What is a pupillage?
A pupillage is a work placement in a barristers’ chambers during the final stage of barrister training. Some students spend their entire pupillage at one chambers, while others complete the first half at one set and the last half at another. 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). 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.
A barristers’ pupillage lasts one year and is divided into two six-month components known as “sixes.” During the first six months, students are not yet eligible to take on their own matters and instead will assist their supervisors with case preparation, hearings, and legal research. During the second six months, pupils take on their own matters, handle their own cases and clients, and begin to develop their professional profile and reputation. Those completing all the necessary stages of pupillage will receive a Full Qualification certificate.
Mini-pupillages (those lasting just a few days or weeks) can be an excellent way to get a foot in the door of chambers, as some pupils get an offer of a full pupillage at the end of their short stint. They offer students the opportunity to shadow a barrister, learn about the work involved, gain familiarity with the court and chambers, and begin to build up a network of contacts,
Finding a pupillage
Candidates are required to apply for a pupillage via the Pupillage Gateway (previously known as the Pupillage Portal System) that permits candidates to apply to as many as 12 member chambers and as many non-member chambers as they like. The system includes a list of all open pupillages, including those offered by chambers that are not part of the Pupillage Gateway network,as well as in-house positions for companies, charities, firms, the Crown Prosecution Service or the Government Legal Service.
Pupillages typically begin in September or October, and the Pupillage Gateway allows submissions of first applications for pupillages only between April 1 and April 30 each year. Applications are considered between May and September, and offers are extended from early August until early September. The system closes each year at the end of October and reopens the following March. Students need to have been called to the Bar before they can start pupillage.
Problems finding a pupillage
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that you will secure a pupillage immediately after completing the BPTC, as each year thousands of students apply for several hundred pupillages, and most chambers select only two or three pupils. There is no solution to this problem other than to keep applying, widen your search area, and try not to limit your applications to just a few chambers, locations, or practice areas.
If you’ve been trying for some time and have not yet obtained a pupillage, it may be time to analyse the approach you’ve been taking, revisit your CV and application, and ask for feedback from recruitment teams where you were unsuccessful. Whatever you do, don’t give up. The pupillage application process should remind you of how challenging and competitive a legal career will be.