Why I am in favour of unpaid pupillages

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The regulator needs to update its approach

Long ago, the recruitment of pupils saw aspiring barristers ask directly for pupillage and, if lucky, offered one on the spot. Today it is all about regulation, regulation, regulation, much courtesy of the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

One key area of regulation is the remuneration of pupils. The BSB makes it very clear that all pupillages should be paid, unless a chambers has applied for a waiver from funding (which is rare). The BSB seem to suggest that these rules protect those who are economically disadvantaged, as those who are deemed privileged would gain an unfair advantage. However, this is a myth.

At a time where the hot topic is ‘social mobility’, where individuals from ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds are encouraged to pursue a career at the bar, the disadvantaged may find that access is still not possible. Pupillage spots are highly competitive, postgraduate barrister education is extortionate and there are limited work experience placements out there. I think the regulator is, in fact, obstructing access by imposing a ban on unpaid pupillages, halting aspiring barristers from gaining a vital practising certificate which can open so many doors for them.

I have noticed of late a trend of individuals using their extra, sometimes unpaid, experience to fast track their career. One chambers a few years ago advertised for pupils who could complete a reduced pupillage. This would only be available to a select few, who could demonstrate they have the requisite experience. By way of further example, another barrister was called to the English bar but undertook further study and was called to the Irish bar and subsequently devilled in Ireland (devilling in Ireland is unpaid). After only a few years in Ireland, she recently returned and is now a tenant at a West Midlands set.

These examples demonstrate that having the economic means to fund the ‘right’ experience or pursue opportunities abroad can allow access to the bar via the back door. This is the authorised form of the unpaid pupillage for those who have the financial means and opportunities. Surely the BSB, by allowing such exemptions, flies in the face of protecting the economically disadvantaged.

The 2018 Chambers Most List

So, if the BSB is allowing people to qualify in England and Wales on the back of unpaid experience sometimes gained abroad, why not introduce unpaid pupillages here?

The costs, clearly, would be far lower for chambers, and therefore encourage them to take on more pupils. Chambers do not have to offer me tenancy at the end of it, but having my practising certificate could open so many doors beyond just having fancy-sounding titles but with no professional qualifications.

The BSB finds it acceptable for individuals such as myself, who have ‘spent’ £48,000 on obtaining qualifications and who are capable of succeeding at the bar, to accumulate debt or spend this level of money to even be eligible for pupillage, but deem it unacceptable for me to have to pay a fraction more to support myself through an unpaid pupillage. It seems illogical to me. I hope the BSB will consider my points and can appreciate the positive arguments supporting unpaid pupillages, articulated by someone who ticks all of their ‘socially disadvantaged’ boxes.

I don’t believe, however, that funded pupillages should cease. Instead, I think they should still exist and to eradicate them would be unwise. Chambers could even offer paid pupillages as well as unpaid pupillages. There would be a bigger pool of candidates to choose from at the end of the pupillage, and if they decide to keep an unpaid pupil perhaps they could choose to pay them the level of pupillage award they would have been paid to reward their efforts.

Let me be clear. I was aware, even before embarking on the bar course, of the challenges and the odds associated with obtaining pupillage.

I began the LLB as a mature student and fall within the BSB’s label of ‘disadvantaged’, coming from a working class, first-generation immigrant Indian family, with no connection to the legal community and having been educated at inner city state schools. Yet, I have always been determined to make it as a barrister. I gained some fantastic experience and was able to network well, meeting some very kind barristers and judges who helped me along the way.

Just to get myself this far has involved considerable expense. A student loan of £20,000 to fund my law degree, a bank loan for the bar course of £20,000 including interest and £8,000 for my LLM, which was funded by part-time employment stacking shelves in a supermarket. I was fortunate to have secured a couple of scholarships along the way but nonetheless it has been an expensive journey. But I’d rather it be a slightly more expensive journey and have a practising certificate in hand.

Bar Hopeful has completed the Bar Professional Training Course and is currently working in a non-legal role.

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Correct me if wrong, but back in the “good old days” didn’t sets just take on hordes of pupils as unpaid labour and then end up giving none of them tenancies? Tenancy being the real major sift point, as opposed to pupillage sounds like literally the worst thing imaginable.



I think the point is probably that once you’ve completed pupillage, you can at least practise, whereas without a pupillage you’ve got an expensive vocational qualification without any genuine value. After pupillage, you might not get taken on at a set that values it reputation or is protective of junior tenants’ interests, but there are plenty of sets that just want bums on seats and are willing to take anyone on if they think they can pay the rent.



That’s absolutely right.

If you force sets to invest in trainees, they have the incentive to open up their practices to new members.

Going back to unpaid pupillages sounds appalling.



I agree. I am fortunate to be starting pupillage at a commercial/chancery set in London next year. I have a similar background to the OP and, even though I have worked as a solicitor beforehand, I couldn’t contemplate doing pupillage if it was unpaid. In reality, the OPs idea would favour the wealthy and disincentivize chambers from retaining pupils.



No, they didn’t take hoards of people. There were about 800 to 900 hundred pupillages, a mix of paid – unpaid ones for about 2000 people. There were only 4 or so BVC providers and the whole thing was much more humane, you actually had a chance to qualify. The increased number of BVC providers, now called BTCP? Is the biggest scam of all. This year apparently 15000 people applied for 224 places!

That idiot who went to court to make paid pupillaged compulsary ruined us all. Find her give her a piece of your mind.



I can imagine a large and varied number of things worse than tenancy being the major sift point.



Your figures are deceptive. You say that you need to spend £48,000 to be eligible for pupillage. You break that figure down into £20,000 for a law degree, £20,000 for the bar course, and £8,000 for an LLM. You do not need an LLM to do a pupillage. You do need to do the bar course before pupillage, but there is no reason to start the bar course without having already secured a pupillage in advance, or a substantial Inn scholarship.

I started my LLB as a mature student as well, from a working-class background and having studied at state schools. I had no connection with the ‘legal community’. I never felt remotely disadvantaged in any way whatsoever in the pupillage application process and am now halfway through a commercial chancery pupillage. I certainly wouldn’t have gambled £20k of my own money on the BPTC without a pupillage in hand.

I think your suggestion is misconceived. A pupillage without a tenancy at the end of it is not particularly valuable. If the BSB permits unfunded pupillage then the pupillage numbers will increase dramatically without any commensurate (or any at all) increase in the number of tenancies. If you are unable to obtain pupillage now, I suggest that you are unlikely to obtain tenancy under your proposed system, and the end result will be that you have wasted another year’s living expenses with no end result, and instead of being £48k in the hole you are £70k in the hole (or whatever it is).



“I started my LLB as a mature student as well, from a working-class background and having studied at state schools. I had no connection with the ‘legal community’. I never felt remotely disadvantaged in any way whatsoever in the pupillage application process and am now halfway through a commercial chancery pupillage.”

One of my current LLB students has a similar background and also has ambitions towards commercial Chancery practice. Would you be willing to have a conversation with him? If so, please email me at Thank you.



Wow well good for you(!)



Typical example of someone ‘trying’ and using a connection. Why doesn’t your student get off his a*** and go to events and start networking!


bundle of authorities

I am sceptical towards your comment that ‘a pupillage without a tenancy at the end of it is not particularly valuable.’

It implies that rights of audience stem from tenancy and not from completion of the BPTC and pupillage. Similarly, it would imply that completion of a training contract without retention is not particularly valuable, which I think you would agree is not the case. My understanding of the author’s point is that, following an unpaid pupillage, one would be able to tap into the ‘PQE’ sphere of opportunities which could be very rewarding for one’s professional development; if not by securing tenancy then through some other route.

Would it be harmful for the profession if some of the barriers to entry (by which I mean qualification) were lowered? That is perhaps a topic for another article.



I accept that I have forgotten most of what I learned in the BSB handbook already. I thought it was the case that a barrister of less than three years’ standing could not exercise rights of audience unless they were either (a) an employed barrister, or (b) their principal place of practice was from a chambers where there were more experienced barrister able to provide guidance to them.

I also recall that you cannot accept direct access instructions or conduct litigation if you are a barrister of less than three years’ standing unless, again, you practice from chambers or are an employed barrister. I don’t see that any solicitor is likely to instruct a tenancy-less junior barrister who is attempting to practice from home.

So, I think I stick by my earlier comment that a pupillage without a tenancy is virtually useless but I am happy to be corrected about what the Handbook says if I have misremembered.



rS20 IF you are a barrister of less than three years’ standing, you MAY only supply legal services to the public/exercise rights of audience OR conduct litigation by virtue of authorisation by the BSB, IF your principal place of practice is either: chambers or relevant organisation where a qualified person is readily available to provide guidance to you.



The figures are not deceptive, it is actually what has been spent. The whole point is on investing in a career. Not many who start the BPTC have pupillage and it is just that a gamble. You are correct you do not have to complete a LLM but for many chambers you do get marks for having this extra qualification. I think perhaps read the article properly and you may understand the point.



That’s not true. Once you complete your pupillage you can actually get a job. Pupillage is the real barrier. complete a pupillage then you are qualified and can get on with your life, either try your luck in independent practice or get a job, which you can with your qualification. Without the pupillage you are nobody with a lot of dept. That’s the reality.

As for the smugg person at the commercial set, unfortunately not all of us come from white rich families and oxbridge. There are many subjected to racism, ethnic discrimination and even sexism.

I still remember the CA judge who put his hand on my knee as if nothing….

Get real the present system is rigged to scam hopefuls at the Bar Course level, keep access to the profession to minimum. Nothing is really done for women, or ethnic minorities.

For those of you who shun the unpaid pupillages, I would like to see you a few years down the line, when you end up as a barrista instead of a barrister because you couldn’t qualify.



While it may well be true that, under the current rules, your chances of securing tenancy elsewhere after completing your pupillage are high, this applies to the biased sample of peoplewho convinced someone to pay them for a pupillage. Under the proposed rules, the average ability of people securing a pupillage would drop, so this would no longer hold true. The selection process may be flawed, but then you need to try and fix this, rather than just postponing until after the pupillage.



You are wrong, a pupillage is a pupillage and it qualifies you. That is the key. Tenancy is another matter. In the 80’s you only did pupillage to get a tenancy. In 2018 few people care about tenancy, they care about getting a job that pays the student dept and pays the bills.

There are many places a qualified barrister can work. No vacancies for un qualified Bar Course Graduates.

I spent years studying, doing mini pupillages, living in court rooms… result nothing. You get one big nothing because you are not qualified.



That is not the whole picture, a pupillage is a pupillage and it qualifies you. That is the key. Tenancy is another matter. In the 80’s you only did pupillage to get a tenancy. In 2018 few people care about tenancy, they care about getting a job that pays the student dept and pays the bills.

There are many places a qualified barrister can work. No vacancies for un qualified Bar Course Graduates.

I spent years studying, doing mini pupillages, living in court rooms… result nothing. You get one big nothing because you are not qualified.



i doubled my salary safely into the 100s just by being a bptc student and with no expectation of pupillage. so this post is rubbish. Call is sufficient to unlock many doors.



You hold the same opinion as my neighbour’s wheelie bin. It hasn’t been emptied in weeks.



“Bar Hopeful has completed the Bar Professional Training Course and is currently working in a non-legal role.”


Man with an opinion

Good spot. I wonder whether the “hopeful” works for the MoJ.



And you work where exactly?



Plenty of BPTC grads working in non legal roles. Its that or life on the dole. What a flippant comment.



But the BPTC, like the LPC, makes candidates for paralegal positions far more attractive, for example. This Bar Hopeful would be advised to try and gain some kind of paralegal position to keep his/her experience and trajectory coherent and relevant, if s/he’s in a position to do so.

Of course, some time working outside of the law is never a bad thing in itself, as long as the candidate’s CV still has coherence.



The only sets that would be interested in offering unpaid pupillages would be those that don’t have the resources to offer paid pupillages. Unpaid pupillages would likely only be offered by sets doing publicly funded work. The reason that those sets do not have the resources to offer the number of pupillages that they would like to offer (if that is in fact the case, I have no idea) is that there is not enough publicly funded work around. Allowing more students to qualify into these areas will not increase the amount of work available.



I’d say the problem is more the unpaid internships rather than the payment during pupilages, no?

By creating a competetive system that is built on rewarding the accumulation of unpaid experience, this in itself is the barrier.

Perhaps requiring firms to pay for this work, or at least having to indicate on an application the experience that was paid and that which was not, would go some way to removing these barriers.



This is true madness



“One chambers a few years ago advertised for pupils who could complete a reduced pupillage. This would only be available to a select few, who could demonstrate they have the requisite experience.”

I may be misunderstanding this comment, but coming as it does immediately after the sentence “I have noticed of late a trend of individuals using their extra, sometimes unpaid, experience to fast track their career,” I take it that you are implying that reduced pupillages are available for people who have done (for example) unpaid internships. They are not. The “experience” required to justify a reduction in pupillage is extensive. I transferred to the Bar having qualified as a solicitor and completed three years PQE in a relatively niche field that I have continued in. By recollection, I was entitled to reduce pupillage by three months (I confess I cannot recall the exact detail, the chambers I trained at insisted that I complete a full pupillage regardless – something I agreed to and, in hindsight, was absolutely the right thing to do – so the reduction was never actually relevant to me). In that context, I cannot imagine that a pupil would be granted even a day of reduction in return for some unpaid interning. The example you give of someone devilling in Ireland is both extremely niche and suggests that she too had extensive experience. You don’t mention it, but was she allowed to practice immediately in England, or did she have to complete some form of reduced pupillage when she transferred?

The only real, direct effect that abolishing the requirement pupillages to be paid will have is that the amount paid to pupils in some less-well-remunerated areas of law will dramatically fall – well below minimum, much less living wage. The knock on effect, of course, will be that pupillage will then become available only to those with the private means to live, work, travel and survive for a year without relying on their working income. In London, that will mean only the very richest students will be able to take on certain pupillages. Nothing could be worse for social mobility.



At this point after years of trying I would give my right arm to qualify. Don’t ever think you are different, that you’ll make it. You are better than those of us before you. You are not. Each year less and less chance of qualifying. The number of pupillages went down and the number of people applying goes up every year.

Those 15000 people who applied this year should be in front of the Parliament protesting…

Under the present system it is easier to become an MP than a barrister.



Sometimes people just have to accept that they have been unsuccessful. I think this is the fall out from a society were people are given awards for participation rather than results.
Unfortunately a number of people are just not prepared or cut out for the harsh reality of the real world.



Or the harsh realities of practising law at the top end, in a major jurisdiction!



>I think this is the fall out from a society were people are given awards for participation rather than results.

Participation trophies were not requested, they were given. This is not the fault of the current crop of hopefuls.


The Voice of the People (Returned)

Short version – I’ve gambled on my own success and (currently) fallen short. I could have been sensible and only taken the gamble at somebody else’s expense, with the odds in my favour – but I chose not to. I now want to continue throwing good money after bad in the hope I get a return in my original bet, and in doing so basically further inhibit those trying to access the profession from the same or similar backgrounds to me (who perhaps are not in a situation where they can go unpaid / stupid enough to be in a position where they have too). Long and short of it – don’t create a scramble to the bottom as it is ironically the people from the background you appear to champion which will lose out the most!


Mr. Charles

As a mature student I think maybe you have a point. But you are some one, presumably who has a job, life experience, perhaps a partner who can help support you. It may mean a year of unpaid work isn’t that bad to get what you want.

However, for the many who aren’t in that position, who are students straight out pf university with thousands of pounds worth of debt, it is not feasible. If you come from a non-traditional background it can’t be done. A re-itntroduction of unfunded pupillage, in the format suggested, would just to those with wealth and privellege, retaining their advantage. The idea is anti-freedom and anti-fairness.


Employed barrister

What you describe as non-feasible is in fact the lot in life of many Arts graduates, who, like law graduates, emerge from University with heavy debt and have to face the prospect of maybe a couple of years of precarious internships before getting a job that pays anything meaningful. Incurring debt for University seems to be accepted now as a fact of life, so why is an unpaid pupillage any worse? I think reasonable people can have different views on this, but to describe making unpaid pupillages available as “anti-freedom” is absurd – what you really mean is that the freedom to offer and accept unpaid pupillages should, in your view, be denied. Do please read a few books by Hayek before abusing that word again.

It might be that the commercial Bar has no need to return to the old days of unpaid pupillages and the publicly funded Bar has no need to bring in more hungry mouths to feed from the thin pickings currently available there, but there is a wider point that the Bar Council ought to take into account, which is replenishing the pool of employed barristers. The unpaid pupillage system produced a flow of barristers available to work in companies and Government, now there are very few coming through, which makes the guff about One Bar hard to take seriously.



Excellent points made. There was an article last week about the shortage of criminal practitioners and fears for the future. Those who genuinely want to practice in this area and are fully aware of earning perhaps below minimum wage why cant they if that’s what they want and choose to do.



Because they can’t do it. They are too much in debt to go through the early years of practice where you earn no money. This is not anything new. I qualified 20 years ago and spent my first three years in practise earning fuck all running round the Magistrates Court. It took me about 4 years to develop a Crown Court practice, at which point I started earning decent money. But I didn’t have to pay tuition fees and my Bar School fees were £4,000.

The CPS and SFO offer secondments paying £200 a day. Baby barristers sit there going through disclosure, but are not in Court are not developing their skills and are not building a practice because the can’t afford to spend the inevitable early years earning fuck all due to their debts. They then join the CPS or SFO rather than doing criminal legal aid work, which is why their is a massive shortage of new people doing defence work. We are all really old!



With BPTC fees at £19k and living costs (in London) at around £15k, students need to spend around £35k before they even start pupillage – that’s not even including LLB/GDL.

How the BSB think £35k for a pointless course enables social mobility more than in the past where the BVC cost £5k and pupillage was unfunded is beyond me.

Also don’t forget, in second six you keep what you earn. So we are really talking about 6 months unpaid.



Good point. I find it bizarre that those who continue to say unpaid pupillage is devastating for socially disadvantaged is basing it on what??? At what point does a socially disadvantaged person say ” I cannot pursue this because I cannot afford it?” The reality is you pay for your degree via student loan- why go to university? Truth is everything has a price. If you cannot afford to do the Bar or take the risk in taking a loan then that’s your choice. If someone wants to spend another £6000 either by taking another loan or through savings so what? if it means getting a practice certificate other than just a qualification.



If pupillages were unfunded then there would be many more pupillages offered and therefore many more junior barristers. This could be detrimental to the junior Bar because work would be spread more thinly and fees would drop.



What about the poor clerk who is ringing around chambers trying to find counsel to cover a case but then has to send it out of chambers? It happens everywhere and there may be individuals who would be happy taking on bits and pieces.



Follow the Scottish system, that way at least the barristers understand a solicitors practice.



The problem with that would mean that richer people still compete for the paid pupillages and people from working class backgrounds will get into more debt. That’s why the BSB won’t allow it – it’s about promoting equality as best they can.

Not to mention the difficulty getting tenancy if you have 10 juniors competing for it – it will create a very unpleasantly competitive bar, and a lot of people would just end up having spent more money ‘training’ without a job to go to.

To add to this, if you have 300 more juniors, it’s going to become more likely that work gets undercut. Juniors will be fighting for cases and be receiving significantly less (Working for a lot less than they are now) and finding it hard to progress



Are working class students already in debt compared to their wealthier classmates at uni and on the BPTC?



No. Just no.



I’d be more inclined to consider the arguments in this article if the points made had been well written and/or persuasive. You want to be an advocate? Then try making an argument that is persuasive, backed up by facts, takes into consideration the wider picture, addresses the inevitable criticisms and doesn’t just focus on you.


Criminal Solicitor 1 year PQE

Your LLM was a complete waste of time and money. More fool you.
Don’t bemoan your finances when you have wasted 8k on a worthless degree that does nothing for your competitive edge.



I feel sorry for your clients do you read their files like you read this article. You have totally missed the point.



In my view, the answer is:

1. The entry requirement for the BPTC is that you have secured pupillage (or sign a waiver that you don’t wish to practice at the Bar of E&W, for those who wish to practise abroad.)

2. Inns Scholarships are then awarded only to those that have secured pupillage, and are undertaking the BPTC. This will allow for scholarships of a greater value, which cover the full cost of the fees, and living allowances in London.

This means that the system is purely meritocratic and removes significant risk. If you are good enough to secure pupillage, you will have your fees covered when you undertake the BPTC. Get rid of small scholarships (below £15k) and award £25k+ to all those with pupillage secured to cover BPTC fees and living costs.

Currently, many undertake the BPTC without pupillage, on the basis that they feel that they will be better candidates by the end of it, or that if they haven’t completed it, disadvantaged against those who have. In reality, this means that those who can afford it, take a punt on doing the BPTC, in the hope that they can get pupillage down the line. Even with a scholarship of £15k, someone without family support or significant savings will have very little to live on, once fees are paid.

The very obvious risk of allowing unpaid pupillages is that it wildly favours those who can afford to complete them. The issue is that too many people do the BPTC who are simply not good enough to achieve pupillage. Allowing unpaid pupillages wont solve any issues, it will simply move the bottle neck from pupillage to tenancy, and mean that the richest people can afford to do pupillage, not the best.

Also, I cant imagine many (decent) sets are going to want to offer unpaid pupillages. All sets are putting up their pupillages awards to attract the best talent; none are lowering them because they are attracting too many good people and but financially cant afford to take them on.


Commercial barrister

Spot on.



Brilliant idea! I could get my practice certificate and if I am not offered tenancy it doesn’t matter I could then use it to qualify as a solicitor or even abroad. Its a good idea and I’m all for it.



Just what we need, more people competing to be solicitors…


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