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Pupillage seekers jump by 50% during pandemic

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Over 3,300 wannabe barristers applied for 246 training spots this year

The already intense competition to secure pupillage appears to have stepped up a gear during lockdown, with new stats revealing a sharp rise in the number of wannabe barristers submitting applications through the Gateway.

The Bar Council has revealed 3,301 bar hopefuls chased 246 pupillage spots through its centralised Gateway in 2021. It handled a whopping 20,647 applications in total, with the average graduate applying to around six sets. In 2020, 2,142 applicants competed for 237 pupillages.

So, the latest stats show that while pupillage numbers are up slightly, despite the pandemic, the number of aspiring barristers chasing these coveted training spots is up much more sharply — 1,159 to be exact.

It’s worth noting these figures do not include applications submitted outside the Gateway.

The 2021 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List

Last year, a number of chambers postponed or cancelled their recruitment plans in light of the economic uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. In response, a group of elite commercial sets came together to provide emergency funding to ensure several of the training spots, most of which were in criminal law, could still go ahead.

At the height of the uncertainty, the Bar Standards Board warned there could be a drop in pupillage numbers over the next two years in response to the pandemic, with opportunities in areas of law most affected by court closures, particularly criminal and family, hardest hit.

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35 Comments

Anonymous

(1) The 246 pupillage places advertised were for this year and next as many chambers put back plans until 2022. (2) The BSB pushed on with a new mandatory timetable removing all flexibility. (3) The BSB has asked all training providers (Chambers and others) to re-apply for accreditation and the new system is far more difficult than before. We submitted our application for “The Pupillage Academy” in January and have to date, not even had an acknowledgement of the application that took 3 months and thousands of pounds to put together. All of these factors are coming together to make “voluntary” training for the bar less attractive for chambers and other training providers. We offered 12 pupillages during the pandemic to help out and each offer must be offered with a voluntary (not really) grant of iro £18,000. It is a substantial investment and financial commitment for any chambers that are a group of self-employed, sole practitioners. The voluntary basis of training pupillage simply does not make sense in today’s world, in my humble opinion. Just a personal view and I accept others will think differently on this triky subject.

(13)(23)

Anon

It wasn’t just elite commercial sets that contributed funding: Keating Chambers did as well.

(22)(14)

Anon also

Keating started it. Other sets followed suit.

(10)(0)

I don't know if I'm a hopeless case

It strikes me that something is fundamentally flawed with the process of becoming a barrister. You can get Inns funding for the Bar Course, only for your qualification to become stale after 5 years if you don’t land a pupillage. If you factor in lost opportunity costs during the time you spend on the Bar Course, the system seems even more inefficient. So is it better to only do the Bar Course if you have a pupillage place confirmed?

(43)(3)

Anon

5 years is a pretty long time to be fair. Further, the Bar Course is solely useful for becoming a barrister, but you do need to do it (although much of it is bollocks).

You don’t have to only do the bar if you already have pupillage, but imo you should only do the bar if you have a reasonable chance of getting pupillage. There’s plenty of people who mature into good applicants as part of the focus on the bar course of being more realistic and practical who will go on to make good barristers but would have monumentally failed if they attempted to apply in final year uni.

Some firms and other legal work experience positions may also want you to have done the bar course and that way you can build up your experience too.

(21)(0)

Barista

I always find it frustrating how little interest the profession shows in the education of bar students. I get it, we are all really busy, and time spent worrying about things like this is time not spent developing your own practice. But this is really important. We have thousands of students a year who are paying thousands of pounds for the bar course with no hope of qualifying. The course itself is absolutely dreadful and does not prepare students properly for pupillage. Every student who does the bar course and cannot get pupillage is a walking advert for a fused profession. More than that, if the bar course does not properly prepare students for independent practice, this results in negative outcomes for clients, a poor reputation for the bar as a whole, and an increased cost of indemnity insurance. The issues with the bar course need to be sorted out and sorted out fast. There are barristers trying to do something but there are just not enough of them and there is a lot of inertia and vested interests preventing progress from being made.

(24)(4)

QCs Without 1sts LLP

They don’t care because it’s easier to look like a ‘nice person’ by giving money to charities in faraway lands (doing things they would never do themselves), than by dealing with the turd on chambers’ doorstep.

Your average barrister doesn’t have the 1st/expensive internships/Harvard LLM that they now pretend are a necessity. Many on the BPTC are more than good enough, and would have made it if they were applying for pupillage in 1997 when there were over 800 places.

There’s no ‘mystery’ to pupillage. Mostly it’s a lot of luck and applying when the going was good.

(59)(5)

Cut the numbers

There used to be a natural cap on applicants through Bar School, but the social justice warriors wanted to open up qualifying to every Tom, Dick and Sophie that wanted to try. But qualifying really means nothing. Of that 3,300 applicants, I bet 2,200 never had a hope of getting pupillage.

(41)(7)

Confused.com

What has this got to do with SJWs?????

The government doesn’t put a cap on BPTC places or private course providers, as they do with places for undergraduate medicine.

Literally anyone with a 2.1 in Law + money can sign up.

(22)(19)

Anonymous

There used to be the course at the Inns of Court School of Law, and that was it. And that capped the numbers at a sensible amount. But then the SJW do gooders wanted to open up access by letting others provide the course when there really was no need or good reason for it. Everyone told the SJWs that it would have no effect other than to leave lots of people qualified with no pupillage. And guess who was right?

(22)(4)

Things that make you go mmmm

Confused. Good choice of name. There used to be just one provider, so there was a cap. The SJWs wanted to give everyone a place to study. And that is why there are 15 times more applicants than pupillage today. So that worked out well.

(16)(2)

Anon

I know a girl who got pupillage in the regions with a 2.1 from a very average university. Middling A levels too – ABB at a push. Genuinely confused how she did it if this is how competitive it is.

(8)(12)

Anonymous

Outliers prove nothing.

(19)(2)

Commercial bazza

There are two bars: elite commercial in London and the rest.

It is not difficult to get pupillage at a publicly funded set (i.e crime, family or immigration) with a 2.1 from an average university. There is no demand in these areas. Terrible pay and terrible working conditions mean not many people with good qualifications will want pupillage in these areas.

London commercial sets where barristers earn good money require top first for a good university.

(19)(10)

Anon

Was she White and physically attractive?

(23)(7)

Anon

I (middle class white male) got a civil pupillage in London with similar academics about 6 years ago, if that helps.

(8)(0)

Anon

Because pupillage in the regions is easy to get. That’s why you find people from universities like Newcastle and Warwick at the Manchester and Bristol Bar. They wouldn’t get anywhere near a proper set in London.

(24)(13)

Anon

Oh poor them, billing 200k per year plus doing the same dull and dishwater PI that they do in London. Just the people doing the PI in London pretend they are doing something more refined when in actual fact it’s just PI

(23)(1)

Puzzled

Is anyone doing PI in the regions really billing 200k a year though???

Looking at the earning stats it seems unlikely many juniors in the regions are doing 200k anyway.

(6)(1)

Anon

Exchange Chambers proudly published some financial results for 2018/2019 claiming turnover of £33 million. Between 21 silks and 174 juniors, that suggested that mean earnings were on the order of £170k. With the number of silks at the set, I would expect the juniors to be doing rather less than the average.

Anon

Juniors 10+ years call can certainly Bill that in the regions. There are swathes of the country the London PI bar doesn’t really touch.

The point is – post above saying there are two bars, London elite commercial and everything else, is broadly correct. I’d expand London elite commercial to include things like eg London elite public law but the point remains – if you are doing PI, crime, family or the like then being in London means very little unless you’re a QC.

HHJ Twat QC

There are a few Bristol bazzas that I know of who are doing very well, but they only do commercial/chancery work.

Anon

Exchange chambers famously has a lot of criminal and family practitioners who will be earning way less than 170k, therefore bringing the average down, which should tell you the civil practitioners are billing something closer to that.

Don’t get me wrong, PI is awful and there is no future in it once the reforms bite. But facts are facts and you can own a minor castle in the regions through practising PI.

mct

1) The plural of anecdote is not data. You’ll always get some people who get absurdly lucky in anything. That doesn’t make it remotely common. This is similar to the debate in the USA of whether or not to go to an offshore Caribbean med school if no US med school accepts you. Someone always, always pops up to mention they know a person who went to Caribbean med school and successfully got residence afterwards at a US hospital. That may be true, but it isn’t true for most people in that position.
2) Outside London competition is much less fierce, especially depending on what area of law
3) For all you know, she may quite well have had friends or family already at the bar. That’s a massive legup.

(1)(0)

Starbucks Barista

The Bar has always been competitive. It’s nothing new.

It’s a self-employed profession with a greater supply than there is demand. It’s on the students to look into the realities and risks associated with a career at the Bar. However, I accept the providers do have some duty of care here.

The problem is, you will get candidates with an inflated view of themselves doing the Bar course, who academically and intellectually won’t cut the mustard.

I assist many students and there are lots with 2.2s (that too from polytechnics) doing the BPC and applying for pupillage. Their chances are next to nothing. When I ask them why they want to be a barrister….they don’t know. My guess would be they are attracted by the glamour and prestige of the Bar.

The issue lies with the likes of BPP, UoL and other providers who pump people through the system and there’s no cap. This is where more needs to be done to stop people wasting money.

As for those who argue regarding funding – well, I’m ethnic and from a low socio-economic background. If I didn’t receive a scholarship from the inns, I wouldn’t have bothered doing the Bar course, nor would I be a barrister today. People from my background simply wouldn’t have the funds to even train as a barrister.

As for proposals being made to the BSB to open a so called “pupillage academy”, surely, if there was a need for more barristers, chambers up and down the country would simply offer a greater number of pupillages to meet the demand? The returns to be made by chambers on a pupil will be many-fold, subject to them staying of course.

So how does re-directing funds to a so-called academy solve the problem? I’ve read the website, it claims to promote social mobility. How? If you don’t do the Bar course most chambers won’t even look at you.

People from my background will be marginalised.

(30)(3)

Realist

You’re correct, but I think you’re misattributing responsibility.

Students are actively misled about the level of competition, and the extent to which it is realistic for them to pursue legal careers. The people doing this are apparently motivated by ‘encouraging diversity’, or ‘opening up the profession to non-standard applicants’. Actually, what happens is that the targeted groups are further disadvantaged being specifically misled about how difficult it is to succeed. In other words, a dim, posh white bloke will be advised to look to a more realistic career, whereas a more niche candidate will be given unqualified encouragement, how unrealistic that advice is (ie if they’re not academically excellent). Who can then blame the latter when they squander time and money and are ultimately angry at the system? It’s not their fault that [well-intentioned] people lied to them.

There’s also a failure to understand survivorship bias: it’s like saying that retail is amazing, because Jeff Bezos is worth $$$$ and you’ll be just like him, or that working in Kwik Fit will turn you into the next Elon Musk. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for the vast majority of applicants to secure decent legal jobs. Law schools are churning out thousands of people every year who have been misled into believing that a lucrative career lies ahead of them (or, frankly, any career). In fact, the profession is creaking at the seams with desperate LPC and BPTC graduates who are squandering years of their lives as paralegals, with no realistic prospect of any return on investment of what they spent on legal education, let alone the years of their lives they will never get back. Such people could have been content with other, non-legal careers, but are now in thrall to the sunk costs fallacy: their arm is in the mangle, and they will spent much of their 20’s in low-pay, low-status jobs with no prospect of advancement, before giving up, accepting reality and changing career.

Yes, lots of people with poor grades managed to become barristers decades ago. That’s irrelevant: Blair devalued degrees by aiming to send 50% to university, and then both (a) competition between universities; and (b) the consumer culture created by student fees, drove grade inflation, so modern degrees outside of the Russell Group are of such uncertain value as to be practically worthless.

Law is not, generally, a well-paid career. 90% of jobs are poorly-paid, low status and lacking in security. Commercial and Chancery bar tenants are a minority which create a very false image. There’s no real analysis of this, of which I’m aware, but if people Google ‘cravath bimodal’ it shows the the reality of legal salaries in the US, which is broadly replicated here: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=cravath+bimodal.

Finally, people can whinge all they like, but you can only make money if you work for rich clients who want to spend their money on legal services. They are few and far between. Fighting for those coveted positions at the top end of the market, the standard of applicants is quite extraordinary. People can check this for themselves by read the CVs of barristers is Commercial and Chancery sets – they all have stellar academics (usually Oxbridge).

You said:

>”I assist many students and there are lots with 2.2s (that too from polytechnics) doing the BPC and applying for pupillage. Their chances are next to nothing. When I ask them why they want to be a barrister….they don’t know. My guess would be they are attracted by the glamour and prestige of the Bar. The issue lies with the likes of BPP, UoL and other providers who pump people through the system and there’s no cap. This is where more needs to be done to stop people wasting money.”

I think responsibility lies more with the profession. I listened in the background to the following event earlier this month, and I was astonished at the Pollyannaish view of legal careers promoted by the panelists. While well-intentioned, it was totally unrealistic and unreflective of the brutal contemporary environment for prospective junior barristers:

https://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/legal-profession-diversity

The careers advice was clearly was well-intentioned but I personally considered it to be dominated by both an air of unreality and an absence of commercial understanding of the costs which applicants nowadays would incur in pursuing unrealistic dreams (both upfront incurred costs, and opportunity costs of routes not taken in more realistic career paths). I realise of course that virtue signalling and the ‘boosterism’ of empty encouragement plays well. In reality though, it is self-indulgent, and serves only to mislead people about their actual prospects, and thus where in reality they should invest their time and money.

(6)(0)

Anon

I remember lots and lots of promotion from barristers about volunteering for FRU as the ‘magic ingredient’ to get pupillage. I read one careers guide that even claimed some chambers would not consider people for interview unless they completed a case.

In reality, there were many volunteers there with 2.2’s who would take Gap Years from employment/study whilst in debt and complete 30 tribunal cases, only to fail to secure a single pupillage interview. Because of course, the first thing at the Bar will always be your academics/uni. To be honest though, I thought these volunteers were no worse advocates for their academics.

It was sad. Students were constantly lied to in order to always have a steady stream of fresh volunteers (though over 50% of cases never found representation). Barristers could forever claim kudos for promoting charitable work, without ever needing to prepare pro bono papers themselves.

It’s incredible PR.

(9)(0)

Anon

And if you ever asked for help with a case, you’d receive a barely audible grunt in response.

(8)(0)

Preach

And all your ‘legal training’ to help clients is a few hours in a lecture hall listening to barristers go through the basic bullet-points of Unfair Dismissal.

Black Cat

Is there a vague possibility that she was a very pleasant person, eloquent and had done well on the BPTC? A brain the size of a planet is no measure of practical capability or aptitude for a profession.

(6)(19)

helpful henry

You clearly haven’t met a QC then

(3)(1)

Monty

Is it worth leaving the EU and moving to England for a shot at the commercial bar?

(7)(2)

The Man From Del Monty Says 'No'

Is it worth trying a little harder when composing a bit of early morning trolling?

(7)(0)

Anon

If you are extraordinary well qualified. Look at the recent tenants at commercial sets and see how you compare. That’s the only real way to see if it’s worth it.

(5)(0)

In da Know

Exchange has an awful lot of PI.

Many of those who say they are Crime or Family specialists there are in fact doing lots and lots of PI (some more than Crime or Family) to supplement their practices and have been for years.

If it brings in the £… why not?

(4)(0)

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