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Chambers beware – mini-pupillages and the confidentiality horror

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Bar Council warns barristers in 22-page guidance that mini-pupils should sign undertakings before arriving at chambers

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A-level or even university students bidding for mini-pupillages to suss out whether the bar is for them might have to instruct top-flight solicitors first to wade through the contractual obligations facing them.

Bar Council advice released to chambers a few weeks ago sets out in painstaking detail issues around client confidentiality and data protection barristers offering mini-pupillages must consider.

Much of the guidance appears to have been lifted directly from the ‘Stating the Bleeding Obvious Handbook’. But as the document runs to a headache-inducing 22 pages, it might be worth prospective mini-pupils drawing on the bank of Mama & Papa to finance some advice from, say, Messrs Slaughter and May.

For those heads of chambers that have got stuck into the port a little too often recently, the guidance — from the Bar Council’s professional practice committee — sets out in simple language the purpose of mini-pupillages.

The main aim, it says,

“is to provide experience of the work of a barrister, so as to enable mini-pupils to decide whether to pursue a career at the bar. This will usually be achieved by mini-pupils shadowing members of chambers, looking at examples of case papers, analysing legal or factual problems, and discussing with barristers what is involved in those cases and problems, and in a career at the bar more generally. Some mini-pupillages also involve an element of assessment by chambers.”

So far so straightforward — even the senior clerks should be able to get their heads round that.

Where prospective pupils might consider shelling out a couple of grand on some specialist City law firm contract advice is around the detailed sections on confidential and personal information.

The guidance advises chambers that if they:

“have doubts as to whether a mini-pupil can sufficiently be trusted with confidential information and personal data, you will need to think carefully about how you structure the mini-pupillage and what you allow the mini-pupil to see and hear. You will need to look for ways of avoiding breaches of confidence and misuse of personal data, and minimise the risk of either happening inadvertently.”

A stream of suggestions follows — but as far as we can see, locking the pupil in the chambers’ lavatories for the duration is not one of them.

However, the committee does suggest that sets “might consider using anonymised case papers or hypothetical instructions, or setting generalised tasks”.

In other words, make up some case notes to keep the little devils quiet and get them to make the tea.

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Prospective mini-pupils might also seek legal advice regarding the Bar Council’s suggestion that barristers insist they sign confidentiality undertakings before crossing a chamber’s threshold.

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The council reckons that signing agreements has been a widespread practice since the 1990s — however, in Legal Cheek’s experience, there are plenty of examples of students completing multiple mini-pupillages and not once even hearing the word confidentiality.

Nonetheless, the Bar Council advises that signed confidentiality undertakings are an iron-clad method for:

“ensuring that [mini-pupils] fully understand the importance and effect of their obligations of confidence and of legal professional privilege, before they see or hear any confidential or privileged information”.

It all seems a bit of a palaver for what is, let’s face it, usually little more than a week’s work experience. But perhaps the Bar’s concerns are driven by the increasing prevalence of social media.

As Legal Cheek highlighted last year, mini-pupils are not exempt from the “selfie” craze — you never know when a confidential client file could crop up in the background.

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Further reading:

The 15 best mini-pupil selfies of the summer [Legal Cheek]

Beware the Twitter wrath of the disgruntled mini-pupil [Legal Cheek]