Revealed: 2,089 wannabe barristers submit 14,516 applications for just 224 pupillage spots

By on

‘May the odds be ever in your favour’

New figures starkly demonstrate how difficult it is for aspiring barristers to secure that all important pupillage position.

During this year’s pupillage fight, 2,089 bar hopefuls submitted at least one application via the Pupillage Gateway, a rise of 4% on 2017’s figure (2,004). Interestingly, the total number of applications submitted through the portal — each wannabe barrister gets up to 12 — is actually down by 6.5% (14,516). Last year a whopping 15,518 applications were submitted.

The number of applications each pupillage-hunter submitted is also down. This year an applicant, on average, fired off 6.95 applications, equating to a 15% drop on last year’s 8.2. Overall the number of pupillage positions up for grabs via the Gateway was down from 228 to 224 or 1.8%.

The Bar Council-operated Gateway, which closed last week, is a centralised site which allows chambers to post pupillage vacancies. It’s worth noting some sets have their own recruitment timetable and do not advertise through the Gateway.

The 2018 Chambers Most List

The statistics show the competition for jobs is extreme. But, in the words of Ben Burns, the Bar Council’s policy analyst for education and training, this year’s changes to the numbers of applicants and pupillages are “insignificant”. He told Legal Cheek:

“As in previous years, a large number of applicants are applying for a small number of pupillages.”

He continued:

“The Bar Council is pleased that more chambers are recruiting through the Gateway, which was designed as a fair and transparent recruitment tool, to ease pressure on applicants, relieve the administrative burden on chambers, and ensure compliance with requirements for data protection and equality and diversity monitoring. The focus on data security and diversity issues is increasing, so we hope that more chambers recruit through the Gateway in the future.”

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Bar Council’s application system.

In 2016 Legal Cheek reported that a copy and paste glitch meant many users inadvertently submitted applications with key pieces of information missing, including Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) grades.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek's careers events:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub



thats quite a statistic


The other way of looking at it, is it shows there’s not enough work out there in Chambers at the Bar, which most honest insiders will tell you is dying a slow, quiet death.


Familiar story to many barristers at the minute, chambers expenses up, brief fee income down.


Actually for us it’s been below inflation rent increases (when any at all) and chambers having to turn away work – PI/public set. So, not everywhere.


Which Inn is your set?


Work is down across the board for average commercial/chancery silks. It’s like a return to the 70s when practice was tough at the bar.


Thought this greatly depends on the practice area, surely?

Perhaps the English Bar will move more towards the kind of model seen in Australia/New Zealand – barristers are much more senior lawyers who have switched to independent practice after rising through the ranks of law firms. However, the English legal services market is still MUCH bigger than those of Oz/NZ, with plenty of room for juniors if they’re good enough. So, we’ll see…


This may be more a case of the slow decline of the publically funded Bar. Some areas of practice were never publically funded so the dearth of legal aid hasn’t had a big impact.


Not really. It’s just that the volume of work available to the bar has not been growing by 40% per year, every year for the last 10 years. For everyone one Bar School to get a pupillage, that is the level of demand there would have to be. No sector of buisness has anything like that growth and never has.

The problem is, it used to be hard to get onto Bar School (as it was limited to 900 places), but reasonably easy to get pupillage as there were about 800 pupillages available.

There are about 15,000 barristers with practising certificates, but many of those are academics / door tentants / part-timers. There are probabley about 10,000 barristers practising full time. So 300 odd pupillages per year is about what you would expect the demand for new barristers to be.

It is though well known that with 3,000 to 4,000 places at Bar School, 90% of people at Bar School will never get pupillage. It isn’t that it’s harder to qualify as a barrister now than it was 20 years ago. It is that the sumbling blocks are in different places. The number of tenancies per year hasn’t really changed. It was 200 to 300 when I qualified in 1995. So now, if you get pupillage you will almost certainly get tenancy. 20 years ago, if you got into bar school you’d almost certainly get pupillage. But you’re odds of getting tennacy were very slim.

When I qualified, there were about 900 people at bar school, about 800 pupillages (but most were unfunded) but only about 200 tenancies a year. Of my tutorial group of 10, all of us got pupillage, but by 5 years PQE I was the only one still in practice. This was because you had do endless 3rd Six’s and a lot of people just had enough at that stage and went off and did other things. You’re odds of making it into practise were still 10%, but everyone who did bar school got pupillage and so did at least qualify even if the didn’t stay at the bar long term.

There isn’t an easy solution. But really the only way would be to cut the total number of places at Bar School down to about 1,000 and make the entry requirements much tougher. There are a lot of people at Bar School now, who just would not have admitted 20 years ago as they would not have made the entry requirements. These are in the main the people not landing pupillage as it has been made far too easy to get in to bar school. At least that would stop people racking up huge debts.


Best comment on LC ever. Recommend all students take heed.

BPTC student

But why is it a “problem”!? BPTC students are adults spending their own money / getting into debt on their own account. If we want to gamble, let us.

Also, the Inns give generous scholarships to most viable candidates. In very few other professions you can get current practitioners to fund your vocational study.


Totally take your point that adults are entitled to take that risk if they wish to do so. But I don’t think the ‘baby turtles run for the sea’ model is a good one of training future members of the Bar, particularly as we know most turtles are going to be horribly killed by gulls, crabs etc along the race to the sea and left with massive debts. It isn’t the way medicine or dentistry operate for example. It is hard to get into medical school and hard to pass. But if you do, you will become a doctor.

At the risk of sounding old, my generation really did have it easy compared to today’s young people, for reasons comply outside the control of barristers, in the main due to the imposition of tuition fees. I didn’t pay any tuition fees at University or Bar School as the Council paid them. I even got a grant as Uni (as did everyone if your parents weren’t rich) and left with no debts (no even student loans). The only risk I had to take was a £12,000 Bank Loan to see me through Bar School and my unfunded 1st Six.

This wasn’t much of a risk really as I knew I would qualify, earn okay money in Second Six and even if I had to squat for a few years (which most of us did) I’d at least pay off my debt and earn at least a reasonable wage whilst I did so. That did make it a lot easier for people of all backgrounds to at least try to make a go of being a barrister.

If I’d failed to get into Bar School, I’d have done something else instead. But I didn’t have to put myself in any debt until I’d got to the stage where I knew I was going to at least qualify. That did seem a rather better system.


I am definitely stealing the “baby turtles run for the sea” analogy.

BPTC student

That’s fair enough, but I think we’re making two different points which are not mutually exclusive.

You’re saying the old system was better/easier/nicer/less risky. I can’t comment from my own experience of course, but from what you and others say it does sound less risky.

I’m saying that whatever the system is, it is not a secret. The costs and the odds are well known. It is also well known what it takes to make it, if one takes a moment to browse CVs of recent tenants at one’s target sets.

We can discuss whether the system should be changed, but I’m merely saying that whatever the system is, it is not a “problem” that adults make conscious decisions to buy into it and then find themselves having to play a game whose rules they had [constructive] notice of.

By the way, I don’t accept the analogy with doctors and dentists. The NHS is struggling, and the people in there, fantastic though they are at trying their best, are hopelessly overworked. As a society, we need more dentists and doctors, so we bloody well should pay for them to train. That’s rather different to barristers.


My point on Doctors was more that Medical Schools set the number of places available in proportion to the number of doctors needed. They make it hard to get in and hard to pass, so you don’t have a load of unemployed doctors at the end of the course.

The reason there is currently a shortage of Doctors is the govenment cut the number of places at medical school in 2010. Then said in 2015 that they were going to increase the number of doctors in the NHS (forgetting that even if you increase the number of places at medical school it takes five years for those students to become doctors). Hence there is currently a shortage of doctors.

Whilst there isn’t a shortage of barristers, there is no reason why the legal profession could not do the same. If the demand is for say 500 new barristers per year, then you limit the places at bar school to 500 per year in the same way medics do.

The comparision would be lowering the A level requirements for medical school and allowing private companies to offer as many places at medical school as they liked. You would then have a large number of unemployed doctors (and some very rich private companies) at the end of medical school, as there would be insufficent F1 places (the doctor’s equivillent of pupillage) for the student doctors coming through medical school to qualify.


Thank you; a good reminder that things are not necessarily tougher than they used to be r.e. tenancy. I mean, it took Sumption two years!

Old lag

Your experience is similar to mine, a decade earlier. The cut off was not pupillage, but tenancy, or at least a tenancy where you would be a net earner.

One vital point however, when you say “It isn’t that it’s harder to qualify as a barrister now than it was 20 years ago” I know what you mean, but in one important respect, that’s not true: as you say later, it’s a question of actually being qualified. A BPTC graduate with no pupillage is not a “barrister” – you can only call yourself that after pupillage (or humiliate yourself by calling yourself a “non-practising barrister”).

In the old days full qualification was achievable, and at least it meant that those who did not get a tenancy could become employed barristers. Now, with pupillages almost matching tenancies, there is no new blood coming into the employed Bar and a lot of unhappy BPTC graduates. The old system of a cheap, monopolist Bar School course and unpaid but plentiful pupillages seems like the good old days.


Not strictly true. A person can use the title barrister after they have been Called, so long as they do not do so in connection with the provision of legal services in which case the term ‘unregistered barrister’ must be used.


The dream


true but that’s pretty naff – if you have not done pupillage you are never going to convince any of us who have that you really are a barrister, just kidding yourself and you know inside your not a barrister.


Fair point. I should have said “make it” as a barrister rather than qualify. But that was the difference when we qualified.

If you were not any good, you got filtered out at the Bar School stage, as Bar School was a not for profit organisation run by the Inns, rather than a business run to make money from students.

If you made it to Bar School, you still only had a 10% chance of being able to pursue a career as a self-employed barrister in Chambers long term, because that is a hard thing to do and the Bar never has been an easy option.

You needed to be good. But you also need to be lucky in picking up solicitors and building a practise. But by applying the filter at the Bar School stage, if you got into Bar School, then you’d qualify and if you didn’t make it at the Bar, or just decided that having got into practise it wasn’t for you with all the uncertainties of being self-employed, you would at least have qualified and could use your qualification to do something else.

It would be better for all concerned if we returned to applying the filter at the Bar School stage.


Only two of the providers are ‘for profit’.

The others are a Russell Group University (Cardiff), City and a clutch of post 1992 institutions. They don’t filter. In fact the two for profit providers have the best pupillage rates along with City.

ICSL didn’t filter for quality in any meaningful way. They had about a hundred more places than pupillages. There’s lots of mediocre Barristers from that era so perhaps we can stop pretending that the system worked as a filter of quality.

The Inns aren’t talking about filtering either.

If the Bar is deadly serious about restricting the Bar course to those with pupillage, they need to fall into line and have a single recruitment timetable. They could force the issue but won’t because members of the Bar always know best.


Barristers cannot do anything about it anymore than doctors can control what the GMC does. It is down to the BSB / GMC to set training policy.

Both professions have the same issue. 90% of wannabe doctors / barristers will not make it, as there are vastly more people who want to be doctors / barristers than there are jobs for doctors / barristers available. Moreover, both are difficult jobs and not everyone who wants to be a doctor / barrister has the ability to do.

90% of applicants will fail to achieve their ambition. The only issue is, what’s the best way to deal with that?

A teaching hospital with 500 F1 Positions available and 2,000 applications for Medical School, does not admit all 2,000 applications into Medical School, allow them to proceed through the 1st 4 years of training and put themselves £40,000 in debt and then say “Well done you’ve all passed your first four years on medical training. But we only have enough F1 Positions for 25% of you to qualify as doctors. 75% of you will have wasted your time and will never qualify. But hey you all had the chance to qualify. Check out Medical Cheek on the best ways to bag an F1 position and maybe some of you will qualify.”

Instead, what a training hospital does, is say. Okay we have 2,000 applicants for Medical School. But whatever we do, we only have 500 F1 positions, so only 500 of those applicants can actually qualify as doctors. We will therefore keep the standards for admission to Medical School very high. We won’t admit 2,000 wannabe doctors. We will admit the best 500 to Medical School. All those we admit will therefore qualify as doctors as long as the pass the course.

The BSB adopted the let everyone do Bar School Model and then filter them out at the pupillage stage.

I’m am suggesting, that the Medics chose the better way and this was also the way the Bar used to do it.


I’m sure you mean well and there’s some truth in what you say but this is the danger of the Bar commenting on legal education.

There aren’t 3000-4000 at Bar School and there never have been. It’s this sort of rumour that does the rounds that obscures the real problem with our qualification system.

There are about 1700 at Bar School. One third will return to their home jurisdiction. Of the remaining 1100-1200 they compete for about 450 pupillages. This article seems to have missed all the non gateway pupillages in the name of headlines.

The problems with qualification are

1. Almost anyone can get onto the BPTC with a 2:2

2. Mini pupillages aren’t assessed giving people more false hope

3. Chambera ought to fess up that without an Oxbridge or Russell Group 1/2:1 your chance of pupillage are smaller than a microbe.


Hmm. Well I had a quick look on the Legal Cheek most list and even with several organisations being listed as “undisclosed” for number of places, it still adds up to 2,100 when you include the part time numbers. I suspect it is more than that adding in the undisclosed numbers.

Even on that figure though, that is 10 people at Bar School per pupillage. Even on your figure its about 7 people at Bar School per pupillage. It’s always been the case that a certain number of students do not intend to practice in the UK. When I did Bar School though the fees were fixed at £3,500 (about £7,000 in today’s money), the total number of places capped at 900 and you had to have a 2.1 to even apply for a place.

As you say and I agree, a minimum 2.2 entry requirement is part of the problem. I don’t think any Chambers has ever said, it’ll be fine and find you’ll get a pupillage with a 2.2.

The problem is there is now a massive imbalance between the number of people at Bar School and the demand for new barristers which was not the case 20 years ago as the places at bar school were restricted. This meant the cut-off was before you paid out a ton of money in course fees rather than after. You could always re-apply to bar school if you didn’t get in first time. But that didn’t cost you any money in the way, that doing Bar School and then applying for pupillage does.

Even on your numbers, work available for the bar to do would have to be increasing by 17% per year every year for everyone at bar school to get a pupillage.

It isn’t and I don’t think any practitioner has ever said it is.

The pupillage gateway figure shows oversubscription by a 10 to 1 margin. Your point that other pupillages are out there is of course completely valid, but it doesn’t change the numbers in terms of applicants versus pupillages as all the gateway applicants can of course also be applying for all the non-gateway pupillages.

Barristers do have a better idea of the level of work available to the bar than students or Bar School teachers. Students do not have to listen to us if they don’t want to. It makes no odds to practitioners how many students chose to go to bar school. But the current system of having the number of places completely out of kilter with the demand for new barristers only benefits the course providers.


1. Instead of using this site and it’s dubious use of statistics, try the actual data published by the BSB each year:

2. The number of Bar School places when ICSL had the monopoly was very loosely capped and the number not comparable with today given that those who intend to return home did a different exam that wasn’t part of the cap

3. You did not need a 2:1 minimum to apply to ICSL. The rule has been a 2:2 minimum for as long as a degree was a requirement to be called to the Bar.

4. Massive imbalance? For pupillage yes? For tenancy? As you’ve explained, not as much. More tenancies now than before.

5. The numbers are horrific but I don’t really get the point of this story. The 14516 number is fairly meaningless as is the 224 when it’s not the total number of pupillages available. Assuming there are another 225 pupillages out there and everyone in the gateway has applied for 7 of those, the ratios stay the same.

6. I’m a Barrister and while I’m sure I know more about the market than most Bar School tutors, I also have colleagues in chambers who either (i) know virtually nothing or worse (ii) know nothing but think they know everything.

7. The current system is to the advantage of the providers. COIC could have introduced a model that would only be for those with pupillage but they didn’t. They too want a slice of the pie


Sorry to quibble, but when I did Bar School in 1994 it was automtic admission with a 2.1, but if you had less than a 2.1 you had to fill in a massive form justifing why you should be admitted, which in effect meant it was (almost) impossible to get in with less than a 2.1 as the number of places was restricted to 900. The minium requirement has been a 2.2 for donkeys years. But the practicle effect of the auto-admission with a 2.1 but discretionary with a 2.2 meant in reality you would not get into Bar School with less than a 2.1.

Ratios were as a result 900 students going for 800 pupillages. As you’ve pointed out some students didn’t intend to practise, which pretty much made it a 1:1 ratio in terms of people at Bar School to pupillages available.

It way outstrips that now (on any view of the figures). And that is due to changing the system from a not for profit system to a more people you get to do Bar School, the more money the Course Providers make.


Points 4 and 7 are not quite accurate. Whilst you may be correct that there are ‘more tenancies’ (I myself don’t know), drop out rates at the Young Bar are at a high, due at least in part to a lack of work (or perhaps, ‘good’ work). I appreciate this may be more of an issue in certain practice areas, but it is enough of a general issue that the Chair of the Bar and others have called it the greatest threat to the profession.

COIC have not failed to offer a more suitable and rigorous training model because ‘they want a slice of the pie’. If you read through the 2017-18 consultations on Future Bar Training, and responses from the profession and COIC, you will see that an alternative training model delivered by COIC/ICCA is very much on the cards. I can only imagine that redesigning a course which, although not conceptually challenging, is demanding to teach (the skills modules at least), will take time to develop, and then time for the BSB to approve.


Even more shocking if you factor in the pupils eventually taken on as tenants. At my set, pupils with pre-existing legal connections always get favoured over those with none even if they are less legally able.


You should at the very least mention what kind of set it is; otherwise you’re just trolling.


If only there were some way a member of Chambers could do something about that…


Presumably they tick the “likely to succeed in practice” box …


What’s the big deal? They should count themselves lucky not becoming barristers. Very many practising barristers are deeply unhappy individuals. Failed marriages, divorces, unhappy domestic lives, multiple affairs, mental health problems, drink and drug addictions … Can’t afford to live in proper areas of town or send children to decent public schools. The profession is definitely not what young people think it is when they sign up for it.


What has happened to Legal Cheek? Students “bag” a pupillage. Preferably with a “top barrister.”


And nothing about how many applicants are men and how many are women. And if there is even one women fewer, outrage and a headline about it.

Also, how will Lady Hale know her nickname if you don’t even mention her, and use it here?

Finally, I struggle with any articles that lacks memes.

I am very disappointed in you Legal Cheek.

E –


This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.


the beyonce of the uk legal system


Neigh! Neigh!


It’s off to the glue factory with you!


9 applicants per pupillage, that’s not actually that bad.


You using the wrong statistic though.

Presumably you took the 2089 pupillage applicants and divided it by 224 pupillages.

You need to be bare in mind that each of those people made about 6.95 applications.

That leaves you with around 14518 applications made. That means in fact is more like 64.8 applications per place.


When you think about it in terms of 8 out of those 9 won’t get a pupillage, having spent considerable time and money getting themselves into a position where they are able to apply, it’s not great.

BPTC student

It’s not about numbers. I lost count of how many times I’ve heard that “it’s a numbers game”. No it is not, because pupillages are not given out in a random lottery draw.

A top set like One Essex Court or Wilberforce gets some 100-120 applications. Weak common law sets get some 300. By your logic, it’s harder to get the latter pupillage.


That seems pretty low for OEC/Wilberforce etc! I’d expect many more people with no chance of getting pupillage in such sets to apply anyway – “for the heck of it”.


But its true. Those sets only have about 100-120 applications.


Maybe the answer lies in the direct way they set out their academic criteria.
Wilberforce: “We have a minimum requirement of a 2.1 degree”
20 Essex: “typically, although not invariably, that means that they will have or expect a first class degree.”
One Essex Court “Applicants for pupillage should ordinarily have obtained (or expect to obtain) a first class degree.”
Essex Court academic criteria : “A first class degree is not a requirement. Applicants are required to have obtained, or be predicted to obtain, at least a 2:1 degree; […] These mandatory requirements may be waived in wholly exceptional circumstances.”


It’s not a great prospect though.

Miserable for TCs too if you consider that at some firms like the top US shops you’re looking at 5-10 spots from an original application pool of around 1000.


The legal services market is far too crowded – it’s a major world jurisdiction, so it’s not just people from England and Wales competing for the top spots. Pros and cons.


It really is time that people intending to practise in England & Wales are prohibited from taking the BPTC until they have secured pupillage. Barristers’ sets can tailor their hiring processes accordingly. Is there any other profession where daylight-robbery is committed as openly as it is here?!

The Pragmatist

This is the most sensible comment I have ever read on the legal cheek site. I applaud you and wonder why the hell the Bar Council don’t have the bollocks to take this simple but common sense approach. My suggestion would be why not have a two year pupilage with one day a week release for the BPTC. This is something I’m doing with my training contract and LPC at the same time.


The main objection to this sensible and pragmatic proposal tends to come from barristers who successfully applied for pupillage during the BPTC themselves.

Not Amused

That’s not true. The Bar have supported attempts to end the profiteering by BPTC providers.

The main block are the regulators. Who also happen to receive large sums of money from said BPTC providers.


Sorry NA, but that’s wrong. In the recent Future bar training consultation the Bar overwhelming supported “the Inns’ proposal’. However, the Bar wasn’t supporting limiting BPTC to those who already have pupillage.


But the reason the profession supported the COIC proposal was because we know (from experience) thatanything that would be inconsistent with the BSB’s market ideology (ie restricting numbers on the BPTC) will not get off off the starting block for that reason. The profession’s response was a pragmatic reaction to the regulator’s fixation on competition that Not Amused identifies. (I have never agreed with NA before now.)

Not Amused

I will be making T shirts with the printed message “But I only agreed with Not Amused this one time …”


The Bar wants an Inns course. The BSB believe in the false “consumer choice” of multiple providers ratcheting up course fees for crap quality & little hope.


That’s what the Legal Services Act requires. Blame the last Labour government.


Crap quality? Shall we ignore the fact that COIC advertised for people to write the new course and instead of taking practitioners, have recruited (so the rumour goes) people who currently teach on said crap courses?


Some barristers and judges have business interests in the providers.


Really? Who?

Irish Barrister

Wow. We do it the opposite way – everyone gets a chance at devilling but no guaranteed work and huge fall off in early years.


Jeez that sounds awful; not a way to financial stability in youth, huh?!


How big is the Irish bar?


2,000 pints of Guinness a night, 12,000 punters going for them – it’s a nightmare!


But the Irish Bar is Mickey Mouse stuff, I’m afraid.


Quite. Those at the Irish Bar have about as much credibility as those muppets working in offshore law firms.


Yeah, when Brexit comes your shitty little sets and overblown, fat, ugly, pompous tenants with personality disorders who only get anywhere by kissing QC ass will banging on Dublin’s doors for admission. To which we will politely say “no thank you, we don’t let peddlers in”.

Michael Mouse QC

What’s wrong with that?

Lady Justice

The reduction in applications per person could be because of the additional questions that chambers now asks too? Each chambers now seems to have at least one unique question, such a ‘tell us about a failure’ or ‘tell us about your favourite case’. That will all take extra time and effort to complete.


If having to answer one additional question is enough to put off a candidate you have to worry about that candidate’s chances!


At this rate i will never get one.

Jones Day Partner

Come to my office, everyone “gets one” here ;-0


I think the most effective way to deal with the problem is to make the entry in the Bar school more challenging and difficult .BPTC or BTT is too easy to get in .Anyone with a 2:2 can get in the course . I think only way to tackle the problem is to raise the standards . Only people with 2:1 with sufficient experience should be allowed in the Bar school .

I think after passing the bar school, and not being called as a barrister just because the candidate could not manage a pupillage is totally unfair and bit hypocritical as well .After spending so much time and resources if a student is not even allowed to practice and earn than what is the use . It diminishes respect one has on the system and also raises an important question as to whether the system is effective by the most competent people . The decision makers should and must understand that it’s not easy to shift from one track to the other and start something which you have never done before .


Even easier would be to limit Bar School to people with pupillage as one poster suggested above. Never going to happen though.
Incidentally the BSB’s own statistics suggest that out of all pupillage, only 1 went to sombeody with less than a 2.1 (and I would imagine they had truly exceptional circumstances).


Yeah, they were someone’s son/daughter.


Everyone is someone’s son or daughter

Sam said

My dad got me my pupilage, I think that will haunt me to my death bed!

Join the conversation

Related Stories