Obtaining pupillage is an incredibly daunting task, and it is definitely the most difficult hurdle in an aspiring barrister’s path. This does not mean you should worry. There are an abundance of things you can do to demonstrate how good of a candidate you are, and place yourself in a great position to obtain pupillage. This article will deal with strictly extra-curricular activities. A first class or an upper-second class degree is paramount, as is the ‘graduate diploma in law’, or the law conversion course, if you have not studied law.

Work Experience

A crucial ingredient to obtaining pupillage is work experience. A successful candidate will have ample amounts of legal work experience, to demonstrate that they know what is expected of them, and that they are committed to the role of a barrister.

The best form of work experience for an aspiring barrister is a mini-pupillage. A mini-pupillage is where you ‘shadow’ a barrister, or multiple barristers for a day or two, in order to see what a day in the profession is like. This will usually entail visiting court, attending client meetings, and sitting in on conferences between barristers and their clients. You can improve your chances of obtaining pupillage by having about five mini-pupillages on your application. Many more are not necessary, because you can gain a rich deep understanding of the role, and have things to talk about in your pupillage interviews, with five.

Mini-pupillages can be obtained by applying through a chambers website, or, by simply asking a barrister or a chambers if you can have a mini-pupillage. It is best to complete your mini-pupillages at different sets of chambers, in different areas of law. This would equip you with useful knowledge to answer the inevitable question: “why do you want to practice in this area of law?”. If you have experience in criminal law, civil law and commercial law, then you can draw upon this knowledge to explain why you have chosen the area of law in which you have. Another great form of work experience is working in a solicitors firm. This shows that you are keen, and indicates that you are certain you want to be a barrister, because you know what both sides of the legal profession entail.

Any form of work experience is great. Even if you had a part-time job when you were in university, you can draw upon that to tell the chambers you are applying to about your people skills, your ability to manage time and your ability to operate in a high pressured and professional environment.

Another great form of work experience is volunteering. This can take many forms. Many universities offer ‘pro-bono’ opportunities, which is essentially legal volunteering. This may include helping people through court, or perhaps speaking in schools about the law. Many pro-bono opportunities are run with, or by charities. They are great on your application as they show that you are a generous person who wants to give back to the community, but they are also great for you generally: they will increase your peoples-skills, and allow you to broaden your knowledge base by engaging in new materials which you wouldn’t ordinarily come across in your studies.

You can also demonstrate that you are willing to give back by other forms of volunteering. This may be by writing for a magazine or a website, or by helping the elderly. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer you can engage with, and they are recommended to improve your chances of success in obtaining pupillage. They will also make your interview much easier, as you can talk about the volunteering and the experiences you had there, which will allow you to really stand out from other candidates.


One of the most important things you can do, to improve your chances of getting a pupillage, is mooting. Mooting is where you are given a set of facts, and it is your job to argue either for or against a party within the facts. It is different from a mock trial, because in a moot, there is no testing of each other’s evidence, and no witnesses. It is essentially a mock appellate court case. The candidates in a moot are judged by their ability to present themselves formally, argue with proficiency and clarity, present a clear and logical argument, and to apply the law accurately to a given set of facts. It is by far one of the best things you can do if you want to be a barrister for three reasons:

  1. You get to experience first hand the art of advocacy. Advocacy is to speak for a particular cause or reason, and to promote that cause’s interests. In the context of law, it is essentially legal argument on the behalf of the client. It is one of the most important things for a barrister, and to experience it first hand with mooting is great.
  1. You have the opportunity to win moot competitions. This is great, because if you win a moot competition, it would really set you out from all of the other candidates, and demonstrate to a chambers that you have one of the most fundamental skills required to be a barrister.
  1. It is fun: dressing up in a suit, to go and argue complex points of law in front of a pretend judge is fun and exciting, especially if you want to be a barrister. Every aspiring barrister should have some mooting experience. The more, the better.

Researching Chambers

Once you have built a strong application, filled with extra curricular activities, you need to apply to the write chambers for you. This is a decision which should not be taken lightly. There are many questions you need to ask yourself:

  • ‘What area of law do I want to specialise in?’
  • ‘Where do I want to live?’
  • ‘Do I want to travel for work?’
  • ‘What quality of work do I want to undertake?’

These are all questions which have serious implications on your life, and need to be thought about vigorously. If you want to practice in criminal law in the north of England, then you need to find a chambers that offers that. Meanwhile, if you want to deal with complex legal disputes which contain vast sums of money, then a commercial set in London may be best for you. It ultimately depends on what you want to do, and what type of life you want to lead.

How to Submit Applications

Some chambers take applications on their own website, and some chambers use the ‘pupillage gateway’, which is simply a website where you apply for pupillages. It cannot be stressed enough, that you should not use the same application for each pupillage. Write a different, tailored application, for each set you apply to. For example, a commercial London set will want to know about your commercial awareness skills, and you should inform them why you are applying there. This makes your applications seem more personable, and will make you stand out as a candidate.

What to do If Your Application is Successful and You Are Through to the Next Round

If a chambers like your application, you will make it through to the next round. This will usually consist of a number of interviews, and potentially even some assessments. Such assessments may consist of a barrister asking you to present a case, or to make a ‘plea in mitigation’ in order to test your ability to work under pressure, advocate, and respond to arguments made against you. All of which are key components of the role of a barrister. In interviews and assessments, it is vital that you stay calm, think out loud, respond clearly, and be polite yet firm with what you say. This will show the interviewer that you are a nice person, but you are also assertive, calm, and are capable of arguing for a particular viewpoint, but not succumbing to criticisms of that viewpoint.

Following a Successful Application and a Pupillage Offer

If you are successful with your application then you can expect a pupillage award. This is essentially your salary for the year, though most sets allow pupils to take home more money in the latter half of their 12 month pupillage, if they carry out their own work. Pupillage awards vary, and they range from £12,000 to £75,000. It depends on the set you are at, and the type of work you are doing. Ordinarily, sets in London will offer a higher pupillage award, due to the (1) more complex high paying work that their chambers deals with, and (2) because living in London is more expensive than living elsewhere.

By Josh Parson