It’s becoming even harder to get a pupillage

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By Rhys Duncan on


Number of aspiring barristers on the rise; the number of pupillages not so much

This year has seen the greatest number of students ever enrol on Bar training courses, a new study by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) reveals.

The Annual Report on Bar Training 2023 states that 2,360 students have commenced Bar courses this year, compared to 2,308 last year and 1,976 in 2021. This figure is nearly 500 higher than the pre-Covid record in 2018/19.

The number of pupillage positions has, however, remained pretty flat, with 544 available in 2023 (registered up to 3 November), compared to 538 last year. Leaving aside Covid-related fluctuations in 2020 and 2021, the figure from 2018 was only marginally lower at 522.

Taking this together, while pupillage numbers have risen by 4% in the last five years, student numbers are up over 20%.

Highlighting the extent of the challenge faced by new grads, the reports zeros in on the 2020/21 cohort. Of the 2,075 who commenced training, 658 never completed the course. For those that did, 362 had gained pupillage by 2023, with over 1,000 passing the course and not subsequently obtaining a pupillage.

But there is some comfort for aspiring England and Wales barristers in the high number of international students who do Bar courses before returning home to practise. 42% of UK domiciled students who completed the Bar Course in 2020/21 have gained pupillage, compared to only 3% of passers who are domiciled overseas. The report notes that this “may reflect the fact that some overseas domiciled students have no intention of practising at the Bar of England and Wales.”

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Quelle fu*cking suprise!


Mediocre law schools tell mediocre students lies about their prospects in law, pretending it isn’t still the most academically elitist profession in the world.


Yes, and it is rightly difficult to enter. We must not allow the profession to be diluted by those who lack aptitude. This situation of entitlement is a natural consequence of Blair and his cronies’ regrettable squatting in Number 10, spreading the myth to all young people that somehow everyone is equal.

Uncharitable fellow

The Bar needs to do what large solicitors’ firms do and offer pupillages two years in advance.

Make it a requirement to start the BPTC to have a pre-existing pupillage offer, and stop students being fleeced by private equity-owned law schools.


I don’t see how this would fix anything – the market norm is currently 18 months from applying in Feb 2024 and results in May 2024 and begin in Oct 2025. Why would increasing to two years make a difference?

Unnecessary proposal

This would make it much harder for non-LLB students to apply for pupillage in reasonable time. As it is, you can apply during the GDL and start pupillage immediately after the Bar Course. Under your suggestion you’d either be applying the year before the GDL at the earliest – some changes won’t take students who haven’t started the GDL for mini-pupillages, let alone apply for pupillage – or require everyone who hasn’t studied law as their undergrad to doss around for an extra year if they obtain a pupillage offer on the GDL.


I was absolutely amazed when I was doing the LPC how many people from my uni turned up at ‘the University of Law’ and said they were studying the BPTC, including a couple with 2:2s (no extenuating circumstances) who not in a month of Sundays would get pupillage. It seemed to be the thing to do if you had rich parents and wanted to keep them happy for another year – and the law school lapped it up and took the money.


I doubt it’s those with rich parents who suffer from this problem.

But there are very few people who stand no chance of gaining pupillage. And if you enjoy the idea of the job, and accept you’re never going to be a fountain court silk, then do the BPTC, head of to East Anglia Chambers, then to 7KBW or similar and hey presto, within a few years you’ve become ‘London counsel’ with no need for that pesky hard academic work.

It’s doable for anyone.

Patrick Cassidy

I was called to the bat in 1982 there was only the London course then with 1200 on the course including a fair percentage of commonwealth students. There were 300 pupillages available. I was grant aided .fees also paid .I had a 2.2 but I was different to the majority of students. I was northern and could talk to people of all types. Got in in Manchester have had a great career .be authentic be yourself believe in yourself


I’m at a top 10 Russel Group but haven’t graduated. However I’ve done loadsss of mooting and debating and have succeeded well, reaching finalist stage in many rounds, even winning one. Alongside I have plenty of work experience. Suppose I graduate with a strong first, is that enough for civil sets in London? The Oxbridge saturation is crazy, will I almost definitely BCL otherwise, or if I don’t get in, would this be okay?


It depends.


i dont mean the creme de la creme of the commercial Bar necessarily but even decent commercial/civil/mixed sets.

Pupil barrister

I’m at a set a bit like this and the short answer is yes. Sure, to get into a Brick Court, OEC etc you’ll need a starred/double first from Oxbridge, but you see some juniors even in specialist commercial sets with good firsts from other RG unis. You’ll probably have more success though aiming for general mixed civil sets that do personal injury, employment, environment/planning, and other areas that aren’t just big-ticket commercial cases (which are still a lot of fun).


It’s scandalous that over a quarter of students fail the course. It’s really not very difficult.

Archibald O'Pomposity

Many of them are academically dimwitted. Remember, anybody can get a 2:1 nowadays and anybody+anybody else can get a 2:2.

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