updated on 04 September 2019
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 Professional Training Course (BPTC), pupillage is essential for all those who 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 a 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 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.
The two sixes are usually 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), 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 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. 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.
Competition for pupillage places is very high. Generally, only around one third of those who start the BPTC will obtain a pupillage.
In addition, the Bar Standard Board's Pupillage 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 (usually in November). 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 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, which opens for applications throughout January and the beginning of February each year. However, you can view vacancies and start preparing ahead of your applications from late November. Most chambers 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 – these vacancies are advertised on the Pupillage Gateway all year round.
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.
As a rule of thumb, you should apply for pupillage at least a year before you wish to start - ie, in January 2020 for a pupillage beginning in September 2021. 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.
From 1 September 2019, the minimum pupillage award will be set at £18,436 in London and £15,628 outside London. Some chambers may pay more than this.