A pupillage, in England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Hong Kong is the final, vocational stage of training for those wishing to become practising barristers. Pupillage is similar to an apprenticeship, during which bar graduates build on what they have learnt during the BPTC by combining it with practical work experience in a set of barristers' chambers.
England and Wales
A pupillage is the final stage of training to be a barrister and usually lasts one year; in England and Wales the period is made up of two six-month periods (known as "sixes"). The first of these is the non-practising six, during which pupils shadow their pupil supervisor, and the second will be a practising six, when pupils can undertake to supply legal services and exercise rights of audience.
At the end of the first six months, a pupil needs to have the pupil supervisor sign a certificate confirming satisfactory completion and send it to the Bar Standards Board. The pupil receives a Provisional Qualification Certificate. At the end of the second six months, the pupil's supervisor must certify another document for satisfactory completion and send it to the Bar Council Education and Training Department. The pupil will then receive a Full Qualification Certificate.
Structure of pupillage
Pupillages are split into two different phases. The "first six" involves observing the pupil's supervisor at court and in conference, and assisting with related paperwork. In many chambers, this is the more relaxed part of the pupillage, as the pupil has little responsibility.
In the second six months of pupillage, each pupil is responsible for a personal case load. This will range from a first appearance in the county court or magistrates' court, hearings in the High Court, or Crown Court to full trials. Some second-six pupils may gain experience of jury trials, but this is extremely rare. Generally speaking, most second-six pupils handle minor proceedings such as case management conferences, plea and directions hearings, infant settlements or small claims cases, such as possession hearings, debt recovery proceedings or road traffic claims.
The amount of work that a pupil gains in the second six depends on the chambers. Second-six pupils in criminal sets are typically in court several times a week, while pupils in civil sets may have only two or three cases in a week. Second-six pupils in commercial sets can go their entire pupillage without ever appearing in court.
In most leading criminal and civil sets, pupils receive a frequent supply of work. However, as clerks do not prioritise pupils, it may take some time before they are paid for their work. In some cases, pupils will never be paid for the work carried out in court. This has led to a situation where pupils struggle to make ends meet, especially in criminal sets.
Financial position of pupils
The financial position of pupils varies enormously. Some pupil barristers will earn £12,000 (the Bar Council minimum) for a 12-month pupillage in a criminal set. A pupillage at a top commercial chambers can be paid £65,000. The Bar Council has decreed that all pupils must be remunerated in the minimum sum of £1000 per month, equating to £12,000 per year, which must be made up of (at minimum) an award of £6,000 in the first six and guaranteed earnings of £6,000 in the second six. It is usual practice for Chambers to allow pupils to retain all second-six earnings in excess of this amount, although these can be subject to deductions for clerking, chambers expenses and other sums. It can take several months for solicitors to pay pupils for magistrates' court work, which can cause financial hardship for some.
While pupils are allowed to supplement their incomes by undertaking part-time work outside of their pupillages, with the permission of their pupil master or Head of Chambers, the Bar Council requires pupils to apply themselves full-time to pupillage. Opportunities for earning outside of pupillage are limited by time constraints.
Pupillage is recognised as a difficult and demanding time. Pupils must attempt to impress as many members of their chambers as possible. They also have to impress their clerks by completing as many cases as possible and satisfying solicitors.
The Working Time Directive applies to pupillages. Formally, pupils may work a maximum of 48 hours per week, unless an opt-out has been signed.
Prospective pupils can apply in advance for pupillages offered through Pupillage Gateway (a web-based application centre) usually about one year ahead of the proposed starting date. Non-Pupillage Portal chambers have their own application procedures, and details of how to contact all chambers with pupillages are advertised on the Pupillage Portal website.
Gaining a pupillage is not easy. There is some evidence to suggest that every year around only 5-10% of applicants are successful. A candidate needs to demonstrate strong academic qualifications (preferably First Class Honours degree from a leading university, but normally an Upper Second at the very least)) or excellent extracurricular activities.
Pupillage in Hong Kong generally last 12 months. The period may be shortened for those with advocacy experience in other jurisdictions or as a solicitor. A pupil barrister may be admitted after 6 months pupillage and there after obtain a limited practising certificate that allows them to practice under the supervision of their pupil master.
There is no contractual relationship between pupil master and pupil in Hong Kong and pupils are not as a general rule paid. However, the Hong Kong Bar Association encourages pupil masters to remunerate their pupils where the pupil has done work of value to them at any stage of their pupillage.
There is no central system for obtaining pupils and prospective pupils must apply directly to chambers or to barristers.