News

Give pupillage seekers better feedback, urge rookie barristers

By on
61

Respondents to Bar Council survey also call on chambers to ditch rejection by silence

The majority of pupil barristers found the application process to secure pupillage “challenging” and said the experience could be improved by getting better feedback.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents to the Bar Council’s annual survey of pupils described the process as quite or very challenging, and nearly three-quarters (73%) identified better or clearer feedback as the factor to improving applicants’ chance of success.

Just over half (53%) of pupils said the process could be improved by chambers actually responding to their applications, whilst 41% said it’d be access to advice from current barristers.

Some 173 of all 411 practising pupils responded to the Bar Council survey, conducted in February.

A number of respondents also gave comments about aspects of their training they had found particularly challenging. Again, a lack of feedback in their pupillage is said to have hampered the learning experience. Another factor cited was remote working, which they attributed to the inability to socialise with other members of chambers and limited professional networking opportunities.

The 2022 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List

These findings are from the Bar Council’s second annual survey of pupils. The first was undertaken last year and focused specifically on the impact of Covid-19 on pupillage. The majority (82%) of pupils said the biggest challenge they faced during lockdown was the lack of networking opportunities. “It seems likely that this theme will continue as widespread remote working remains the norm,” this year’s report said.

This isn’t the first time concerns have been raised about the lack of feedback given during the highly competitive pupillage process.

Last year aspiring barristers Noah Gifford and Kieran Alker urged the bar to do better when it comes to providing applicants with feedback. Gifford highlighted the common practice among some chambers of rejecting pupils by silence, describing it as “shameful” and “insulting”, and suggesting they send out rejection emails or that the regulator impose a requirement to inform candidates of the outcome of their applications. The Legal Services Board appeared to side with pupillage seekers when it warned the Bar Standards Board (BSB) that such a policy risks undermining the profession.

Figures released this year by the BSB show that pupillage numbers have rebounded post-lockdown; there were 511 barristers-in-training at the end of 2021, compared with a record low 354 in 2020. But the numbers are still low by historical standards. In the 1990s, chambers took on about 800 pupils a year. It’s also worth noting that several thousands of bar hopefuls are competing for these select few pupillage spots each year.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, news and careers advice:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Newsletter

61 Comments

Trout

Applicants can stop being so precious. Feedback takes time which costs money and opens up risks of complaints and litigation too. What will it achieve?

(27)(25)

Trout?

Does a standardised email informing the candidate of the outcome of their application open up risks of complaints and litigation?

(10)(2)

TroutPout?

A standard email doesn’t.

Feedback might if some sort of bias can be interpreted from it, no matter how obscure or tenuous the link.

(6)(6)

Ch Barrister

Yes. There are some candidates whose applications are full of grammer mistakes, typos, etc. Some of them may not be native speakers. If you give any feedback on this, it may be interpreted as discrimination against non-English candidates. My first language isn’t English either (and I’m sure I make mistakes sometimes, but I do proofread anything important very thoroughly), but I don’t think that would stop a candidate from alleging I’m biased.

(5)(1)

A Barrister

There is no excuse for rejection by silence – all chambers should be sufficiently technical to complete a mail merge.

I also believe it to be good practice to offer feedback to applicants who are unsuccessful at interview.

It would impose a disproportionate burden, however, to require chambers to provide feedback to those who do not make it through the paper sift. Many companies with large HR departments do not provide feedback to job candidates who do not even make it to interview.

Moreover, if you fail to get a single interview, then the deficiences in your application should be sufficiently clear that formal feedback is unnecessary. There are several well-advertised, free resources out there to assist with applications e.g. the Inns of Court.

(56)(2)

Another Barrister

I agree with A Barrister about feedback to those at the bottom end. Unsuccessful applicants who make it through to the final round face a slightly different problem. Having made it that far, all applicants are very good, but some are marginally better than others. I can say from experience that it is difficult to give meaningful feedback to someone who didn’t do anything wrong, but who was outperformed by other applicants.

(40)(0)

Fantom

And you can bet the snowflakes won’t be happy with “you were really good but we felt other people were a bit better”.

(10)(20)

Prospective Pupil

As someone who has final round interviews in the coming weeks, what makes someone marginally better?

(10)(1)

Hope This Helps

Like pornography and elephants you know it when you see it.

(18)(2)

Prospective Pupil 2

I would be interested to hear thoughts about this too. I did some reflection, especially after those interviews (that did not convert) where you feel things went okay, but not amazingly. I find that you may just need to give more away. E.g instead of answering questions straightforwardly, one should probably take the opportunity to expand in a way that is more convincing than saying “I want to be a barrister because [insert reason]” and leaving it there. In hindsight, it would be very easy for chambers to pick someone else who sounded more convincing and gave more away (thus marginally better), so to speak. There’s obviously a risk of going on a rant and worse, a risk that you are opening yourself up to follow up questions that may not serve you well. But I think at the stage of SRI, you can probably do the job, so the things differentiating applicants at this stage will be the small things. Some within your control. Some not.

(6)(0)

Pupillage supervisor

No one is getting pupillage because they answered a question about why they want to be a barrister better than another candidate

(10)(0)

Me wanna be barrister becuz….

💰 💴 💵 💷💶💴💰💸💵💶💷💴

Jus’ sayin’…

Another Prospective Pupil

Good afternoon Pupil Supervisor,

If this is the case, please advise me what more I could do.

I have a solid 2:1 law degree, currently averaging a distinction at the bar, I am a paralegal in the field I want to specialise in gaining tonnes of legal experience. I have done mooting and advocacy competitions. I also volunteered during the first year of the bar as a legal representative and McKenzie Friend. I have also done this all whilst supporting my child as a single parent and working in paid employment. I am completely committed to my career aspirations to become a barrister yet I am still having difficulty in securing an interview. Most chambers questions are or revolve around ‘why you want to be a barrister’.

Many thanks in advance! 🙂

Pupillage supervisor

@another prospective pupil

Hi, a very compelling post.

One way of looking at it is to demonstrate genuine excellence in one or more domain. Distinction on the BPTC is one. Perhaps ur drive, committment and reliance is another.

What area of law?

Ch Barrister

No, but I think the overall point made by ‘Prospective Pupil 2’ is a good one. You need to actually have examples/anecdotes ready to back up what you are saying. E.g. don’t say, ‘I enjoy public speaking’, but explain what experience you have (e.g. moots) and what in particular you enjoyed about that. I think the most common mistake people make is being too vague.

Legal Officer, Not Lawyer

Of course they should respond.

Whenever barristers are ghosted on Tinder, you never hear the end of their complaints.

(16)(5)

Arty

Do you only have the choice between one of the same four one liners that you rehash on every story about the Bar?

(6)(5)

Junior Barrister.

Mail merge – yes.

Feedback – no.

Do you know how many applications we get ever year? Hundreds.

Do you know how much time we already devote to applications? Lots.

(28)(11)

COPE

No one cares about your struggles. Just cope with it.

(15)(15)

Prospective Pupil

No one is forcing you to engage in this process?

(15)(2)

A further barrister

I agree with every other barrister who has commented so far.

There should be no argument at all that rejection by silence is appalling, offensive and should be stopped. If regulation is needed to ensure that is the case, so be it.

Feedback to candidates is another thing entirely. You have to wonder if some applicants even understand the nature of the profession they are seeking to join if they think that vast feedback provision is viable.

Most chambers do not have armies of HR specialists assisting the process of recruiting pupils. Barristers are reading applications, selecting candidates to interview (normally more than one round), interviewing and deciding on candidates entirely in their own time. To require formal feedback provision for those rejected on paper is an unreasonable expectation.

Arguably, if sets opt for the “interview as many as possible for a short period” model for their first round, the same can be said.

I do agree that, if a candidate is rejected after a more in-depth interview, feedback as to why is appropriate. However, I also agree that many will not find the reality that helpful: “you were very good. But others were excellent.”

(25)(1)

Anon

You get feedback if your QC application is rejected.

Or can barristers only not find the ‘time’ when the people asking for feedback have no power?

(16)(18)

anonymous

Nonsense comparison. An application for silk costs £2,280.

(26)(9)

FGS

And the BPTC is £19,000.

Yeah – nonsense comparison.

(19)(17)

anonymous

Genuinely yes, this is another nonsense comparison/false equivalence. Most obviously because BPTC fees do not go to chambers (although there are a host of subsidiary reasons also).

Feedback from a barrister

It is important to recognise when you are wrong rather than double down (a fortiori on a non-point).

A further barrister

As said by another, ludicrous analogy. In the silk process, you are literally paying for the time of those that assess you. Some of the assessors are lawyers, some are not. So please don’t try and paint this as some hypocrisy on the part of the bar. It is not.

Would you support a process of chambers charging applicants to apply for pupillage? I doubt it. I doubt anyone in their right mind would.

Providing meaningful feedback to each applicant would be hugely time consuming and would come with a cost. Just out of interest, who do you think should meet that cost?

(14)(4)

Anonymous

Who says there must be a ‘cost’????

You are admitting that barristers literally cannot be bothered to provide feedback to applicants.

As of course – doing so doesn’t benefit them.

(6)(14)

Monty

This logic does not follow and you are a fool for believing it does.

BlackstonesWhiteBook

Sometimes it’s not the candidates it’s the chambers. The Bar is a profession in need of modernisation. That’s not a dig, it’s just the way it is. My advice: the profession is not for everyone. If your talents are not appreciated at the Bar go somewhere else, and find a profession that is modern, diverse and inclusive beyond tick-boxes. The Bar is a ‘tick-box’ profession. So if you’re were not public school attending, Oxbridge educated, scholarship awarded, able-bodied, male or White candidate; really think hard if this is a profession for you. That’s the Bar ideal candidate, and it’s self-replicating. Just look at the stats. Because that’s the truth right there. It doesn’t matter how good you are, how meritorious your story is, character is or the range of your abilities; you will not be recognised if you don’t tick those boxes. The more of those boxes you tick, the better your chances of pupillage. BTW: it doesn’t matter if you get a First. Just be White with a 2:1 or maybe a 2:2 and see where your luck takes you, if you tick some of those boxes you will go far regardless. Promise! I know I did. They don’t want change they want more of the same, and not be penalised for it. All their talk of diversity, inclusivity and equality is just a smoke and mirrors act to fool idealistic non-traditional candidates who don’t know any better. So don’t be fooled and move on elsewhere. That would be my advice for anyone with objective talent, but is not recognised in a constipated narcissistic profession, that is high on its own self-importance and in love with its deluded self-image of “honour” and “excellence”! Somethings never change. The lack of feedback that not even the tip of the iceberg. If only you knew how rotten this profession is. The amount of panels I’ve been on where strong candidate were rejected for the most minor of reasons despite their talent. Most of the time, social background came into it. Not merit. I need to get out this profession and save my soul while it’s still in tact. For anyone who reads this listen! Please!

(37)(30)

Real Talk

This is absolutely the truth.

There’s a vast difference between talking about ‘diversity’ for Twitter ‘likes’, making pretty recruitment websites, gunning for an OBE and trying to look woke, and actually having non-white barristers in your chambers.

(29)(8)

SPQR

Good luck in your career as a fiction writer. You are going to need it.

(5)(11)

Head of Pupillage Chancery Set

This is complete and utter drivel. Nothing more than a bitter rant. Someone somewhere always has an axe to grind. No doubt failing miserably to maintain clients and blaming everyone but yourself.

(18)(16)

Head of the Head of Pupillage Chancery Set

Don’t you have work to do and money to make, Chancery barrister?

(3)(2)

Head of Pupillage Chancery Set

Yes. That’s why I was up at 12.28am. Taking a break to read drivel from the previous poster to clear my mind before going back to my brief. What’s your point?

(1)(7)

Prospective Pupil

It is true that many Chancery sets have very few BAME members, though.

(13)(0)

Head of Pupillage Chancery Set

What does that tell you?

It may be that the Chancery Bar is institutionally racist.

Or, it might be that Chancery Sets choose many candidates from a small pool of BLC graduates and that it costs the best part of £30k to get on that course.

Or, it might be that when you say BAME, you really mean certain underrepresented groups within that large and meaningless category. Because, from where I sit in Lincoln’s Inn, there are less Bs and more AMEs.

Or, it might be that certain people self select. If I was a poor working class kid, BAME or not, with one shot at a glittering career with no family money to fall back on, would I throw everything into getting the golden pupillage ticket when the odds are stacked against everyone trying or do I try and go to a US / Magic Circle firm where the odds are more favourable?

Or maybe its the above and more. What is utterly stupid is to look at the effect of something ‘chancery sets have very few BAME members’ and draw a single cause as the original poster sought to do.

(6)(3)

A

Nah, most bright but underprivileged kids avoid the Chancery Bar as the barristers have a reputation for being snobbish, unfriendly and condescending.

Hmmmm

But that doesn’t rule out the chancery bar actually being institutionally racist?

Anonymous

There’s no shortage of East and South Asians in top Chancery/Commercial chambers, both at the senior and junior end. The unfortunate truth is that the pool of talent of Black prospective barristers is (for reasons entirely unrelated to the Bar, and mostly down to socioeconomics) simply too shallow currently to produce a significant number of barristers every year. Same with a lot of professions.

(1)(2)

Just Anonymous

I join the barristerial consensus.

Rejection by silence is unacceptable. Compulsory feedback for all applicants is disproportionate, impractical and (in many cases) would say little of helpful substance.

However, I do disagree with BlackstonesWhiteBook. I cannot tell if that post is actually serious or a parody. However, while the author is right to say that this is a “narcissistic profession, that is high on its own self-importance” s/he is wrong to say that this is a profession only for the “Oxbridge educated, scholarship awarded, able-bodied, male or White candidate”. That latter characterisation may have had some merit in the past. It (rightly) has no merit now.

This is for one very simple reason. Leaving aside moral considerations, it is now fully recognised that such discrimination simply makes no rational business sense. If we reject good candidates for such objectively bad reasons, then those candidates will be snapped up by other chambers, who will out-compete us accordingly.

(22)(7)

Anonymous

There are London chambers with only one or two BAME members.

You may have commercial clients from Singapore, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other non-EU countries, but the barristers doing the work are almost certainly not from those places.

You are right that it doesn’t make business sense. Talent crosses every border.

Truly classy people aren’t petty snobs.

(13)(3)

anonymous

Which chambers are you referring to? Easy enough to provide a link.

Genuinely curious – my experience (BAME junior in a commercial set) is not one of under-representation, at least at a higher level of generality (the case may be stronger vis-a-vis Afro-Caribbean under-representation in particular amongst their cohorts).

The high proportion of Oxbridge grads is undeniable however – but that is at least in part because (at least at the commercial bar) many non-Oxbridge undergrads (both domestic and international) go on to BCL/LLM. Not many 2:1s however (for what it is worth).

(3)(2)

Anonymous

I have posted web links to these chambers on LC before, but those comments get deleted.

It really is easy enough to find these civil chambers.

I also note a new website with a chambers BPTC scholarship to help BAME candidates, but again, that ultimately benefits law schools and not a candidate who can’t find a pupillage.

We need to stop pretending the ethnic disparity at the civil bar doesn’t exist and look at WHY it’s there.

(10)(0)

J

I disagree. Many chambers show favouritism towards the (mediocre) children of senior solicitors, barristers or judges because it gives them an competitive edge by way of information or further work. Unsurprisingly, the majority of such well-connected candidates are white and privately educated. This gives the appearance that pupillage panels discriminate against certain minorities.

However, this sort of ruthlessly commercial recruitment is highly unethical and often sails dangerously close to the wrong side of the Bribery Act!

(14)(7)

anon

There is some truth to the comment posted by BlackstonesWhiteBook. This is purely anecdotal, but it does illustrate the problem with the bar.

I attended a fairly high-performing comprehensive school in the midlands. One of my friends of average academic ability (B/C grades, set 2 for English) moved school to attend a well-known public school after his Dad was promoted (salary increased to about 250k). From there he got A*AA at A level and studied History at Oxford. I can say with absolute certainty there was no chance, at all, of him doing this if he stayed at the comprehensive.

Another friend from school, who I remain close with, got 3A* and studied law at Bristol. He came in the top 5 of his year and completed the BCL. He’s one of the smartest people I know and you can tell when you talk with him. For two years he tried to obtain pupillage in London and never got much of a sniff. He got sick of it and was taken up by a US law firm where he now works as a senior associate. He’s adamant that large law firms (particularly US as opposed to MC) are far better at noticing outliers like him. The head of grad rec actually said as much, mentioning that he saw the school on his CV and didn’t recognise it (which is unusual) and that he can’t help but be impressed when he sees that.

A few months ago we came into contact with the friend who had moved to the public school. It turned out he was now a barrister at one of the sets my friend had applied to.

(12)(1)

Anon

Exactly this. I know a commercial barrister who attended the same public school as three of his Head of Chambers’ children.

It’s incredible how some want to pretend that the school your parents can afford doesn’t influence your pupillage chances.

(9)(2)

Beast

Must be honest.
It doesn’t take a few mins to write a few sentences back to someone about thier application.
No one is asking for a full score of how they well they did responding to how they will make a good barrister or telling you something interesting about them or some other irrelevant question that you put little thought into deciding what you want to ask.
Just something.

Alternatively, if you say you want top tier Oxbridge legal aristocracy with a III or IX after thier name…
Just be honest and say so, I can save wasting my time on you, as much as you can save time by pretending to be diverse and living in the year 2022.

You could also just change the process, if reading and writing is such a chore, list your questions and ask the candidates to respond in a 5 min self tape, you’ll get to see more about the person and can just type into a feedback box as you go.
Problem solved.

(10)(3)

Anonymous

I think a III or IV after the name is an American thing.

I’ve never encountered anyone who has done that in the Uk.

(5)(2)

Billybob B. Hamburger III QC

How dare you.

(3)(0)

Pecunia non olet

You are right, but there’s a reason why barristers don’t state: ‘Don’t waste your time – we only want Oxbridge grads/people from the Home Counties or northern London/a surname we can pronounce/‘someone just like us’/(insert any other petty lower middle-class 1950’s prejudices)’

THEY will choose to become the victim and whinge that newspapers/Twitter have ‘cancelled’ them when their true recruitment criteria come to light.

None of their wealthiest client got to where they are by choosing only to work and socialise with people of the same ethnicity, nationality or cultural background.

(11)(2)

Anonymous

Late to the party.

But I must say that BlackstonesWhiteBook fellow makes a good point. Assuming, of course, they are a male. I really should say author, but I am an old dog so you shall forgive me. Pre 1950’s and still in practice if you catch my drift.

At my Chambers we try not to discriminate based on background, but sadly it does, so to speak, creep through.

I think we must start coming to terms with that the Bar is not above the social forces of our society. It really is bottom up issue, not just a top down matter. Most scholars are Oxbridge educated, white and privately schooled prior to pupillage. I think the Inns need assess why that is. My Inn this year has been notoriously narrow in the selection of scholars.

It saddens me deeply, that ours is a profession still operating on a 1960’s approach to recruitment and talent spotting. Perhaps something more modern based on data would suffice?

Perhaps one day we shall change, but we’re missing out on talent as result.

As for the feedback matter, applicants who make it at interview deserve a line or two of advice as to where they could improve. They deserve that much. Usually it’s a fit or an advocacy issue. One can be fixed the other cannot I am afraid. And when I say fit I refer to personal qualities not protected characteristics.

I hope that was useful, to all aspiring barristers.

(11)(2)

Natasha

I would love to know how many aspirants were dissuaded from continuing the path to the Bar because of the impersonal feedback, “we had many excellent candidates but unfortunately you didn’t get past paper sift”. Such a blow to confidence if you spent months working on an application, even of you know the odds are not in your favour.

Also, perhaps in the interest of transparency, can these “barristers” commenting use their real names and chambers so we aspirants and “snowflakes” know where to avoid?

You can’t expect people to not rail against the system if they don’t know how it works and pupillage is a more closely guarded secret than Colonel Sanders secret herbs and spices. How about you make the process 100% transparent. Don’t rail about “oh but HR firms don’t….” Yes and look where hyper capitalism has got us. Also your time, while it costs more per hour than my salary, isn’t worth more morally.

(3)(3)

Anon

Spot on.

What’s stopping chambers from having HR departments, even off-site??? Members pay rent to chambers, and that presumably covers things like ‘Practice Managers’ and receptionists, so why not dedicated HR??? Or do they fear finally being challenged for crappy behaviour???

Zero accountability, zero empathy for others and zero cares.

(3)(7)

Barrister

There are so many outreach programmes by the Inns of Court, chambers and individual barristers, I don’t know where to begin.

You have literally the collective weight of human knowledge and achievement throughout History at your fingertips when you sit in front of a google search engine. It should not be difficult to find someone to talk to or to do some serious research on what the bar is interested in.

Get a first class degree from a top 10 university, win real academic awards, be personable, have some interesting a relevant work experience, do a couple of mini, have a vague idea what area of law you want to do. If you tick those boxes, congrats, you are at the starting line and in the game but still have a long way to go with absolutely no guarantees. If you don’t, you can still play the game and you may be successful but will be more difficult.

(7)(3)

AnonymousPupil

To Head of Pupillage Chancery Set,

Don’t be naive.

The whole of the Bar is institutionally racist, not just he Chancery division.

The Bar is one misstep away from it own Macpherson Report moment.

Let that sink in.

(7)(1)

Anonn

Can you imagine the sheer volume of material that would go into such a report???????

Decades of accounts of verbal abuse in chambers, decades of discriminatory recruitment practices, money spent on mediation sessions, all those complaints to the BSB, all the calls to the hotline about racism, volunteers sexually harassed at legal charities because employment law doesn’t cover them, all the complaints Inns receive about students’ BPTC behaviour and all the talented BAME barristers that take a decade longer or more to become Silks than their White colleagues.

It’s enough for a viral Netflix special. And it will make the BBC’s cover-up of bad behaviour look amateur in comparison.

(3)(0)

civil junior

To Head of Pupillage Chancery Set,

This is what you get for trying to introduce a considered comment or even any recognition of nuance or a grey area “below the line”.

Let that sink in … at least its a Friday!

(1)(1)

AnonymousPupil

To Head of Pupillage Chancery Set,

Don’t be naive.

The whole of the Bar is institutionally racist, not just the Chancery division.

The Bar is one misstep away from it own Macpherson Report moment.

Let that sink in.

(4)(0)

Pupillage2022

As an applicant, I really don’t have a problem being rejected, it is expected to some extent, I don’t require feedback, even in interview it is usually quite easy to know where you went wrong and if you can’t, then it means either you think too highly of yourself or there was just someone better than you. The reality is there is a very high chance that if you feel you did well, you probably did and it came down to the fact that someone just did better!
What is so disgracefully and makes me genuinely furious is rejection by silence, literally some very “good” sets do it and they should be named and shamed because an automated email takes you two seconds! If I had been given an interview with a set that did that I wouldn’t bother to turn up to the interview, because I wouldn’t want to work at a set that thinks so little of prospective pupils! Thankfully every set I have had interviews with do not reject by silence and appreciate the work people put in to their applications! Good luck to all those who carry on searching for pupillage, don’t be discouraged, not getting pupillage is horrible but working somewhere you hate is worse, your time will come!

(0)(0)

PupillagePennies

On the balance I agree with Pupillage 2022.

Sometimes rejection is just a matter that some was better than you, or you were not good enough. Upon reflection, you know where you went wrong.

However, sometimes rejection is about politics. Even if you do everything right, its always going to be a no. Maybe you just don’t fit for whatever reason.

As for those chambers who reject by silence, they’re letting the Bar down.
It’s a sign that they are a bad chambers, no matter how ‘good’ their profile is or how many Silks.

(3)(0)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories