Interviews · Mature Entrants · Recommended Reading · Routes to the Bar · Which Chambers?

The Path to Pupillage

3259575881_d6bfaf2fb3You will all have bought this, of course. If not, it is available here –

However, if you have not bought it and you have a little time to go, then you may want to hold off for a while because the authors are planning a second edition. Having both been taken on (Vol 2 – The Trials of Tenancy?), and put on their respective pupillage committees, they would like to know what you would like to know. If you have an idea to contribute please email them at which is an address created specifically for the purpose.

The new edition will be updated and will have additional chapters dealing with how to convert from being a solicitor, the bar as a second career, how to deal with more than one offer (I assume this is not only about getting ecstatically drunk and losing all your friends), third sixes and alternative careers. If you can think of anything else you would like to know about, email and tell the authors. The same applies if there are people from whom you would like to hear – the book has a number of quotes from practitioners and the judiciary. Whose words of wisdom would assist you?

I don’t normally do puffs, but this is a genuinely useful book and if you are thinking of the Bar then you should read it. You can help make it even more useful. My own two pennorth is that I would like to hear from two people, both of  whom had a standard degree and a standard CV and one of whom got a pupillage. Was it just luck that made the difference, or is there something that can be done to make every applicant stand out to the right Chambers? I would also like to hear from people who didn’t make it and who would not now go through the process, about why they didn’t stop when the odds were so obviously against them (I don’t simply mean numerically speaking). There are a lot of you out there saying something like, “I know I haven’t really got the grades or the CV but I’m sure that it will come right for me”. Most of the time, I’m afraid, it won’t. When those people have spent £12,000 and 3 years of their lives and are not barristers, what advice would they have given their younger, more optimistic, selves?

Finally, given the debate that has been raging here, I would like a Chapter about how to make the most of modern application procedures. Chambers may not adopt them, but I wonder if, even so, a candidate could make more of themselves by utilising the latest knowledge. There must be professionals out there who would be willing to be quoted.

Alex and George tell me that they will update the Chapter on OLPAS and the PP. I advise the printers to use acid proof paper.


21 thoughts on “The Path to Pupillage

  1. Simon excuse the rather off-topic post, but what is the position of the BSB on sets taking on the relatives of their QCs? I am aware that this has happened in a few sets, and recently at one set the Head of Chambers’ daughter was offered tenancy after failing to get taken on at the set where she did pupillage. This strikes me immediately as wrong and unethical, but it seems to happen, surely the BSB must know it is happening? I think this sort of thing really gives the whole Bar a bad name.

  2. It seems to me that taking on of relatives over other candidates is something that occurs in all walks of life and the other candidates need to do as best they can at making themselves irresistible and not worrying over something they can’t control. At the mighty Bristol City Football Club we have Gary Johnson the manager employing his son Lee Johnson in midfield – let me assure you that if GJ was not the gaffer than LJ would certainly not be a regular fixture in the side.

  3. I just don’t think that’s good enough. Entry to the Bar is supposed to be a level playing field. Allowing this surely perpetuates the (usually unfair, imo) stereotype of the Old Boys’ Club.

  4. I hatenot to give a name, but I can’t take the risk of being blackballed for tittletatteling by the Bar Council, but I I know someone who has been offered pupillage at a set who removed their OLPAS advert in April, and maintained they were not offering pupillage.

    As i have said before (broken record time) the bar council know that nepotisim is alive, well, and encouraged at the bar, as evidenced by Keating Chambers on the barrister programme!

  5. There is no question of being blackballed for anything, least of all this. You have my word on it.

    Now – if this is genuine please give me the details. Otherwise, don’t moan. These are serious allegations and should not be made unless people are prepared to deal with them. ‘I know about it but I can’t tell anyone’ doesn’t cut it.

    Nor do I believe that nepotism is alive and well. I do think that barrister’s children (of which I am one) learn about when, where and how to deal with the application process and tend to be better known than other applicants, which means that if they have anything about them, more people have had more chance to know about it. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it probably does. But the proposition that the Bar actually encourages nepotism is nonsense and sounds like a whinge.

  6. Anya,

    I simply don’t know anything about the case you have mentioned. It isn’t nepotism unless the person really was not good. Plenty of people don’t get kept on but easily get a place somewhere else.

    It is unethical is there wasn’t an open and fair competition. But we believe everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Don’t we?

  7. Well there was only 1 set who was offering pupillage when the system went live and then removed the advert a couple of weeks later, so it couldn’t be that hard to check for someone with contacts.

    As i am being unproductive (and I can hear myself) I will refrain from commenting any further. I do appreciate you do your best for bar aspirants.

  8. I’m sorry Simon I think it IS nepotism – yes, she is “good”, i.e. not woeful, but if she is good enough for another set of chambers why doesn’t she go there? Many, many people who would like to be at a particular chambers but can’t get in are “good” or at least not “really not good” as you put it. How can it be fair that the difference between all of those who are quite good but don’t get taken on and the one quite good person who gets taken on is that it is her Daddy’s chambers?

    I’m sorry but I simply do not believe that a wholly objective decision was made to offer this girl tenancy, completely uninfluenced by the fact that it is her father’s chambers. The chambers in particular was not advertising for a third six pupil but was miraculously persuaded to take one on by her brilliance?

    No, I don’t believe everyone is innocent until proven guilty. I believe everyone is innocent AT LAW until proven guilty. But often they have in fact committed the crime. It may be that I can’t PROVE, beyond reasonable doubt, that there was nepotism as opposed to it being most coincidental that the shiniest new tenant happens to be the daughter of the Head of Chambers. But I think the Bar should have higher standards than to allow all apparent misconduct save for that which could not be explained by a highly unlikely coincidence. Further as is the case with the judiciary, we have a public reputation to uphold and the appearance of nepotism is damaging to our profession. Do you really think the man in the street would think that this was not an example of the Old Boys’ Club?

  9. I’m not sure we are at odds. If what you say is accurate (and I repeat that I have no knowledge of the particular case or Chambers) then it doesn’t sound as if there was an open contest.

    But I remain hesitant about categorising behaviour as nepotism until I know that it is. Most Heads of Chambers do not seek to dictate what happens about recruitment in this way, most tenants wouldn’t have it anyway, most clerks are too careful about Chamber’s reputation to permit it and most of those involved are acutely aware of the PR problems you identify. Which isn’t to say it couldn’t happen, but rather that it may not have done.

    The man in the street may well believe that this is nepotism. But our function (professionally as well – in my view – as personally) is to make sure that things are presented fairly and without the certainty that can too often denote prejudice in action, rather than a la Daily Mail. And, if we do that then I don’t think the man in the street would be sure that this was nepotism.

  10. I do not think you can get anywhere with an actual or apparent bias approach. If you go that route, where would the line be drawn. Same family, same college, same golf club ?

    Further, if you extend the line of argument, then why is not an offer of tenancy by chambers to an existing pupil not also nepotism of a sort ? And I really don’t think anyone would want the introduction of another system of open applications, this time by pupils for tenancies or, even, third sixes.

  11. I’m disappointed and surprised at the responses here. Being a practising barrister myself I am aware that it is not a question of the Head of Chambers simply telling everyone that his daughter is joining chambers. However to suggest that it is probable or even likely (whether or not it is remotely POSSIBLE) that this was not in any way a factor influencing the decision to offer this girl tenancy is I think ridiculous.

    The Head of Chambers says “my daughter hasn’t got taken on at her (not quite as good) set…here’s her CV, not bad is it…what are people’s thoughts?” and people think “Well, she’s not bad, and I suppose it wouldn’t kill us to fit in another junior tenant, and it would be doing the Head of Chambers, who is a nice guy and has given so much to this chambers, a big favour…” and then there’s possibly an open vote of the members of chambers in front of the Head of Chambers or at least in front of other senior members of chambers who are firmly in his corner – who dares vote against? And the clerks won’t care as long as she’s not, as Simon puts it, “really not good”…and she’ll fit right into chambers, and several senior members will think she must be a good egg anyway in view of her “pedigree”, and for similar reasons the clerks think instructing solicitors might already be biased towards her, which can only be good for chambers…

    And an equally good or less good person who applies to the set at the same time is told there are no vacancies. And if there were vacancies, we know to whom the place would most likely go.

    Simon if the person is so very good that without any unfair advantage whatsoever she can attain tenancy at one set then why isn’t she good enough to impress another set? Isn’t this rather odd? A good friend of mine from the BVC (now a successful barrister) is the daughter of a very renowned QC at a leading set, and she wouldn’t have dreamed of applying to that set for fear of a. putting the chambers in an awkward position; b. feeling that she had an unfair advantage over others. She felt that it would be simply impossible for chambers to treat both her and the other applicants completely fairly in the circumstances, and her father agreed.

    Simon if you are attempting to say that my writing is “a la Daily Mail” then I am offended and also feel “pot, kettle, black” but I don’t want this to turn into a petty squabble.

    What I do feel is that the Bar should, like the judiciary, be mindful of the impression it creates. You say that the man on the street would, if the various possibilities were carefully explained to him, understand that there was in fact probably no nepotism in this case. First, I don’t agree; having considered all the possibilities here I am singularly unconvinced. Secondly, I don’t agree that we should allow all things that appear patently unfair if we could do a good job of “explaining them away” if we sat down with the public. This is like saying that a judge should be allowed to hear the criminal trial of his daughter, as long as he could, if he explained carefully, convince the public that he was in fact entirely neutral.

    And Barboy with respect I think your point is silly. Clearly a line can be drawn, as it is with bias on the part of the judiciary. And in my view, clearly the child of the Head of Chambers being invited to join crosses that line. There is no “nepotism” in offering tenancies to pupils rather than in open competition – the whole point of pupillage is to give chambers a chance to “try you out” and see if they like you.

    Finally, Simon I agree that the Bar is subject to some unfair “whinging and moaning” by many but this is exactly why I take issue with things like this happening – because if they do, then it makes such whinging and moaning seem less unfair on the Bar and more justified. As to Legally Ginge’s comment, I was equally disappointed with the girl being given pupillage at her mentor’s chambers on the Barristers as I do genuinely feel, being aware of the general requirements just to get an interview at Keating in “real life”, that she clearly appeared (being the operative word, but appearances ARE important) to be given an unfair advantage. I do find these types of incidents extremely frustrating for those of us who really do care about the fairness of entry to the Bar.

  12. I am not sure about how much influence nepotism has on the application process but I think Chambers intentionally or unintentionally recruit in their own image.

    This does not bode well for the long-term future of the bar.

  13. Anya,

    The scenario you describe is utterly realistic. If that is what happened then it is improper – there should be no tenancy (and no pupillage) without an open competition. I do not know whether it happened or not.

    Your friend who is not applying to her father’s chambers is very lucky. She is not excluding herself from the best place to do the sort of law she wants to do. Otherwise her decision is strange. Everyone is self-employed. What basis is there for self-sacrifice as you describe it? So that people will not murmur about her anyway? They will. They will say that she is at a set where her Dad has close friends, or her Dad’s friends have close friends. Believe me, I know.

    The reality is that nepotism exists and the accusation of nepotism also exists. I find the thumbs up icons interesting here. People like to be told that places are undeservedly filled and are happy to assume that is so. But that is because it is an explanation for failure. No one knows. Your suggestion that people ought to be restricted as to where they apply strikes me as unfair and discriminatory. Imagine what we would say if we applied such reasoning to those from non Russell Group Universities.

    I agree that there is an image issue here, but we are not the Labour Party. Simply because people do not like what is happening is not a reason to change it. Sometimes people think the worst, unjustifiably. You don;t change everything you do because of that and it would not be right to do so.

    The solution is to crack down on unfair practices and to do the right thing. I am perfectly happy to raise Cain about this if it is an unfair practice. But if it only looks bad to people who want to see the worst then the right thing to do is nothing. Why we should assume that a particular pupil does not deserve pupillage because her father is a member of Chambers is beyond me. By all means have a look at the procedure. But to blight someone’s career through politically correct, right-on reverse discrimination is absolutely inimical to my sense of what the profession is about.

  14. Whilst I certainly agree there should be no reverse discrimination, there is, I feel, a view in certain quarters that there should be such engineering. Ordinarily, I am happy to dismiss that sort of happy clappy mentality, but I am beginning to have sympathy for those in the lower reaches of Bar world who express sentiments reflecting bias and other practices which could be held to be unfair in the context of their expectations.

    It is the sole preserve of the Bar proper to craft their message and to manage the expectations which flow therefrom. I am not saying the powers that be are insincere in what they say or mean, but there is little sign of any competence in the Bar getting a clear and consistent message across to the plebs and, moreover, no transparency or accountability. It is all very well saying that OLPAS/PP and other centrally prescribed procedures gives everyone a fair crack, but does it ? Where’s the evidence ?

    If the Bar expects to retain credibility in the light of a ropey system for which the Bar alone is responsible, I feel the Bar has to be far more transparent.

    There are now, say, 400 new pupillage offers. So, what, in anonymised form, is the breakdown of those upcoming pupils; for schooling, uni, degree class, gender, ethnicity etc ? The four Inns will have that information in only a few weeks time. It would be a good start if that data was collated and published.

  15. My friend wanted to be able to feel certain that she had earned her position on her own merits. It’s not about murmuring, it’s about her own sense of personal achievement. She knew she was good enough without needing her father’s connection and has proved as much. Of course if it were a situation in which her father’s set was the best set for what she wanted to do it would be a different story. And it would indeed be unfair to actually prevent someone from applying to a set simply because there is a parent in its ranks – I never said otherwise. However I can’t help but think that most people would, for reasons similar to my friend, rather gain pupillage at a place other than that at which their parent is Head of Chambers, all other things being equal. The girl about whom I was talking (who recently gained tenancy without open competition) went to (her father’s) average criminal set. It just strikes me as interesting that whereas she was such an objectively excellent candidate as to convince chambers to take her on when they weren’t recruiting, she was presumably unsuccessful at convincing any other criminal sets to take her on.

    If it only looks bad to people who want to think the worst then we should change nothing – indeed. But I am not a person who “wants to think the worst” – I am a barrister who wishes to think the best of my profession and who reasonably concludes that something fishy has gone on here. Much of the criticism directed towards the fairness of the Bar selection procedures is, I think, unwarranted – but I find it difficult to defend them when I come across examples of recruitment such as this.

    Simon I am a long-time fan of yours and am disappointed with this exchange. I’m surprised that after all of your self-righteous indignation at people reaching conclusions which cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt you have seen fit to assume that anyone rating my posts positively or yours negatively must be someone who is happy to assume that places are undeservedly filled so that he/she may excuse his/her failure. Is it not possible that these are intelligent individuals who simply agree with the content of my posts and disagree with the content of yours?

  16. Anya – I repeat that I don’t think we are at odds. We differ only as to where we draw the line about an image issue being a substantive issue. There is plenty of wiggle room there and taking a different position isn’t evidence of moral failure.

    It must be clear by now that I am not a fan of Chambers behaving badly. On the other hand I take a fierce pride in the independence of this profession, and that includes an assumption that people do things from poor motives. I agree with you that they could – I just prefer to think that they don’t, until it is proved otherwise. I have never sought to suggest that your view is not an honest one and it may well be right. I just don’t know, and until I do I am reluctant to assume the worst of Chambers and of the applicant.

    I’m sorry you are disappointed and that you take what I have said as self-righteous. But the comment about the thumbs up was merely shorthand for not wanting people to make the easy conclusion (not you – them) which I instinctively find both distasteful and – worse – an unreliable way of determining anything.

    Incidentally, I gave all your comments a thumbs up 🙂

  17. Why are we using the criminal standard of proof? Why “beyond reasonable doubt”? There is nobody’s liberty at stake here.

    Why not the civil standard of balance of probabilities? Or, perhaps, why do we not look to the public law principle of “apparent bias”.

    There is nothing politically correct about opposing nepotism. (There has been enough nepotism in the “politically correct” Labour government to last a lifetime.) A traditional conservative – I am one – would be inclined to oppose nepotism too.

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