Your journey to pupillage
I studied for an undergraduate law degree (although it is worth noting that a large number of barristers in chambers instead completed the graduate diploma in law). I then worked as an editor on the law reports of several overseas jurisdictions, including the Cayman Islands and the Channel Islands. I then studied for the Bachelor of Civil Law degree at Oxford before doing the Bar Training Course at BPP.
I did quite a large number of mini-pupillages: perhaps 9 or 10. While doing that many isn’t a requirement, I found that it was a really good way to learn more about what a chambers was like. It’s surprising how much you pick up over the course of a couple of days! My mini at 5 Stone Buildings was a standout—I enjoyed that everyone seemed more social and happy to have a chat, rather than just being chained to their desks.
I also volunteered with the Free Representation Unit in the social security and employment tribunals before applying for the Bar Training Course so that I had a bit of experience of preparing a case and advocacy, as well as dealing with clients. I’d recommend FRU as good way of getting some real experience of what being a barrister involves!
The pupillage experience
As I mentioned above, I was really drawn to 5 Stone from my mini-pupillage at I found that it was a friendly set with a more relaxed atmosphere. The nature of the work was also a big plus for me: a genuine mix of work that involves human interest and complex legal problems, and responsibility for a large number of your own cases alongside being led.
The format of pupillage is pretty standard: four three-month periods, each with a different supervisor. This is a good way to get to grips with the range of work chambers does. One of your supervisors might spend more time in court (including the Court of Protection) and another might expose you more to advisory work involving trusts and taxation. Overall, I saw an incredible range of work, from mediations involving warring siblings, giving advice on the construction of a will or a trust deed, to a hard-fought case involving the authenticity of various artworks.
Most of the training comes by way of shadowing your supervisors and completing work for them. It’s a tried and tested method, and I found everyone was more than ready to help me and to give feedback on work. Chambers has also introduced some formal assessments to the pupillage process: an advocacy exercise (with a practice exercise beforehand) and a written exercise. While these might sound daunting, they are genuinely a good way to get some practice in before having to do the real thing! Again, everyone was really supportive and made it as stress-free as it could be.
In theory, pupillage is non-practising for the full 12 months, but I found towards the end of my second six I started picking up a bit of my own work. This made for a good transition from pure pupillage to practice and the ‘soft launch’ meant that I’m not quite so lost now that I’m the junior tenant.
Overall, the idea behind pupillage in chambers is to get you ready for practice (though, even then, other members of chambers are more than happy to help you out). The focus is on you developing the skills and knowledge that you need, rather than being weighed and judged for a year.
The transition from pupil to tenant
As easy as could be! There is always someone around to answer any questions I have, from the basic to the esoteric. The great deal of exposure that I was given over the course of the year to chambers’ various practice areas also means that I usually have a rough idea of where to look for the starting point to tackle a new case, even if it takes a large amount of time and effort to get from there to a solution! The clerks have also made sure that I have a steady stream of work at the right level on which to cut my teeth. While I think the transition is always going to be pretty stark, chambers had given me a great environment in which to take the final step into life as a fully fledged barrister!
What is your practice like now?
I’m at the very start of practice, but already things are a bit of a mix. For example, I’ve advised on: a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which allows eligible individuals to bring a claim against an estate if no reasonable financial provision has been made for them on a person’s death; the rules on who is entitled to a grant of letters of administration on an intestacy; and whether a trust should be set up to provide for a family member, the structure of the trust, and the law on taxation of trusts. This limb of chambers’ work usually involves helping individual clients with quite difficult problems (both factually and legally).
Chambers’ work normally means that members aren’t always in court. Having said that, I have an application for pre-action disclosure coming up and starting out there are opportunities to get on your feet!
I’m also assisting on a couple of led cases for HMRC in the tax tribunals to determine entitlement to reliefs in tax legislation as part of the Attorney General’s junior junior panel. This work involves pretty pure legal analysis, delving into the legislation and cases which have interpreted it, and applying it to quite complex facts. It also offers a good chance to be involved in large-scale litigation and work as part of a large team.
What is the culture of chambers?
At the risk of excessively banging the drum, the culture in chambers is supportive, close and friendly. This is helped by the fact that chambers is comparatively small and a large number of juniors come in regularly. Everyone is ready to help out with any work problems you have, as well as just going for a coffee or a drink, or listening at the end of a rough day. While work sometimes becomes full-on, people in chambers are well aware that work isn’t everything and that downtime is important. There are plenty of social events as well as more casually grabbing lunch and coffee. The clerks and staff are also incredible and make sure you have all the support you need!
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
I’d strongly recommend coming in to do a mini-pupillage if possible. While it is by no means compulsory for applying for pupillage, it gives a good snapshot of life in chambers and the work we do.
I’d also recommend reading the pupillage qualities and abilities guidance, which is available on the website, and thinking about ways that you can demonstrate how you satisfy the abilities and qualities set out there in your application. Think carefully as well about why you want to do the work that chambers does!