updated on 22 July 2020
Mini-pupillages (or ‘minis’) are short work shadowing placements offered by barristers’ chambers. They typically last from one day to one week and serve as the most common work experience activity for anyone interested in advocacy or life at the Bar. Covid-19 has caused most chambers to pause or delay their mini-pupillage recruitment processes this year. However, preparing for mini-pupillages is still a useful activity for two reasons. Firstly, in-person mini-pupillages will return at some point. They may be structured differently around public health guidelines but as far as we know, their cancellation is not permanent. And secondly, chambers have now begun offering virtual mini-pupillages or pupillage webinar events in place of their usual mini-pupil intake.
I completed the BPTC at The University of Law last year, and was Called to the Bar by Middle Temple in 2019. As an aspiring barrister, I have completed a mixture of in-person and virtual minis. Here’s what I have learned about how to make the most of each type of opportunity!
Dress smartly and professionally when you attend chambers on the first day of your mini. Unless you have been sent an itinerary in advance, it is safest to assume that you might shadow a barrister going to court. Preparing for court includes checking your belongings for items that are prohibited by security. Common items that you may have in your bag include perfume, aerosol sprays, metal cutlery or scissors. Leave these at home or in chambers. If your barrister is running off to a hearing, the last thing they need is a delayed mini-pupil getting stuck at security.
Meeting new people on a mini is a chance to make purposeful connections instead of polite, one-dimensional greetings. Practising a short self-introduction can help achieve this, especially when you may be nervous or dazzled by everyone else’s brilliance. For example: “I’m X, I am at Y stage in my journey to the Bar and am looking to learn more about Z”. Clear signposting can invite further introductions or conversation and demonstrates that you are open to work experience.
Pupillage panels can ask very specific questions about lessons from mini-pupillages during interviews. As time passes it can be difficult to remember what type of paper briefs you looked over, or what the key issue in a court case was. The simplest route of rectification is to keep a mini-diary as you go. At the end of each day, note down the full names of everyone you shadowed as well as any other advocates you observed where possible. I ended up in the Court of Appeal on one mini and observed a top QC from another chambers whose advocacy I could reference later because I had made some scribbles about it on the day I saw it. While some chambers will have confidentiality agreements about not disclosing any case details, you can still make anonymous notes about exploring an area of law.
It is also advisable to keep travel receipts as you go along. Some chambers will reimburse these; it is easier to claim them if you keep track as you go!
Know what you want to get out of a particular mini. This will help you ask specific, focused questions of the barristers you shadow. Are you focused on finding out what one particular area of law is like in practice? Or are you investigating what the London Bar is like compared with the circuits? When asking questions about barristers’ pupillage application experiences, be targeted. Do not ask generic questions about their educational background or work experience if you can find this out on their website. It is a waste of a valuable chance to quiz a real-life barrister!
Build rapport with people where possible. Try and come away with contact details of barristers you had helpful conversations with. Ask if you can contact them in future about pupillage applications – I was surprised by the number of barristers who offered to do this for me! Finally, be thankful at the end of your mini. Chambers have gone out of their way to give you an insight into their advocates’ working life.
Before you begin the session, research the chambers and its work. You will have a much more useful experience if you are familiar with some basic legal concepts of the set’s work areas, instead of sitting in silence as the panel talks about the type of work they do. Unlike an in-person mini, there is little chance to ask for explanation as you go along: the event has a set time with speakers allocated specific slots. This makes prior research especially important, otherwise there is the chance that the panel’s conversations will go over your head.
When you register for a virtual event, be sure to check how the panel receive questions from attendees. Usually, virtual sessions and webinars accept questions via a live chat or by sending them in beforehand via email or social media. A little planning can make sure you get the chance to ask what you want to. When submitting questions to the panel, use your full name for reference when doing so. One virtual mini I attended recently read aloud the questions and their authors during their Q&A. Getting your name out there shows your enthusiasm and can be a chance to plant tiny seeds of recognition in people’s minds.
Don’t wait until 5:59pm before a 6:00pm virtual session to log into the event. Due to the volume of applicants, it can take a while before actually being let into a call from the virtual waiting room. Sometimes new links are generated after issues with the first. You don’t want to be left behind!
Observe not just what the panel is saying, but how they interact with each other. This is a potential benefit from a virtual mini that you don’t get in person as much; seeing five or six barristers trying to navigate communication between themselves and an audience. It can provide a useful opportunity to look at their working relationships and how they relate to each other. Do they laugh and joke or is everyone deadly serious? Do the senior practitioners speak much more than the juniors? This can help form an idea of what their chambers’ environment might be like. It can also give you a sense of whether or not you are attracted to the atmosphere you observe. Although connecting with people virtually is very different to in person, there is definite value in engaging in a little people-watching here.
Any kind of mini-pupillage experience is worth taking a little time to prepare for. Time is usually in short supply for law students; hopefully this article serves as a tool for maximising efficiency and effectiveness of any work experience you undertake. Good luck!