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How To Secure A Pupilage: Tips For A Successful Application

Nikki Dale
Nikki Dale June 06, 2023

What is a Pupillage?

A pupillage is an essential part of the training process to become a barrister, and it is the last step that you have to complete before you can achieve the Bar.

Pupillages usually last for 12 months, and in that time you will be under the supervision of a barrister getting the practical experience that you need to be successful in the future. Pupillages combine both non-practicing and practicing experience, and you will also need to complete the formal Advocacy Training Course and the Practice Management Course during that time.

Successful completion of the pupillage will usually lead to a tenancy with the chambers you are training with, although this is not guaranteed. When you have successfully completed your pupillage and the required training courses, you will receive a Full Qualification Certificate from the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and can then apply for a Full Practicing Certificate.

Why Pupillage Matters

To be able to achieve the bar, you need to complete all training stages. The pupillage is the final step in the education and training that you need to do to become a barrister, and it is the equivalent of a training contract to become a solicitor - giving you the hands-on experience under the guidance of a barrister (or barrister) that you need for success in the future.

Securing a pupillage is a competitive process, and although there are more than 200 chambers that you can apply for to get a pupillage, you need to stand out from the crowd to make an impact and get selected.

In almost all cases, chambers that offer pupillage will also be where you will get a tenancy, but there is an extended pupillage (known as the third six) that you can remain in until you secure tenancy. To get through the pupillage in the more traditional 12-month time frame, you need to ensure that you are undertaking a pupillage in chambers that cover the area of law that you are interested in, and that you impress throughout the whole process.

Where to Find a Pupillage

All pupillage vacancies must be advertised on the Pupillage Gateway, which is a specialist pupillage recruitment site operated by the Bar Council.

The Pupillage Gateway advertises all upcoming pupillage opportunities from November, and applications open from January until early February, with offers being made in early May. About 60% of chambers and Authorized Education and Training Organisations (AETO) use the Pupillage Gateway for the whole recruitment process, while the others will operate a similar process outside this website.

You can also see pupillage opportunities at various chambers on their websites and on law-specific job boards too.

Pupillages are advertised about 18 months or so before they are due to start, and you should begin looking for them in the penultimate year of your law degree or the final year of a non-law degree. You will only be eligible for a pupillage if you have successfully completed the one-year Bar Professional Training Course and been accepted to the Bar.

Key Differences Between Pupillages and Traditional Internships

Unlike a traditional internship or graduate program, a pupillage must be undertaken for you to be considered to have achieved the Bar.

Similarly to a graduate or internship program, you will get hands-on experience and extra learning opportunities, all designed to make you more successful at the end of the year. The main difference is that the pupillage is the only route into the job of becoming a barrister; there is no 'equivalent experience' route (although you can get swapped onto the Bar from solicitor training by completing the relevant course).

There are limited chambers that are considered to be AETO - so competition for places is very tough - you need to have all the qualifications to be considered in the first place, and then you need to demonstrate your commitment to the Bar and your motivation to become a barrister to stand out from the crowd.

Essential Qualifications for a Pupillage

To qualify for a pupillage, you need to have completed your law degree to the highest standard. If you have not got a law degree, you will need to have passed a non-law degree with a high standard and completed the conversion course similarly.

Pupillage will only start once the Bar Professional Training Course has been completed and you have been accepted to the Bar. Candidates will also need to show that they are committed to becoming a barrister through their extracurricular activities and legal work experience (more on this later).

Pupilage Key Stages

The year-long pupillage is split in half, with each six-month period referred to as 'sixes'. Most pupillages are funded through a pupillage award that is provided by the chambers, and this is based on the guidelines set by the Living Wage Foundation.

First Six

The first six is the non-practicing part of the pupillage. During this time you shadow a barrister, accompanying them on their usual duties to the court, in conferences, and while they are providing consulting services.

You will be expected to help the barrister with papers, conducting research, and drafting opinions and arguments.

In some chambers, you might shadow two barristers for three months each, for different experiences.

Some of the work that is completed during the first six might be just for assessments, so they won't necessarily need any interaction with clients. Some pupillage schemes ask for students to complete 'devilling' - preparing opinions for barristers to use as their own in different situations.

During this time, you will also be expected to have completed the Advocacy Training Course.

Second Six

When you start your second six, you will be awarded a Provisional Practising Certificate, and this is where you will start providing legal services to the public (but always under the supervision of at least one qualified barrister).

You might also start to make appearances in court.

If you are working towards the criminal Bar, you will be more likely to have frequent advocacy opportunities, but if you are working in commercial areas it is more likely to be written opinions, pleadings, and other paperwork.

During the second six, you will be expected to complete the Practice Management Course.

After the Second Six

When you are reaching the end of the second six, you will be able to find out if you have achieved tenancy with the chambers you are at. This is not always a given; for some chambers, they will take on more pupils than they have residency spaces - so a job at completion is not always guaranteed.

If you are not offered a residency, you will be considered to be in the third six, and you can remain here for an indefinite amount of time until you secure a residency.

Successful completion of the pupillage and the required courses leads to the Full Qualification Certificate and you will be eligible to apply for a Full Practising Certificate, ready to begin your career as a qualified barrister.

How To Build a Strong Pupillage Application

The pupillage application process is quite straightforward, and whether you are applying through the Pupillage Gateway or directly to chambers, you will have to provide the same information and go through broadly the same steps.

Application Form

You can start your application form through the Pupillage Gateway whenever you like - it is always a good idea to get started early so that you can include all the relevant information and give yourself enough time to create a separate application for each pupillage that you are applying for.

You can apply for up to 20 pupillage opportunities through the Pupillage Gateway, and there is no limit to the number you can apply for directly.

Your application needs to include:

  • An excellent academic record, including your law degree or other degree plus the conversion course.
  • Any legal work experience that you have completed, such as pro bono work or a mini-pupillage
  • Any employment advocacy that you might have done
  • Extra-curricular activities related to law, such as moot competitions.

The application form (or the CV and cover letter if you are applying outside of the Pupillage Gateway) should be structured formally, and it needs to highlight the specifics that are related to a career in law.

Each application should be tailored to the chambers you are applying for, and you need to make sure that you include details that might be considered to 'stand out' about you - everyone that applies is likely to have high academic standards and completed some extra-curricular law-related work, so what makes you different?

Make sure that you keep track of deadlines for applications - they usually need to be done by early February and about 18 months before the pupillage is due to start.


These are held in the chambers, and there may be one or two rounds. You will usually have a panel interview to start, where you will be assessed by several members of the Chambers Pupillage Committee.

This is your opportunity to show why you are the best candidate for the role, and you can expect to answer a number of questions about yourself, your CV and application form, and about what has motivated you to apply for that particular chamber.

You might also be asked a series of legal or ethical questions regarding current events or issues, and you might be asked to complete an exercise during the interview.

In these interviews, you are being evaluated on your knowledge and dedication to the Bar, but also on your ability to deal with legal issues under pressure and the way you present yourself in tough situations.

If you are successful, you will be offered a pupillage place by early May.

Top tips for a successful pupillage application

Research the chambers

When you are considering which chambers to apply to, you want to make sure that they represent the area of law that you want to practice in the future.

Not all chambers will offer all three areas, so you need to decide which ones will offer your career choice - whether that is common law, criminal law, or commercial law.

The other things to consider include the location of the chambers - can you commute to them or are you planning on moving? You also want to make sure that they are the right fit for your personality and your lifestyle - which you should be able to glean from their online presence (website and social media).

Tailored applications

While you can make up to 20 applications on the Pupillage Gateway (and an unlimited number outside of this), it is important to make sure that you are not using the same generic application form or CV for every chamber.

Each CV should be tailored to fit the chambers, using specific examples of cases that they have worked on or their specific area of law. This demonstrates a real commitment to the chambers in particular and the Bar in general.

Keep track of deadlines

There is a really limited window of time for you to make your application decisions, so it is a good idea to be as prepared as possible for when applications open.

Get an idea of the chambers that you want to apply for early (they are listed from November), and make a start on your application as soon as you can - then you are under less pressure in January when the applications open.

Stay abreast of current affairs

If your initial application is successful, you will be invited to interview - and you can expect to be asked questions about current affairs - from global news to specifically Bar-related issues.

The more you know about what is going on in the world, the more confident you will feel in answering the questions.

Give it some personality

With so many other candidates after the same opportunities, you need to stand out from the crowd. The more you can offer about yourself (pivoted towards things like advocacy and advice, for example), the more the chambers will be able to learn - and you'll be more memorable.

Attend networking events, engage with your Inns of Court, and take part in mooting competitions - you never know who will be in attendance.

Nikki Dale June 06, 2023

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