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Pupillage: Bar leaders urged to stop ‘shameful’ rejection by silence

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Aspiring barrister Noah Gifford describes common practice among chambers as ‘insulting’ in open letter

An aspiring barrister has called on bar leaders to stop the practice of chambers rejecting pupillage candidates by silence.

In an open letter to the director-general of the Bar Standards Board (BSB), Mark Neale, and chair of the bar, Derek Sweeting QC, pupillage seeker Noah Gifford describes the common practice among chambers as “shameful and damaging to the integrity of the profession”.

“Aspiring barristers pour their heart and soul, as well as lots of time, into each and every application,” Bristol law student Gifford explains. “I believe that it is insulting to that effort when a chambers does not make the effort to notify an aspiring barrister that they have been unsuccessful.”

The bar hopeful suggests an “easy and proportionate solution” would be to send a generic email to all unsuccessful candidates, “which, while never pleasant to receive, will always be appreciated”.

Gifford was prompted to pen the open letter after discovering he’d been rejected by a set via a post on an internet message board. He writes:

“For example, yesterday, 28 March 2021, it came to my knowledge that a non-gateway commercial chambers that I applied to, in compliance with all the relevant procedures and timeframes, sent out their first-round interview invitations on 5 March 2021. I acquired this information not via the chambers, instead through a The Student Room discussion board.”

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The wannabe barrister goes on to urge BSB bigwig Neale to “create a regulatory requirement for chambers to always notify candidates, at the earliest practicable date, of the outcomes of their application”.

It’s worth noting, however, not all chambers reject by silence, with many informing pupillage hunters in writing if they’ve been unsuccessful. A number even offer candidates feedback as and when requested.

A BSB spokesperson told Legal Cheek:

“The Bar Standards Board is firmly committed to ensuring that pupillage recruitment is fair. We believe that applicants for pupillage should not only be told whether or not they have been successful but should also be given feedback. Both our Authorisation Framework for those offering pupillage and our Bar Qualification Manual strongly encourage the giving of feedback to candidates for pupillage as an example of best practice. Our commitment to fair recruitment is also why we have introduced a mandatory recruitment timetable this year so that applicants are better placed to make informed decisions about any offers they have received.”

The Bar Council has been approached for comment.

But this isn’t the first time chambers have been urged to speak up. Last year junior barrister Malvika Jaganmohan called for an end to the practice, arguing that even busy chambers should manage to cobble together a sensitive rejection email template.

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