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What is pupillage?

25 Jan 2023, 13:38

What is pupillage? Find out what the crucial training period for aspiring barristers involves and what’s in store for pupils.

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Pupillage is a 12-month training period for those aiming to qualify as barristers, usually spent in a barristers’ chambers (aka ‘set’). It is divided into two distinct six-month periods. During the ‘first six’ you will shadow the cases of an experienced barrister; in the ‘second six’ you may take on work of your own.

When you start pupillage, you’ll be known as a pupil and receive funding from your set. Some pupils spend the whole 12 months at one chambers; others complete their first six and second six at different sets. To find out more about funding for pupillage, check out our guide to how much pupillage pays .

What is pupillage? What does it involve?

When you start pupillage in a chambers you’ll be assigned a ‘pupil supervisor’ who will act as your mentor. You will shadow them, do research and paperwork for them, go to court with them and probably share their office. (NB in some sets you may be rotated round several pupil supervisors so as to experience a broader range of practice areas.)

In your second six you’re officially allowed to take your own cases but whether you actually do so will depend upon the type of set you’re at. At criminal and common law sets there tend to be lots of small cases suitable for a second six pupil but in commercial law chambers they tend to be too big and complex for this to happen so you’ll probably still spend most of your time assisting your pupil supervisor.

When does pupillage start?

Before you can start pupillage you’ll need to have completed either a non-law degree and a law conversion course, or a law degree, then taken the Bar course, formerly known as the Bar professional training course (BPTC). Law students should apply for pupillage during the final year of their degree; non-law students in their conversion course year. However, if you’re not successful at this point you can keep trying.

How to apply for pupillage

Many chambers accept pupillage applications only through a centralised online application system called the Pupillage Gateway (formerly known as the Pupillage Portal and, before that, OLPAS); others receive them directly from candidates (eg as CVs and covering letters or via their own online application systems). The Pupillage Gateway system has one application season, which starts in January and closes a few weeks later. Since 2020, all chambers must use the same pupillage application deadlines from January to February, however, pupillage adverts can be viewed from December.

You can apply to up to 20 Pupillage Gateway chambers or authorised training organisations (ATOs). You’re free to apply to as many non-Pupillage Gateway sets as you like. Relevant information can be found at and in the Pupillages Handbook , available at your careers service or from the targetjobs National Pupillage Fair.

When you reach the right stage, don't miss our guide on making a pupillage application .

Where can you find a pupillage?

Almost all pupillages are to be found in barristers’ chambers, although there are a handful at the employed Bar, which is when you work in-house for companies, firms, charities, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or the Government Legal Profession. You will need to check, however, that these organisations are currently recruiting.

Many chambers offer pupillages for the full 12 months; others will allow you to complete just one six-month period with them if you wish, while a few only offer first six or only second six pupillages. If you feel like doing something a bit different, there are a number of forms of work experience that can count as time served for the second six. See the Bar Standards Board website for more details.

Do be aware that the process of becoming an advocate (the equivalent to barristers in Scotland) is very different from in England and Wales and requires you to have an undergraduate degree in Scottish law. See the Law Society of Scotland website for more details.

Can you do a pupillage part-time?

It’s not normally possible to complete a pupillage part time: Bar Council regulations state that you should work a minimum of 35 hours a week. However, this requirement can be waived in exceptional circumstances – contact the training regulations officer for more information.

Is there formal training during pupillage?

As well as your work in chambers you’ll also be required to attend training courses in advocacy and advice to counsel, which are run by the Inns of Court and the various regional circuits. You’ll also need to complete a forensic accountancy course either during pupillage or in your first three years of practice.

In addition, the specialist Bar associations have produced detailed checklists of the ground to be covered during pupillage. At the end of each six months your pupil supervisor must certify you have covered all points on the list satisfactorily.

Checklists exist for chancery law, commercial law, common law, criminal law and family law as well as more specialised areas of practice. Again, further information can be found at the Bar Standards Board website. Providing you complete the year successfully you will be awarded the full practising certificate by the Bar Council and will be free to build your own practice.

What happens after pupillage?

Once you’ve completed pupillage you’ll need to find yourself a tenancy – a permanent base from which to practice. Tenants are so called because, although they’re self employed, all barristers must belong to a chambers, where they pay a certain sum to cover rent, facilities and wages for support staff. Many barristers stay on at one of the sets where they were pupils but this is not always possible.

If you’re not lucky enough to find a tenancy straight away you may wish to consider either undertaking a third six or ‘squatting’. A third six entails working for a further six months in a similar vein to the second six, either in the same or a different set of chambers.

Squatting is the practice of staying on in chambers after pupillage but not as a tenant. Unlike third six pupils, squatters are responsible for themselves rather than under the wing of a pupil supervisor – for example they are required to have their own insurance. Whichever route you take after pupillage, all newly qualified barristers are required to complete the New Practitioners’ Programme, which involves 45 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) spread over the first three years.

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