The demands of Chambers; the clerks’ expectations – first six, second six; third six pupillages; devilling; payment for work as a pupil; equality and diversity issues; discrimination and how to handle it; work life balance; how to conduct yourself in Chambers
“I didn’t go to the loo for the first week in Chambers because no-one told me where it was and I didn’t like to ask.”
Fiona Jackson of 33 Chancery Lane, Chair of the Bar Council’s Bar Nursery Committee, a Vice-Chair of the Equality & Diversity Committee and Member Services Board, and a member of the International Committee, says:
“Anecdotal evidence indicates that some pupils do not know where to turn when problems arise during pupillage and the early years of tenancy, and even in highly-regarded sets barristers can be unaware of who to speak to if they face problems such as harassment and discrimination. This increases their stress levels at an already stressful early point in their career. Some Chambers offer an informal scheme whereby a very junior member of Chambers is allocated to each pupil to act as a point of contact for advice and guidance on issues that a pupil may not want initially to raise with their supervisor or another senior member of Chambers. If your set doesn’t have one, why not talk to your pupil supervisor or Equality & Diversity Officer about the possibility of one being introduced?”
Comment: Other chambers operate an informal policy that the pupil welfare officer/first year tenants/most junior tenants will advise pupils but won’t report back to the head of chambers/pupil supervisors without the pupil’s consent.
The Inns of Court provide training for pupils and new practitioners, as well as running ongoing continuing professional development courses for established practitioners.
As a pupil you will have to complete a pupil advocacy training course during your first six, and a practice management course during either your first or second six, and be certified as having achieved a satisfactory level of competence in both. Some Inns combine the two courses. You will also be required to complete a forensic accountancy course during your first three years of practice, preferably during your pupillage year.
New practitioners, whether employed or self-employed, must go on to complete 45 hours accredited CPD including at least nine hours of advocacy training and three hours of ethics within their first three years of practice (beginning at the commencement of tenancy or of a third six pupillage).
For the BSB requirements on the training that must be done during pupillage, see:
For information on CPD, including the New Practitioners Course, visit:
Your pupil supervisor; the importance of relationship
Everyone’s experience as a pupil will be different. Pupillage is an opportunity to learn, to get to grips with the reality of life at the Bar and hopefully to impress your supervisor(s) and solicitors for the future.
Tamsin Cox, Falcon Chambers, member of the Bar Council’s Education and Training Committee says:
“Your relationship with your pupil supervisor is incredibly important, but not in a scary sense. The main thing to bear in mind is that in taking pupils Chambers are endeavouring to recruit not employees, but colleagues, who will potentially be sharing rooms, books and other resources with existing members for decades to come. It’s also the case that the vast majority of pupil supervisors want their pupils to succeed; the role of the supervisor is itself quite intensive and time-consuming, and all the effort really feels worthwhile if you get a successful functioning barrister out of the other end. Consequently, although your pupil supervisor will of course be scrutinising your work, and also your general conduct in Chambers, they are likely to be the most enthusiastic advocate on your behalf when it comes to tenancy decisions. The result is that you should, of course, be suitably respectful in dealing with your supervisor, do as you’re asked and certainly not embarrass them (notably by never contradicting them in front of clients!) but you don’t need to be entirely deferential, and displaying a little bit of personality from time to time is a good thing, especially when you can show that you’re capable of being proactive and thinking independently. It’s also worth remembering that your supervisor is your first port of call when you need any help and advice, and that remains so long after pupillage finishes. I’m happy to say that all of my ex-supervisors are still friends, and I wouldn’t hesitate to ask any of them for help even ten years on.”
Sarah Knight, a pupil supervisor at 1 High Pavement Chambers in Nottingham comments:
“Mastering the art of shadowing your pupil supervisor during your first six months is tricky. You’ll need to be enthusiastic (but not irritatingly so), attentive (but not asking too many questions and not at inopportune moments) and sensitive to your pupil supervisor’s need to concentrate on the case in hand. Be smart, punctual and organised. These qualities alone will impress, but also try to be yourself and let your personality have chance to shine. The Bar welcomes all sorts of different personalities, but don’t trespass into being a maverick; there’s a happy balance to be achieved between fitting in and being unique and yourself.”
Expectations of first, second and third six pupils
The first six months of pupillage is a great opportunity to get to know your chambers and its areas of practice in detail. You will be expected to work for your pupil supervisor and other members of chambers but at the outset less may be expected of you. You will not attend court in your own right except as a noting junior. The first six is also an opportunity to get to know the clerks and find out what they want from you as a pupil.
In your second six you will have to balance doing your own work, applying your knowledge and advocacy in a real setting, and persuading your Chambers to take you on by working effectively for your pupillage supervisor or others in Chambers and making a good impression on colleagues. You may of course also be starting to look elsewhere. The amount of work that you do on your own account in your second six will vary depending on the practice area.
Third six pupils also have to balance covering work for chambers, building their own practices and trying to make a good impression.
For more on third sixes, visit: http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/careers/third-six-vacancies/.
Louisa Nye, 2015 Vice-Chairman of the Young Barristers Committee, shares her experience of her first day on her feet:
“The first day on your feet in court is often the most nerve-racking and exhilarating day in your career as a barrister. For most barristers the court work is why they decided to become a barrister rather than a solicitor. Nerves are a good thing; they ensure that you are sharp and your brain is ready to engage. However, too many nerves can make it difficult to focus. Always take a deep breath and remember to speak at a normal and controlled pace. If all else fails it is doubtful your first day in court will be as stressful as mine!
“Most pupils are given assistance and time to prepare for their first court hearing. Not so in my case! Having been instructed at 3.30pm to appear in an application the next day (coincidentally being the day of my tenancy decision), I was then dis-instructed at 4.15pm: much to my relief! I was then re-instructed at 5pm, told that the solicitor was unavailable until 9.30am the next morning, and was given papers consisting of the other side’s application (2 pages) and told to resist the application. After an incredibly nervous night, I got into Chambers early next morning and was given brief instructions on the telephone, after which I dashed out the door at 10am. A frantic summer ride on the Tube later and I arrived at court, was ushered in, sat where I had been taught to sit, and tried to settle myself. The litigant in person complained that he (the Defendant) was not sitting where the Defendant should sit. Rather than letting it go the Judge made me get up and switch places. My nerves were slightly frayed at this point! Nonetheless I won my application and a fair and reasonable amount of my costs.
“Back in Chambers I regaled the solicitor with my success. He proceeded to complain at great volume and length that we hadn’t recovered all the costs – I felt entirely deflated. To top it all, later that day Chambers decided not to offer me tenancy (thankfully this was not based on my court appearance!). Suffice to say after getting through the first day I have never felt nervous going into court again!”
For tips on dealing with nerves at court see, click here.
Things pupils should expect to do – to work and learn, to volunteer to do work for their supervisor and other members of chambers, to attend conferences (but not to express their opinion unless specifically asked by their supervisor), to buy coffees and sandwiches if asked to do so (but not with their own money), to do research, to participate in chambers advocacy or training sessions.
Things pupils should not expect to do – to run errands for senior members of chambers, to collect dry-cleaning, to courier briefs, boxes, files or wine, to work all night or for other members of chambers without their own prior agreement or their supervisor’s agreement. Generally not to be abused (and not to be sent to court to take the flack for others’ negligence beyond the normal part of being a barrister).
Diversity and discrimination – each chambers should have an Equality and Diversity officer, and many will have a pupillage welfare officer, separate from a pupil supervisor, to whom they can speak if they are not comfortable raising an issue with their supervisor, a senior member of chambers or the head of chambers. There is a section on equality and discrimination in the Wellbeing section of the Toolkit.
Bar Council Pupils Helpline
Phone: 020 7611 1430
The Bar Council runs a helpline specifically for pupils. It is a confidential source of advice unconnected with chambers. It is not there to help you win cases, but as a source of guidance if you have an ethical or professional problem. We encourage pupils with problems to ring. It is totally confidential.
As a pupil you might not be paid for work done for others, especially if you have a sizeable pupillage award. If asked to do a substantial piece of work (your view of what is substantial may differ from that of a more senior barrister) it is always best to find out if you will be paid in advance. You shouldn’t expect to be paid for something a more senior barrister won’t be paid for. If you do a good piece of work then a good reference or a bottle of wine may be the reward rather than payment. The Bar Council Ethics Committee commentary on devilling is at http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/practice-ethics/professional-practice-and-ethics/devilling/.
Carolyn McCombe, Chief Executive of 4 Pump Court, comments:
“There is a real temptation and sometimes pressure for pupils and junior tenants to take on too much work. In their enthusiasm to impress they can spread themselves too thinly. Doing a bad piece of work or one that is delivered late can be very damaging both for their prospects of tenancy or for receiving further work from a solicitor or more senior member of chambers. Some chambers operate a policy of ensuring that every piece of work given to a pupil by someone other than their supervisor goes through the clerks so they can ensure that the work is allocated fairly and that no one is put under too much pressure either in terms of the volume of work or its timing e.g. if it coincides with an advocacy exercise or when they have started work in their own right.”
There is a whole section of this Toolkit devoted to Wellbeing. As a first six pupil you may find it helpful to take holiday at the same time as your supervisor. It is up to you to find out what is acceptable in the second six: in some sets you will be encouraged to take a holiday, in others you may not. However, given that most pupils find the process of pupillage exhausting it is a good idea to arrange a holiday after your tenancy decision to celebrate or recover as appropriate. You have a right to at least two weeks holiday in a 6 month period but if you take too much you may have to extend your pupillage. See: https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/qualifying-as-a-barrister/pupillage/pupillage-frequently-asked-questions/.
Simon Boutwood, Director of Harcourt Chambers says:
“We want to know where our pupils are, simply because we need to know whether they are available or not. It’s not a question of keeping tabs on them. We just need to know whether they can take work on or not without having to go hunting for them.”
How to conduct yourself in chambers
There is no right way or guide to this. You have to be aware that others will scrutinise your actions, both in chambers and in court. It may not seem it, but the Bar is a small place and news of bad behaviour travels fast. We hope that we shouldn’t have to tell you not to turn up to court worse for wear from the night before, although this is a risk for second six criminal pupils who find themselves in the Magistrates’ Court on Saturday mornings. It is worthwhile remembering that, although while you are a pupil pupillage will quite naturally be the foremost consideration in your mind, for others, it will not. Do not over-analyse or worry about every single social occasion or minor mistake.
Dealing with nerves
The Wellbeing section of the Toolkit contains some helpful tips on how to deal with nerves when you’re first on your feet.