How to maximise your chances of being taken on; what Chambers look for;
how to cope with the tenancy application process
It’s something of a cliché to describe pupillage as a year-long job interview. Whilst it may be an opportunity for your supervisor and other members of chambers to assess you, it is also an opportunity for you to become a practising barrister and to learn. It is also important to remember that no one has the stamina to work full throttle for a year: breaks are important.
Tenancy applications are considered at different times in different sets. Some sets (mainly civil, commercial and family sets) make tenancy decisions relatively early in a pupil’s second six months. In most criminal sets 12 months is the minimum, and some wait 18 months before making a decision. You need to know the timetable and process your chambers operates so you aren’t taken by surprise. Find out if your chambers requires a formal written application.
To have a chance of getting a tenancy it is important to do work for other members of chambers who can speak to your abilities, as well as members of chambers or others who can comment on your performance in court. Different chambers may have different attitudes towards how much work you should do for other members of chambers. Ask your pupil supervisor what chambers’ policy is on this.
Some chambers discourage or prohibit their pupils from seeking references for their tenancy decisions. Some encourage it. You need to know if you should solicit them or not.
If you are not taken on for tenancy you will need to look into applying for a third six. Third sixes are not advertised in the same way as first and second six pupillages. There is a list of available third sixes on the Bar Council website: http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/careers/third-six-vacancies/.
However, there is no obligation on chambers to advertise. As well as applying to chambers who are actively advertising, it is also common practice to send speculative applications to other sets by way of covering letter and CV. It may be worth speaking to members of your current set in case they are aware of the recruitment position elsewhere, or of sets that might look favourably on a speculative application or whether members of your current set would be willing to recommend or introduce you to barristers they know elsewhere. Often these applications need to be made as soon as possible after your tenancy decision. In the case of advertised vacancies you may wish to apply even before a decision has been made at your own set.
Do remember that third sixes are not pupillages for regulatory purposes. Before you commence a ‘third six’ you will ordinarily have completed the practising period of pupillage and have obtained a full qualification certificate. The terms under which a third six pupil works will be subject to agreement between the barrister concerned and Chambers. They must as a minimum have a practising certificate and adequate insurance in place.
Pupil Supervisor Sarah Knight suggests:
“Try to ensure that you meet and spend time with most if not all members of Chambers, even if it’s just discussing a case in Chambers’ library. It will really help you if as many members of Chambers as possible feel they know a little bit about you and can speak about your ability. You should be able to do this without seeming pushy. If your pupil supervisor doesn’t offer it, you might like to ask if you could spend a day shadowing others in Chambers, so that you expand your experience. Try to impress the clerks by being polite and friendly towards them but without making it look like you’re desperate. They will have seen it all before, but treat them courteously and you’re likely to have a supportive view from the clerks’ room. Excellent feedback from instructing solicitors will form the basis of a successful application. This combined with an ability to fit in with other members of Chambers is likely to support your being offered a tenancy.”