Red Lion Chambers cancels 2022 pupillage recruitment due to COVID-19

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Crime and fraud set cites impact on court work

Red Lion Chambers — credit: Elisa Rolle via Wikimedia

Red Lion Chambers has cancelled its recruitment programme for the 2022 pupillage cycle in light of the pandemic’s impact on the courts.

The crime and fraud set confirmed it would reopen applications from October 2021 for pupillages due to commence in 2023. It normally recruits two pupils each year on a package of £27,000 (a £17,000 award plus £10,000 in guaranteed earnings).

In a statement it said: “Chambers is committed to delivering the highest standard of pupillage training and ensuring it is a fulfilling experience. We have taken this decision in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on court work and delivery of the pupillage programme for 2020/21 and 2021/22. We believe this decision is also in the best interests of those due to commence pupillage with us in January 2022.”

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Red Lion isn’t the first chambers to rethink its recruitment approach in the wake of the pandemic.

As reported by Legal Cheek, Henderson Chambers took the decision earlier this year to cancel its 2021/22 pupillage process amid fears that video interviews would not fairly reflect the abilities of wannabe barristers. But 24 hours later it reversed this decision, opting to postpone rather than cancel the programme following discussions with the Bar Council.

Elsewhere, a host of sets cancelled their mini-pupillage schemes in response to the virus, with several opting to deliver online work-experience programmes instead.

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Such a shame 🙁 This is all having a detrimental effect on those at the very start of their careers.



Depends on the market. I expect Red Lion’s core work is among the sort of practice that has been hammered the worst by covid and won’t recover for a long time with fraud trials being punted to 2022 at least. It would be a terrible time for a pupil to enter one of the worst affected markets, so this should be welcomed by the cohort seeking entry at this time, especially when other practice areas are really booming.


Lord Bond

For what it’s worth, I think this was the right decision. With jury trials being suspended and/or adjourned, it does not make sense for senior members of Chambers to invest their money in training up pupils, especially when they have not had a constant stream of jury trial work due to COVID.

Also, it is worth noting that Red Lion did make two offers of pupillage this year, particularly when they could have suspended their pupillage process altogether but chose not to. The same cannot be said for other Chambers who pulled out of the process whether legally aided or not. Sometimes difficult financial decisions have to be made, and I think this was the correct one.



Shows too the problems with mandating minimum pupillage awards as it will reduce the number of slots in the next couple of years.



This is a good thing. The criminal bar is too large to sustain, given the amount of work available. Further, viewing it rationally, it is beyond stupid that anyone chooses to start their career with criminal work. I remember attending Young Legal Aid Lawyer presentations back in 2007 and 2008, and it was palpably clear that (a) the sector was starved of funds; (b) there had been some very good years in which lots of people had made lots of money, but they were over; and (c) the future was grim, the public loathe criminals, and there would never be any incentive for the sector to be funded well again. The following year the financial crisis happened, and it was even clearer that public sector funding would never be restored.

Legal aid is a form of redistribution from people who earned their money and have it seized in taxation. Whatever your views of the morality of that, the majority of taxpayers do not appear to support it. Long term, the future for low income defendants appears to be self-representation, perhaps advised by a duty solicitor. I’m not commenting on the merits of that, merely noting that it appears to be the likely outcome. Article 6 guarantees some sort of representation for serious offences, I recall, but I’m unsure (a) when that entitlement is triggered; and (b) what’s the stop the government from simply allocating a 22 year-old paralegal to, say, a murder defendant; i.e. what is the scope of the entitlement, and what quality representation is required.

I am not a fan of howling at the moon: I would rather deal with the world as it is, rather than as I might like it to be. Those who persist in voluntarily choosing to do legal aid work either (a) actively chose to do so in light of the obvious and long-standing economic risks; or (b) were wilfully blind to those risks. It’s brutal, but we should be warning young, gullible people off such work.

A handful of barristers do very well, but this is an example of survivorship bias or selection bias, i.e. the error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility. This can lead to false conclusions in several different ways. Whether it be movie stars, or athletes, or musicians, or CEOs of multibillion-dollar corporations who dropped out of school, popular media often tells the story of the determined individual who pursues their dreams and beats the odds. There is much less focus on the many people that may be similarly skilled and determined but fail to ever find success because of factors beyond their control.This creates a false public perception that anyone can achieve great things if they have the ability and make the effort. The overwhelming majority of failures are not visible to the public, and only those who survive the selective pressures of their competitive environment are seen regularly.

This shouldn’t be a willy-waving competition, or a case of who can say ‘I told you so’, it should be a dispassionate analysis of the status quo, shorn of pointless emotions. I prefer bluntness to bullsh#t: You can’t pay your mortgage or feed your children with a Mother Teresa complex, so (a) lawyers in criminal law should not affect surprise when their strenuous attempts to deny economic reality fail; and (b) the rest of us should grow up, and offer realistic advice to people. “Follow your dreams” is the worst career advice anyone ever offered. Legal aid is impossible for most people to sustain as a viable career. We profess to objectively follow the evidence in practice, can we also do so for career advice. Moving forward, can we please stop pumping sixth formers’ and students’ heads full of nonsense about crime, family and personal injury work. They deserve honest advice, which is that these sectors are cripplingly underpaid, there are few jobs, no economic security, and if they do not have Oxbridge firsts and thus a credible shot at commercial roles, then then are many more economically secure jobs which they should consider instead. Indulging Rumpole of the Bailey-esque fantasies does them no favours.



Is it possible to do pupillage outside the UK and still practice law in the UK as a barrister?


Robot Koch

Yes I think you can do so via the Irish bar but that may well be worse. Almost everyone that wants it gets pupillage but its unpaid usually for the first 2-3 years. Even if you did that you’d still have to find a UK chambers to accept you.


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