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COVID-19: Financial uncertainty and tech woes force chambers to delay pupillage interviews

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But majority to go ahead as planned, says Bar Council

A number of chambers have been forced to delay their pupillage recruitment rounds this year due to “financial uncertainty” brought about by the coronavirus crisis.

A spokesperson for the Bar Council told Legal Cheek that while the majority of chambers still intend on recruiting this spring, “a few” have already confirmed they will be delaying interviews and offers until later this year.

The outbreak has hit barristers hard, particularly those at the criminal bar, with the Lord Chief Justice announcing this week that no new jury trials will start and that ongoing trials will be suspended while arrangements are put in place to ensure they proceed safely.

With the vast majority of barristers and chambers staff now working from home, some sets have also pointed to “insurmountable technological difficulties” with conducting pupillage interviews online as the reason for the delay.

“Unless it is unavoidable due to these reasons”, the spokesperson said, “we are encouraging AETOs [Authorised Education and Training Organisations] to refrain from delaying their recruitment process and to complete it within the advertised timeframe, which we believe will offer applicants some stability as to their future careers during this time of uncertainty.”

The 2020 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List

In response to the pandemic, the vast majority of chambers intend to conduct interviews remotely via applications including Skype and Zoom. “[W]hilst we accept that it may not be ideal”, the spokesperson continued, “we are certain it is feasible and is a better option than postponing the process.”

“We’ve emailed all applicants to let them know the latest position and information is also available on our website,” they added.

Last week Henderson Chambers confirmed it will push ahead with its pupillage recruitment programme for this year, having previously announced it had been cancelled amid concerns that video interviews would not be a fair reflection of candidates’ abilities.

The Pupillage Gateway, operated by the Bar Council, runs from November through to May and prescribes the set timetable for each stage of pupil recruitment, including the publication of adverts, submission dates for applications, shortlisting, interviews and making offers.

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