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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.”

The 2021 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List

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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74 Comments

Anon

Is Mr Gifford happy for the added costs of this to be deducted from pupillage awards? Bet he isn’t!

(17)(59)

Hey big spender

Not the added costs of a junior clerk spening 5 minutes firing off a mail merge “sorry not sorry email”! However will the chancery bar survive?!

(83)(1)

The Voice of the People

The entire rejection process could be automated in Mailchimp with less than 5 minutes work. Stop being so bloody arrogant and churlish. It’s about time the Bar pulled itself into the 21st century and started acting with a bit of common courtesy.

(115)(4)

Anonymous

Could the Voice of the People please learn how to use apostrophes?

(7)(33)

Anon 2

Anon, what a stupid comment.

(13)(2)

fdfd

All 20 pence?

(1)(0)

Yes, it is embarrassing behaviour

Well done for speaking up Noah.

I don’t buy the excuse that barristers don’t have ‘time’ to reply.

If you have the time to write 10,000 tweets on Twitter, you have the time to send a form letter to rejected candidates.

(107)(6)

Archibald Pomp O'City

Your comments would be more credible if you were not prone to using exaggeration for dramatic effect.

(5)(26)

Man

Some chambers go through applications in batches. So just because someone on a forum has been invited to interview does not mean everyone else has been rejected by silence; chambers might still be going through applications.

Some chambers also take a little longer to send out the rejection emails. So it’s not necessarily rejection by silence but a slightly delay in receiving the rejection. This delay is what some students see as silence.

(18)(12)

Noping Out

I made over 50 pupillage applications in my time. Many chambers wouldn’t bother writing to reject candidates, including one whose Head of Chambers has notoriously been brought before the BSB multiple times. This has very little to do with working in ‘batches’.

Who can students complain to? What do barristers have to fear? They know students are on the very bottom rung of the ladder, and act accordingly.

(40)(2)

Man

Lol if you’ve applied to chambers where the head of chambers is frequently pulled before BSB then what did you expect?

My experience of applying to 50+ chambers is that chambers take their sweet time with sending out rejections or updating the status on gateway, but none of the chambers I applied to failed to reply. Maybe that’s because of the chambers I was targeting.

Chambers should be obliged to reply to all applicants. No excuse for not replying other than laziness. For me it says a lot about the sort of chambers not replying, and I wouldn’t want to join them.

(15)(4)

Archibald Pomp O'City

Thank you for this scintillating counter-argument, Roger Irrelevant. I suspect that Noah is not petitioning on behalf of people who DO receive replies, albeit late ones. He is not promoting on behalf of punctuality, nor taking up the cudgels for good timekeeping, nor taking on tardiness. I think your best contribution from this point would be silence.

(5)(9)

Wannabe Pupil

I have received plenty of replies, both invites and rejections, and I still agree with Noah that RBS should not be happening. Ever heard of empathy? Hope you’re not a barrister, with that lack of understanding even the concept of empathy you clearly shouldn’t be allowed near clients.

(1)(2)

Man

How much time did you spend on writing this message? If you’d spent half as much time on your pupillage application maybe you wouldn’t be rejected by silence?

(4)(2)

Anon

I’m still waiting for some chambers to respond to my application in 2017. I’m getting to the point where I almost suspect it might have been rejection by silence.
That said, I don’t see what the big deal is. Why does it matter whether they send you a rejection or don’t respond at all? Anyone going into the progress should expect quite a few rejections.

(2)(1)

AK

I think you can safely say that the chambers denied your application, and really so can anyone else who has not heard back after a time.

(1)(0)

Just Anonymous

This shouldn’t be up for debate.

Chambers should have the courtesy to let rejected candidates know that they have been rejected.

As suggested, a pro forma email is perfectly sufficient. The point is simply to let the candidate know where they stand.

The excuse that barristers don’t have the time doesn’t wash. This sort of task could easily be conducted by admin staff.

(36)(5)

Archibald Pomp O'City

Do you actually have anything substantive to add, instead of repeating the points already made in the petition?

(2)(17)

Just Anonymous

I think the answer above confirms I add nothing, but no need to be rude.

(6)(0)

Just Anonymous

At the risk of invoking Spartacus, 9:30am above is not me.

(0)(2)

Spartacus

Checking back on your own comments every 20 minutes is the height of vanity.

Cynic

A cynic might think he’s is seeking some cheap publicity. Why not just write directly and confidentially to the BSB (rather than e.g. explicitly saying at the end of the letter that it will be forwarded to LC)? One feels perhaps that a failure to exercise judgment / discretion would let him down at the bar.

(27)(11)

The Poor Judgment Comes From The Silence

Because private letters can be used as loo paper?

(15)(2)

Archibald Pomp O'City

Of course he’s seeking publicity, but thank you for your analysis, Captain Obvious. Your observation is hardly edgy or even astute. He even states at the end of the petition (which you clearly haven’t read) that he is going to forward it to LC and social media. It’s a petition, to get publicity for his concerns. What did you expect him to do, send letters privately?

(11)(11)

Anon1

This wasn’t well judged, at all.

1. I wouldn’t dream of sending an open letter to the Chair of the Bar making a series of public demands. It gives the impression of giving an ultimatum/trying to embarrass the Bar Council – why not just write privately in the first instance?

2. The whole thing feels and looks like a publicity bid, i.e. sending it to Legal Cheek before the actual recipient.

3. Suggesting it “undermines the integrity of the profession” is just sententious drivel – rejection by silence is a bad and unpleasant practice, which made me very cross/upset at the time, but this hyperbole just makes you look silly to the reader

4. Would it have been wise to get pupillage somewhere before publicly criticising the chambers’ you’re applying to for their recruitment procedures?

(64)(12)

FacePalm

How many times a day do barristers exercise ‘poor discretion’ and publicly tweet every minutiae of their lives and opinions on everything from Brexit to the strength of their hangovers??

They don’t care what their clients or solicitors think.

We’d have no practicing barristers left if we were to kick out all those that tweeted embarrassing or sanctimonious drivel on Twitter multiple times a day.

(47)(10)

Colonel Useful

Barristers should just get off Twitter.

(13)(0)

fdfd

Furthermore I conclude, twitter should be banned.

(0)(0)

Barrister

I’m an Australian barrister, I have no idea what Twitter is. Only teenagers use it here. I only read Legal Cheek when I’m bored on holidays, I am impressed to see snobbery is alive and well in Old Blighty.

(1)(0)

Archibald Pomp O'City

Learn how to use apostrophes before sending your sophomoric drivel to a forum for adolescent legal readers.

(1)(14)

Anonlylylylon

God knows we’d never hear the end of it if someone on Tinder ghosted a barrister.

The arrogance some of them have towards other people is staggering.

(37)(3)

Anonymouse

Tinder is full of male barristers that actually put “barrister” (and often their chambers) on their profile. Been ghosted by several of them 🙁

However, the guy with a collection of semi nude “sexy” shots that included in his profile how he’s currently looking for pupillage and how “non vanilla” he is…I sent those to all my friends in various chambers just in case any of them are on your pupillage committee. You’re welcome!

(17)(3)

fdfd

Quite likely to help his case given the proclivities of many seniors.

(0)(0)

Generation Drynites is at it again!

❄️

(9)(3)

Nada

If you listen closely, it isn’t silence. It’s the world’s smallest violin.

(19)(3)

Applicant

A favourite this year was a Chambers that invited pupillage applications, outside of gateway with a form with several bespoke questions including a 400 word case summary before telling applicants last week that they have concluded they cannot offer pupillage after all, owing to the uncertainty of the pandemic and issues with their accommodation.

(21)(0)

Archibald Pomp O'City

400 words! The tragedy. A whole minute’s work.

(5)(20)

Barrister to the north of Carey Street

You are thinned skin and making us look bad. Just pipe down.

(11)(0)

Forrest

I agree but it’s jarring to see him suggest PFOs as the solution.

(2)(1)

Who teach law at Bris?

What a pathetic little man? How could such a duty to inform someone his application is unsuccessful arises in this situation? The Chamber didn’t send him a letter inviting him apply its pupilage in the first place. The Chamber didn’t ask him to wait for its reply too.

Even a suspect enjoys the basic right of silence, a Chamber has a duty to reply any application/ enquiry it receives? This will definitely open a floodgate.

(4)(12)

whotfisthisdude

Who?

(2)(0)

Fed Up

Please stop falling over yourselves to defend this archaic recruitment practice. They have an online system that facilitates sending a rejection email in seconds, there is absolutely no excuse. How on earth are these people allowed near clients when they show such disrespect to students who have taken hours filling out their application forms?

If you can’t recruit decently, don’t.

This year already we’ve had one top chambers send everyone invites to interview, then send two follow up emails explaining they’re actually rejected. Then another chambers pull out days before they were due to send invites. Hundreds of RBS. Gateway updating to unsuccessful with no email – which takes seconds. We are constantly told by barristers to stay off the student room…well, that’s the only place we’re getting any information from some of you.

Good on you for speaking up Noah. Chambers need to behave decently towards applicants and get better tech if they really don’t know how to send an email or do a mail merge. It’s pathetic.

(15)(2)

Str8talker

Definitely agree all chambers should at lease send a rejection email if a candidate fails the application stage. And if the candidate makes it to an interview and is rejected, they should be at least warranted some feedback. Sadly, this is not the case. Sort of shows just how unprofessional the Bar is. Bit of shite show to be honest.

(8)(6)

Anonymous

In the real world job applicants do not get feedback. The most worrying thing about this story is that the BSB seem keen on requiring feedback for rejected applicants. That would lead to floods of complaints, litigation and a huge burden on chambers. That is where this is all leading. No-one keeps any notes any more of interviews or selection discussions because of all the data access requests.

(7)(5)

Yeah, They Do Get Feedback

Unsuccessful QC applicants can ask for written feedback.

Why should they be entitled to it and not pupillage applicants? Surely the younger pupillage applicant might benefit more from feedback than someone further along in their career?

(2)(4)

Anonymous

For 90%-95% of applicants the main reason they get knocked back is simply that there are obviously better candidates applying. I am not sure “There were better candidates applying than you” is going to help them much.

(4)(1)

TheConstantHeaddesker

That’s a pretty tenuous basis to label the Bar “unprofessional”. Let me guess: unsuccessful applicant?

(6)(3)

TheConstantHeaddesker

It is entirely possible for both sides to be wrong here. RFS shouldn’t happen. At all. As others have pointed out, if you’re incapable of mailmerging an email to let the unsuccessful applicants down gently, you shouldn’t be running a recruitment process. It’s not hard.

On the other hand, however, this is clearly a publicity stunt, and it doesn’t make Noah come across well. There seems to be a growing tendency among Bar applicants to do things like this, which are ostensibly altruistic but are in fact thinly disguised attempts to get something eye-catching on the CV.

It shouldn’t need saying, but the Bar recruitment process (in common with that of any other job) isn’t about benefiting the *applicants* as such, it’s about benefiting the *recruiters*. If you’ve applied and they’ve picked you, great; if they’ve picked someone else that they’re happy with, it’s job done from their perspective. The fact that there are many, many more “aspiring barristers” than there are pupillages, and that dreams get crushed in large numbers, is sad but inevitable.

(18)(2)

Umm, Remember That Fox Killer?

Are Bar applicants expected not to call out terrible behaviour for fear of losing their future career?

That’s a slippery slope towards not reporting other behaviour amounting to abuse – we’ve all seen how reputations are been irreversibly destroyed right now for avoiding apologies and accountability.

Many ‘altruistic’ acts barristers are also to further their QC application, get on the Bench or to aim for NYE Honours. It would be very naïve to think otherwise. Why judge Bar applicants and not barristers who come across as far worse?

(9)(8)

Curious

Is it a good idea for an applicant to be calling out the institution they’re applying to in this way? I’ve seen it happen increasingly often and I don’t see what the point is.

(7)(1)

Realist

It is the effect of what is thought to be an unstoppable force, namely the entitlement mindset of snowflakes, meeting an immovable object, namely the real world. The complaints are the squeals of snowflakes at the realisation for the first time that the real world will win every time.

(7)(1)

fdfd

I imagine the idea is that they decide they have little hope of joining the places they’re condemning and hoping the profile they gain will help them get pupillage at a “right on” chambers. Good luck to the lad but I suspect it is a miscalculation.

(0)(1)

Anon

This probably isn’t a good look for Noah, on the other hand he is right that RBS is a joke. It’s a joke in other industries as well, but it’s particularly a joke given the amount of time pupillage applications take to make involving all sorts of weird and wonderful set specific questions the answers to which can’t be reused elsewhere.

(4)(1)

Realist

Yuck. Feedback. Up until now it was easy, firsts from Oxbridge or top of your year. But now Oxbridge is handing out places by postcodes to virtue signal, it is going to be harder, as there will be more quality elsewhere than before. What schools people went to will be an increasingly important factor, since those from the top private schools are being denied Oxbridge places they would rightly get in a merits based system simply because of where they went to school. But then feedback is going to be a minefield. If the snowflakes moan about not getting a rejection email, what are they going to be like with feedback?

(8)(10)

MA Cantab.

LOL at the possibility of my cantankerous Eton-educated DoS giving places based on an applicant’s postcode!

You didn’t go to Oxbridge did you? They don’t have time to explain things to slow people. They honestly couldn’t care less what school someone comes from, as long as they are smart.

Take your unfounded paranoia and anger elsewhere.

(13)(2)

Realist

Shows how out of touch you are. Look at the entry data for this year and the news reports about the 50% drop in places offered to students from the best and most selective private schools. It is a PC disgrace. A wave of diluted Oxbridge graduates is coming in 3 or 4 years time. Take your ignorance elsewhere.

Oxbridge with a 1st since you were asking.

(5)(3)

Anonymous

So wrong. So ignorant. Look at the press reports following this year’s offers. Huge drop in offers to the highest ranked selective state schools. Some of the nation’s best are being turned away just because their parents paid for their education. A lot of candidates who would have been Oxbridge locks are now being told they won’t get in simply because of the school they attended.

(2)(1)

LOL

Anyone who has ever done private tutoring in London is going to fall over laughing at the claim the nation’s ‘best and brightest’ are at London private schools.

Why do you think the tuition industry is worth billions every year? Surely the ‘best and brightest’ don’t need hand-holding from tutors?

(5)(2)

Anonymous

I’m talking about the truly selective ones, the Westminsters, St Paul’s and their ilk. You seemed to have ignored the word “selective”. I hope you don’t tutor English comprehension.

LOL

Ah yes, those ‘truly selective’ schools where it is alleged hundreds of young women were sexually harassed? ‘Best’ and ‘brightest’ you say?

I can see why Oxbridge was wary. How very dare they take poor people?

Anonymous

Oh is that all you’ve got? Bless, I see why you tutor kids.

A Barrister

This is a complete non-debate.

Chambers should not RBS.

Chambers should give feedback to those who fail at interview but not to those who are rejected on the papers.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

Why on earth do sets need to give feedback? It is just more work and paves the way for complaints galore from snowflakes.

(6)(0)

Oh Boy

QC applicants are entitled to written feedback.

Do you want to be brave and call them a ‘snowflake’ to their faces?

(5)(2)

Realist

They’re also far fewer in number and capable of taking feedback without acting unprofessionally or creating a Change.org petition over it.

As ironic as it may seem, the Noahs of the world are part of the reason why feedback is not more readily available.

P.S. My daddy didn’t love me enough 🙁

(4)(0)

The Real Realist

The real Realist does not use emojis. Emojis are for snowflakes or Brexit voting grandparents of snowflakes.

However I agree with the 9:31 impostor. Feedback just be awful, as telling snowflakes they are not as great as their mummy told them would just lead to a raft of complaints alleging everything under the sun.

Pupillage application committee

There are several reasons why QC applicants are more important than pupillage applicants:

1. Potential QCs pay £2,160. If you want to pay £2,160, we will provide you with feedback, too.

2. Potential QCs have actually achieved something useful in their lives, in contrast to a bunch of whinging wannabes who petulantly demand the world on a plate. Even pupils are a cost centre – applicants are just a resource black hole, as they largely comprise thousands of no-hopers pumped up with Instragram motivational rubbish about how ‘you can do it’. No, most of you can’t. Find another job, and stop wasting our time.

(1)(0)

A Barrister

They don’t need to, but they should do because a) it’s professional, b) it’s the decent thing to do, and c) it discourages improper recruitment practices.

The administrative burden of providing feedback only to those who are interviewed is significantly less than providing feedback to all applicants which, I agree, is not practicable for most sets.

I suspect that those who are likely to ‘complain’ would be unlikely to make it to an interview in any event and, moreover, if an individual is hellbent on making a complaint then there’s nothing stopping them from DSARing the relevant Chambers. If anything, feedback is likely to avoid that nightmare.

(5)(0)

Fed Up 2

‘iTs NoT jUsT a bAr tHinG aLL iNdustRieS dO iT’ would you listen to yourselves? Is this a race to the bottom now? Yikes. You know just because bad practice happens in other industries too that doesn’t make it compulsory for you, right? I despair. Try raising the bar instead of racing to the very bottom of it (literally, it seems).

(6)(2)

Michael Fish

It is a sunny day. All these snowflakes better not melt.

(5)(0)

Hackaforte

Oh, do come off it. There’s nothing snowflakey about expecting a bit of common courtesy from fellow professionals.

Granted, making it a regulatory obligation is a bit much.

(2)(1)

Style guru

With that letter I can understand the rejections. One big, long, rambling paragraph is atrocious style. The reader gives up.

(6)(1)

fdfd

I think people are jumping the gun – some chambers send out interview offers later than others and yes, sometimes they could want to keep people on a waiting list in case they get lots of dropouts – at the end of the day there is an end to the period for interview offers at some point in April as a hard backstop, why demand barristers rush to reply to you with that in mind?

(0)(0)

Me Myself and Eileen

We only reject by silence the ones that annoyed us with hopeless applications. It is pupillage application karma.

(2)(0)

Comments are closed.

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