Advice

My pupillage supervisor is treating me like his personal assistant

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Is this normal?

In the latest instalment of our Career Conundrums series, one pupil explains how she feels more like a PA than a barrister in training.

“Hi Legal Cheek. I am not long into my pupillage at a chambers (outside London) and my supervisor is already driving me up the wall. I feel like more of a personal assistant than a barrister in training. Coffee runs and fetching his lunch are common daily errands. On one occasion I even had to collect his dry-cleaning! I’d really like to hear from other pupils. Surely this can’t be normal?!”

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62 Comments

Anonymous

Is this normal? Probably

Anonymous

Any idea what’s the current NQ rate at Kaplan Hecker & Fink? Really wanna work there

Anonymous

About tree fiddy

Anonymous

Top top firm

Anonymous

Are they good for magic circle international debt capital markets work?

Anonymous

Who the f*** keeps on digging up these firms? Starting to really crack me up!! Top bantz

Anonymous

Poor form. Certainly not a typical experience!

Lord Spaffalot QC, Ballsack Chambers

There’s a whole lot more what we require from our Pupils…

Anonymous

No. This is not normal. It was expressly covered at the pupil supervisor training that I undertook at Middle Temple, and doubtless at the other Inns, too.

Anonymous

Yes, completely normal.

I did Costa coffee runs, laundry and dry cleaning pick ups, and all manner of skivvery.

SUCK IT UP, PEASANT!

Anonymous

If you’re not being asked to pay for the coffee etc………….

Anonymous

I can anticipate the Head of Pupillage Committee’s response, “I’m not sure…not really…maybe…”

Anonymous

Yes it is normal. Get over it.

❄️

Anonymous

Pupils are not PAs for their pupil masters/mistresses.

On the other hand, offering to make tea when you’re making one for yourself, giving a hand with papers when heading to court etc, is just common courtesy.

john mcguiggan

it’s the unwritten law

Anonymous

If this was a one-off, then there’s little cause for complaint in my view. We’ve all been in situations where you’re at Court with your supervisor and he or she is up against it with work, so you pop out to fetch some lunch or a coffee. If you didn’t have a pupil, you simply wouldn’t eat lunch that day (as can happen from time to time).

The fact that this is described as a “common daily errand” seems to me to be beyond what is acceptable.

More difficult is the question of what you should do about it.

If you complain to HoC, the supervisor is likely to resent you, and there will be a question of you “making a mountain out of a molehill”.

It’s really awkward and unpleasant, but I think that you should have a word with the supervisor himself. Try and do it in a constructive way. If he’s got any integrity at all, he should respect the fact that you’ve stood up to him and also be grateful that you haven’t complained to Chambers. Also, if he ignores your complaint, it puts you in a stronger position if you have to go to HoC.

Alternatively, suck it up. This has to be a judgment call on your part.

Anonymous

“If he’s got any integrity…”

Lol

Ex Barrister

Pupillage is a very strange time. Coffee and lunch runs are quite normal, although not every day. My supervisor would often get the coffee so while I probably did it more, it didn’t feel like I was her skivvy.

Other personal errands are not good form in my view, but quite common. My supervisor’s room mate seemed to think that it was perfectly acceptable to get me to do various errands which was really annoying as you know that they have you over a barrel with voting etc.

Anonymous

Youre a jack of all trades for the year. Legal research through to office junior work is commonplace. Your pupil supervisor probably experienced similar during their pupillage.

Suck it up as a character building experience. Doing a few secretarial type tasks will keep you grounded.

Anonymous

Pupils should not be the office

Anonymous

Wait..the word b**ch was censored – might as well remove the entire, now non-sensical, comment.

Anonymous

“character building” is the ultimate excuse for everything ranging from taking cold showers in the morning to bullying

love it

Anonymous

… to old style public school buggery

Katie's wannabe lover

Ahh. Those were the days

Anonymous

It depends. If your pupilmaster is up the wall then yes, it’s your job to help out in any way you can – and that includes fetching coffee and a sandwich. Juniors frequently do the same for their leaders during hearings – when your leader is trying desperately to find a quiet corner away from solicitors/clients to work through the lunch adjournment and get the cross up for the afternoon, then absolutely you should run out to pick something up for him. During high pressure periods it’s about being helpful and considerate, because although you may have been heavily involved in the prep and all the work leading up to this stage, there is often little that you can further contribute on the day.

On the other hand, if this is simply routine every single day – and all your pupilmaster is doing is reading papers at a leisurely pace in Chambers – then I agree it’s poor form. He should either leave you to your own devices or walk with you to get some lunch (even if all you are doing is going to Pret together). Will you have more than one pupilmaster during your pupillage? If you will move on from this one, I would be inclined just to suck it up for the time being since the next one will probably be better – as the posts above note, this behaviour is officially discouraged by the Inns’ training.

Anonymous

As a pupil myself, I can’t say that I’ve had the same experience. I have only ever had to make coffee/lunch run once and my supervisor has been really kind to me.

Whilst it may be a tad demeaning, I would say that you will probably just have to accept it. I’d advise against making any waves, especially if that’s how the tenants have previously been treated as pupils as you might be regarded (however unjustifiable) as a ‘snowflake’ that can’t handle Pupillage.

Also, to put a positive spin on it, think of these errands as easy wins! It’s easy to impress when you are doing menial tasks and it will show that you can be a team player!

Anonymous

Definitely not normal.

The pupillage handbook (paragraph 14.2) states:

“The imposition of unskilled work on pupils is inappropriate (eg excessive photocopying, running shopping errands) and undermines the purpose of pupillage”.

You don’t need to complain to anyone if your supervisor asks you to pick up your dry-cleaning – just tell them that you are not going to do it.

I think I fetched coffee three times and lunch twice during my twelve-month pupillage.

Anonymous

Meanwhile in the real world…

You’ve just kissed goodbye to your chances of tenancy!

Great advice 👍

Anonymous

I don’t understand why everyone is so keen to be a toadying little mouse during pupillage. I wouldn’t have stood for it at all – didn’t stop me getting tenancy.

Cross examiner

“I wouldn’t have stood for it” suggests it didn’t happen to you.

Therefore how do you know it wouldn’t have stopped you getting tenancy?

Anonymous

Not normal and would be deeply frowned upon in my chambers (London commercial set). I’d say picking up sandwiches in the lunch break of a court hearing, where the supervisor is working over the break, is an exception. There’s no excuse for being asked to pick up lunch if the supervisor is in chambers though, even if busy. Dry cleaning is even further over the line.

Sadly, though, I would advise against complaining unless you are not being given adequate work and training aside from this. If you can manage to subtly mention it to other members of chambers without seeming to complain they might take up your case (I certainly would if I learned that a pupil in my chambers was treated like this). “Oh sorry, can’t stop to chat, I have to go pick up Roger’s dog from the vet…”

Dreaming of an exit

This is really good advice. Useful for sols too, I like how you suggest slipping in the stupid errand in normal chat. Getting the point out there without complaining. My only fear is if word got out a partner was asking me to get his lunch, the other partners would try to get in on the act also. The majority of those psychopaths won’t do ish to stop it.

Anonymous

I think depending on the set sadly this behaviour can be common especially in sets outside Chambers. My focus would be getting through the year and tenancy, there are far worse things to be doing and at the end of the day finish pupillage and get qualified. Complaining would be a risk, not only for your reputation in Chambers but outside, do not forget the bar is a small world and people talk. You could be doing yourself and your career irreparable harm.

Anonymous

Outside London not Chambers, should have proof read

Anonymous

Favours are normal to be asked, unless sexual. Sexual favours are not part and parcel of the job.

Attractive QC

Goes both ways

Anonymous

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

Anonymous

BSB looks after the senior end of the Bar very nicely.

Anonymous

Getting the coffees in is nothing. Do it and shut up.

Collecting lunch and dry cleaning is demeaning. Sadly there is little you can do about this.

Keep asking for challenging work like legal research and preparing documents such as skeleton arguments to remind your supervisor you can offer a lot more than a PA service.

Bar Bar Black Sheep

I think the question is, is this all you are doing for him? I did a fair bit of this for my supervisor. He was always grateful and I never felt that he was taking advantage, I was just being helpful. Provided he is giving you some decent work and you are learning from his practice then you probably just need to suck it up.

Anonymous

My experience as a pupil was dreadful. Without question, the worst year of my life.

You are treated like utter sh1t, and they resent paying you too.

“Well, I wasn’t paid £60k, when I did pupillage in 1993…”

In 1993, you could buy a house in Notting Hill for fvck all too

Anonymous

In 1993 you could comfortably buy a family home in Islington for less than £60k, true.

But the response should really be to laugh, and welcome their attempting to hire someone who can tie their own shoelaces by offering the pupillage minimum or whatever it was they offered in 1993.

Notting

“In 1993, you could buy a house in Notting Hill for fvck all too”

But hey, we need more rich migrants right … ?

Anonymous

No this is not normal and not acceptable. What can you do about it? If this was an exam question I’d say complain to the Head of the pupilage committee. This is not an exam however so I’ll say it depends. If your supervisor is very influential or this is standard practice for your chambers there’s nothing you can do that won’t hurt your chances of tenancy. You’ve already beaten some really bad odds to get pupilage. The holy grail that is full qualification and tenancy is in reach. So many people would kill to get this close are you really prepared to risk it now? It sucks but that’s the way of the world.

Anonymous

Sounds like “clerks work” to me!

Anonymous

I was only asked to do coffee/lunch runs for my supervisor and his clients when we were at court and he was working through lunch. I don’t consider it unreasonable in those circumstances and it wasn’t a regular occurrence. Large set outside London.

Anonymous

At least you are not babysitting their kids….

Anonymous

Why was the one about a chambers that was an LC sponsor deleted?

It didn’t even name the Chambers!

Anonymous

You mean the northern superset where pupils are expected to make the coffee at lunchtime and sit in silence while they eat, only speaking if spoken to by one of the tenants?

How is that outing, unless they recognised themselves and contacted LC to remove a truthful post?

Hmmm….

Anonymous

This actually happens in 2018? I know the north can be a couple of years behind London at times, but this takes the biscuit.

Northerner in Exile

Things about the North:

1. In Preston the taxis still have CB radios.

2. On the railway line from Barrow to Carlisle the trains are pulled by diesel engines so old they once worked alongside steam engines.

3. In some parts of Liverpool and Manchester you can still buy a 3 bedroom house and have change from £100K.

4. In the nicer parts of Merseyside you will find police wearing white shirts and ties but no stab vests.

5. You will still find sandwich shops that charge less than £1 for a sandwich and less than £1 for a tea or coffee throughout the North.

6. On Wirral there are carpet shops that charge “per square yard”.

7. The Mersey Ferries are still covered by local public transport tickets even though you can also cross the river by bus, train and car.

8. Black pudding isn’t an optional extra on a full English breakfast- it comes as standard.

9. If someone sits next to you on a train or bus and strikes up a conversation they aren’t (usually) trying to cadge money, sexually harass you, stab you, nor do they have mental health issues- they’re just being friendly (nearly everyone does it).

10. Northerners aren’t as worried about giving or taking offence. There’s a general view that everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

The above might explain why Northern pupillages can be a bit old fashioned.

Anonymous

If it was me, I’d exchange Chambers for another one…

Crime pupil

I’ve worked in banking and politics before and I can honestly say the last three months of my life/career have been the worst I’ve ever had. This is very tame compared to some of the sh*t I’ve had from my supervisor and chambers. Bullying, unethical behaviour, absurd tasks like printing until 11pm are all run of the mill in my chambers. I am very very close to making a report to the BSB.

Anonymous

Lower than 5, greater than 3?

Anonymous

Sadly, the Chambers has all the power in this situation…

Anonymous

All the Lawrence?

Was a Lawyer now a bus driver.

This is not normal. My first port of call is to call the police. And if that does not work, resign and become a bus driver like I did. Hope this helps.

Now at Employed Bar

I did my Pupillage in the unpaid days so the rules at lunchtime etc were simple. He paid for us both but I did the leg work. Struck me as fair.

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