Top lockdown concern among pupil barristers? A lack of networking opportunities

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‘Zoom events just don’t cut it’

The effect of COVID-19 on the junior end of the barrister profession has been laid bare in new research released by the Bar Council.

The overwhelming majority (82%) of pupil barristers said the biggest challenge they have faced is the lack of networking opportunities as a result of the global shutdown and move to remote ways of working.

Interruption to court work was the second biggest challenge they highlighted (55%) followed by a lack of contact with pupil supervisors (51%).

Nearly a quarter (23%) of pupils said they are experiencing some financial hardship at present.

The findings are based on the responses of 221 pupil barristers, 57% of the current total. Figures released last month by the Bar Standards Board show that only 386 pupillages were registered last year, compared to 592 in 2019 — a decrease of 35%.

There were also differences in the biggest challenges for pupils depending on practice area. While lack of networking opportunities was a common theme across all practice areas, 71% of commercial pupils, 61% of chancery pupils, and 60% of general civil pupils said that a lack of contact with pupil supervisors was also a challenge. This compared with 41% of those in crime sets and 36% in family sets.

Pupils stated their priorities include having daily contact with pupil supervisors as well as contact with other members of chambers, regular diarised work, tea/coffee mornings, and as much exposure to court or remote hearings as possible under the circumstances.

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Legal Cheek reached out to a pupil barrister at a family law set to find out what their experience has been like. “Being a barrister is all about marketing yourself. Networking opportunities offer a useful way of putting faces to names and raising your profile. This is invaluable when you are a pupil trying to break into a new profession,” they said. “Unfortunately COVID-19 has removed this aspect of the pupillage programme and Zoom events just don’t cut it.”

They continued:

“It’s also been difficult to maintain relationships within chambers. Most of the learning during pupillage comes from coffee breaks and impromptu mentoring sessions at the door of the court. This has been virtually impossible to achieve in the new CVP world we now occupy. The challenges have been immense as learning from osmosis has been completely removed. My current experience is not what a pupillage should be like.”

The Bar Council study further found that nearly half (45%) of pupils surveyed felt the pandemic is presenting “a significant challenge” to their wellbeing. However, the bar representative body said that pupils who did not feel a career at the bar was for them mainly cited reasons unrelated to the pandemic. Just over a quarter (28%) said the work/life balance at the bar might lead them to look elsewhere for work, while 26% cited insufficient remuneration.

Earlier this year the Bar Council reported a fifth of barristers want to quit the profession as they remain “stressed, weary and worried”.

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So 77% of new entrants to the profession are not suffering financial hardship despite there being a reduction in work and a recession. Sounds a positive result. That should be the headline.

Networking and marketing are generally a waste of energy for the bar, especially with the opportunity costs being so high. The best marketing is doing what is currently on your desk well.


Simplistic way of looking at it.

If you are in a set which does the work you want to do, yes just do the work on your desk well.

If you aren’t in such a set, then clearly that approach isn’t appropriate or beneficial.


Not really.If you are in a set with work below the standard you want or with low volumes of the type of work you want, then the best way forward is still to do the best with what hits your desk. Everything else is of marginal use.



If you want to do more work in a different area for example, you need to move chambers.

If you want to move to a specialist set, or explicitly to do a certain kind of work, you normally need to be able to point to at least some experience of doing that sort of work.

Which is where marketing becomes unavoidable.

Annie Onimouse

It’s more about networking within your own chambers. Most chambers have a vote on a tenancy decision. How can you vote for someone you’ve barely seen?

I bet that this year 2020 -2021 will have almost 100% retention of both pupils and trainee solicitors because everyone will be too nervous that they will face proceedings on the basis that the pupils and trainees have been discriminated against because they have barely clapped eyes on anyone in their chambers or firm except those training them.

Rumpole of the Bailey

I think most pupils will find that the absence of any glitz or glam to the profession is the main challenge of the pandemic.

Without court, Inns, Chambers, wigs and gowns we are just doing other people’s homework for a few quid an hour.

All about the money (not new)

I would seriously question anyone who enters the legal profession (be it barrister or solicitor) for its “glitz” and “glam”. Law isn’t about glitz and glam, it’s about the dosh you earn which is best spent elsewhere. Don’t be such a new money knuckledragger.


Not quite glitz and glam, but there’s a certain charm to swanning into your own room in Chambers to work on your own cases. Working on someone else’s at your home desk definitely isn’t the same feel.

All about the money (not new)

Whatever small “charm” there may be in doing so pales in comparison to the pleasures and indulgences the paycheque can provide. Let’s not lose the wood for the trees here.

Dump Truck

It does help you get laid. Which is nice.

Pumphole of the Bailey’s

Ah, in my day pupillage was all about dragging heavily loaded wheelie cases to tiny, far flung Magistrates’ Courts with your wig and gown in tow (just in case the clerks wanted to send you to deal with a dock brief at the Crown Court in the next town along).

There was no such thing as CVP in those days. We were expected to appear in person, even if you were leaving home at 5am for a ten minute hearing. We were also expected to draft documents such as a basis of plea BY HAND and fill in PAPER Legal Aid applications (which would be granted or refused same day by a Legal Services Commission employee who was based at the Court.

If your instructing solicitor had cocked up, it was your duty to take PERSONAL responsibility for the cock-up (even if you had been instructed as 6pm the night before with the case papers faxed over to Chambers). You never threw your instructing Solicitor under the bus then as so many pupils do now.

When in the Crown Court we also had to endure the hardship of taking with us wig, gown and all of the hard-copy bundles in the case (in case any of it was relevant) and remembering to have copies of any sentencing guidelines or case law. No WiFi at court so no looking it up there and then!

Halcyon days…. (it was 10 years ago!)

You youngsters don’t know you’re born!


Another WFH related article, wow you’re so quirky like that LC 😉


Why would anyone wear a wig and a tie?


Because they’z norra real bazza!!!!!


Shouldn’t this be “Top concern of pupil top barristers”? Or “Top concern of top pupil top barristers”?

Topsy and Tim of Counsel

Tip top comment, that!


I’m quite grateful I don’t have to see my clerks in person – huge benefit of the pandemic.

TOWIE of counsel

Ice gem haircuts, blue check suits and suede monk straps as far as the eye can see. The horror…. the horror.


Not as grateful as they are


Your clerks feel the same.


Barristers need to start innovating and getting creative. Plenty of ways to network while working from home – just set up a tiktok account


Please do.

Jiggling bellies and bad lip-syncing may provide laughing material for YEARS.


irony is that 99% of the people surveyed in Legal Cheek surveys have no hope in hell of getting pupillage

no point in remaining weary and worried when that’s the case! it was always going to end in tears


LOL at ‘marketing’ and ‘networking’ – it’s a human with an inflated sense of self-worth, not Apple’s sexy new gadget.

If you are at a crap set, no amount of ‘marketing’ and ‘networking’ is going to erase your academics or move you into a better set with more ££££.


That won’t stop Clerksroom from trying. Have you seen their endless peacocking on LinkedIn?


Yes, no one has ever started at a crap set and moved to a better one.

Just because some find their true level lower down the food chain after starting at the top, doesn’t mean we all went in the downward direction.

Junior Junior

It must be a pure w**k time to be a pupil right now. However, provided the work they do is good, and provided they’re not at some god awful machiavelli set, then they should be fine. Assessments will go ahead, work will be assessed etc.

No doubt it doesn’t feel like that to them at the moment though and I appreciate that.

The networking/marketing issue is, I think, an even bigger issue for those junior juniors trying to secure reliable clients and present themselves to seniors as good bets to lead. There’s also the issue of not absorbing all the experience from colleagues you might usually do in pre-COVID times, meaning your Year of Call increases and the expectation of you increases without necessarily having had the same exposure as you might have done had your first years of practice been more typical.

Lozza the Bazza

Can you name any Machiavelli sets?

Cough… 4…Cough…


Something about light-coloured building material

Bar Jacker

XX…. …. Cough Cough?


The Bar, a Bar, but always a far. In short a shite show. How elite and bizarre.


Pupil barristers sound really keen to go to marketing and networking events… They instantly lose interest in said events when they get tenancy!

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