Pupillage is the final stage of training to be a barrister. During this time, you put into practice everything you have learnt so far. Although you will be a fully qualified barrister (and called to the Bar) on passing the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), pupillage is essential for all those who wish to practise; in this sense it's akin to the trainee solicitor's training contract. Without completing this year, you won't secure a tenancy (ie, a permanent place) within a set of chambers.
Pupillage usually takes a year to complete, with the year divided into two six-month periods or 'sixes'. Each six is spent in a set of chambers (although a small number of places are available in companies and other institutions), under the guidance and supervision of a junior barrister of at least five years' experience - your pupil supervisor. It is not uncommon for each six to be spent in a different chambers and/or with a different pupil supervisor. With competition for tenancies so high, sometimes a third six is undertaken.
What you learn
It's helpful to think of pupillage as an apprenticeship. The year is an opportunity for a chambers to build on what the pupil has already learnt by combining academic and vocational experience with the day-to-day, practical work of chambers, including advocacy, drafting and liaising with solicitors, clients and colleagues. Pupillage also gives chambers a chance to assess a pupil's prospects for tenancy.
Often, the two sixes are very different experiences. Generally, the first six is non-practical and is largely spent observing and assisting the pupil supervisor. This involves being in court and attending conferences (meetings with solicitors), preparing drafts and researching and reading up on case law. During this six you will learn how to be a barrister by comparing and contrasting your work with that of the pupil supervisor. How do the drafts differ and why? Was the case presented in court in a very different manner from the way you had planned? Were the dealings with solicitors as you had expected?
If the first six is completed satisfactorily, you will be certified as able to handle your own clients and cases. In contrast to the assisting and observing of the first, the second six will see you in at the deep end, officially practising and taking on your own work, with all the responsibilities and pressures that this entails.
Where to do pupillage
Your starting point when thinking about pupillage is to decide what area of law you'd like to specialise in. Read about the different barristers' practice areas here. Use the experience gained during your studies as well as any work experience, especially mini-pupillages, to help you decide. There's no substitute for reading as much as you can about the various work areas and different chambers, attending pupillage fairs and generally keeping yourself as informed as possible.
To help you with your research, we've provided a searchable list of chambers by work area, city location, number of places available, application method, funding and size.
In addition, the Bar Standard Board's Pupillages Handbook contains details of all organisations offering pupillage in the forthcoming year and comprehensive information about pupillage awards. The handbook is automatically distributed to all BPTC students and is also available from the annual National Pupillage Fair (in March). Otherwise contact the Bar Standards Board for a copy.
Competition for pupillage places is very high. Generally, only around one third of those who start the BPTC will obtain a pupillage. Bearing this in mind, by all means apply to the chambers that most appeal to you, but don't be disheartened if you don't get those first choices. Strong applications and persistence are key.
When and how to apply
You should start considering your options from Christmas in the second year of your law degree (or the third year for non-law undergraduates), by attending legal careers fairs and applying for mini-pupillages and other relevant work experience for the forthcoming summer vacation. Note that mini-pupillages can be a very good foot in the door - perform well and you might get the offer of a pupillage at the end of your stint.
Applications for pupillage are made through the centralised site, the Pupillage Gateway (which replaces the Pupillage Portal and is the system formerly known as OLPAS). The gateway is set to launch in February 2013. Most chambers (or 'Pupillage Training Organisations') are members of the centralised gateway system, but some are not. Nevertheless, available pupillages at both types of chambers are listed on the system, but non-members will have varying deadlines and methods of application, and you will have to check their individual websites for details.
If you are applying direct through the gateway, it opens in March 2013 for candidates to browsw the available adverts. From 1 April, candidates will be able to submit their applications. As a rule of thumb, you should apply for pupillage around 18 months before you wish to start - ie, in April 2013 for a pupillage beginning in September 2014. You can apply to up to 12 member chambers (but as many non-member chambers as you like). For more information on when to apply, see Pupillage deadlines.
You will be paid a minimum of £12,000 for the year of pupillage, although the prestigious sets pay upwards of £60,000.