Your journey to pupillage
I took a long route to pupillage. I undertook an LLB (University of Surrey) and then the BCL (University of Oxford, St Hugh’s College). I graduated from the BCL in 2013, following which I took a lectureship at the University of Buckingham, followed by a teaching fellowship at the Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London. Alongside my teaching positions I completed a PhD (also at the Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London) and the BPTC part-time at BPP, and was called in 2018. I left my teaching fellowship and undertook pupillage with Radcliffe Chambers during 2019/2020.
I undertook three mini-pupillages, all in my BCL year. Overall, I applied to around 15 Chambers for pupillage (including through the gateway).
The pupillage experience
Pupillage is divided into a non-practising first six, and a practising second six. In each six months a pupil is supervised by two pupil supervisors, each for a duration of three months. I was drawn to Radcliffe as it is one of the only chancery sets that offers a practising second six. Being an older pupil with a lot of academic experience, I was keen to be on my feet and practising as soon as possible.
During pupillage my work was varied, as chambers rotates you between supervisors with different practise areas and different needs. Some supervisors would set me work on live cases (including doing first drafts of pleadings and skeletons) and others would set me work on completed cases. Chambers operates a checklist to ensure that you gain experience of the full range of tasks that you will need to perform as a tenant, and to ensure that you observe the full range of hearings that you might be expected to conduct as a junior tenant.
I would also do work for both my supervisors and other members of chambers, which gave me the opportunity to see all aspects of chambers core practice areas, as well as many of the more specialist areas practised by members. For example, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to shadow our Head of Chambers on a three-week pensions trial, and also assist in a traveller injunction case (which has led to a lot of work during my first year of tenancy, and a hearing in the Court of Appeal).
During my pupillage year there was one advocacy assessment that was to be completed before a pupil was allowed on their feet. I understand that there are now additional formal assessments, including some written work.
The transition from pupil to tenant
Seamless. It was as simple as removing the ‘pupil’ label from the email signature and watching my name go on the door. Chambers slowly increased my workload so that by the last few weeks of pupillage I was doing exclusively my own work (with the safety of a pupil supervisor for back-up). There was no real difference from the last few weeks in September to the first few weeks in October.
Socially, chambers is very inclusive of the pupils, so I had already been included in most social events (which had mostly been online from March 2020) and knew the other members well. Those relationships carried over from pupillage to tenancy, as did the support that members offered.
What is your practice like now?
My caseload includes the usual chancery baby-junior work (bankruptcies and insolvency applications, possession hearings, short trials, CMCs etc). However, I am also junior counsel in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham & Ors v Persons Unknown litigation (which is now in the Court of Appeal), and I have been sole counsel in two ‘meaty’ charity law matters (a judicial review and a four-day FTT appeal). One side-effect of the pandemic is that a lot of the regular baby-junior work dried up (especially winding up petitions), so I found that I was given the opportunity to do more challenging work earlier than I might otherwise have done so.
Working hours and the landscape of a working week vary. I will work at least five days of the week, and if there is something big on, it can stretch to seven. However, I could also say ‘no’ to taking on work, so I do have some control over that. I expect to work at least eight to ten hours a day. I may revisit that work/life balance, and at the moment am focussing on making sure that I take a short break every few months; however, whilst the junior end of chambers is busy, I would like to make sure that I take advantage of that as much as possible.
What is the culture of chambers?
Chambers is a very social and supportive place, and was especially so throughout the pandemic – with regular online social events, and members making themselves available to discuss work and help guide the pupils and junior tenants. Prior to the pandemic, there were always multiple in person social events every week (including tea, coffee and drinks).
Chambers is not ‘stuffy’, and has a modern and strong working relationship between its members, staff and clerks.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Generally, do not rush to pupillage; take time to gain experiences and skills that you can transfer to your career at the bar.
As to Radcliffe specifically, consider carefully if the culture of chambers that which you are looking for – a Radcliffe tenant contributes to chambers’ life, and does not have an isolated existence.
Finally, when applying, take time to think about why Radcliffe as to other competitor sets. There are a handful of chambers who have a very similar range of practice areas and quality of work, and it is important that you consider, and know, why Radcliffe is the chambers for you (and tell chambers the same when you apply!).