The Roll Of The Pupillage Dice


Is attaining pupillage more than a mere roll of the dice….

With the Pupillage Portal once again opening it’s doors in April and the publishing of the ‘Bar Barometer‘ from the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board, it is time to address the fundamental question of whether the opportunity of attaining a pupillage is more than just a mere roll of the dice?

Whilst I cannot dispel any myths in respect to attaining the elusive pupillage, I can however draw some conclusions from the available statistical information and hopefully elevate the tone of this debate by seeking to draw a clear understanding and some closure upon the issues which are dogging the profession, whilst hopefully answering the often asked question is there really no ‘bar to the Bar’?

From the outset, I need to point out that the formulation of both my opinions and conclusions are shaped by the various detailed reports from the pupillage statistics for 2009-2010, which have been made freely available from the Bar Standards Board, all of which are available to view online.  Importantly, the statistics that are outlined below address pupils and pupillage attained through the Pupillage Portal application process and not those derived through non-OLPAS application route.

How many pupils attain a 1st Six Pupillage through the online Pupillage Portal?

In 2009-10 there were a total of 2,841 applications made to chambers through the Pupillage Portal, for only 460 places of a 1st Six Pupillage.  The gender make up was as follows; 1,214 (42.7%) were male and 1,452 (51.1%) were Female. (Note that 175 (6.2%) applicants’ details were missing).

The data provides a very sobering thought for anyone seeking to join the profession, as in real terms the figures presented would suggest that there is only a 16% chance of attaining a 1st Six Pupillage.

So now it is important to identify the pupillage credentials of those 460 pupils, or in other words, from the 2,841 applications what does it take to make it across the finishing line to attain a pupillage.

How much weight does education play in the pupillage selection process?

Given the information provided, there is a very clear division between those pupils who attended a ‘Russell Group University’ and those that did not.  Therefore, it is clear from the evidential statistical data that the education of a pupil could be still considered as a principle factor in the pupillage selection process.

For clarity, The Russell Group describes itself as an association of 20 major research-intensive universities, namely: Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Imperial College London, King’s College London, Leeds, Liverpool, LSE, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen’s College Belfast, Sheffield, Southampton, University College London and Warwick.

So how many of the 460 pupils attended a Russell Group University?

From the illustrated data, 109 (23.7%) pupils attended Oxford/Cambridge University, 103 (22.4%) pupils attended a ‘Russell Group University’ (excluding Oxford/Cambridge) and for 53 (11.5%) there was no available data.

Therefore, 46% of pupils who attained pupillage through the online Pupillage Portal attended a ‘Russell Group University’ and specifically 22.4% of that collective attended either Oxford or Cambridge University.  This information in my opinion would demonstrate the propensity that the selected educator of a pupil continues to remain as important today as it has ever been.

Excluding the unavailable data of 53 (11.5%) pupils, 195 pupils attended non Russell universities and it is my judgment that these figures send out a very clear message which reinforces the notion that the profession is still very much guided by the university an individual has attended. Students who achieved their academic qualifications from a ‘Russell Group University’ would statistically stand a better chance of obtaining a pupillage. Controversially, the ‘Final Report of the Working Party on Entry to the Bar’ led by Lord Neuberger in 2007 recommended that the Bar should try to cast its net more widely across the university spectrum. Evidently whilst the number of pupils from a non ‘Russell Group University’ continue unabated, the profession still has a long way to go to demonstrate a level playing field.

Does my qualifying degree play an important part on the path to pupillage?

As identified, attaining a degree from a ‘Russell Group University’ would certainly support the higher number of individuals who have attained pupillage, but crucially when the statistics are drilled down attaining either a First or Upper Second degree are prerequisite in becoming a pupil, which could present some uncomfortable reading for the 361 (23%) full time students who embarked upon the BPTC in 2009 -2010 who held a Lower Second Class degree.

Pupil Barristers by degree classification 2009/2010

First = 108 (23.5%)
Upper Second = 243 (52.8%)
Lower Second = 39 (8.5)
Third = 2 (0.4%)
Other = 9 (2%)
Missing data accounts for 55 (12.8%)

So does age really play its part in obtaining a pupillage and should I consider the Bar as a change of career especially if I have a family?

Another controversial issue that brings the profession into question is whether there is a ‘bar to the Bar’ with regards to age and whether age is a significant factor of consideration for pupillage.  From the statistics driven from the Pupillage Survey 2009 – 2010 the ages of the 460 pupils were made up as follows:

137 pupils aged under 25 (30%)
216 pupils aged 25-34 (47%)
35 pupils aged 35-44 (7.6%)
14 pupils aged 45-54 (3%)
4 pupils aged 55-64 (0.9%)
1 of pupil aged 65+ (0.2%)

(Note 53 equalling 11.5% of pupils failed to provide a response)

From the figures presented, it is my considered opinion that as 11% of the 460 pupils were over 35, it would suggest that the Bar is not a profession that would appear to fully embrace an easy transition as a choice for those embarking upon a second career. Interestingly it is recognised within industry that individuals who have reached their 30’s – 40’s are the stereotypical age group that seek to engage upon second career.  Another factor which should also be taken into consideration, are those individuals who often embark upon continuing a career or embrace a career change after raising children.  The latest figures identify that only 41 (9%) of pupils said that they had children, whilst 360 (78%) of pupils stated that they did not, (note 13% did not disclose any information).

The roll of the dice

Whilst the information presented here is just a snapshot of recent research, it is by no means exhaustive, however it does in my candid opinion draw some soul searching questions for any individual thinking of embarking upon a career at the Bar.  Key issues such as education, age, and realistic opportunities to join a set of chambers are incredibly relevant and are all matters of which an individual should seek to reach a considered opinion upon. Ultimately, the statistical figures speak for themselves and despite the measures by the Bar to engage upon the 57 recommendations for the promotion of social mobility at the Bar as outlined by Lord Neuberger, individuals who enter the path to pupillage will have to recognise both the rewards and shortcomings of this very much revered legal profession.

As always,

Stephen (AKA) Justin Time.

Happy New Year for 2012

Happy New Year from Pupillageville

A very ‘Happy New Year’ to you all from Pupillageville for 2012.

After a very indifferent 2011, I edge into my final year as I seek to attain that all elusive pupillage. I will of course endeavour to bring you both the inevitable highs and lows as the year unfolds and as the ‘Pupillage Quest Clock’ ticks down.  Not withstanding my own trials and tribulations (no pun intended!!), I will as always keep you up-to-date with all the latest news on pupillages, along with the all import news updates, legal opinions, links  and guest blogs for you to peruse and enjoy.

So all that’s left for me to say as I raise a glass of champers to you all, is have a Happy 2012 and a very prosperous New Year!

As always,

Stephen  AKA  Justin Time

The Bar – Time for a Culture Shock?

The Pupillage Blog Welcomes Jeremy Hopkins

I am really pleased to welcome Jeremy Hopkins as he pens a ‘Guest Posting’ entitled ‘The Bar – Time for a Culture Shock?‘ upon The Pupillage Blog.  Jeremy has been a barristers’ clerk since 1989 and he is also the author of the successful blog ‘Clerkingwell – Observations from a barristers’ clerk‘.

The Bar – Time for a Culture Shock? – By Jeremy Hopkins

I have for some time been considering writing about my thoughts on practice at the Bar, from my perspective as a barristers’ clerk, as a guide for new or aspiring barristers.  This process has, perhaps surprisingly, been hampered by considerable hesitation.  I have found myself thinking along the lines of: “Me, a non-legally-qualified clerk ? Telling the guv’nors what to do ?  Qualified barristers, the cream of the legal profession…?” and so on, wondering whether it is my place at all to give advice to such highly intelligent individuals.

This is all, of course, complete and utter nonsense, yet I am far from alone among my peers in such musings.  It must say something significant about the culture at the Bar that such doubts are troubling those who have for years occupied the “coal face” of service delivery in the profession and whose role involves close and constant contact with all sections of the marketplace.

The thrust of this introduction therefore is that in order to think about how best to progress in the future, following the approaches and attitudes of the past really is not the best start.  Perhaps it is time to realise that the culture at the Bar is restricting its progress at a time when it badly needs unfettered ability to adapt to the increasing demands of the market.  As ever, prevention is easier than cure, which is why understanding these issues at the start of a career can prove invaluable in unlocking the potential for a successful practice.

The good news is that none of this requires any kind of revolution or rebellion against the established order.  It doesn’t need anyone to stand up and shout “no !” to the establishment at a time of their career when they are, quite justifiably, keen to conform to the accepted order of the profession to which they have worked so hard to gain entry.

It is simply a question of adopting a mindset that is free from the assumptions of the past, thus liberating them to go about the business of providing a service based on what the market wants to receive, as opposed to what the provider wants to give. In reality the two are not that far apart, but the gap between them is becoming more and more exposed in an increasingly customer-led environment.

The starting point for redressing this comes with the recognition that the Bar is fundamentally a service industry and while reliant upon high levels of professional expertise, has much in common with many other lines of business that we all deal with in everyday life.

Why should it be that so many barristers find it hard to see things from a client’s perspective by drawing a parallel with their own experiences of, say, having their car serviced ?  Most likely, they would not be able or inclined to service their own car, so would need to entrust the job to someone with expertise that they don’t have themselves. I suspect they would want to know when the job would be completed and that it would be finished on time, as promised.  They would want to be confident that the work was being carried out by someone suitably qualified.  They would want to know how much it was going to cost and the basis on which the price was calculated.  You can be sure they would demand a good explanation for running late or going over-budget.  Ultimately, they would expect their car to be running smoothly and to have any follow up queries dealt with promptly and without charge.

This is a simplistic comparison, I know.  Yet for many years I have seen evidence in practice of an instinctive expectation by barristers that clients will accept, without challenge, situations that would be completely unacceptable to them if roles were reversed.  To make matters worse, they know full well that the vast majority of these clients are themselves lawyers, which makes these expectations even more unrealistic and, when you think about it, completely irrational.

But these are not the type of people who you would generally describe as irrational, yet here they are clearly displaying an irrational mindset.  Difficult to change, perhaps, when it is a deeply-rooted legacy of generations of flawed culture.  But not at all difficult to avoid in the first place for those to whom it is visible and recognisable as a dangerous obstacle.

The Advocates Bundle and News from Court

New feature on The Pupillage Blog - The Advocates Bundle and News from Court

Following on from ‘News From Chambers’, I am pleased to add a new feature to ‘The Pupillage Blog’, entitled ‘News From Court’.

This new feature will be updated regularly and is dedicated to bringing the very latest legal cases and news of some of the best advocates in court, so as to help you on your pupillage quest of knowing who’s who in the Barristers Robing Room.  More importantly, with each piece of news there are links associated with each of the barristers profiles, including details of the conducted cases along with information upon their sets of Chambers.

On the Twitter newswire this week, there have been some thoughtful and engaging posts surrounding pupillage.  With the ever increasing number of institutions offering the BPTC and the ever reducing opportunities for pupillage, Gerard McDermott QC pens his thoughts on pupillage and the routes to the Bar in an engaging piece written for The Barrister Magazine.

Another article which I would strongly recommend for reading, comes from the pen of Zoe Saunders of  St John’s Chambers and was featured this week within ‘The Lawyer‘.  Zoe offers a personal insight into the no-holds- barred pupillage stakes and outlines the concerns at the Bar and amongst students that the rising demand for the BPTC is not reflected by rising availability of pupillages.

Turning now to mini-pupillages.   Increasingly an assessed mini-pupillage has become an all important part of the pupillage application process within many chambers.  Whilst it will be argued that this will not always be a specific requirement of the pupillage process, it is nevertheless a real opportunity for most sets to establish a measurable criterion against the would be pupil.

Typically mini-pupillages are conducted throughout the whole year, however the application and interview process is conducted well ahead of time.  So my recommendation is to start early in researching opportunities using the ‘Pupillage Portal’.  Submission application dates can be found on the ‘Pupillage Portal’ and more often or not,  relevant e-mail addresses or a direct link to the chambers formal online application form is provided.

To round off, can I recommend an excellent resource to bookmark for those seeking a 3rd Six Pupillage.  The Bar Council publish a regularly updated listing of 3rd Six vacancies, along with direct links for applications and submission deadline dates.

Finally, don’t forget that pupillage applications for both College Chambers & East Anglian Chambers need to be submitted by the end of October and all details of which can be found under ‘Non-OLPAS Open Pupillage Applications’.

As always,

Stephen AKA Justin Time


Newsflash from The Bar Council – The Young Bar Conference 2011

Newsflash from: The Bar Council

The Bar Council have announced that the registration closing date for the Young Bar Conference 2011, Diversity in Times of Adversity, has now been extended until Tuesday 27 September.

Speakers to include:

  • Mr Justice Eady
  • Peter Lodder QC, Chairman of the Bar
  • Lord Justice Thomas
  • Michael Todd QC, Chairman-Elect of the Bar
  • Dr Vanessa Davies, Director of the BSB
  • Max Hill QC, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association
  • Stephen Cobb QC, Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association

The Conference is open to barristers under 10 years’ Call, pupils and BPTC students.  Places will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis so early booking is advisable.

For more information including a Conference Brochure and Registration Form click here.