TBG Pupillage – Delivering it Differently
There is no doubt that applying for pupillage can be incredibly difficult given the limited opportunities available, the constraints of the mandatory timetable and the perception of elitism which still exists in some quarters.
However, with the Bar Standards Board telling us that there is an aging Bar (BSB’s Strategy for Change 2022 – 2025) and with an increase in clients to the Bar; particularly in Public Access work, significantly more needs to be done to get newcomers into the profession. We are constantly exploring ways to do this and lobbying for change.
As to pupillage for right now, here’s some things we’ve done...
When we created our new pupillage offering, as well as ensuring we applied the stringent requirements of the Bar Standards Board, we felt it was highly important for us to provide pupillage in a way that was consistent with our values and culture which we had developed over 20 years. The challenge was making sure we applied our ingrained desire for innovation, disruption, and accessibility within the constraints of the mandatory timescale and profession which is resistant to change.
A big part of our 23 year journey has involved taking the best of the traditional Bar as our base, adding a huge dollop of innovation, a very generous dose of inclusion (both culturally and geographically) and liberally sprinkling this with nice people. The success of this strategy was born out earlier this year when we secured an investment partner in Lloyds Development Capital.
We have carefully applied these same principles to our pupillage provision, and we are very excited to welcome our new pupils between June 2024 and April 2025.
Between November 2020 and April 2022, The Barrister Group (TBG) did have 18 pupils, 17 of which successfully completed their pupillage with us. Some of these were ‘rescue’ pupillages following the events of the Pandemic.
Our entire strategy and growth has been created with flexibility in mind, starting with the fact that we have always been a virtual chambers: this facilitates remote and flexible working and has allowed us to create a genuine and full national coverage – indeed, we are the largest civil chambers in England and Wales.
Our team do still have open and constant access to offices across the country though and all of the benefits of this flexibility will be available to our pupils. This means that pupillages will be available nationally on a flexible basis as we are not constrained by location.
We can also offer real flexibility in work types combined with that national coverage. We won’t try to pigeonhole pupils too early. In our considerable experience, in most cases, pupils and junior barristers build their practices and experience better and quicker when they are versatile and open to all types of work at the start and work their way into specialism over time if they choose. However, our members can make a conscious choice to remain generalist if they want to.*
*This brings to mind the Shakespeare quote which is often shortened to the point that its full meaning is lost: “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but often times better than a master of one.”
The Barrister Group has a home for both specialists and generalists and with our extensive client list, we can confidently say there is a need for both.
Another real benefit to pupillage candidates is that we intend to stagger the start dates for our 12 pupillage vacancies. This helps us with resources but also means we can be flexible with start dates for candidates who fit our “ideal pupil criteria”.
We were determined to do everything we could to create a completely fair and objective recruitment process. We spent a lot of time designing our process and using the innovative approach we are well known for; we have created a completely anonymous first stage assessment. This ensures that we avoid unconscious bias, and we deliberately don’t collect any identifiable personal data either. This assessment stage of the recruitment process focuses on high standards – one of the guiding principles for training at the Bar.
Stage 2 of the process is called the suitability stage and those who pass stage 1 will automatically be invited to take part in stage 2. This stage is looking at the candidate’s suitability with The Barrister Group and explores topics such as skills, experience, and abilities which align with TBG values, aims and ethos. The ultimate objective being to find candidates who stand the best chance of launching and maintaining a successful and sustainable self-employed practice with TBG.
We don’t ask for details of educational attainments (above those required by the BSB) or educational institutions attended unlike many other chambers.
Applicants who do not pass the anonymous stage 1 will be pointed to resources which can help and invited to try again. From stage 2 onwards, applicants will be provided with specific and detailed feedback.
The aspects mentioned above under flexibility, also support accessibility such as our remote working, national coverage and staggered start dates.
Unlike many chambers, we are also very open to delivering reduced pupillages for those who have been or could be awarded waivers by the BSB based on experiences earned through working in law outside of the traditional pupillage environment.
We can also consider part time pupillages for those with specific needs. We have undertaken accessibility audits to ensure all of our premises are accessible, have an effective Reasonable Adjustments Policy and will readily support individuals with applications to the Access to Work Scheme.
As to the training itself, we develop individualised training plans so that these are tailored to the needs of each pupil.
Intrinsically linked to both flexibility and accessibility is affordability.
Traditionally, the Bar has difficulties in ensuring socio-economic diversity. This can often mean that individuals from a more diverse socio-economic background or those faced with multiple disadvantaging characteristics through intersectionality, find it difficult to obtain pupillage within the prescribed five-year period.
There seems to be a continuing strategy by many organisations offering pupillage to offer significantly enhanced awards albeit to much fewer candidates. TBG believes that this strategy has a negative impact upon accessibility. It has the consequence of placing an indirect restriction on the numbers entering the profession. This is contrary to the statutory guidance of the Legal Services Board as set out at Outcome 5 of “Legal Services Board: Guidance on regulatory arrangements for education and training.”
In an attempt to mitigate these impacts, TBG maintains the monetary financial award for pupillage at or near the minimum mandatory level and enhances its award by providing practical resources, skill development and support which does not have a strict financial value. In this way, more pupillages can be offered.
Many determined individuals who do not secure pupillage use their transferable skills to gain experience which in many instances results in them at least partially developing the competencies in the Professional Statement. The BSB recognises this in its system for pupillage reduction but there is a gap in the system allowing them to become practicing barristers in an effective and efficient way. As such, we welcome applications from candidates with reductions in pupillage and strategically, this will allow us to continue to offer higher numbers of pupillage in future and increase accessibility at the Bar.
Once pupillage is completed, TBG’s open and unlimited membership provides opportunities for all pupils who complete pupillage with TBG to apply for membership and it is sincerely hoped that with the training provided through pupillage, that the applicants will be able to demonstrate that they can have a successful self-employed practice and be offered membership, thereby providing the opportunity for a sustainable long-term practice.
Sustaining high standards
The first stage of the recruitment process specifically assesses candidates against the competencies in the Professional Statement for Barristers. After all, it is this standard that pupils are required to demonstrate on ‘day one’ of practice.
Our ‘ideal pupil criteria’ which we objectively and fairly assess candidates against has also been mapped to these competencies.
This structured approach to recruitment follows through into the pupils’ training with individualised training plans, ongoing fair and objective appraisals and continuous improvement ensuring that pupillage is targeted to each individual’s needs, and high standards are maintained and constantly and consistently measured against the relevant competencies.
These training plans will be comprehensive and will provide access and experience to a wide range of work and tasks, which will extend beyond pure shadowing of the pupil supervisor and encompass all areas which are necessary for a barrister to become a successful self-employed practitioner.
We also carefully select our pupil supervisors to ensure equally high standards and they are all required to undertake robust and enhanced pupil supervisor training.
To find out more about pupillage with The Barrister Group, click here.