When lightning strikes twice – dealing with multiple offers: a pupil shares their thoughts

Sitting here writing this, I wonder if anyone will bother to read this piece. How many people applying for pupillage really think they are likely to get more than one offer of pupillage when the big day comes?

In the event that you are lucky enough to receive more than one offer of pupillage through the Gateway, you will of course (per the BSB Pupillage Handbook) have 14 days to accept or reject those offers.

It may be that you are reading this having already received more than one offer. If so, well done. Give yourself a pat on the back. And take a breather. It is unlikely that there is any great hurry for you to make a decision. This is a decision which, at the very least, will determine the course of 12 – 18 months of your life. Depending on your practice area, it may be that it determines the course of your life for far longer than that.

If you know many people who have been through pupillage, it is likely that you know at least one person who had a bad time of it. If you have spent time around pupils, you will probably have heard of sets who treat their pupils badly. Some chambers take on a relatively high number of pupils, with the intention of only ever offering one or two tenancies at the end of the process. Or perhaps – far worse – you have heard of sets who take on pupils to use as minimum-wage devils for senior members without giving them any proper experience of Court work or even the promise of a second six.

Although it is right that ‘pupillage is pupillage’, in the broad sense that it will get you over the final hurdle to your ultimate goal of holding a practicing certificate, if you are in the fortunate position of having multiple offers, you will want to consider very carefully which one to accept.

I suspect that if you are the sort of person to find themselves more than one offer, you are probably pretty switched-on, and have thought long and hard about the sets to which you applied. What follows is a short list of steps you may wish to take in order to assist your decision-making process.

Take your time

Identify how long you have to reach your decision, then decide when you want to have your mind made up by.

Don’t rush.

Identify the differences

I was faced with a choice between two offers. Fortunately for me, there were some very clear differences between the work done in the two sets, such that my decision-making process was made relatively simple. It is important, in my view, to reflect carefully and soberly on those differences and their implications. You may wish to consider:

  • What type of pupillage you have been offered: are they both common law pupillages or area-specific? Will you be practising in your preferred area much or at all?
  • What types of work are actually done in the chambers who have made you offers?
  • The respective locations of chambers; were you dreaming of working within one of the Inns? If outside London, are both chambers on the same circuit? If so, which city are they in and what would your commute be like? Do they have any satellite locations/multiple premises?
  • How many co-pupils will you have?
  • The structure (rather than just the headline figures) of the pupillage award.
    • Is the grant component payable wholly in the first six months, or throughout the 12 months?
    • If there is an element of guaranteed earnings, will these be subject to a claw-back in the event that you earn more than the guaranteed amount?
  • What, if any, travel expenses will chambers pay you?
  • How many supervisors will you have?
  • What, if any, formal training will chambers offer during pupillage?
  • How many tenancies are likely to be on offer at the end of pupillage? (Important because it may determine the dynamic among the pupils – be it convivial and supportive or cut-throat).

Reflect on your knowledge

If you have been offered pupillage in a set of chambers, you necessarily already know a lot about them.

Consider the interview process you have just been through. How did it make you feel? Did it make you feel like you would fit in with the people interviewing you? Or was it perhaps more hostile? You may think that this is a useful barometer of the attitudes and values of the people in chambers.

Consider what you know about chambers more generally. Do you know people there who you can talk to? Do your friends know people there? Use your network, make enquiries. The Bar is a small world.

Talk about it

This is your decision, and your decision alone, but think about choosing one or two people whose opinions you trust with whom to talk this decision through. Talk through your thought processes. You may end up being surprised which side of a decision you come down on. Pupillage is going to a be a marathon – not a sprint – and for this reason, you must choose somewhere where you believe you can be happy, and therefore get the most out of the final part of your training for the Bar.

One last thing…

Remember that when you are actually going about the process of rejecting a chambers that has made you an offer, you should be polite and grateful. You never know what the future holds – you may end up applying for a third six or tenancy there, and you should expect to come up against those interviewing you in the course of your career. The Bar is a small place and now that you know you will be joining it, you should be magnanimous in rejecting a set that wanted you to join them.

Next page: Social media and good judgement