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How to Find and Secure a Pupillage as a Law Student

By Chloe Lane

Updated August 23, 2021 Updated August 23, 2021

A pupillage is a period of work experience undertaken by trainee barristers. Discover how to ace your application, with some top tips from a legal career expert.  

A pupillage is the  period of work experience undertaken by trainee barristers in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Kenya, Pakistan and Hong Kong SAR after they’ve been Called to the Bar.  

Before doing a pupillage, you must have completed your undergraduate degree or GDL and passed the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) or equivalent.  

Pupillages are notoriously difficult to secure and are often a source of frustration for many budding barristers looking to take the next step in their legal career.  

What can you expect from a pupillage? 

Pupillages are completed in an Authorised Education and Training Organisation (AETO), which isn’t half as menacing as it sounds – it's essentially either a barristers’ chambers or another approved legal environment. Pupillages usually last around 12 months in total. 

Pupillages are split into two parts: the first six and the second six. Throughout your pupillage you’ll complete various compulsory training courses. In the first six, you'll be shadowing a barrister, observing various hearings and conferences, and conducting legal research.  

You’ll be given a lot more responsibility in the second six, taking on your own cases and practising as a barrister under the supervision of your Pupil Supervisor.  

When should you apply for pupillages? 

Chambers recruit up to 18 months in advance for pupillages, so students usually start applying in their final year of university. Applications open in January and close in early February, with interviews occurring between February and May. Offers to successful candidates come through in August. 

However, it’s never too soon to get started and most students work on their extra-curricular activities while studying for their law degree.  

Amy Walker, Careers Manager at The University of Law said: “Start filling gaps in your skills and experience as soon as possible. Although your university may be able to give you a head start with Pro Bono, marshalling and networking, there’s still a lot you can do so it’s essential to be proactive.  

“Take part in mooting competitions, get involved with your Inns of Court and Bar society, and apply for mini-pupillages.” 

How do you apply for pupillages? 

apply 

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, almost all Chambers expect you to apply to pupillages through the Bar Council’s Pupillage Gateway online application system. All pupillage vacancies must be advertised on this Gateway. 

Students can submit up to 20 applications using the Pupillage Gateway and an unlimited number of applications to Chambers outside of the Gateway. Students can practice their applications using the Pupillage Gateway’s practice application form

Walker said: “There's no set number of pupillages each candidate should apply for. It very much depends on the applicant, their time commitments and their desired pupillage.” 

Other countries have different ways of applying for pupillages. In Hong Kong SAR, for example, students can apply through a form found on the Hong Kong Bar Association’s website.  

“We estimate that each tailored application can take between six to 10 hours to complete to a high standard,” said Walker. “We would always recommend quality over quantity. Therefore, the number of applications you submit depends on your own time commitments.” 

How to impress in a pupillage application 

 

As pupillages are particularly competitive, you’ll need an excellent academic record, legal work experience, employment advocacy and extra-curricular activities, amongst other things. 

Here’s several things you should do to impress in a pupillage application:  

Undertake a skills-gap analysis  

When writing your pupillage application Walker suggested asking yourself several questions: 

  • Does my CV show mooting or advocacy experience?  

  • Have I shown a genuine commitment to the Bar?  

  • Do I have some mini-pupillage or other legal experience such as marshalling?  

If the answer to any of these is no, your time might be better spent focusing on building up your application by gaining relevant experience, before applying again next year.  

Have a range of work experience placements 

Due to the competitive nature of the field, most applicants will have good grades from a respected university, so you’ll need something else to set you apart. This means work experience, particularly in the legal sector, is essential.  

Some Chambers require you to complete at least one mini-pupillage before applying for a pupillage. A mini pupillage is a short work experience placement shadowing a barrister, possibly with the option of attending hearings in court. It’s a great way to show commitment to the Bar. 

Walker said: “It is often desirable for an applicant to have undertaken a mini-pupillage with the Chambers they are applying for, as this can give them real insight into the types of cases, members and atmosphere at Chambers.” 

According to Walker, the ideal number of mini pupillages a candidate should undertake is around four. She said this gives applicants a “thorough insight into the Bar.” 

However, if you're unable to get experience in a law firm, Walker suggests finding work in a non-legal role and building transferrable skills. This may be through a public speaking role, working with vulnerable people, or in a role where you’ll be managing your own caseload. 

Use your university careers service 

Making the most of your university’s careers service will boost your chances of bagging a pupillage, advised Walker.  

She said: “Do as many mock interviews as you can, take advantage of the Pro Bono opportunities, and engage with the networking events.” 

Ask for help 

Don’t be afraid to ask your friends, family or mentors for help with your application. 

Walker said: "As a barrister you will be self-employed, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need help - so don’t be afraid to ask.” 

What is the interview process for pupillages like?  

Although every Chambers has a slightly different interview process, most have at least two rounds of interviews. Often these follow a similar format.  

The first stage is a panel interview with two to six members of the Chambers’ Pupillage Committee. 

“Alongside the typical interview questions, you may also be asked ethical questions or legal questions which may cover a wide range of current affairs,” said Walker.  

You may also be asked to complete a task, such as an advocacy exercise, which may be either oral or written. 

Walker said: “The purpose of these interviews is not only to assess your commitment to the Bar, but also to test how you deal with difficult legal questions under pressure. The best way to prepare for a pupillage interview is to ensure you know every detail in your CV and application, including dates and details of mooting competitions, etc. 

“You also need to ensure you are keeping up to date with current legal updates as Chambers could ask you questions about topical legal issues that have appeared in the news over the past few days. 

“Finally, personality is just as important to some Chambers as your work experience, so don’t be afraid to use examples from extra-curricular activities or hobbies you are passionate about.” 

Handling rejection  

Unfortunately, due to the competitive nature of pupillages, it's very likely that you’ll face at least some rejection on your applications.  

“It's common for Bar students to be more successful in their second year of applying for Pupillage, with many Chambers preferring more experience,” said Walker.  

If you do face rejection, the first thing you should do is ask for feedback, Walker advised. This feedback can then be used to identify any gaps in your knowledge or experience that you can work on.  

Then, during the year gap between the pupillage application window, make sure you continue to engage with the Bar, Walker explained.  

“This could include attending networking events, engaging with your Inns of Court, taking part in mooting competitions, and keeping up to date with current affairs,” she said. 

This article was originally published in August 2021 .

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Written by

As Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Chloe creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. Chloe has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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