Competition for pupillage fiercer than ever, Bar Council report finds

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By CJ McKinney on

Number of applicants chasing each pupillage spot ‘steadily increasing’ every year

Competition for pupillage is only getting hotter, if new Bar Council stats are anything to go by.

Figures on pupillage applications through the centralised Pupillage Gateway, seen by Legal Cheek, show a steady rise in the average number of applicants chasing each coveted spot.

That’s despite a slight post-pandemic increase in the number of vacancies.

Almost 2,800 would-be barristers applied for a 2021/22 or 2022/23 pupillage start through the Gateway, but only 217 secured an offer — a success rate of less than 8%.

According to Bar Council stats gurus, “the number of unique applicants per Pupillage Gateway position has been steadily increasing each year”. The 2016/17 round saw about 10 unique applicants per pupillage; for the 2022/23 round, it was 13.

The number of applications for each vacancy was much higher, as most people make multiple applications.

In a sign of post-pandemic recovery, chambers advertised 453 places for 2021/22, up from 421 the year before. That was still lower than in the years before Covid.

Secure your place: The October 2021 UK Virtual Pupillage Fair

Almost all pupillages have to be advertised on the Gateway, but around half of chambers opt out of recruiting through it, so the figure for offers is lower and less reliable than for vacancies.

For that and other reasons, the report’s conclusions on who gets pupillage are also heavily caveated. But just looking at the raw and imperfect figures available, the report noted that men were more likely than women to get an offer, and white candidates did better than ethnic minorities. Black applicants scored the lowest success rate of any ethnic group: 2.5%.

Disabled candidates also came off worse, as did those from poorer backgrounds. As the report notes, “candidates from professional backgrounds are approximately 1.6 times more likely to receive an offer of pupillage”.

On the plus side, the report found that not studying law at uni wasn’t a disadvantage at all — and that perseverance pays. The chances of getting an offer were 1 in 20 for first-time applicants, but 1 in 10 for those applying a second, third or fourth time.

Over half of applicants expected to have over £20,000 in debt by the time they finished pupillage; one in eight reckoned it would be north of £60,000.

Last year, Legal Cheek reported that only 43% of those who started the Bar Professional Training Course between 2014-18 had secured a pupillage by March 2020.

Keen on a career at the bar? Why not come along to The Legal Cheek Virtual Pupillage Fair 2021 on Saturday 9 October. The free event is open to all students and graduates, and features over 30 leading chambers, the Inns of Court and all the major bar course providers, as well as interactive workshops.

The 2021 Legal Cheek Bar Course Most List

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