A pupillage, in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland, is the barrister's equivalent of the training contract that a solicitor undertakes. It is similar to an apprenticeship where students build on what they have learnt during the Bar Professional Training Course by combining it with practical work experience in a set of barristers' chambers.
A pupillage is the final stage of training to be a barrister and usually lasts one year, in England and Wales being made up of two six-month periods (known as "sixes"). The first of these is the non-practising six during which pupils shadow their pupilsupervisor and the second will be a practising six when pupils can undertake to supply legal services and exercise rights of audience.
At the end of the first six months a pupil must get their pupil supervisor to sign a certificate confirming satisfactory completion and send it to the Bar Council. The pupil will then receive a Provisional Qualification Certificate. At the end of the second six months a pupil must get their pupil supervisor to sign another certificate confirming satisfactory completion and send it to the Bar Council Education and Training Department. The pupil will then receive a Full Qualification Certificate.
Although pupillage is used to describe the training for all barristers, there is little in common between different sorts of pupillages. A good example is the enormous contrast between a criminal bar pupil and a commercial bar pupil: during the second six months of pupillage, the first will be in court on a daily basis, dealing primarily with witnesses and facts; the second will rarely go to court, dealing with written legal analysis for companies and assisting senior members of chambers with their work.
Structure of pupillage
Pupillages are split into two different phases. The first is known as the "first six". This involves witnessesing the pupil's supervisor at court, in conference and assisting with paperwork. In many chambers, this is the more relaxed part of the pupillage, as the pupil has little responsibility.
In the second six months of pupillage, each pupil is responsible for their own case load. This will range from a first appearance in the county court or magistrates' court, hearings in the high court or crown court to full trials. Some second six pupils may even gain experience of jury trials, but this is extremely rare. Generally speaking, most second six pupils handle minor proceedings such as case management conferences, plea and directions hearings, infant settlements or small claims cases such as possession hearings, debt recovery proceedings or road traffic claims.
The amount of work that a pupil will gain in their second six is dependent on their chambers. Second six pupils in criminal sets are typically in court several times a week, while pupils in civil sets may only have two or three cases in a week, and second six pupils in commercial sets can go their entire pupillage without ever appearing in court.
In most leading criminal and civil sets pupils receive a frequent supply of work. However, as clerks do not prioritise pupils, it may take a considerable amount of time before they are paid for the work they do. In some cases, pupils will never be paid for the work they carry out in court. This has led to a situation where pupils struggle to make ends meet, especially in criminal sets.
Financial position of pupils
The financial position of pupils varies enormously. Some pupil barristers will earn £12,000 (the Bar Council minimum) for a 12-month pupillage in a criminal set. A pupillage at a top commercial chambers can pay £60,000. The Bar Council has decreed that all pupils must be remunerated in the minimum sum of £1000 per month, equating to £12,000 per year, which must be made up of (at minimum) an award of £6,000 in the first six and guaranteed earnings of £6,000 in the second six. It is usual practice for Chambers to allow pupils to retain all second-six earnings in excess of this amount, although these can be subject to deductions for clerking, chambers expenses and other sums. It should also be noted that it can take several months for solicitors to pay pupils for magistrates court work which can cause financial hardship.
While pupils are allowed to supplement their incomes by undertaking part-time work outside of their pupillages, with the permission of their pupil master or Head of Chambers, the Bar Council also requires pupils to apply themselves full-time to pupillage. Therefore opportunities for earning outside of pupillage are limited by time constraints.
Pupillage is recognised as a difficult and demanding time. Pupils must attempt to impress as many members of their chambers as is possible. They will also have to impress their clerks by completing as many cases as possible and still impressing solicitors.
The Working Time Directive applies to pupillages. Pupils may therefore work a maximum of 48 hours per week, unless an opt-out has been signed. However successful pupils will work well in excess of 48 hours per week and will take little or no holiday.
Prospective pupils can apply in advance for pupillages offered through Pupillage Portal, a web-based application centre, usually about one year ahead of the proposed starting date. Non-Pupillage Portal chambers have their own application procedures, and details of how to contact all chambers with pupillages are advertised on the Pupillage Portal website.
Gaining a pupillage is not easy. There is some evidence to suggest that every year around only 5-10% of applicants are successful. A candidate will need to demonstrate strong academic qualifications (preferably First Class Honours degree from a leading university, but normally an Upper Second at the very least) or excellent extracurricular activities. Working for the Free Representation Unit is strongly encouraged by pupillage selection committees.
- Anna Williams (ed), Chambers Student Guide to Careers in the Law 2010 ISBN 987-0-85514-312-1
- Devilling, the Scottish system