Pupillage application guide

If you want to become a barrister, you’ll need to undertake a period of training known as pupillage. Once you’ve completed the Barrister Training Course (BTC), you’ll be ready to immerse yourself in on-the-job training supervised by experienced barristers.

Everything you need to know about pupillage.

If you’ve previously completed a mini-pupillage, you’ll have an idea of what to expect. Pupillage is usually completed in chambers, but it can be undertaken at an employed bar organisation like a law firm, the Government Legal Department, or the Crown Prosecution Service.

Attaining pupillage is very competitive. If you’re wondering how to get pupillage, we’ve created this guide to help you make your application stand out. 

We’ve also included some top tips and advice from BPP alumni and future 5 Essex Chambers pupil Kieron Spoors.

We’ll cover everything you need to know, including:

  • How to choose which barristers’ chambers to apply for
  • How to create your pupillage application CV and cover letter
  • How to create a pupillage application

How to prepare for a pupillage interview

Read on for a step-by-step guide that will get you ready to apply for pupillage.

Aspiring solicitor? Read our law firm application guide.

How to research barristers’ chambers

You should thoroughly research the chambers you’re applying to. 

While researching, aim to:

  • Be familiar with the types of law they practise
  • Profile the barristers that work there and their background
  • Read any recent news about the chambers to round out your contextual knowledge

Using sites such as Legal Cheek, Legal 500, and Chambers Student will help you carry out your initial research. For more in-depth and interactive research, you should:

  • Look through the chamber’s website
  • Attend pupillage fairs
  • Use LinkedIn to follow the chambers and connect with practising barristers

Watch the video to find out what it’s like to attend an online pupillage fair.

Book an upcoming pupillage fair

“A piece of advice about research: record it. I created a Word document that tracked the websites I visited and the notes I took during pupillage events. Doing this will make it easier for you when you’re completing the application form and preparing for interviews.”

Which chambers is right for you?

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to deciding which chambers is for you, then begin by thinking about two factors:

Location: where would you like to begin your law career? While many barristers’ chambers are in London, you’ll find regional sets across the country.

Law practice area: think about what field of law you would like to practise in, and see which chambers specialise in this field. If you need some help deciding on a practice area, read our guide.

Creating your CV and cover letter for a pupillage application

When deciding on what to put on your CV, prioritise what will help you demonstrate why you’re going to make a great barrister. 

You can start by breaking down the skills you need to become a barrister, including:

  • Oral advocacy
  • Written advocacy
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem solving and creativity

Read our barrister vs solicitor guide to see more skills you’ll need.

Next, think about experiences you’ve had, and how they have helped you develop and demonstrate each skill. Make sure you know your CV back to front and be prepared to speak about your experience and skills in the pupillage interview.

Not sure what to write about? Undertaking pro bono, work experience and mini-pupillages are all great ways of building your CV with evidence of your potential as a future barrister.

Pupillage application cover letter

If you’re submitting your application outside of the pupillage gateway, you will also need to write a cover letter.

You can follow this formula for constructing a great cover letter:

Begin with a short introduction , including your purpose for writing (100 words).

Next, a paragraph about why you want to practise law , and why you want to become a barrister (200 words).

Follow this with your reasons for applying to the chambers , this is where your detailed research can come into play (200 words).

Finish with what you can bring to the chambers , what makes you stand out, and your skills (200 words).

How to write a pupillage application

Once you know what area you’re looking to practise in, have a shortlist of chambers, and have crafted your CV, you’re ready to begin your application.

When writing your application, make sure you take an evidence-based approach.

“The application is a piece of written advocacy and your first opportunity to showcase who you are and explain why chambers should consider you. It is not just what you say and how you say it. For each question, like any case, you need evidence and structure.”

Answering questions on a pupillage application

Many applicants struggle with open-ended questions on their application.

You may be asked questions such as:

  • What makes a good advocate?
  • Why this chambers?

While these may appear to be simple questions, they are not easy to answer. Be prepared to write multiple drafts before you find an answer you’re happy with.

Make sure you answer honestly and concisely. You should aim not to use long sentences when you can get the point across with fewer words.

If you’re struggling, use the rule of three technique:

“When answering open-ended questions, you can adopt the ‘power of three’, where you give three reasons and explain each but don’t feel bound by needing three points. Whichever way you structure your answer, back up everything you say with evidence.”

To help get you ready for your interview, we’ll run through some key tips to keep in mind when preparing. We’ve also included some pupillage interview example questions.

“The natural temptation is to think you need to rush out an answer straight away. Don’t! Just remember these three steps: Listen, Think, Respond.”

Know your application

You should make sure that you memorise your application and CV back to front. Interviewers will often start with questions based around your skills and experience. They may also want to discuss your academic history, as well as any extra-curricular activities you’ve taken part in.

Example questions:

  • Talk through your relevant experience
  • Were you in any societies at university?
  • What modules did you enjoy studying at university?

Advocate your opinions

The panel will want to test your advocacy skills by seeing if you can articulate an argument under pressure. Think about each question carefully and take time before responding to present a considered argument.

If it helps, make notes on a pad as the interviewer says the question.

“Firstly, listen carefully to the question. It might be worth writing it down. If you need the question clarified, don’t hesitate to ask. Next, take some time to think about your answers. Don’t be worried about asking the panel for a moment to gather your thoughts. The panel will understand that you are nervous, and they want you to do well in the interview. Use it to jot down and structure your thoughts on paper.”

During your interview, expect the panel to challenge you on your points, and be prepared to defend your arguments. Stay calm and use reasoned, well-balanced arguments to avoid being caught out. 

  • What current law cases have caught your attention, and why?
  • What area of law interests you the most?
  • Do you agree with the death penalty?

Read our advocacy skills guide.

Prepare to prove your enthusiasm

The pupillage interview is an opportunity for you to prove why you want a career in law. 

Prove your motivation by demonstrating your personal experience and aspirations. You can stand out by discussing how pro bono or mini-pupillage has developed you as an aspiring barrister, and any practising barristers that have inspired you.

Demonstrate what sparked your enthusiasm for the profession, and link this with the culture of the chambers you are applying for, as well as any relevant skills and attributes you have.

Reach out for help

There are resources and people out there ready to help you through the process.

Firstly, there will be many aspiring barristers who will be in the same position as you. Working together to practise interview techniques and crafting applications is a productive way to keep yourself motivated.

Careers services are also available to give expert advice on your application and CV, and to prepare you with mock interviews. Our Careers team are available to you from the moment you accept your offer and pay your deposit.

“You can talk to pupils and tenants, the people who have been through the process. I went to several of my friends who were barristers or had pupillage coming up for advice or their thoughts about drafts of my application form. I even reach out, via LinkedIn, to pupils and junior tenants at chambers to ask about the kind of work they do. It takes confidence to reach out, but many will be delighted to help if you ask.”

Look after yourself

Your health comes first. Applying for pupillage is a process, and throughout there will be rejections and moments where you have to pick yourself back up and try again.

Make sure you find time for hobbies, exercise, and relaxation. By looking after yourself, you will make your application better too.

“Look after yourself and your mental health. The application process can be long and, at times, tedious. Look after yourself by taking breaks and doing something fun (for me, that was learning Scottish dancing). Be there for your friends who are also applying for pupillage. When you do apply for pupillage, go into it with a healthy mindset. Be determined to give yourself the best chance of success while also trying to enjoy the process and learn lessons should you need to apply again.”

Final thoughts

Remember, don’t take rejections personally. Pupillages are extremely competitive, and you should prepare to move on to the next opportunity with a positive mindset if you’re unsuccessful at first.

“Many barristers got pupillage after multiple attempts. Mary Prior KC pointed out that at the Bar, no one will ask you how many times it took. You will become a barrister, and you will deserve to be one. Your best is yet to come.”

Become a barrister

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Successful CVs and covering letters for pupillage applications

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:39

Some chambers ask job-hunters seeking graduate careers as barristers to submit applications for pupillage in the form of a CV and covering letter.

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One Essex Court

Successful CVs and covering letters for pupillage applications

Barristers’ chambers increasingly ask for applications to be submitted online, whether using their own application form or via the centralised Pupillage Gateway system. However, there are still many well-regarded sets that invite applicants for pupillage, the year-long practical stage of barristers’ training, via the traditional CV and covering letter.

Refer to the barristers chambers’ profiles on targetjobs.co.uk, the A–Z of recruiting barristers in targetjobs Law , chambers’ websites and the Pupillage Gateway website to research how different chambers want candidates to submit their applications.

Make sure your CV and covering letter are flawless

Accuracy, strong written communication skills and persuasiveness are vital for barristers, so make sure your CV and covering letter demonstrate these qualities. Avoid grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes, choose an easy-to-read font in a reasonable size and print on good quality paper. Make sure you will be easy to reach via the contact details you provide and check that your email address gives the impression of professionalism.

Print both your CV and covering letter off and check them carefully, line by line, before you send them. If possible pass them to someone else to proofread. Your careers adviser will be able to give you useful advice. Keep a copy of each application you submit to refer to if you are invited for interview.

CVs that get your pupillage applications noticed

There are two main types of CV to decide between.

  • Traditional CVs give your personal details, qualifications and work experience (both usually in reverse chronological order), achievements, skills (eg languages or specific computer skills), interests and referees’ contact details.
  • Skills-based CVs focus on the competences you wish to demonstrate and evidence that you possess these, and can include a brief personal statement or career objective near the start.

Whichever format you opt for, your CV should be a maximum of two pages long and its contents relevant and concise. Try not to leave any periods of time unaccounted for. When you send your CV off, always accompany it with a covering letter. This is a key part of your application and will probably be the first impression a recruiter has of you.

Successful covering letters for pupillage applications

As with your CV, the aim of the accompanying letter is to show recruiters that you meet their requirements and are ideally suited to a pupillage at their set. Covering letters need to be succinct, ideally no longer than one side of A4. Unless specifically stated, recruiters prefer typed or word-processed letters to handwritten ones. Make sure you address the letter to the right person and that you get their name, job title and chambers’ name right – if in doubt, phone up and ask.

  • Find sample CVs and covering letters in different styles .

Get the insights and skills you need to shape your career journey with Pathways. We’ll show you exactly what goes into a convincing cover letter, so you can give yourself the best chance of getting to the next stage of the application process.

How to write a convincing cover letter

How to structure your covering letter

  • The opening. Introduce yourself (including what stage you are at in your studies) and, if appropriate, state that you are applying for pupillage and where you saw the advert for this.
  • Why them? Devote one paragraph to explaining why you wish to complete your pupillage with their set in particular.
  • Why you? Use the next paragraph or two to tell them why you are a good prospect. Write this in accordance with the information in the advert but don’t just repeat the content of your CV.
  • The ending. Remember to state your availability for interview and, if you are keen, you could add a politely worded sentence that will give you the chance to follow up the application.

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how to write a cover letter for mini pupillage

Aug 01, 2016

Written By Cassie Williams, Barrister, 39 Park Square Chambers

Mini pupillage applications

A few years ago, at a chambers meeting, when I was not properly paying attention, I found myself voted in as the new ‘mini-pupillage officer’. Since, I’ve had applications that say CVs can be provided on request, one line cover letters and many more horrors. 

So to give you all an idea of how to impress in your application and on your mini-pupillage, here are some tips from me to you:

Mini-pupillage application preparation:

Check the chambers’ website! It may sound simple, but you’d be surprised how many do not do this. In most cases, the website will give you details about mini-pupillages. 

In particular, you will need to know when they offer them (some do set weeks for groups of applicants, others offer mini-pupillages all year round), at what stage they offer them (e.g. they might only offer them to certain university year groups or to those on the BPTC ), how to apply (they may have a set form or ask specifically for letter or email) and, finally, who to apply to.

It looks like you have made very little effort if you don’t get the name of the barrister or clerk who is in charge of the applications.

If this information is not on the website, then call the Clerk to Chambers. Do not do this when they will be most busy (8 -10am and after 3pm!), but a polite enquiry can often open doors.

The mini-pupillage application…

CVs must be up to date and two pages or less. Covering letters need to include what stage you’re at, why you have applied to the particular chambers, and when you are available for the placement if they don’t have specific chambers dates. 

Applicants tend to make the worst mistakes when providing their reasons why they have chosen that chambers.

You would be surprised how often I get applications saying the person has a particular interest in health & safety law or medical negligence when my chambers only does crime and a small amount of family and personal injury!

Remember if you put the standard “you have a great reputation”, you may get asked at interview!

Choosing chambers

Good reasons for choosing chambers are: interest in their line of work; you are undecided about which area of law you want to specialise in and they cover most of them; you’ve previously been on a placement at a local solicitors and heard about the chambers; you want to experience a large/small set; you saw a member of chambers in court recently etc.

It needs to be specific to each chamber and show you’ve done your research.

Lastly, check for spelling mistakes as these may lead to instant rejection!

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Be patient…

It can often take a few weeks for someone to look at your application and consider it. If you haven’t heard anything in six weeks or so, then politely enquire by email or a letter.

Gaining mini-pupillage…

If you’re lucky enough to get a mini-pupillage, don’t blow your chances once you are there. Remember that the barristers are probably storing information for when it comes to actual pupillage applications. While you are there, you will also come into contact with barristers from other chambers and instructing solicitors who will all notice if you are a ‘shining star’.

How to dress and behave on a mini-pupillage 

Make sure you are punctual and bring your own notebook. Wear a suit at all times. Don’t turn up with too much jewellery or make up on. As much as I love my make-up, big earrings and nail polish, it is frowned upon in Court. So stud earrings, clear polish no colours, light make up, skirts over knee with tights and keep your hair neat and off your face.  Also, make sure your mobile is on silent. Barristers will expect your full attention even if they seem distracted.

Ask questions, but do this when you’re alone with the barrister or on a break. It’s not easy to answer questions in court. If they are talking to opposing Counsel about the case, they will not want to be interrupted. 

Make notes about the cases you see including the type of hearing, the barristers involved, their style, what impressed you and matters which you didn’t understand so you can ask about them later. If you don’t ask questions later on, the barrister will think you’ve not been listening because there will always be something you don’t understand or will want to know more about. 

Specific court etiquette

One important matter which you need to research and adhere to is court etiquette. There are many rules in court but perhaps the most important when you’re on mini-pupillage are: one, do not walk in front of the defendant when he or she is being addressed in any way and, two, do not talk when someone is being arraigned (indictment read and plea put in) or sentenced.

These rules can easily be broken (I see barristers do it too) but the Judge may well shout at you and the barrister you’re with will not be impressed.

Make sure that you thank the barristers you have been following and the clerks and staff. Also, sending in a short thank you card or letter afterwards is always impressive and helps you be remembered. We display ours in the clerks’ room for everyone to see!  

Mini Pupillage

  • Are mini pupillages paid?
  • How do you apply for a mini pupillage?
  • How do you write a mini pupillage cover letter?
  • How to get a mini pupillage
  • Is it hard to get mini pupillage?

Pupillage and how to get it

Mini-pupillages

A mini-pupillage is where you shadow a barrister. You follow them around, watching how they conduct their cases and interact with clients, court staff and other professionals. A mini-pupillage usually lasts around a week but can sometimes be only a day or two.

This is work experience. It is your chance to learn about what life in the profession entails.

However, mini-pupillages are not really optional; they are expected. While they afford you an insight into whether a career at the Bar is for you, they are also an important part of building your CV and are just one of the types of experiences you are expected to get in order to demonstrate your interest in coming to the Bar and/or your commitment to a particular practice area of law.

  • How to get a mini-pupillage

You can apply for a mini-pupillage in any area of law that you are interested in. 

You need to compile a list of sets practising in your chosen areas and then visit each chambers’ website to find out how their mini-pupillage appli cation process works, when applications open/close, and any other requirements chambers may have.

Usually applications are by CV and covering letter.

Covering letter tips – three paragraphs, no more:

  • Why you want to become a barrister and what experiences you’ve had which lend itself to a career at the Bar.
  • Why you are interested in this particular area of law.
  • Why you are interested in this particular Chambers.

Sometimes candidates have difficulty in getting mini-pupillages. Once you manage to get one, it often becomes easier to get more. If you are really struggling to get a mini-pupillage, don’t give up – persevere and be inventive: ask your family or friends if they know any barristers you could talk to; get on Twitter and interact with barristers; go to as many networking events as you can. Some chambers offer mini-pupillages as prizes for winning mooting or essay competitions, which can be an added incentive to participate in these already-valuable activities, so keep your eyes peeled.

Finally, please note that with many commercial/public sets, you are expected to do an assessed mini-pupillage with them before they will take you on as a pupil. This can be either before you apply for pupillage or as part of the pupillage application process. Candidates sometimes miss this fact and are then ineligible to apply for pupillage at that set when the time comes. Don’t be that candidate: keep a record of these sort of requirements in your spreadsheet when carrying out your basic research.

  • What should you do on a mini-pupillage?

Firstly, make sure you are always on time ( really, you should be early ) and that you are wearing a smart, dark suit.

Check the email from chambers telling you where you should go on Day 1. This may be chambers itself or it may be meeting a barrister at court. If the latter, and you are not given the barrister’s mobile number, then get it touch with chambers and ask for it! Find out what you should do at the end of the day to find out where you are going the next day: should you call the clerks/particular member of chambers or will they call you?

In general: be pleasant, ask questions when appropriate, and take notes.

Make sure you take detailed notes: who you shadowed, which court you went to, the nature of the case, what happened in the case (sometimes, if they’re good, the barrister will ask you to send them over and you will win brownie points), what you learned, any other thoughts, and, if applicable, any exercises you were set and the feedback you received.

  • What should you do after a mini-pupillage?

Don’t send a thank-you email unless you had a particularly positive experience or spent a lot of time with a particular member of chambers. We say this because sending thank you emails for a mini-pupillage often comes across as sycophantic, giving the opposite impression than the one you want to convey!

Secondly, as soon as the mini-pupillage is over, make sure you write down what you learned. This is, after all, the only thing a barrister interviewing you for a scholarship or pupillage in the future cares about. Make this note right after the mini-pupillage is over so that you don’t forget; once you have done a few mini-pupillages, they can sometimes blend into one another.

 How many mini-pupillages should you do?

The answer to this depends on what stage you are at in the pupillage application process.

If you are at the stage where you are doing mini-pupillages primarily to gain work experience, then this site suggests that you try and obtain mini-pupillages across a range of practice areas. Frankly, do as many as you can fit in without compromising on your grades, opportunities to gain other relevant experience or your wellbeing. These experiences should help you decide what area of practice you find most interesting.

However, when it comes to applying for pupillage, you should ideally have about three mini-pupillages in the area(s) in you wish to practise.

This is just one way of demonstrating commitment to your proposed field of work.

how to write a cover letter for mini pupillage

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How to Write the Perfect Pupillage Application

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how to write a cover letter for mini pupillage

For the overwhelming majority of wannabe barristers , your pupillage application is the first thing that a prospective chambers is going to see of you.

Then, for around 75% of applicants and only 2 minutes later, it’s the last thing they’re going to see of you when they put your file on the ‘rejected without interview’ pile. Those 2 minutes are clearly ridiculously important, but what can you do to make your application stand out?

The Pupillage Gateway is now open for applications! Use your newfound knowledge and take a further look at what the Gateway can offer you…

Keep it Short

There is no shortage whatsoever of barristers who are happy to write something like this phrase: “Brevity, clarity and concision are three of the key skills necessary to be a good barrister.”

This is clearly true. Barristers do indeed need to be clear, brief, and concise. So it is probably a good idea to demonstrate those qualities in your application!

Think of the poor pupillage committee, sifting through hundreds and hundreds of applications looking for the potential star that they’ll offer that coveted pupillage place to. Every hour they spend churning through the rough is an hour away from doing what they actually want to be doing.

If you give them a short, snappy, bullet-point answer to each of their questions they are going to thank their lucky stars and like you that much more than if you waffle on in half-page paragraphs.

Don’t Be Afraid to Show Off

Got a prize? Put it in. Got a First? Put it in wherever you can!

Don’t undersell yourself – everyone who is going to apply for the Bar nowadays is a pretty special person, and you need to do everything you can to demonstrate why you, and not them, should get that interview place.

That time you spent packing bags at the local supermarket because you and nothing else to do in your university holidays and wanted to raise some money? Dress it up as a community-focused activity benefiting the wider social fabric of your town and suddenly it’s a massive plus.

Barristers, on the job, have to be persuasive. It is your job in this paper application to show exactly how persuasive you can be. If you can take something that’s superficially a black mark against your name, and turn it into a plus point for you, you’re demonstrating the very skills necessary.

The best example I heard of this was the person who applied to a chamber with a 2.2 in their undergraduate degree. Normally, this fails at the first hurdle, but she openly admitted in her application how during her undergrad she’d actually not bothered much with academics and been much more focused on sport, captaining the university’s first rowing team and making the GB development squad.

Later on, after quitting her sporting career, she’d decided to apply to the Bar and since then had demonstrated her intellectual aptitude in other ways ( conversion course , writing for newspapers, giving speeches at schools, etc). She got an interview, because she could explain what was bad and turn it into something good that showed her drive and determination to succeed.

Academics Are Not Everything

As hinted above, your undergrad degree and associated academics are not the be all and end all of your hopes to join the Bar. Sure, if you’ve got a First from Oxbridge and a Distinction on the LLM , followed by a research position at the ICC , then you’re pretty well set up.

But for us mere mortals, it is possible to demonstrate your aptitude in other ways. Run a marathon? Written for a newspaper? Taught school kids? It’s all valuable life experience that develops the tenacity and focus necessary to thrive at the Bar, and chambers will recognise this in your application.

Published: 08/01/18       Author: Oliver Jackson

Applying for Pupillage? You Need to Read These Next:

  • The 4 Stages of Pupillage Applications
  • Pupillage Paper Application
  • 7 Pupillage Application Tips

mini-pupillage

Thinking about applying for pupillage? This section details the application process through the Pupillage Gateway, how to stand out at your pupillage interviews, as well as providing a step-by-step guide to pupillage applications.

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A - Z of Must Know Pupillage Information & Guidelines

  • Bar Barometer full report 2014
  • BPTC Handbook 2015/16
  • BPTC Handbook Amendments and clarifications to 2015-16
  • BPTC Key Statistical Info
  • BSB Annual Report 2015-16
  • Guidance on Practising Certificates for Pupils and Newly Qualified Barristers
  • Pupillage Checklist (First Six/Second Six) from June 2015
  • Pupillage Frequently Asked Questions – BSB
  • Pupillage Gateway
  • Pupillage Gateway Applicant User Guide
  • Pupillage Handbook 2016
  • Pupillage registration form 2015-16
  • Pupillage Statistics
  • Review of Pupillage – Report of the Working Group
  • Sample Pupillage Application Form
  • The Bar Council’s Fair Recruitment Guide 2015
  • Women at the Bar

Barrister Law Bar Associations

  • Employment Law Bar Association
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  • Intellectual Property Bar Association
  • International Bar Association
  • The Commercial Bar Association
  • The Constitutional & Administrative Law Bar Association
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Barristers Toolkit

  • An Advocates Closing Argument
  • Barrister Connect
  • Chambers UK Guide
  • Cross Examination Techniques
  • The Advocate's Gateway
  • The Bar Council
  • The Bar Standards Board

BSB Handbook App

  • The BSB Handbook app

Case Searchs & Legal Databases

  • European Court of Justice
  • Free Case Search via ICLR

Judicial Appointments 2017

Life as a pupil.

  • A day in the life of a pupil at 5 Essex Court
  • A day in the life of a pupil at Atkin Chambers
  • A personal view as a pupil at Brick Court Chambers
  • A pupils view of pupillage at Littleton Chambers
  • A view from the Pupils' Room by two pupils at St Ives Chambers
  • A view on pupillage at Serjeants' Inn
  • A Year in Pupillage at Keating Chambers
  • Day in the life of a pupil at Five Paper Buildings
  • First hand accounts of pupillage and an Inside view of pupillage at 29 Bedford Row Chambers
  • Life as a pupil at 20 Essex Street
  • Life as a pupil at 7 Bedford Row
  • Life as a pupil at 8 New Square
  • Life as a pupil at pupillage at Guildhall Chambers
  • Life as a pupil at Queen Elizabeth Building
  • Life at the Bar with Blackstone Chambers

Other Worthy Blogs

  • Anonymous Assistant
  • Clerkingwell
  • Lawyer Watch
  • Legaleaglemhm's Blawg
  • Nearly Legal
  • Pupillage and How to Get It
  • Researching Reform
  • Stoke Newington Chambers
  • The Magistrate's Blog
  • The Time Blawg
  • UK Human Rights Blog
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Pro Bono Corner

  • Bar Pro Bono Unit
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Pupillage Interviews & Writing Applications

  • Pupillage Covering Letter

The Inns of Court

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Worthy Legal Podcasts

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Worthy Networking Lawyers

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Worthy Publications

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Worthy Pupillage Tutorials

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Pupillage Covering Letter and Chambers

Your well drafted Pupillage letter......

Writing a covering letter to Chambers?  How do I write a letter which is going to stand out among the other pupillage applications? How do I know which is the best Chambers to apply to?

Writing a covering letter for a pupillage application requires time and thought, especially if you want to get it right and more importantly if you want it read. The starting point in my opinion is to really research your chosen Chambers. Identify the strengths and the experience of the individual barristers and see if there is a synergy between your abilities and those of Chambers.  After all, if you are going to apply to a particular set, you need to ensure that there is a good match of skills.

I always think that it is important to see who the incumbent pupils are, where they have come from, both in terms of age and background (by this I mean educationally and previous legal/work experience) as this will give you a gauge as to the type of pupils that Chambers seek. Also, a key tip is to chat among your fellow students to find out whether anyone has completed a mini-pupillage with that set, as it  will of course give you a clear insight into the daily life and pace of Chambers.

Now that you have completed your homework, check how Chambers wants you to submit your covering letter.  Importantly, sometimes you are expected to submit a covering letter with the good old ‘pen and ink’, so it is always good practice to double check.

Turning now to the letter itself. Amusingly in recent days there have been a variety of tactics driven across the Internet as to how to get your letter written for you. (PERISH THE THOUGHT).  However, when it comes to writing your own letter, I personally don’t think there is a right or wrong formula, just make sure you are able to put yourself across well and take on board my earlier comments.

As usual, I have been conducting a cross examination upon the Internet and have come across some surprising results and here are a few to share with you. Interestingly, ‘The City Law School’ have put online a covering letter, its set up as a PDF but it gives a clear outline of both a letter and CV. (Click Here for City Law Covering Letter). For some other pointers, why not go to ‘LawCareers.Net’ as it provides some good advice ( Click here for LawCareers.Net Tips ).  Finally, it is worth a peek at ‘The Diaries of UK Law Students’ , it’s an old blog, but it has an interesting snippet with some tips from a junior criminal barrister, ( Click here for UK Law Students Tips )

Well, today’s blog is just sharing some of my thoughts, take them or leave them, but perish the thought that you will ever request a cross examination on this subject matter.

As always, Justin Time

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Mini-Pupillage

What’s a mini-pupillage and how do you get one? We’ll explore work experience for future barristers and discuss how you can secure one for yourself.

By Christopher Harley

So you’re thinking of becoming a barrister? Then you need a fair amount of work experience under your belt – preferably legal work experience. It is never too early to start and the earlier the better. The legal profession is awash with wannabe lawyers, some of whom have no idea about what they are letting themselves in for. I have noticed that a lot of students see a law degree as a ‘safe bet’ in that they will get whatever job they want at the end of their studies, but that is far from reality. The main objective of a law degree is, first and foremost, to prepare students for a career in the legal profession, whether that be as a lawyer, a paralegal, a legal executive, or any other job which involves knowledge of the law. The problem is that most students don’t realise this until they decide that a career in law simply isn’t for them.

But for those students who are serious about a career in law (primarily as a barrister), and want to know what they are letting themselves in for, then you need to ‘pull your finger out’. It is for that reason that most barristers’ chambers now offer mini-pupillages to allow students to experience exactly what life at the Bar will be like.

What are Mini-PupillageS?

To explain, mini-pupillages are exactly what they sound like. They are a short version of a pupillage which can run from anything between one day to two weeks. However, like pupillages, they are hard to obtain. You can find out if a chambers offers mini-pupillages by simply accessing their website. The application for these is usually very straightforward, with most chambers asking for a cover letter and CV whilst others may require you to fill in an application form – but both are pretty candid.

What are Chambers Looking for?

There is no set requirement for the number of mini-pupillages that you are allowed to do and they are a fantastic way to show your commitment to joining the Bar. However, too few and you may risk looking like you have doubts about joining the profession, but too many may also run the risk of appearing uncertain of what area of law you are most interested in or want to work in. For example, I am most interested in criminal law and so I have done most of my mini-pupillages in criminal sets, but I have also experienced some civil and family law so I have experience of other areas of law that I may potentially end up practising. I would say that a good number of mini-pupillages to have would be around four to six, but there is nothing wrong with doing more.

Who can Apply?

One of the great things about mini-pupillages is that even non-law students can apply. The legal profession is abundant with barristers and solicitors who didn’t plan to have a career in law but later decided to have a change of career by doing the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) , otherwise known as the conversion course. Most mini-pupillages are offered to students who are in the second and third year of their degree or to those studying the GDL. It is very rare that a mini-pupillage will be offered to a student who is still in school or college, but that shouldn’t stop you from looking at different chambers and finding out as much about them as you can for when you do come to apply for a mini-pupillage.

What will You do on a Mini-Pupillage?

So far I have told you a lot about what a mini-pupillage is for and when to apply for them, but I haven’t told you anything about what you will do on a mini-pupillage. Each chambers is different in the way they run mini-pupillages. Generally, you will be assigned to a barrister who you will shadow. What this means is that besides following their every move, you will attend court, meet clients, look at case papers and have the chance to ask the barristers anything you want.

Also, depending on the chambers, you may have the chance to do an assessed mini-pupillage whereby you will be given a task to perform, whether that is to write an essay, draft defence statements in a criminal matter, or give advice on quantum in a personal injury matter for example. You may also have a pupillage supervisor who will assess your performance, but this is nothing to be afraid of. If anything it allows you to show the chambers that you are exactly what they are looking for in a pupil.

It is also likely that you will be asked which areas of law you are most interested in and that you will be circulated around the areas that are available for you to watch. You may also get the chance to speak to a current pupil which is a great opportunity for you to ask them about any concerns you may have and seek advice on what you can do to make yourself stand out from the crowd. In my opinion, these are the best people to talk to as they have recently been through what you are going through and know how the modern legal system works – so ask them as much as you can.

Stand Out From The Crowd!

I have heard many people describe the pupillage application as a lottery in that you need a hell of a lot of luck to succeed. I have never heard a truer phrase. The same could be said for mini-pupillages. Although the number of mini-pupillages offered by chambers is a lot more than that of pupillages, the same principle applies. In short, apply for as many as you can. There is nothing wrong with making the most of every opportunity, especially when it comes to the legal profession.

There will be hundreds of students applying for the same place as you and you need to do as much as you can to make sure that you are chosen. One of the best ways to do this is to write a cover letter which is tailored to each chambers you apply to. There is nothing worse than sending out a generic cover letter which says the same thing about each set when one may specialise in criminal law the other in family law. You need to do your research. Look at the chambers which specialise in the areas that you most want to get experience in and understand what their aims and values are, what achievements they have received and anything that you think distinguishes that set from another. Chambers want to know why you are applying to them and why a mini-pupillage at that set would be good for you. So tell them.

Be Yourself and Ask Questions

Obviously chambers are looking for highly intelligent and capable people who they have confidence in, but they are also looking at your personality. Your personality is a massive factor in deciding whether you will be granted a pupillage or tenancy and will play a huge part in interviews. So you need to be yourself.

Asking questions is also a hugely important factor when doing a mini-pupillage. Treat a mini-pupillage as an interview. Don’t be shy. After all, you do want to be a barrister and asking questions is a massive part of the job, as is being able to talk to anyone and everyone. Even if you think it’s a silly question, just ask it. There are no silly questions apart from the ones that you don’t ask. That’s not to say that you have to write a huge list of questions or get ridiculously nervous prior to doing a mini-pupillage. Most questions will just pop up in general conversation or when you are talking about a case. All of the barristers that I have had the pleasure of working with have been extremely friendly and easy-going, so there is nothing to worry about. Just enjoy the experience!

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  • Mini-pupillages
  • Chambers Student

Bedford Row

"Honestly, I don't think any Pupillage Gateway application should go out without at least one mini-pupillage on it."

The most obvious answer to the question 'How can I improve my chances of becoming a barrister?' is 'Do some mini-pupillages'. Minis – periods of shadowing and/or assessment within a set of chambers – are a crucial part of the pupillage application process: they let aspiring pupils sample sets of interest and get on their radar. Put simply, there's no better way to demonstrate an interest in and commitment to the Bar. Recruiters by and large agree that pupillage applications look distinctly lacking without at least one or two minis on them, alongside other relevant experiences.

Some sets require applicants to complete a mini with them as a formal part of the recruitment process, but most take applications from those who haven't yet spent time with that particular chambers: year after year we encounter a good number of pupils who didn't complete a mini at their own set.

We've asked all sets featured in our Chambers Reports for information on how many minis they offer and what the application deadlines for minis are and produced a listing of Mini-pupillage vacancies . Between them, the 45 sets in this guide are offering hundreds of minis in 2023, so there are plenty of opportunities up for grabs. Keep reading this feature for more about what a mini entails and how to get one.

Click here for mini-pupillage vacancies and deadlines

What form do mini-pupillages take?  

Unlike large solicitors' firms, most of which take a structured approach to vacation schemes, barristers’ chambers tend to run their work experience programmes as ad hoc affairs. Only some sets – namely the most profitable and prestigious – co-ordinate students' visits in a methodical way; others expect them to show up and experience whatever happens to come their way during their visit. 

As a rule, mini-pupillages last two, three or five days. Some are assessed with tests and feedback; others are unassessed . According to our sources, “you don’t need to do a five-day mini unless it’s assessed. Three days is more than enough to get a sense of a set's working style and culture, especially during term-time.” Some sets make it clear they prefer a full five-day programme, but former mini-pupils advised “it’s okay to ask for a three-day mini even if they specifically say five. Barristers are pretty switched on to the fact that students have a lot of other stuff on their plate.” In any case, a shorter mini is better than none.

Whether assessed or not, all minis allow students to observe barristers in chambers and often in court too. The degree of involvement you get varies hugely from one set to another. A good mini-pupillage will expose you to the fundamentals of the job, like attending conferences with clients, looking at paperwork and even shadowing a barrister in court. Of course, as one source pointed out: “Students shouldn’t expect to be in court the whole time, as that’s not actually what barristers do all day,” particularly in commercial law. Indeed, depending on the type of set, it’s possible chambers won’t even have anything going on in court during your stint.

“ Students shouldn’t expect to be in court the whole time as that’s not actually what the barristers do all day.”  

A bad mini-pupillage , on the other hand, might see you abandoned in a room with a barrister who doesn’t really want you there. “I got stuck with a costs lawyer,” one pupil recalled with a grimace, adding: “Costs isn’t an easily accessible area of law, even for other barristers. He gave me a load of bundles and told me to give them a read. I came back two hours later and asked: ‘Where do I start?’” Should you find yourself in a situation where you don't exactly hit it off with your supervisor, we suggest turning your attention towards trying to get a feeling for the atmosphere and chatting to other tenants about life in chambers – they're diverse places, so don't write off a set based on one bad apple.

A few chambers take as many as five mini-pupils at a time, though more often than not mini-pupils find themselves alongside just one other. Sets with more formalised programmes may put on a drinks party, but socialising isn't always part of a mini-pupil's job description. That's not to say you can’t use your visit for some subtle yet effective networking . How much mini-pupils achieve in this respect depends on how people in chambers take to them and whether or not their interaction is of the right type: it’s all about striking a balance with members of chambers and making sure you're remembered for the right things – enthusiasm, reliability, engaging attitude – and not for being a nuisance or a drain on people’s time. Pick your moments for questions and conversations carefully.

Assessments and what to expect

Our sources made a point to mention “there can be a certain prestige to assessed minis, ” adding that “a lot of the top chambers do them.” They went on to suggest it's worth trying out some unassessed minis before taking up an assessed one, and advised waiting to sign up until you’ve at least started on the GDL. “They can be very academic and textbooky, which is a challenge if you haven't encountered that type of material yet.” We've noted whether sets offer assessed or unassessed minis or both in our online vacancies listing. In addition, be aware that some top sets only take in mini-pupils as part of the pupillage application process and don't offer them as work experience.

Many sets require an interview for a mini-pupillage, but the odds go way up if it's an assessed one you're after. In either case, be prepared to talk convincingly about why you've chosen the barrister route and perhaps even make a short presentation on a subject selected by the set.

Assessed minis usually dedicate a couple of days entirely to the assessment process itself. As such, attendees can expect to spend more time on their own than in an unassessed mini. A typical assessment scenario sees mini-pupils instructed to analyse a set of papers and produce a piece of written work that's then discussed with a supervisor. As one interviewee recalled: “I was given a factual scenario that filled about one side of A4, plus a few questions to answer about it. It kind of felt like an academic exercise, but at the same time I knew they wanted an ‘advice’ of sorts, so my efforts had to be fairly practical. The other mini-pupil and I went to the nearest Inn library to research and answer the questions using Halsbury’s Laws, Westlaw, LexisNexis etc. I had a day to do this before handing my written answers to a barrister. The following afternoon I had about 30 minutes’ worth of feedback with the barrister, who pointed out where I had done well and where I had gone wrong. Among other things, the exercise was marked on the quality of the legal analysis, the structure and the language.”

Assessed minis usually dedicate a couple of days entirely to the assessment process itself.

Such assessments are usually designed to give people at different stages of the learning process a fair shot. “I was asked to produce my written answer in the form of an opinion,” continued the above source, “but it was clear chambers understood that those who hadn't done the BPTC yet would likely produce something more in line with a GDL-style answer. As such, they put the focus on content rather than style. Essentially they wanted to know if, aided by the right research tools, I could go through the appropriate thought processes and come up with a sensible answer.”

Assessments aren't just limited to written work; sets also judge candidates on the quality of their queries, how quickly they pick things up, and their overall manner. Make sure you're on form at all times, and don't forget to request feedback on your performance. 

How to apply

Minis are usually available during term-time, and many sets run more than usual in the run-up to the summer. It’s never too early to get a move on making mini-pupillage applications, particularly if you're a law student. We've heard from pupils who did them at all points in their studies – their final undergraduate year, on the GDL course, or in the middle of the Bar Course. There's no rule that says first and second-year undergrads can’t do minis, but sets usually prefer students who are more advanced in their studies and have a more demonstrable interest in the Bar. So a lot of it comes down to when you decide you're interested in becoming a barrister – once that's your goal, why wait? Each day you spend at chambers will further your understanding of a barrister's job and the industry at large. Many find the experience inspirational if nothing else. One source shared: “My time at various sets reaffirmed my belief that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”

The first step to getting a mini is checking if, where and when opportunities are available. Alongside each Chambers Report we've detailed how many mini-pupils each set usually takes (which varies from eight to over 100) and what the application deadlines are. You can find further information on Mini-pupillage vacancies elsewhere on this website. Sets lay out some information on their websites, though some are more helpful than others. If it's unclear whether or when a set offers minis, “don't be afraid to ring up the clerks, find out who deals with mini s [it’s usually a junior barrister] and ask to speak to them,” our sources advised. 

Many use personal contacts they have within the profession to pick up a couple of minis – barristers they meet at their Inn, for example.

Most insiders suggest applying for as many minis as you can, “as it’s a numbers game.” That said, it's important you don't compromise the quality of your applications in your bid to up the quantity. Most sets require a relatively simple CV-based form, or a covering letter and CV. Make sure your application explains why you're interested in visiting a particular set and shows you're serious about a career as a barrister. Given the amount of advocacy involved in the job, some kind of mooting or public speaking experience will put you in good stead; in fact, it's a must for some sets.

Many use personal contacts they have within the profession to pick up a couple of minis – barristers they meet at their Inn, for example. Unfair though that may seem, remember that all Bar Course students must join an Inn, so if you don't know anyone (yet), then attend events at your Inn and get networking. Then don't hesitate to use any contacts you make. Barristers who meet and chat to students usually do so precisely because they want to help give the next generation of talented individuals a leg up into the profession.

Don’t expect any feedback after making mini-pupillage applications: many sets don’t even bother to send out rejection letters. If you haven’t heard back after a couple of months, it’s likely you've been unsuccessful. Of course, it's possible a set simply didn’t have the space to accommodate you at that point in time or may just be a bit disorganised, so don't get too disheartened. One of our interviewees recounted initially getting rejected for a mini at the very set where they eventually gained pupillage.

How many should you do?

According to one barrister we spoke to, “mini-pupillages show your commitment to the Bar, but doing ten ceases to impress. Three is a decent number.” While we've heard from successful sources who'd completed half a dozen or so, keep in mind there is such a thing as overkill. As one such insider reported: “I personally found all of mine helpful, but I got asked during my pupillage applications why I did so many. I think some people get the idea that doing a lot projects uncertainty as to which area of law you’re interested in.”

Indeed, if you've completed a long string of minis, it's tactical to delineate a clear narrative when reporting your work experience. For example, if you’re aiming for a criminal pupillage but have done a mix of crime and civil minis, consider leaving some of the latter off of your CV. It makes sense to list only the more impressive experiences on your application forms if you're conscious of keeping your numbers down.

In our opinion, going past three is unlikely to hurt your chances, especially if you've got good reasons for doing so. Few admissions committees will find fault with a clear-cut desire to sample different areas of practice. In the end, as one pupil told us, “it’s a case of striking the right balance between showing your commitment to a practice area and showing that you know what else is out there.” For the same reason, doing a  vacation scheme with a solicitors' firm could be a good idea in order to rule out (or in) that side of the profession.

Making the most of your experience

Milk your mini-pupillage for all its worth by taking notes, asking good questions (at appropriate moments, of course), and reflecting on what was good and bad about your experiences. Recruiters often tell us that pupillage applicants who simply list or describe their legal work experience fall short in comparison to those who actually articulate what they’ve learned from shadowing practitioners.

Here are some other tips from insiders:

  • “Try to be relaxed while you’re in chambers, and don’t expect too much on a personal or social level. Barristers all differ: some will be very intense, some will have read your CV and will talk to you about your interests, some won’t care and will vaguely resent having to baby-sit you – and you’ll know it. Don’t take it personally.”
  • “At the end of every day of your mini-pupillage, mark down each thing you’ve done, no matter how small – every little legal point you’ve looked at, every chat about it you had with a barrister. You'll forget it when it comes to subsequent interviews unless you make a note.”
  • “Things may go way over your head while you’re in court, but make sure you stay focused. The barrister who takes you along might ask you how you think the hearing went.”
  • "Don't worry if you leave your first mini feeling no more enlightened about the work than when you came in. I learnt that I loved the surroundings of chambers and going to court during my first few minis, but I did find it difficult to engage with the work as I didn't actually understand most of the legal principles at hand. Later into my studies, however, it became much easier to get to grips with and make a good impression.”
  • "Be persistent with your applications. If you really want a spot at a particular set, ask yourself whether it's worth trying again and go for it. I didn't get in the first time around, but after applying again I managed to land a mini-pupillage, and now I'm a pupil.”
  • “Remember to take each mini-pupillage seriously, particularly those that are a requisite part of a set's pupillage application process. It's your chance to impress, and you should approach it accordingly.” 

Although a mini is certainly step in the right direction, it alone won't take you all the way to pupillage. Still, as one pupil reminded us: “A mini-pupillage is a real morale boost – it’s a reminder that at least somebody thinks you’re worth taking a look at.”

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    By today's blogpost I share two of mein personalized coat letters, welche I tailored to every barrister's chamber I applied to, and which helped me land eight mini-pupillages. I have the course completely decided to walking into ad and corporate law, but I was genuine interested in Trusts Statute and Intellectual

  22. Mini-pupillages

    As a rule, mini-pupillages last two, three or five days. Some are assessed with tests and feedback; others are unassessed. According to our sources, "you don't need to do a five-day mini unless it's assessed. Three days is more than enough to get a sense of a set's working style and culture, especially during term-time.".

  23. Mini-Pupillage cover letter advice

    A. Crazy Jamie Careers Forum Helper. Original post by Forum User. 1) Cover letter should be fairly short if you are also including a CV. Just one or two lines introducing yourself and then a short paragraph explaining why you are interested in a mini-pupillage at the set in question.