updated on 04 March 2021
Find out which chambers offer pupillages by using our Pupillage search.
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 called to the Bar on passing the Bar course, pupillage is essential if you wish to practise; in this sense it is the equivalent of the trainee solicitor's training contract. Without completing this year, you won't secure tenancy (ie, a permanent place) within a set of chambers.
Pupillage usually takes one year to complete, with the year divided into two six-month periods, known as '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 unusual 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.
The two sixes are usually very different experiences. Generally, the first six is non-practical and is largely spent shadowing and assisting the pupil supervisor. This involves being in court and attending conferences (meetings with solicitors), undertaking research, doing background reading and drafting documents. 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 advise your own clients and handle your own cases. In contrast to the shadowing and observing of the first six, the second 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. Inevitably, much of this work involves straightforward cases, but there is always the chance that an important or groundbreaking case may arise.
Where to do pupillage
Your starting point when thinking about pupillage is to decide what area of law you'd like to specialise in. Make sure to research the different barristers' practice areas. 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 have provided a searchable list of chambers by work area, location, number of places available, application method, funding and size.
In addition, the Bar Standard Board's Bar Qualification Manual contains details of all organisations offering pupillage in the forthcoming year and comprehensive information about pupillage awards.
Competition for pupillage places is very high. Generally, only around one third of those who start the Bar course 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 for pupillage
You should start considering your options from the beginning of 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. Most chambers enable you to apply through the Pupillage Gateway, but chambers that are not members of the Pupillage Gateway require direct applications. Nevertheless, all pupillage vacancies at both types of chambers are listed on the system, so wherever you plan to apply, you should start by checking the Pupillage Gateway. Be aware that chambers that are not members of the Gateway (but still have to list their pupillages on the system) will have varying deadlines and methods of application, so check their individual websites for details.
The Pupillage Gateway opens for applications every January, with applications closing a month later in February. However, candidates can log in to the Gateway to browse vacancies and start preparing their applications from late November.
As a rule of thumb, you should apply for pupillage at least a year before you wish to start (ie, in January 2022 for a pupillage beginning in September 2023). You can apply to up to 12 Gateway member chambers (but as many non-member chambers as you like). There is no clearing period. For more information on when to apply, see Pupillage deadlines.
As of 1 January 2020, the minimum pupillage award is £18,866 in London and £16,322 outside London. Some chambers may pay more than this. The minimum pupillage award is reviewed annually in line with the recommendations of the Living Wage Foundation.