Introduction to the Pupillage process
Now we’re approaching Pupillage Season, it’s time to start preparing for what it entails. Whether it’s your first time or you’re applying again, this process comes with its challenges. Pupillage is a mandatory step towards qualifying as a Barrister. It is usually 12 months long and divided into a practising and non-practising “six”. Each year over 2,000 Future Barristers apply for pupillage to around 355 Chambers and it can be a stressful time for applicants.
However, whilst getting pupillage is a competitive process, it is not an impossible one. In this post we take you through some tried and tested tips to get through the pupillage process and make it easier for you to manage.
Overview of the pupillage application process
For anyone starting the process for the first time, there are two main ways to apply for pupillage:
The first is through the online system called the Pupillage Gateway. This opens in January and closes in February of each year. Applicants can search and apply to chambers through the system from December. Within thePupillage Gateway you can only apply to 20 chambers, so keep that in mind.
The second is through non-gateway applications. Non-gateway applications open at different times of the year and are based on the individual chambers and providers. This offers a little more flexibility and some more opportunities for pupillage, so bear that in mind. They set their own deadlines and the application process will be listed on their website – however it will also be advertised on the Pupillage Gateway. There is no limit to how many non-gateway applications you can do but do not overload yourself.
In the video below, Blessing talks more in detail about the differences between the Pupillage Gateway and non-gateway chambers.
Tip 1 – Speak to someone about your legal CV before you apply
One of the most important documents you will include in your application is your CV. It’s the first thing chambers will see so you need to make sure it’s a strong CV that shows your relevant experience and skills. If you’re struggling with your CV, then it never hurts to get a second opinion, whether it’s at a session run by your university, or attending sessions run by your inn. This will put you in a better position when applying by making sure you know what areas to improve.
Make sure that you record and apply any feedback given to you on your CV from any previous applications as soon as possible. If you don’t know where to start when it comes to building your legal skills profile, consider using our Legal Skills Journal as an easy way to start tracking your skills during the year before you apply.
When it comes to what to include in your CV, think about your experiences and how they are relevant to the legal skills you have gained. These experiences could be, mini-pupillages, attending hearings at tribunals or talks on topics you find interesting that are relevant to the areas you want to practise in. When it comes to your legal skills, start recording and tracking them and how you’ve improved on them. This could be your advocacy skills, research and drafting and think of when you’ve used them. This could be through competing in mooting competitions, entering essay competitions or at work. Many skills you learn in jobs are transferable so don’t forget to mention them.
Tip 2 – Look into their youngest tenants
The youngest (in their career) members of chambers are the best reflection of what chambers are looking for in a pupil. Read their profiles and see the work they completed since becoming tenants and for their supervisors whilst a Pupil. Focus less on matching like for like experiences, and more on reflecting the chambers’ core competencies.
You can also consider politely reaching out to junior members in the chambers you wish to join.. You can do this through social media – for example with LinkedIn or Twitter, or at networking events held by the chambers, Inns of Court and other legal organisations.
Be sure to take the temperature of the person you’re talking to, and be considerate with how you approach them – some people may respond better in person than online.
Tip 3 – Research beyond the chambers website
During this process it is important to take initiative to really get to know the audience who will be reading your applications and interviewing you.
Whilst chambers offer a lot of information on their websites, there are different ways to find out more about them, their work and the culture within chambers.
Chambers send their barristers to attend pupillage fairs, opening evenings, networking events, speak on panels and social Bar events. This is an easy way to reach out to them if you want to learn more about their work, their journey to the Bar and their chambers.
If you can’t attend the events in person, don’t be deterred as you can still find out a lot online. If you use social media like Twitter, keep an eye on their pages and those of the barristers that work there. Maintain your awareness of the work they do by reading blog posts in the areas you’re interested in. Attend online seminars and listen to podcasts. The Court of Appeal has live streams that you can access here if you want to see appellate advocacy from the comfort of your own home.
If you’re determined, you can mine for a lot of data to make your applications strong, unique and tailored to each chambers. Don’t forget to keep track of the research you find so you can easily access it when you’re ready to write your application.
Tip 4 – Look beyond your circuit
You may have dreams of being in Legal London, but there are multiple circuits across England and Wales to consider doing pupillage in. There are 6 circuits: the Midlands, North Eastern, Northern, South Eastern, Wales & Chester and Western. Circuits represent barristers and legal service users’ interests, provide support and advice for barristers practising in those areas. They also maintain lines of communication with all parts of the legal system.
Circuits outside of London tend to have broader practice areas, so keep that in mind if you want to work in a very specific and niche area. You will tend to work in the courts of the circuit that your chambers are based in, but you may still commute to other courts around the circuit.
As the living costs are lower outside of London, pupils can live closer to their Chambers in many cases. For more information about circuits check out the Bar Council website and other sites here.
Tip 5 – Start early and don’t leave it too late
It’s never too early to start thinking about pupillage and planning your applications. If you’re studying or working whilst you are applying, then you need to structure your time effectively.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the length of the applications and the questions you need to answer so consider organising your applications with our Pupillage Application Research Spreadsheet. Some questions require significant research and are about specific cases, so give yourself time to properly plan out your answer, apply feedback and get your drafts up to a high standard.
If you don’t give yourself enough time, you won’t produce strong applications, and present the best version of yourself. You may even end up burning out attempting to finish last minute applications before the deadline. Avoid this by staying organised and making the whole process less stressful.
Tip 6 – Build your mental resilience
The application process is a mentally challenging experience, and it can be easy to become demotivated by the hard work and constant rejection. Try and find ways to keep your focus and push through. Rather than thinking all the power is in the hands of the chambers you’re applying to, remind yourself of the power and control you have within yourself.
A starting point is the Huberman Lab podcast by a neuroscientist called Andrew Huberman available on YouTube. They take a neuroscience based approach to everyday life and health, discussing subjects like mental health, supporting yourself through your diet, exercise and building rhythms to your life that allow you to take high amounts of stress and still be a high performance person. This is great to listen to when mentally preparing for the application process and eventually Pupillage.