Lessons from a COVID work-at-home pupillage

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‘Different, but not impossible,’ writes Shaylla Shabbir - seven lessons learnt.


Pupillage in lockdown are two words I would never have expected to see in the same sentence. However, here we find ourselves.

In March 2020, I was approached by Gordon Exall to write a short piece on pupillage in lockdown for his blog, Civil Litigation Brief. Following its publication, I was inundated with messages of support from juniors and seniors from across the profession. What I can say with absolute certainty is that a work from home pupillage is different, but not impossible. These are the lessons learnt from COVID to take forward from a pupil’s perspective, five months on.

1. Invest in two screens

This is non-negotiable. It does not matter what area of law you’re specialising in. This will make life a whole lot easier. Virtual pupillages mean that you are not going to have access to paper files. All your instructions will be sent via email. Staring blankly at one screen or a small 13 inch laptop, will not be easy and can be very painful for the eyes.

2. Home telephone line

If your phone network has a mind of its own then a sturdy home telephone line will be necessary. In my first six, I was listening in to conferences, and hearings. In my second six, I am conducting my own hearings and conferences. The last thing you want is the judge becoming frustrated with your voice breaking up. I learnt the hard way. After being cut off from an application hearing, and repeatedly being told by a judge ‘Miss Shabbir, I can’t hear you!’. Needless to say, my next Amazon Prime delivery was a landline phone.

3. Wireless Bluetooth headphones

Emphasis on the word ‘wireless’. The ability to move around, unrestricted is really handy. I also find the noise reduction capabilities in these headphones a real plus too. Virtual meetings will feel more natural, than having tangled wires all around. Just make sure you keep them charged.

4. Become familiar with a PDF programme

The truth is that paper instructions are likely to be a thing of the past. Find yourself a PDF programme you enjoy, you understand and one that delivers for your needs. I recently introduced my supervisor to Foxit PDF software, and he’s not stopped praising it since then.

5. Time management

Working from home can make it difficult to stop working. ‘I’ll just finish this off’, soon turns to 11pm. I am guilty of this. It is very easy to get distracted with the time. I purchased myself an analogue clock that was placed at the centre of my desk and set 90 minutes interval alarms. After 90 minutes, I would be sure to stand up, have a stretch, make a drink, or just jump on a treadmill for five minutes. It will help with concentration and help you monitor your time. Also, working from home is just that. It is not changing your home into work. A balance is important to maintain productivity and for your wellbeing.

6. Download and try software in advance

Court hearings are being held via platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Skype. It is vital to become familiar with these in advance and not an hour before a hearing. It will save you time, and embarrassment.

7. Ask for help

Asking for help is not always easy. This is especially the case when you are not able to turn around to ask a colleague a quick question. One thing that I am incredibly proud of is how the profession has come together during this time. Pick up the phone. Drop a text or just call. Someone will be there to help.

As we start living this new normal at the Bar, more lessons will be learnt. It is a novel situation we find ourselves in and one which is likely to (and in fact has) changed the profession. All we can do is adapt the best we can. If any prospective pupils would like to discuss their concerns, feel free to contact me at: sshabbir@kingschambers.com or @ShayllaShabbir.

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Shaylla Shabbir

Shaylla Shabbir is a pupil barrister at Kings Chambers.