Aug 28, 2019

Written By Ekaterina Zelenova

Applying for pupillage

Aug 28, 2019

Written By Ekaterina Zelenova

Pupillage application forms take a lot of time and effort. Very few chambers ask for a CV with a covering letter; many pupillage providers are part of the Pupillage Gateway, a centralised application system. Here Bar Vocational Course graduate Ekaterina Zelenova gives you her tips on applying for pupillage…

Pupillage application experience

I applied for pupillages over the course of three years. I began when I was in my final year at university, although my first attempt was really a practice run. To start out with, I targeted provincial sets, but I also applied to a couple of London chambers. I didn’t get many interviews, so the more forms you fill in, the more pointless it seems.

Whether the provider is part of the Pupillage Gateway or not, you see the same sorts of questions on every application form: “Why do you want to become a barrister?”, “What do you hope to gain and contribute?” and “What did you get for your GCSEs?”

To help you tackle pupillage applications, I’ve put together some tips.

Pupillage application tips

Don’t act on one person’s advice, and refrain from paying for it.

It’s a great idea to get help from barristers, career advisers and friends. You will find, however, that some of the advice will be contradicting, so you’ll need to use your common sense. Don’t even think about using the so-called career services who offer to complete your application forms for a ‘small’ fee. Their answers are ridiculous, your application will go straight to the bin and there will be serious consequences if you are found out.

Be concise.

Word limits are for guidance, not a target. Some chambers receive around 600 applications, and members of the pupillage committee have to go through them in their own time (as well as working on their cases). Make it easier for them to see your strong points by keeping your application relatively short.

Don’t exaggerate too much.

With regards to mini-pupillages, everyone knows that you are unlikely to achieve anything or have any responsibilities. Minis are for learning about life at the Bar, which normally involves seeing different areas of practice in action, so concentrate on what you were supposed to learn.

Tailor your form to each pupillage provider.

Don’t include criminal work experience when applying for a chancery pupillage, and vice versa. You risk appearing unfocused. When giving reasons for applying to a particular set of chambers, make it look like you’re not applying anywhere else. Show that you’ve done your research on the firm and that you aren’t sending in another copied and pasted application.


I’m sick of hearing about proofreading because like any dedicated pupillage-seeker, I know how detrimental the spelling errors can be. Still, on very few occasions some small errors have somehow managed to slip through. It’s the most awful feeling when you realise that it’s too late to correct it. Leave your completed application form and re-read it again in a couple of days: it will be worth it.

Don’t use clichés.

They are pointless waffle and people generally find them annoying. It is obvious that every pupillage applicant is “passionate about the law” and “dedicated to success” with the “requisite skills.” Use the space provided for something valid and compelling.

Apply well before the deadline.

Past pupillage application systems have always reliably crashed before the deadline. There are other things that can go wrong too: a postal strike, email server problems, your computer dying and taking the only copy of your form with it. The possibilities are endless. So if you are serious about the career at the Bar, you will not leave your applications until the last minute. You are trying to enter the profession where organisational skills are of the highest importance. Don’t jeopardise your chances.

Getting a pupillage can be a long-term process. One thing to remember is that there are no perfect answers that guarantee interviews. It all comes down to your academic achievements, which, interestingly enough, includes your A-levels and GCSEs (no matter what you have achieved since).