It will come as no surprise to you reading this that attaining pupillage is notoriously difficult. With well over 2,000 students competing for a meagre 240 places (as of 2018), the odds are strong that the lengthy process will result in rejections. However, it is not all doom and gloom. Blogs like this one and other helpful resources (in particular, www.pupillageadvice.com) can really help you start off (or try again) on the right foot. I will go through the 4 steps which I highly recommend you go through before applying to pupillage:
- Conduct research;
- Gain relevant experience;
- Meet the requisite educational requirements; and
- Consider whether pupillage is for you.
Step 1 – Know the Game
As with everything, research and planning is key. The fact that you have gone out of your way and are reading something like this is indicative that you already have the right attitude. Within your research in applying for pupillage, you will likely discover:
- It is long;
- It is costly;
- Numerous arbitrary hurdles; and
- That the majority of applicants are rejected.
With this in mind, know your deadlines (particularly for non-gateway sets), know the process and what Chambers will be looking for in the application process.
It never hurts to be overly prepared.
Step 2 – Gain Relevant Experience
Whilst it is tempting to lampoon the BPTC at this stage in this blog, I am of the opinion that gaining relevant experience should chronologically take priority. From my (albeit limited) experience, there are those who leave it too late and view undertaking the BPTC as a form of experience in and of itself – two days’ worth of marshalling the week before the Gateway deadline will not help at all.
In this step, you must take the title very literally: ‘gain relevant experience’. For clarity, I will break down the process of doing so:
‘Experience’ – though at the end of the sentence, this is the starting point for your deliberations. ‘Experience’ for the Bar is often referred to as synonymous with mini-pupillages. However, as you will see below, these are not always the best types of experience. When it comes to filling out your CV during holidays, think broadly. FRU, for example, provide practical experience of handling live matters with real clients. Marshalling provides a judge’s unique perspective in matters and how they must balance justice and timetabling. Work with solicitors can provide experience with a litany of paperwork. Start your planning by thinking in these broad terms to create a diverse and interesting CV.
‘Relevant’ – now is the point when you can start to narrow down the search. Relevance is often subjective to the type of Chambers you are wishing to apply to. Ask yourself ‘would my application to X Chambers be benefitted by this’ – for example, whilst a criminal set may wish to know all about your work with a renown solicitors firm specialising in defence, you can be almost certain a tax-orientated set are not likely to be overwhelmed by it. The relevance test is particularly helpful for working out what you should put on your application form ‘after the fact’, concentrating on the relevant experience whilst reducing the content for any irrelevant experiences.
‘Gain’ – this is a rather philosophical point, but one that I believe is mightily important. Whilst, on paper, 6 mini pupillages at related sets within your selected field of expertise may appear to tick the ‘experience’ and ‘relevance’ test, they must reach a third threshold – you must gain some experience from it. I used the example of mini pupillages because they are often the largest offenders at needlessly filling out application forms with unnecessary information. Having undertaken a number of mini pupillages at a variety of sets (though all within the same field), I found that some were more useful than others. Without naming names, I found that some Chambers were more than happy to have me silently shadow a QC about, whilst others were keen with me to engage in paperwork and actively participate in aiding proceedings. The bottom line is therefore as follows: whilst it may be easy to doss about in court for a week, you will have gained nothing from it. Think smart, and see what you can do and (arguably more importantly) learn.
A final word of advice which has come to mind is busting an age-old myth regarding experience. There is no minimum threshold for mini pupillages. There is no required number of weeks that you must have spent with solicitors. There is no prescribed organisation which you must work with. All you have to do is ‘gain relevant experience’. You’ll know subjectively when you have enough and when you need more – any talk of objective standards should be avoided!
Step 3 – Your Education
By this point, you will probably already know that you need two or three things in order to apply for pupillage:
- An undergraduate law degree; or
- Another undergraduate degree and the GDL; and
- The BPTC (this week’s name for the professional Bar course)
Before I go any further with these, some Chambers may have an A Level requirement. If they do, they make it very clear from the start that this is the case. However, from my experience, these are mainly commercial sets to whom academia is a priority. For your own benefit please research your field before you commit to it as you might not be eligible. Regardless, these are the minority and should not be something to worry about.
Turning now to your first degree (LLB or otherwise) and grades, you should be prepared for the same phrase to be thrown at you daily – ‘2:1 or higher’. At this point, it is important to note that a 2:2 is never the end of the world if there are genuine mitigating circumstances as to why this is the case. However, your goal is to get at least a 2:1 to progress on to pupillage. In terms of starting out with a non-law degree and converting in the GDL, your options are fairly open (though I would still recommend at least a 2:1 in a relatively academic subject).
The next point to bring up is where you obtained your degree. Hypothetically, it makes no real difference. Realistically however, a 2:1 from Oxford in Law will often put you in a better position than a 2:1 from Daringford Owling Academy in Media Studies (not least because the latter is entirely fictitious). Once again, the general rule of thumb (which I am loathe to adhere to) is that Russel Group universities are a ‘safe bet’. However, do not be deterred if you have come into the game from somewhere else – a strong set of marks will do more to set you apart than where your degree came from.
Finally, we arrive at the BPTC. In short, there are three things to be said about the BPTC which are fairly universal:
- It is not the be-all-and-end-all;
- It is not cheap; and
- It is fairly arduous.
Taking each of these in turn, the BPTC is not the end of the road. As you may be aware, every year droves of people fail BSB set papers for a variety of reasons. Because of this, Chambers are unlikely to view your BPTC results as the epitome of your academic potential. Equally, Chambers are well aware of the strange things that the BPTC providers teach and whilst good grades in practical skills such as advocacy can be to your advantage, poor grades are not necessarily the end of the world.
The second point is that the BPTC does not come cheap. All told, the total costs for the course and Call can hit upwards of £20,000. Whilst there are scholarships on offer, I would recommend spending some time with a calculator before undertaking the BPTC in totting up the cost. I would also recommend looking into loans and questioning whether you really need to undertake the BPTC now.
Finally, the question that dogged most of us as we started the BPTC: what is it like? Unlike a degree, the BPTC is not necessarily intellectually hard. That being said, it isn’t easy. The BPTC is uniquely difficult – you will find yourself having to perform mental gymnastics to understand how and why things are taught the way they are. In short, learn to regurgitate and learn to roll with it.
Step 4 – Is it for You?
Ideally, this would be your first consideration. However, most people find themselves enrolling on the BPTC before really considering whether pupillage is the right route for them.
In thinking about the future, I would recommend first considering whether you have completed the above steps before committing to what can be an awfully long and difficult process. Equally, I would recommend that you consider what your goals are and whether they can be achieved without undertaking pupillage (or even the costly BPTC). In order to fully explore your options, I would suggest looking online, speaking to your careers tutor or otherwise checking out www.pupillageadvice.com.