After completing your Bar training course (The Bar Vocational Stage) you can commence pupillage or work-based learning which is the third and final stage of training for the Bar.
This stage must be commenced within 5 years of completing your Vocational Stage, meaning that if you do not commence pupillage in the same year that you finish your Bar training course (and don’t worry, this is far from unusual), you still have 5 years to begin your final stage of training. Most people are Called to the Bar either before or in the early stages of their pupillage.
You can read more detail about the Professional Stage of training to become a barrister in Part 4 of the BSB Bar Qualification Manual.
Pupillage is the term used for this professional stage undertaken within a set of chambers. Chambers is simply the place which a group of self-employed barristers use as their professional address and jointly use the facilities, such as office and conference space, as well as clerking and general administration. The term ‘work-based learning’ refers to those people who are undertaking their professional stage under the supervision of an employer, such as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or Government Legal Department.
Many people liken pupillage/work-based learning to an apprenticeship, since you will be working on a daily basis with barristers, attending conferences and court or tribunal hearings, or perhaps mediations and arbitrations. You will be given cases to work on, from providing opinions on matters of law to drafting pleadings to commence or defend a claim. All of this will take place under the supervision of your pupil supervisor and will relate, of course, to those areas of practice the chambers specialises in.
All pupils will receive at least a minimum financial award during their pupillage. At current published rates the minimum award from 1 January 2022 to 31 December 2022 is £19,144 for pupillages in London and £17,152 for pupillages outside London.
Pupillage/work-based learning normally lasts for 12 months, but can be extended to up to 2 years on application to the Bar Standards Board.
Pupillages are normally split into two parts: the ‘first six’ non-practising period in which you work closely with barristers as described above, followed by the ‘second six’ practising period; if you have successfully completed your ‘first six’ you will then be granted a provisional practising certificate which permits you to represent your own clients.
During your pupillage or work-based learning, in addition to carrying out tasks for members of chambers, you are required to undertake a number of compulsory training courses.
These are (1) an advocacy course; and (2) a Professional Ethics assessment. The Bar Standards Board have also indicated that a Negotiation Skills course and assessment will be introduced in the future.
The Inns of Court College of Advocacy produces pupillage ethics learning materials for pupils taking this assessment. The format and learning approach adopted within these materials will be very familiar to those students who have studied on the ICCA Bar Course.
You can find more details here about pupillage training
All pupillages are advertised on The Bar Council’s Pupillage Gateway.
Vacancies are published towards the end of November each year and applications can be made from early January to early February the following year (check the website for the timeline when it is updated for 2022/2023) with all offers made in early May. Some students choose to apply before starting their Bar training course and others wait until during or even after completing their Bar Course.
To commence your Bar Training Course with pupillage secured is, of course, a nice place to be in, but do not be disheartened – most students will commence their Bar training without having secured pupillage or other work-based learning.
It is important to bear in mind that there are less pupillage/work-based learning places available than there are applicants. Since not all students secure pupillage/work-based learning either before or during their Bar training course, they will continue to apply each following year. Remember that students have a maximum of 5 years after completing their Bar training course to secure pupillage. This means that a backlog of applicants builds up and it is generally accepted that around 3,000 may be applying each year for around 450-500 places. In fact, the Bar Council has reported in its Pupillage Gateway Report August 2021 that the total number of pupillage positions advertised between 2016-2020 remained broadly stable, between 459 and 497. This figure reduced under COVID-19 lockdown, although there are now signs of recovery.
This demonstrates that competition for places is high and you will need to remain focussed and motivated to succeed, in addition to putting in the hard work required to complete your Bar Course to a high standard.
Following successful completion of your pupillage or work-based learning, you will be entitled to practice as a barrister in your own right if you are taken on as a tenant in chambers, or as an employed barrister by your employer. At this stage you will receive your final practising certificate. It will come as no surprise that reaching this stage is often accompanied by a huge feeling of relief and perhaps a celebration (or two)!