pressure for aspiring pupil barristers because you must secure pupillage within five years of finishing the vocational component (unless you get an extension from the Bar Standards Board).

What Will I Learn?

Your pupillage will help you consolidate everything you learned during your vocational component and pick up other skills along the way. During your non-practising period, you will shadow your supervisor and assist with court document preparation and conduct legal research. You’ll have to complete a compulsory Pupils’ Advocacy Course and ethics training and you’ll be assessed at the end of this period. If you impress your supervisor, you’ll receive the go-ahead to continue to the practising (the second six).

During the practising period, you’ll have more autonomy, being able to take on your own cases independently. To complete pupillage, you must complete various compulsory training courses.

How do I Apply for Pupillage?

Competition for pupillage is exceptionally high – chambers typically offer only one to three places a year. Expect a rigorous application process.

The Pupillage Gateway

The Bar Standards Board requires all chambers to advertise opportunities via the Pupillage Gateway. This ensures that all pupils have equal access to the opportunities available. However, they can choose to accept applications directly rather than through the portal.

You can find out everything you need to know about submitting applications via the Pupillage Gateway in our guide.

More Information

Direct Applications

You can apply directly to certain chambers by completing an online application form or sending them your CV and covering letter.

Unlike with the Pupillage Gateway, where a maximum of 20 applications can be submitted by any applicant, you can submit as many applications directly to chambers as you like (providing they choose this recruitment process).

Your application is a reflection of you, your professionalism and your commitment to law. Unless you have completed a mini-pupillage at the barristers chambers in question, your application will be your first exposure to its recruiters, so make it stand out by reading our pupillage application guide.

When Should I Apply?

You can submit your application one to two years in advance of the pupillage commencing.

Where you are in your academic career will determine when you can apply.

Type of StudentWhen to Apply
Law studentsDuring the final year of your LLB
Non-law studentsDuring your GDL

Exactly when you submit your applications within the above time frames depends on the route via which you are applying.

Applications made via the Pupillage Gateway are usually submitted during a short window running from the January to the February in any one year (with Gateway opening in November for candidates to explore the opportunities on offer).

Applications made direct to chambers tend to accept applications on a more ad hoc basis. See individual chambers websites for further information.

Note: If you are unsuccessful in securing pupillage in your first year of applications, don’t feel disheartened! Persevere and continue to build up as much legal work experience as possible.

How do I Choose A Chambers?

Before you even think about submitting your applications, it is crucial to think about the type of chambers that appeal to you.

Think about:

Equipped with this knowledge, you’ll be able to effectively articulate why you are interested in the chambers you’re applying for. You’ll also be able to create a shortlist of chambers to apply to.

What Will I Earn During my Pupillage?

Financial support varies depending on chambers location and practice areas. London-based sets tend to offer more financial support than regional chambers. Commercial chambers typically offer a higher salary than criminal sets. You can find most of this information on the chambers’ pupillage page on their website, or on the Pupillage Gateway.

The minimum pupillage award is £18,866 per annum for pupillages based in London and £16,322 for pupillages based outside London, and this will increase yearly depending on the levels of the Living Wage. In some sets, this will be between £60,000 to £80,000 in commercial chambers in London. Some barristers chambers also offer to financially support your completion of vocational component (this is called a ‘draw-down’).

What Happens Next?

At the end of the practising period and if all relevant courses have been completed, the Bar Standards Board will give you a Full Practising Certificate.

You’ll then be able to secure tenancy as a qualified barrister. If you are unsuccessful in securing tenancy at the chambers where you did your training, you can apply to complete a ‘third six’ at an alternative location. This will give you another opportunity to practice and develop your experience with a view to ultimately gaining tenancy at that chambers.

You may also, in some instances, be able to remain at your chambers by “squatting”. In this case, instead of being under the supervision of a pupil supervisor, you’ll be responsible for yourself. It’s important to note that this is only a temporary solution, however.

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