This page assumes that you have already chosen the area(s) of law in which you want to practise. Please see other websites for more detailed information on the differences between areas of practice.
If a set has juniors that boast 1st class degrees from Oxbridge and you don’t have one, your chances of getting pupillage at that set are very small
Barristers refer to this golden rule frequently, yet students always seem to ignore it. In fact, substitute “Oxbridge” for whatever key theme/activity applies to most of the juniors at a particular set. If you have that key activity on your form, apply; if you don’t, apply anyway but know that the odds are against you. This is still true, despite the fact that gateway applications have now increased to allow for 20 applications.
You have to pick a range of sets to give yourself the best shot at succeeding
Unless your CV is truly spectacular, you should not be applying exclusively to the top sets. You definitely shouldn’t pick chambers based on:
- A random, scattergun approach;
- Whether or not a set appears high up in rankings;
- Whether or not a set has a good reputation among your peers;
- The size of the pupillage award;
- The fact your mate got pupillage there last year and you have a similar profile to them
Candidates have done all these things and then wondered why they don’t have pupillage. This mistake takes a year to correct – better not to make it in the first place. It is assumed here that you have chosen an area of practice already, otherwise it makes the next part quite tricky! Chambers Student and other online guides provide plenty of information on different practice areas.
With all that negativity out of the way, let’s move on to how to get this right!
How do you know if a set is a good ‘fit’?
There are a multitude of ways of figuring this out. But in simple terms, you should pick sets where your CV is similar to those of juniors in chambers.
Create a spreadsheet to record relevant information on each set, such as: Gateway/NG, application deadline, interview dates (if available), website link, number of pupillages on offer, size of award, (specialist) practice areas, notes on individual barristers (esp. juniors) etc.
First things first: research the main areas that chambers say they practise in, using the bar directories. Pay close attention to what chambers say about themselves. Then check this against their Gateway advert or any advertising material that they put on their website.
Some chambers will produce recruitment literature; most is just guff but some is good. Examples include: Matrix’s Traineeship Brochure, Gough Square’s Pupillage Brochure and 5 Essex Court’s excellent yearly pupillage reports; the latter is required reading, no matter the area of law in which you intend to practise.
Check to see if chambers’ website hosts a blog or has a news page; if so, you should at least scan through those. For example, 2 Hare Court has both ‘training and knowledge’ and ‘news and events’ pages. Similarly, Devereux Chambers has an entire ‘resources’, section including a separate blog page. Reading this part of a chambers’ website is essential for understanding each set’s approach to business development.
Next, do a quick scan of the profiles of the top five seniors and bottom five juniors. You are doing this to check that the work that chambers say they do actually matches up with reality. It usually does, but candidates have been caught out describing an area of practice that it turns out are the purview of few at that set – beware of this!
Having researched the fundamentals, it’s time to assess what information you’ve gleaned from the sets where you completed a mini-pupillage. This guide assumes that you took extensive notes while on your minis; that you wrote down who you shadowed each day, who the judge was in the case, the nature of the case and your observations on the advocacy performed, amongst other things. If you haven’t got proper notes then you’ll just have to work from memory. Make sure you keep better records next time!
Think about the people you met: how did they interact with you, how did they approach the case, how did they treat the client? Think about whether or not you think these are people you can get along with. Although this appears to be easiest to do once you are at interview stage, it can sometimes become clear that some sets take on a certain type of person; if you are not that kind of person, it may not be worth applying to that set.
It is NOT necessary to have done a mini at every set you apply to; a mini doesn’t have anything to do with the pupillage process unless a set expressly says so.
Read every single profile of those members of chambers who are under 10 years’ Call.
Yes, read every single profile.
For every set that you want to apply to.
That’s a bit boring, isn’t it?!
Yes, it is.
But you need to do it.
As you’re reading each profiles, make notes on the person’s background (do it by theme, not per person) addressing things like:
- How many went to Oxbridge? How many have Firsts?
- Are there a lot of Russell Group graduates? Or do many juniors have LLMs?
- How many have scholarships? Other prizes?
- Extracurriculars pre- and post-pupillage.
- Did any of them spend time interning abroad? Or did many work in solicitors’ firms?
- How many work with particular groups of people? Etc.
Next, look for both the similarities and differences in the junior profiles within each set. Try to work out whether or not they seem to recruit a certain ‘type’ of person. Then, look to see if there is a profile page for current pupils and take note of it. Finally, take the information that you have gathered and compare it to your current CV.
DO YOU MATCH UP?
Anything over 60% can go on your list, but make sure they are ranked in order of most compatible according to CV
When that’s done, you’ll have a very good idea as to whether or not you ‘fit’ a particular set.
How to choose sets
Having narrowed down your list of potential chambers through the research described above, there are now only two questions to ask yourself:
- Have you applied to a mix of chambers? i.e. a few which are top ranked, some which are middling-ranked and a few others.
- How many non-Gateway forms can you complete, to the requisite standard, in the time that you have?
The answers to those two questions should help you finalise your list of sets.
Going one step further
Get on Twitter: follow all the chambers that you might be interested in and set notifications on your phone. This way, you can take note not only of landmark cases but also others that take your interest.
How many applications should you make?
Most sets use the Pupillage Gateway system. This centralised website now lets you apply for up to 20 pupillages at participating sets (it was previously 12). Several sets have now taken themselves out of this system and with the introduction of non-standard questions (as of the last recruitment cycle), each application you make is now a separate one, and each one takes time to get right.
Apply to as many sets as you possibly can within the time you have, without reducing the quality of each application.
Anything less and you cannot complain about being unsuccessful that year. If you are applying for the first time, you might be tempted to do a ‘test run’. This is unlikely to help, given how much effort is needed for a thorough pupillage application. You’d be better off going full steam ahead and doing your best.
Of course, there are some candidates who work full time/have children to care for/have other serious responsibilities and so may not be able to apply to as many sets as other candidates. If you are in that category, just do your best with the time that you have.
Finally, some chambers (mainly commercial/chancery) operate a policy whereby you cannot re-apply too many times. Bear that in mind.
Many people assume that it’s easier to get pupillage at a regional set than at a London one.
Admit it, you have thought that. Especially if you’re from London.
It’s actually harder, much harder to get pupillage at a regional set. This is because there are fewer places on offer and because regional sets expect to take their pupils on as tenants. They are recruiting for tenancy, not pupillage. That doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to take you on at the end of the pupillage year, but there will not be an inexhaustible supply of alternatives once you’re in.
You must have a compelling reason to apply to a regional set. If you don’t, it’ll show and you will have just wasted an application.
What’s more, these barristers love where they live and work. They expect to buy, not to rent. They expect to get better work – especially at the publicly funded bar – earlier. They tend to socialise together. You want to work and live there? You had better love it too. And have evidence for that. Don’t assume that your answer to ‘why this set/area’ won’t be grilled to within an inch of its life.
Some sets use the pupillage gateway to recruit pupils. Some don’t. Most recruit using a similar timetable to gateway. Some don’t. Some chambers have started opening and closing their application windows earlier than before and many more now have left the gateway. Some chambers want a handwritten application form…
You can see where this is going.
Every year, candidates miss deadlines. Don’t be one of those candidates.
Screenshot from a thread on The Student Room:
(Click or tap the image to expand)
How to fix this?
Make a spreadsheet with a list of chambers that you are considering applying to and make sure you have cross-checked the deadline with gateway. Click here for Chambers Student’s list of all sets offering pupillage, updated each year.
Errors are human and you should always check each set’s website yourself.