Pupillage is the final and practical stage of training to become a barrister, which can commence up to five years after completing the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). It is either completed in a set of chambers or with another Authorised Training Organisation (ATO). Pupillages usually start in September or October, one year after being accepted by the chambers so, for example, applicants who are offered pupillage in May 2018 will usually commence pupillage in Autumn 2019). However, they may start at other times, depending on the set of chambers or ATO.
Pupillage lasts for 12 months and is formally divided into two parts, although precise arrangements may vary depending on chambers’ setup: the ‘first six’, which is the non-practising six months, and the ‘second six’, during which pupils may begin to carry out work of their own.
During the first six, pupils will be assigned a pupil supervisor – a barrister in the same set of chambers or organisation – who the pupil will shadow, and for whom the pupil will undertake supervised work, such as legal research and drafting court documents. The pupil will also accompany the pupil supervisor to court and conferences with clients.
During the second six, pupils will be eligible to undertake cases of their own, albeit under supervision, and will begin to build up their own contacts and a client base. Once the first and second six (i.e. the first 12 months) are satisfactorily completed, the pupil will be a fully qualified barrister.
If a pupil is not offered tenancy at the end of their pupillage year, they may undertake a six month tenancy at the same chambers or a different set of chambers. In that situation, the pupil would take on their own cases, but would not be a permanent member of chambers.
Chambers are required to fund pupillage with a minimum award of £12,000 (split into £6,000 for each six months). The award may well be more (and often is), depending on the chambers or ATO – please see individual vacancies. The pupil may also earn money from case work they take on in the second six. Some chambers may offer a draw-down of the pupillage award to help pay for the BPTC.
Decisions about tenancy are usually made about ten months into pupillage. Appraisal might be based simply on a pupil supervisor’s assessment of a pupil’s abilities, or the pupil might have to take part in a formal exercise. Some sets of chambers take on every pupil with a view to making them a tenant if they perform well.
Further information on pupillage is available at www.barcouncil.org.uk/careers. The rules and regulations governing pupillage are set out in the BSB’s Pupillage Handbook, which all aspiring pupils, current pupils, pupil supervisors and pupillage providers should study. BSB Pupillage Handbook.