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Atkin Chambers raises pupillage award to £72,500 — the highest at the bar by far

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Commercial set ups pupil money by 20%

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Atkin Chambers has leapfrogged a host of top sets to become the highest payer of pupil barristers in the country — increasing its pupil award from £60,000 to a whopping £72,500.

The previous top-payer was 2 Temple Gardens, which offers its pupils £67,500, with several other chambers paying £65,000.

As part of the rise, construction-geared commercial set Atkin will offer students it has recruited the opportunity to “drawdown” £25,000 in advance funding for the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) — which is also a new bar record.

It is worth noting that the first six months of pupillage awards are usually tax fee, while pupils often go on to pull in substantial additional earnings during their second six on top of their award. So the lucky three pupils taken on by Atkin stand to earn considerably in excess of the £72,500 figure.

Certainly they will make way more than the highest UK first year trainee solicitor salary of £50,000 offered by the London offices of US pair Davis Polk and Sullivan & Cromwell.

But wannabe barristers who want to join Atkin better get moving: the set has announced that it is quitting the centralised Pupillage Gateway system, where applications are made in April, to go on its own with a new pupillage application deadline of 18 December 2015.

Elsewhere at the bar, One Essex Court and Essex Court Chambers have also chosen to up their pupillage awards — but by a more modest proportion, going from £60,000 to £65,000. With Atkins’ big raise, this movement could be just the beginning of flood of pupillage award increases at commercial sets as chambers battle to stay competitive in their bid to land crème de la crème graduates.

The last such pay war took place in 2011 when tops sets’ pupillage awards rose from around the £45,000 mark to the £60,000-£65,000 level. Expect £70k plus to become the norm over the coming years.

It’s all a far cry from the publicly funded bar, where sets are so broke that they are relying on Inns of Court subsidies to help them fund pupillage awards of a mere £12,000 via the ‘Pupillage Matched Funding Scheme’, which opened earlier this week.