A mini-pupillage is where you shadow a barrister. You follow them around, watching how they conduct their cases and interact with clients, court staff and other professionals. A mini-pupillage usually lasts around a week but can sometimes be only a day or two.
This is work experience. It is your chance to learn about what life in the profession entails.
However, mini-pupillages are not really optional; they are expected. While they afford you an insight into whether a career at the Bar is for you, they are also an important part of building your CV and are just one of the types of experiences you are expected to get in order to demonstrate your interest in coming to the Bar and/or your commitment to a particular practice area of law.
How to get a mini-pupillage
You can apply for a mini-pupillage in any area of law that you are interested in.
You need to compile a list of sets practising in your chosen areas and then visit each chambers’ website to find out how their mini-pupillage application process works, when applications open/close, and any other requirements chambers may have.
Usually applications are by CV and covering letter.
Covering letter tips – three paragraphs, no more:
- Why you want to become a barrister and what experiences you’ve had which lend itself to a career at the Bar.
- Why you are interested in this particular area of law.
- Why you are interested in this particular Chambers.
Sometimes candidates have difficulty in getting mini-pupillages. Once you manage to get one, it often becomes easier to get more. If you are really struggling to get a mini-pupillage, don’t give up – persevere and be inventive: ask your family or friends if they know any barristers you could talk to; get on Twitter and interact with barristers; go to as many networking events as you can. Some chambers offer mini-pupillages as prizes for winning mooting or essay competitions, which can be an added incentive to participate in these already-valuable activities, so keep your eyes peeled.
Finally, please note that with many commercial/public sets, you are expected to do an assessed mini-pupillage with them before they will take you on as a pupil. This can be either before you apply for pupillage or as part of the pupillage application process. Candidates sometimes miss this fact and are then ineligible to apply for pupillage at that set when the time comes. Don’t be that candidate: keep a record of these sort of requirements in your spreadsheet when carrying out your basic research.
What should you do on a mini-pupillage?
Firstly, make sure you are always on time (really, you should be early) and that you are wearing a smart, dark suit.
Check the email from chambers telling you where you should go on Day 1. This may be chambers itself or it may be meeting a barrister at court. If the latter, and you are not given the barrister’s mobile number, then get it touch with chambers and ask for it! Find out what you should do at the end of the day to find out where you are going the next day: should you call the clerks/particular member of chambers or will they call you?
In general: be pleasant, ask questions when appropriate, and take notes.
Make sure you take detailed notes: who you shadowed, which court you went to, the nature of the case, what happened in the case (sometimes, if they’re good, the barrister will ask you to send them over and you will win brownie points), what you learned, any other thoughts, and, if applicable, any exercises you were set and the feedback you received.
What should you do after a mini-pupillage?
Don’t send a thank-you email unless you had a particularly positive experience or spent a lot of time with a particular member of chambers. We say this because sending thank you emails for a mini-pupillage often comes across as sycophantic, giving the opposite impression than the one you want to convey!
Secondly, as soon as the mini-pupillage is over, make sure you write down what you learned. This is, after all, the only thing a barrister interviewing you for a scholarship or pupillage in the future cares about. Make this note right after the mini-pupillage is over so that you don’t forget; once you have done a few mini-pupillages, they can sometimes blend into one another.
How many mini-pupillages should you do?
The answer to this depends on what stage you are at in the pupillage application process.
If you are at the stage where you are doing mini-pupillages primarily to gain work experience, then this site suggests that you try and obtain mini-pupillages across a range of practice areas. Frankly, do as many as you can fit in without compromising on your grades, opportunities to gain other relevant experience or your wellbeing. These experiences should help you decide what area of practice you find most interesting.
However, when it comes to applying for pupillage, you should ideally have about three mini-pupillages in the area(s) in you wish to practise.
This is just one way of demonstrating commitment to your proposed field of work.
The golden rules of mini-pupillages
Don’t be a jerk.
This includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Trying to air drop naked selfies of yourself to a QC;
- Playing around with a weapon during a firearms trial;
- Telling a QC “I’d have argued it differently.”
(Yes, these are all 100% true things that happened!)
Don’t say anything during a conference with a client, unless you are asked a direct question by counsel (you won’t be).
Equally, don’t get shirty if a client objects to your being there and you are asked to wait outside the room; they don’t know you, they didn’t choose you, and they have the right to private conference with their legal representative.
Never, ever, ever talk in court.
Finally, try not to fall asleep in court – the judge and the jury (at least) will see you! While it happens to the best of us, try not to let it be you. Particularly if you snore.