'Your personal statement becomes rather unfocused if you have a range of chambers you’re trying to direct yourself towards.'
Many chambers require aspiring barristers to apply for pupillage with them via the Bar Council’s Pupillage Gateway online pupillage application system (formerly known as Pupillage Portal and OLPAS). Chambers that use the Pupillage Gateway application system don’t accept applications by any other means; however, you’re free to apply to as many non-Pupillage Gateway chambers as you like.
On average sets recruit a year to a year and a half in advance, so law students should start applying in their final year at university and non-law students in their conversion course year (assuming they do not wish to take a gap year or engage in further study before applying). Deadlines fall throughout the year, though the majority are between September and March. Some sets will allow successful applicants to defer the start of pupillage by a year, though this is not always possible.
The 2021 pupillage application season opens on 4 January 2021 and closes on 8 February; however, many pupillage adverts appear online from 27 November 2020. The Pupillage Gateway system can be accessed at www.pupillagegateway.com. This site contains details of all available pupillages with chambers and authorised training organisations (ATOs) irrespective of whether or not they are members of the system.
Making Pupillage Gateway applications
You can browse all vacancies via the ‘Search and Apply’ option and may apply to up to 20 different sets of chambers or ATOs via the Gateway. Each advert will include information such as chambers’ practice areas, funding for pupillage and details of mini-pupillages. Although all vacancies will be viewable on site, not all chambers and ATOs will actually recruit through the Gateway – see each advert for preferred application methods and deadlines.
The best applications will be tailored to specific chambers and practice areas. It’s a good idea to think about which areas you are most interested in before you begin applying. ‘Your personal statement becomes rather unfocused if you have a range of chambers you’re trying to direct yourself towards,’ explains Alex Goodman, a barrister at Landmark Chambers.
You will also need to spend time drafting and re-working your application until it reads well and there are no grammar or spelling errors. Georgina Wolfe, barrister and pupillage committee member at 5 Essex Court explains: ‘Application time often coincides with exams and people may put it low on their list of priorities, but this is your only chance to show chambers your written advocacy and how you can construct a persuasive document. Writing style is very important – if somebody has brilliant content and appears to have rushed their application, they’ll get marked down.’
Go to the Pupillage Gateway site for detailed guidance on making your application and to see a sample form. Be sure to read the instructions carefully before you begin: remember that you can only apply to 20 sets of chambers and a withdrawn application still counts as one of your 20. The TARGETjobs Pupillages Handbook also contains details of all pupillages.
What part does assessed mini-pupillage play in recruitment to chambers?
Some sets specify that you must complete an assessed mini-pupillage with them if you wish to be considered for pupillage. These are short periods of work experience in chambers (typically between three and five days) during which you will be formally assessed, usually via some form of test or exercise, as well as shadowing barristers and helping out if possible.
You may be required to complete an assessed mini-pupillage before you apply for pupillage, as the first stage of the interview process or between a first and second interview. In addition, some sets will offer assessed mini-pupillages but not insist that you have to take one, and many sets offer unassessed mini-pupillages (which allow you to gain experience and get a feel for a particular set without being formally assessed).
How are pupillage offers made?
Pupillage offers from sets that are members of the centralised online pupillage application system will come via Pupillage Gateway in May. Offers from non-Pupillage Gateway sets will come directly from the set in question at a later time relative to the application.
Many recruiters are willing to provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates if requested.
What if I’m not successful in my pupillage applications?
If you’re not successful finding a pupillage the first year you apply, there’s nothing to stop you trying again the following year, which in most cases will be your Bar course year. It’s OK to apply to some of the same sets again if you want to, though it’s sensible to request feedback from them as soon as you know you have been unsuccessful, and use this to gauge how close you came to receiving an offer of pupillage with them. However, it’s probably not wise to make all of your applications second time round to sets that have previously rejected you.
If you’re not successful first time round, take on board any feedback you have managed to gather and think about what you can do to build up your skills and experience. You might want to proceed straight to the Bar course and spend your spare time gathering extra legal work experience – for example through pro bono legal work, marshalling (shadowing a judge), mooting, debating, or taking another mini-pupillage or two.
Alternatively you could consider taking a year out and finding a job or voluntary work that will allow you to develop further. Options could be a paralegal role with a law firm or a legal internship abroad or in the UK, working as an outdoor clerk at a litigation firm, applying to become a judicial assistant at the Court of Appeal, or becoming a research assistant at the Law Commission (NB non-law students do not normally meet the entry criteria for this). Keep in mind that if you proceed straight to the Bar course and are offered a pupillage you may need to take a gap year before commencing your pupillage, due to sets’ recruitment timetables.