Pupillage Plus

The figures of pupillage vacancies this year again are extremely depressing and the competition even more intense. Yet the brightest and the best still brave the worst, inspired as we were by the prospects of the incredibly stimulating career of the bar at its best. But how can we improve their prospects of gaining a Pupillage where that is the prerequisite of practice?

Far better minds than mine are worrying about this issue and have been for years. You cannot compel chambers to finance that which they cannot afford, nowhere more so than in crime.
So in putting forward an old idea, I know that I am treading on very delicate ground. But better it be discussed than we do nothing.

I suggest an extension of the library concept, starting with a controlled experiment, which if it works, could be expanded nationwide. I emphasise that this could only work with the active support of the Bar Council and the selfless commitment of other barristers in other chambers, who like me are deeply troubled by the present position, where so many cannot even get a Pupillage interview, let alone a Pupillage.

A possible scenario would be as follows:

1. Library chambers would be the selection of say ten pupils to work in a law library under the supervision of two or so relatively recently retired members of the bar with one employed clerk.

2. That presupposes a maximum of two other rooms, one for the clerk, the other for conferences and pupil meetings.

3. Library chambers would have an understanding with a range of work suppliers including the CPS to provide a flow of small work.

4. Library chambers would work with a range of willing practitioners prepared to take pupils to court with, in some cases, their own pupils. Plainly such practitioners should be eligible to be pupil supervisors.

5. At the end of 12 months, the pupils can be considered as third six pupils in the existing rat race.

Now I am not completely stupid. I can see at once some of the obvious objections. This may well be seen as a second class alternative to conventional Pupillage. BUT better that than No Pupillage at all. Certainly at the end of 12 months, the prospects of being taken on as a third six may not be high. But there is the chance, the very half chance that drives on so many of our best to succeed.

But move on a year or two. Imagine that the library chambers began to gain a reputation, particularly because of the character and input of the retired members supervising it. Then a well run library chambers may be seen as a real alternative and not a poor cousin.

And who then will pay for these chambers?

A question that I can only answer in part. What would be needed is a business plan to cost buildings and staff and crucially whether the bar could fund such an experiment. How far could the income of ten or so pupils support such a project? All I can say is that there are far better financial figures who could seek to address those questions. Maybe this whole concept would have to be strongly subsidised. Maybe there is an opportunity for support outside the profession.

I know – it is an imperfect suggestion which needs considerable improvement in concept and detail. But if we cannot even open the door a little wider to some very able young barristers, we shall continue to carry a sense of shame.

Something must be done. Soon.

Please continue the debate and any other alternatives to increase pupillages on offer.

Nigel Pascoe QC


5 thoughts on “Pupillage Plus

  1. Without a change to the way that pupils are chosen. This will just be more pupillages for the select few cookie cutter Barristers that are being churned out by a few Universities.

    The BSB attempts to do away with patronage and create a system of meritocracy, combined with an overwhelming number of applicants to each pupil position, has created a system of numbers where individuality means nothing.

    Take a good hard look at the figures of pupillages granted. I attended a pupillage meeting to assist young people to the bar. I asked a question of perhaps 5 of the most diverse and forward thinking chambers, Mansfield QC was on the panel, as was Turner QC, I asked them how we can overcome the bias towards a group of 25 Universities. They blamed the Commercial bar and the Chancery bar. Neglecting to deal with the fact that out of 35 “members” on their assorted websites who were called from 2008 to date, 2 came from Universities outside of that group of 25.

    The entire pupillage process needs addressing, not just the limited number.

  2. Pingback: End of the day round-up | Legal Cheek

  3. Nigel,

    This is an excellent idea. Maybe if one or two retired or senior QCs stepped up they could work with one of the Solicitor’s Agent firms like LPC law to run a pilot? I’d certainly apply!



  4. I’m not sure that it is desirable to increase the number of pupillages on offer: there simply isn’t the work available for more people. Just because the profession is competitive to get in, doesnt mean that we need to increase the number of places. Library chambers just moves the problem another year – and more debt – down the line.

    Of course, the present system is unsustainable. But the problem isn’t the competition (which is present in all desirable professions), but that the risk of trying to compete is too high, and there are too many large organisations making a lot of money out of people’s risk taking. The situation is getting worse as the stakes are continually being upped (and actually, the rewards aren’t increasing, as we are witnessing cuts in remuneration across the publicly funded Bar.)

    I have two solutions to reduce the risk. The first is very radical, the second is quite radical.
    The first alternative:
    1. Abolish the BPTC as it is now. Applicants apply directly to chambers after their degree/GDL/whatever else they have done with their lives before deciding to come to the Bar. Chambers must be specially trained in how to recruit, possibly with the assistance of a central recruitment organisation coordinated by the Bar Council.
    2. Transform pupillage into a two year training scheme similar to the way accountants are trained. So pupils will spend 3 days per week in Chambers, and learn the knowledge elements of the BPTC (civil litigation, evidence etc…) on the other 2 days, and at weekends.
    3. Pupillage awards and the training as explained above would be funded partly by Chambers but also by the Inns of Court scholarship money that is currently chucked down the drain in giving it to law schools so people can afford the BPTC.

    The second alternative is simply that potential barristers and solicitors both study the LPC. This would reduce the costs (the LPC is much cheaper) and also mean that if the Bar doesnt work out, they still have a very transferable qualification to use to become a solicitor. Part of the risk is requiring people to choose so early (without a real understanding of what solicitors do) and this would eliminate this risk. Also, the LPC, I think, is a far better course, allowing you to study far more relevant subjects such as the corporate options, which arent available on the BPTC. People who want to be barristers could take extra advocacy classes to learn witness handling, and also do mooting as they currently do.

  5. I think the first solution is an excellent one. I am not convinced, no matter what anyone says, that the current recruitment process truly sifts the best people, or should I say weed out those that would be less successful at the Bar.

    If the Inns and Chambers combined their funds, and the structure of pupillage changed to that suggested above by Criminallawandpolicy, the outcome would be an increase in the number of pupillages available. Granted this would mean a struggle for tenancy rather than pupillage, but at least more people get an opportunity to evidence their abilities. If you are unable to illustrate that you can cut the mustard at the Bar despite having had a true opportunity to do so, then you won’t be successful at gaining tenancy, and that is a fair outcome.

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