A pupillage is the final vocational training stage for those wishing to become practising barristers in England and Wales. If you are undertaking a law degree or a qualifying degree with the intention of pursuing a career at the bar, you must understand how to go about getting a pupillage after you have completed your BPTC.
This page will provide a clear step-by-step guide on how to be successful in this highly competitive route.
Most chambers expect their applicants for pupillages to have completed a mini pupillage somewhere. A mini pupillage is the barrister equivalent of a vacation scheme or an internship and can last up to a week. It involves shadowing a barrister or barristers in that chambers and may or may not be assessed. It’s particularly beneficial to do a mini-pupillage at the chambers you would like to apply to for your pupillage, in fact, some chambers solely pick their pupils from those who have undergone mini-pupillages with them.
It’s important to bear in mind that a mini pupillage does not automatically entitle you to a pupillage. It is really important in these periods of work experience to engage with the chambers you are visiting, particularly if you have an interest in a pupillage with that chambers. Work hard and you will be remembered.
A mini pupillage is not the only valuable work experience for those wishing to become pupil barristers. It can also be of value to gain experience outside the bar. Pro bono work or volunteering are both useful to your CV and a pupillage applicant and often available through your university.
Doing this type of volunteer work will also help you specialise your skill set for the type of legal practice area you would like to work in. For example, if you have a particular interest in family law then do some work experience in a family law firm or with a children’s charity.
Gaining any sort of experience in advocacy can be beneficial not only for your overall skill set as a budding barrister but also for your confidence. You can develop advocacy skills in an array of university societies for example debating, mooting or public speaking.
To choose a barrister’s chambers, you have to have some idea as to what area of law you want to pursue. The most basic division in chambers is those operating in commercial law, common law and criminal law. Commercial law covers areas such as insurance, insolvency, company law and media law. Common law includes property law and laws relating to personal injury and negligence.
While many chambers list three or four specialisms, some chambers only specialise in one area and therefore, it is important to take the kind of work you want to do into consideration.
It is also really important, if you can, to try to assess the atmosphere of the chambers. It’s crucial to feel like you fit into the culture of your potential work environment.
Finally, you should decide where you would most like to work geographically. Whilst many chambers are based in London, this is not the only area you can carry out your pupillage. The regions outside of the capital are thriving with both solicitors’ firms and businesses keen to take on talented barristers.
Applications for pupillages are generally made through The Pupillage Gateway which opens 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. A large majority of chambers take applications this way. Alternatively, some chambers who 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. You can apply for up to 12 chambers on the gateway but as many non-member chambers as you like.
The general rule is that you should apply for a pupillage at least a year before you intend to start. For example, apply in January of one year to begin your pupillage in September of the next year.
The most important things to do when completing your pupillage applications are:
Barristers chambers will begin to hold interviews for pupillages in February and April and often these will be in rounds. It can be very competitive to get a pupillage and therefore, it is important that you find a way to stand out particularly in first-round interviews.
There are some key aspects that you want to prepare to be successful in your interview. Make sure you know your CV, your application, and all about the chamber you are interviewing at – inside out. This will be the basis of the questions you are asked.
Many chambers will give you a problem question when you arrive to present whilst in the interview. Examples of this could be written work which you may be questioned about, arguing as part of an advocacy exercise or a discussion point to undergo with the interviewers.
It is also really important to know your current affairs – particularly those which directly relate to the specialism of the chambers.
If you receive an offer following an interview with a chambers where you want to undertake your pupillage – accept the offer! Then what? You may be asking. As explained above, you generally apply for a pupillage at least a year before you start so you may find after accepting your offer you are left waiting. But this is just as important a time as any – use it to prepare! So continue researching, find the textbooks you need and take time to digest as much information as possible. Remain sociable and network, network, network – feeling prepared for your pupillage will be much easier if your soon-to-be chambers feels just like home.
Words: Alicia Gibson
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Securing mini pupillages as work experience is key in obtaining a pupillage – find out how to secure one with these guides:
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