Want to boost your pupillage chances? Scholarships, perseverance and a first-class degree remain key factors, new report finds
Competition still fierce
A new report published by the Bar Council has revealed some useful insights about what boosted aspiring barristers’ chances of success at obtaining pupillage.
The report, which uses data from the Pupillage Gateway, put the chances of first-time applicants getting an offer at just one in ten. The stats show the likelihood of success increases each year of trying, peaking for those who apply for the fourth time to about one in six applicants, and demonstrating the value of perseverance in the pupillage game.
In the 2021-22 application cycle, there were a total of 2,782 candidates applying through the Gateway for just 463 training spots.
The Bar Council report found that academic qualifications remain the most significant indicator for application success. Candidates with a first-class degree were more than twice as likely to receive an offer as those who attained a 2:1.
But it appears that it doesn’t matter if your high grades are in law or theology, with the new report stating that there is “no evidence to suggest that applicants who did not study law at undergraduate level were at a disadvantage in attaining pupillage”.
Top marks on the Bar Course also made a big difference with one in four candidates who obtained ‘outstanding’ receiving an offer of pupillage. The odds drop to one in ten for those who have been awarded ‘very competent’.
Applicants with a scholarship from one of the Inns of Court (Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn) were three times more likely to receive an offer than those without.
Bar Council Chair Mark Fenhalls KC commented that the report provided “a valuable resource for aspiring barristers, as well as providing those established at the bar with an insight into the patterns and trends emerging at the gateway to our profession”.
You can read the full report here.
Not all pupillage’s are created equally. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to get into Brick, Fountain, OEC etc. on their fourth attempt. Your chances of a pupillage are not these numbers, they are entirely dependent on the set you apply to. All aggregation like this does is encourage weak applicants and dissuade talented applicants (who think they have a 1 in 10 chance when their odds are way better).
I don’t think your logic is correct. As highlighted in the comments below, strong applicants are more likely to persevere, despite the odds against them. The competition from weaker applicants is essentially irrelevant.
Legal Cheek Deletes All Interesting Comments
I have to agree with the first commenter. If someone has the potential to get an offer OEC or Fountain, they would – over the course of three years of applying – almost certainly have multiple offers from places like 3VB, Quadrant, 20 Essex. No one in their right mind would repeatedly turn down offers from good sets like that, just for a shot at applying to OEC on a fourth attempt.
As for your comment about weaker applicants being irrelevant, I again disagree. The sheer number of applicants means that sets have to be brutal and only interview people who look stellar on paper. There are plenty of very good candidates with upper seconds from Oxford and Cambridge who nowadays don’t even get first-round interviews at places like Littleton and Hailsham. The slew of mediocre candidates serves to bring down many better candidates in the process.
As an aside, Legal Cheek heavily edited my comment below, not that it matters much. This site is an embarrassment.
“The slew of mediocre candidates serves to bring down many better candidates in the process.”
Ahh, I see what the problem is. Non-Oxbridge applicants with a first outshine Oxbridge applicants. That seems to be your implication (I’m happy for you to clarify your position). Look, it’s not just a numbers game, my friend. If you don’t have the experience and grades as an Oxbridge applicant, someone from a redbrick uni is going to outdo you. The sheer competition itself means that lots of applicants will never get a chance for a first-round interview if they don’t look great on paper. It’s as simple as that.
Legal Cheek Deletes All Interesting Comments
With respect, you’ve very much misunderstood the point I was making. Allow me to remake it.
Back in the day, the pupillage market was not subject to the gross distortions it is subject to today. Because of that, strong candidates who were less than stellar on paper were still invited to interview and thus given the chance to shine.
Nowadays, because there are so many applicants, sets simply don’t interview candidates who are less than stellar on paper. As a result, there is a large number of strong candidates who do not get the opportunity to shine.
Ultimately, when talking about interviews, there are three types of candidate: (1) those who are stellar on paper and good at interview, (2) those who are stellar on paper and bad at interview, and (3) those who aren’t stellar on paper.
The point I was making is that there are many – very many – in Category (3) who deserve a shot. But there is a glut of MEDIOCRE candidates in that same category, and they take everyone down with them.
My comment had nothing to do with candidates with firsts from non-oxbridge universities ‘outshining’ Oxbridge applicants. Indeed, if they’re outshining strong candidates, it stands to reason that they fall into Category (1) or (2).
You ignore the fact that each year a new batch, albeit small, of stellar applicants enters the competition. That is why you will never be getting into Brick, Fountain, OEC etc on your 4th attempt. My point was not that perseverance is irrelevant per se, but that it won’t help anyone get into the best sets. If you were not deemed good enough first time round, nothing you do is going to change that and the next year you will be fighting against the next sets of stellar candidates.
This site, and the BSB figures, treat pupillages as interchangeable. They aren’t. It’s like saying the odds of being a professional footballer are X. That may be true, but someone who plays for Manchester United and Colchester United are both professional footballers, yet the odds of playing for Man United are considerably worse than for Colchester. Hence why the figures published here are wholly irrelevant, because you are comparing apples and pears. Yes, the odd candidate may slip through the net, but the harsh reality is, that if you don’t make it at Man United you try and make it in the Championship, then League Two and next thing you know you’re so desperate you’re turning out for Dulwich Hamlet.
If you don’t get pupillage one year, you invariably drop down the rankings of Chambers for the next year. Another comment on here pointed out that for the best applicants that usually means going and becoming a City solicitor (or employed barrister) rather than becoming a criminal barrister.
Whilst I absolutely agree with what you say as to the value of these figures for prospective candidates, wholly irrelevant is a bit much. There are plenty of reasons why it makes sense to collect aggregate data of this type (most obviously so one can compare wholesale trends over extended time periods i.e. to identify trends in how many pupil are sought/coming to the bar regardless of quality within that cohort).