Time For Barristers To Put Hands in Their Pockets

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Pupillage should be the test for Bar wannabes, not interviews – and wealthy barristers should pay, argues OccupyTheInns

Rarely have I found myself nodding as fiercely in agreement as yesterday when I read Andrew Jackson’s proposal to raise the minimum pupillage award by having barristers effectively compelled to pay £3 a day towards the training of pupils.

Jackson’s proposal would, of course, also have extremely positive repercussions for the outrageous situation with regard to lack of pupillages at the Bar. Force barristers to pay a contribution towards pupils’ training and more pupillages would undoubtedly flow from the wider availability of funding. I rather like Mr. Jackson’s style, which echoes what I myself have argued for in the past.

My own words, which appeared in Legal Cheek in November, read as follows: “Senior lawyers often earn easily in excess of £1 million – and this year Linklaters’ top earning partner took home £2.2 million. Would it truly be asking that much for them to sacrifice a small portion of these sums to fund between them pupillages and training contracts for the jobless graduates who have the strongest CVs?”

At this point I would like to clarify that I am no longer advocating the occupation of the Inns of Court – a campaign I brought to an end last year. However, it seems that my pen name has proved rather popular, notwithstanding some rather disappointing and unconstructive comments on some of my previous posts. As I remain committed to the spirit rather than the letter of the sentiment behind OccupyTheInns, I have decided to continue with the moniker. Indeed, it is my submission that some of the debate which both the Occupy the Inns and the Occupy Movement have encouraged is behind the changing attitudes we are seeing among senior practitioners like the aforementioned Andrew Jackson.

As somebody who has reached numerous second round pupillage interviews, having completed the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) with a ‘Very Competent’ last year following consistently high previous educational performance, I am very keen to see the current pupillage system reformed. Some minor changes would be transformative for people in my position. In addition, they would benefit the Bar as a whole as they would allow a new generation of highly able and motivated people to repopulate a profession that is being buffeted by the winds of change from the Legal Services Act (LSA) and technology.

A system where more pupillages were available would be a great improvement on the current selection process that determines entry to the Bar. A year-long opportunity to showcase one’s skills in front of barristers and judges should be the true job interview for barristers, not a few questions in front of an interview panel. If I were to be deemed unfit for the profession after a year on my feet, I would be content to plough other professional furrows. However, if I, or the many in my position, were to succeed at this stage, then the Bar would be stronger for it.

Members of the Bar, what is stopping you, other than a fear of change itself, from reforming a system that is holding the profession back?

OccupyTheInns graduated from the BPTC last summer, and was called to the Bar in July 2011.



Four brief points:

1) I wonder if the pseudonymous writer has any conception of how much time and energy chambers put into training their pupils? Pupil supervisors devote a huge amount of effort in nurturing their pupils. On their part, pupils are essentially a drain on the capacity (and hence earnings) of their supervisors. Barristers DO already effectively pay a contribution towards their pupils in the time they spend on their training during pupillage.

2) To make out that the Bar is somehow full of rich barristers who’ve decided to pull the ladder up behind them is nonsense. Just go along to events at the Inns where you’ll find plenty of working barristers who give up their time to help out students with advice. I am yet to meet a member of the Bar who does not give their time and attention to help those who ask for advice.

3) What the writer fails to consider, is that the size of the profession is regulated to a large extent by how much work there is at the junior end. There’s not going to be any point in increasing numbers of pupils, if there’s not enough work for them to do at the end of pupillage.

4) Where’s your evidence that the current system is holding the profession back? From my experience, the majority of people who are good enough, go on to get pupillage. The ones who don’t make it are largely those who never had a chance, but nobody sat them down and had an honest talk with them before they embarked on the BPTC. The fault lies with (i) educational providers who are (in my opinion) failing to give robust enough advice to their applicants and students, and (ii) students who fail to be either sufficiently honest or realistic with themselves about their own capabilities.


Another barrister

“Barrister” talks a lot of sense. We are not doing anyone favours by allowing them to spend a year at Bar School and a year of pupillage and thousands of pounds if there is no realistic hope of getting tenancy and making a living thereafter. “OccupyTheInns” speaks glibly of senior barristers earning “easily in excess of £1m”. Dream on sunshine. Not many of us do, honestly. Don’t think that pupillage is a guarantee of future megabucks. The first few years of tenancy are hard work for very little reward. If you survive that, you may start to earn a decent whack, if you’re good enough, but at the moment I am seeing colleagues of 10-20 years call leaving the Bar because they can’t afford to carry on. As Barrister says, we at the Bar are always happy to give our advice to potential barristers and my advice at the moment is this: don’t do it.



Umm… I quite enjoyed Andrew Jackson’s article, even if I thought it was wrong in many places, but as someone who agrees with him explain to me how you think doubling the minimum pupillage award would lead to *more* pupillages?

It’s already a disgrace that so many students pass the BPTC but don’t get pupillage – you want to delay people’s lives another year by putting them all through pupillage just so they can fail to get tenancy? The problem isn’t too few pupillages, it’s too many candidates for pupillage.

“Pupillages for all” would see thousands of people would lose out (a year wasted for those who miss out on tenancy, lack of work for junior tenants because of excess of pupils, waste of time for barristers) , and the only benefit would be to candidates who can’t secure pupillage through interview but would somehow secure tenancy through pupillage. I’m not sure how many of those candidates there are, if any.

I put my solution on the other thread – let the number of pupillages reflect demand (number of tenancies) and only let people take the BPTC if they have a pupillage offer from chambers, who would then fund the course. Exceptions could be made for those with major scholarships from the Inns or who did not intent to practice in E&W. You’d have no unfunded/self-funded BPTC students, law schools would be more accountable to chambers, and no-one would take an unnecessary career break with little prospect of a place at the Bar.

Agree with both comments above too.



The sense of entitlement in this article is disgusting. Take heed of the learned comments from those in the know fella, and stop self publicising in such whiney fashion. It’s people like you (ie, shameless self promoters with a vastly inflated sense of their own worth) that make the rest of us despair of blogging as a medium.



Why did you give up the ridiculous occupy the inns campaign? Was it under threat of prosecution?



Here we go again. Same blogger, same points, slightly different angle (if I am being generous). Presumably recommissioned due to the number of comments that are provoked rather than the quality of the argument (which is naive in its concept and poor in its presentation).

Too many people want to be barristers. There is not enough work for them all. There are two ways of dealing with this:

1. Invent imaginary pupillages for which there is no economic / client need and given that they cannot be funded through actual work, make other people (for whose skills there is actually real demand) pay for them; or

2. Cut the number of people training to be barristers.

We are talking about the real working world here in the midst of a recession where jobs are scarce and many very good lawyers are struggling to find / keep work and here we have the idea of making up jobs for students who aren’t able to get the real pupillages. And that’s the real elephant in the room regarding all these posts about students trying to get a foot on the ladder of the legal profession, whether as barristers or solicitors, is that the pupillages and training contracts are out there, but the best candidates get them. That many candidates will find it a real struggle is not something in the literature the law schools put out to bring in students. Meanwhile, the law schools will by and large take those onto the professional courses who meet the very basic standards and can pay the fees. This mismatch is causing disillusionment and disappointment and resulting in lots of posts about how there must be more pupillages, the Inns must be occupied, why do my A-levels matter so that I can’t get a job when I have done the LPC, etc. Either more students need to get real about the risk that they are taking, that there is no guaranteed job, and that the world of work is not a finishing school for their own aspirations, or, if this poster is representative of current wannabe lawyers, the legal regulatory bodies need to step in and limit BPTC and LPC places for potential students’ own good.


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Errrrm. In addition to the the comments on the other thread re: supply and demand of tenancies/pupillages vs the number of people allowed into Bar School – Where do you get the idea that barristers already do not already pay for pupillages – where do you think the pupillage award money comes from? A small pupillage pixie wanders around with a large sack of cash?

No, the award is funded by Chambers – ie barristers.

In addition to the award, there are the hidden costs of having pupils – barrister time, staff time, general admin and overheads. That soon mounts up – conservatively you can get to an additional £30 – 50k per pupil per year.


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