The last year has left its imprint on all practitioners, but it is perhaps pupils who have been most exposed. Those whose pupillage has fallen largely, or entirely, within the pandemic have had an experience unlike any prior generation. Some pupils will not yet have set foot inside an actual courtroom and those now in their second six are undertaking fewer cases of their own. Similarly, many pupils are either not going into chambers, or are doing so only occasionally.

Recognising the particular problems faced by pupils, the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) launched its Pupillage Project in September 2020. The project has thus far had four faces: (i) understanding the issue via a wide-ranging survey; (ii) holding a junior tenant panel event for pupils via Zoom; (iii) providing one-on-one support via the Buddy Scheme; and (iv) additional training via a mock hearing exercise.

The survey

Many chambers, fearing the unknown financial impact of lockdown, suspended, altered or cancelled their recruitment process. The September survey of chambers revealed both the extent of the impact and the varied responses across the Bar.

In addition to widespread concern as to the financial impact of the pandemic on chambers’ ability to offer pupillage, most chambers noted that opportunities for second six pupils to undertake their own work had reduced greatly. A large number of chambers extended their pupillages as they were concerned that the pupils had not had sufficient opportunity to develop and/or demonstrate their potential. This provided vital information to the FLBA, and has been instrumental in informing and directing the Pupillage Project.

Junior tenant panel event

This event was held at the beginning of November, via Zoom, and was attended by many family law pupils from across the country. It gave incoming pupils from different sets the chance to meet each other and to get to know the faces that they would in any normal year see in courtroom corridors. The evening also enabled the new pupils to ask questions of a panel of junior tenants from a range of different sets – including a number of tenants who had just completed the second half of their pupillage under the cloud of COVID.

Buddy scheme

The autumn also saw the launch of a buddy scheme, with a new pupil being paired with a junior tenant from a different chambers. The idea was to provide pupils with informal support and an outlet to raise any issues that arose during the course of their pupillage, without fear that it might impact on their prospects of tenancy.

The scheme has been hugely popular, with around 40 pupil/buddy pairings. This has proven invaluable to pupils, whose access to members of their own chambers (aside from their supervisors) has been greatly reduced due to the COVID-19 crisis. It has also provided reassurance and the ability for pupils to speak openly, given that their buddy is from a different set, and helps to combat the ‘pupillage paranoia’ which many of us have experienced.

One pupil who is currently part of the buddy scheme gave the following review:

‘Pupillage is difficult. It is essentially a trial period and it is easy to feel like you are always being assessed. There is a pressure to perform not just to do the best job for the client, but also to show what you can do to the people who will be deciding your future come the end of pupillage.

That is where the buddy scheme really shines. If I could define it in three words, they would be: independent, flexible, and relatable.

Independent: The scheme will pair you with someone who is not a member of your chambers, or possibly even your Circuit. I am fortunate enough to be part of a chambers where we are encouraged to talk about how we are feeling and what we are finding difficult. However, my buddy is someone I can talk to knowing they will not be involved in any decisions in respect of tenancy.

Flexible : Pupillage is busy work. The FLBA buddy scheme is in no way a burden or a time constraint. How often you meet and for how long is for you and your buddy to decide. In my pairing, we aim to meet once a month and sessions can range from a five minute catch-up to a 30-minute session covering any and every issue. Your buddy is always a phone call away in moments of crisis.

Relatable : Your buddy is someone who was in your position not long ago. Pupillage for them is still a fresh memory. When you speak about your experiences, they are naturally empathetic to your situation (they have probably had a similar experience).

If you are looking for someone to share the highs and lows of the rollercoaster that is pupillage, I would encourage you to sign up.’

It wasn’t just the pupils who benefitted. Many buddies have commented about the importance of staying up to date with issues that the younger members of the Family Bar are experiencing. Mani’s review of being a buddy is as follows:

‘The purpose of the buddy scheme is to try and ensure that pupils have someone not from their own chambers to reach out to in their time of need or if they have any questions. As part of my role on the FLBA committee, I developed an insight into the difficulties that pupils have experienced during the pandemic. Accordingly, I have ensured that I have regular meetings with my buddies via Zoom/WhatsApp to check in and see how they are doing during pupillage. It has been fantastic to witness first-hand their development from first six to second six where they are now on their feet and flourishing and I hope that I have been of some assistance to them during their journey. As a buddy, it has also been insightful to learn about the difficulties that they have faced as pupils on the ground during the pandemic and I have been sure to raise these during FLBA committee meetings. For example, when the buddy scheme was first launched it became apparent to myself, Tom and Melissa that pupils were worried about the lack of advocacy experience. In order to combat this obstacle we organised with the FLBA a mock advocacy exercise with experienced barristers providing pupils with feedback and advice, which was a great success. This is an example of another benefit of the buddy scheme in that all those who are a buddy can feedback to us at the FLBA to let us know what the common issues are in respect of any difficulties that pupils are facing and then in turn we can work on solutions. When I, Tom and Melissa first discussed the buddy scheme as part of our roles on the FLBA committee, we hoped that it would be a great success for years to come and I believe we have set the foundation to ensure that this is the case.’

The buddy scheme will continue to run next year. Any incoming family pupils who wish to be allocated a buddy should contact the FLBA.

Advocacy training

With opportunities for pupils to undertake their own cases reduced, March 2021 marked the first FLBA-wide advocacy training – in the form of a mock hearing, over Zoom. The hearing took the form of a contested return date on an application for a Non-Molestation Order and a Prohibited Steps Order. Fifty-four pupils from across the country attended and were judged by established practitioners ranging from junior tenants to heads of chambers and deputy High Court judges.

We are hugely grateful to FLBA members and to all of the judges for their support of this project, which would not have been possible but for the willingness of the profession to give generously of their time. We hope to run further mock hearing exercises in the coming months, even post-pandemic, centring on common applications/hearings which pupils will face in their second six.

The future

With the continued support of the National Committee and FLBA members, it is hoped that the project can be expanded in 2021-2022, such as to encompass a series of advocacy exercises, building on the solid foundations laid this year. We continue to work with the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee and hope to continue working to promote issues for the Young Bar, especially those in the family law field.

Should any family law practitioner have any concerns, issues or ideas in respect of the young members of the Family Bar, they should not hesitate to reach out to us and we will endeavour to assist:

How online networking is compensating for reduced footfall in the courts


Joanne Kane, Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee

'Do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.' 
William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, Act I, Scene 2


There are a number of similarities between the pupillage process and a trial. The anticipation of the first day can cause anxiety, both involve large volumes of reading material, and months of work are directed towards securing a positive outcome. During trials, barristers have co-counsel to work alongside, and during pupillage fellow pupils become allies. Many of us have been fortunate to make firm friends in robing rooms during our first days on our feet, but for pupils being trained during the pandemic it has not been easy to meet and develop friendships with fellow pupils.

A survey of pupils was carried out in March 2021. While 83% of pupils surveyed reported that they felt supported by their chambers, 82% cited a lack of networking opportunities during COVID as their biggest challenge. In response to this, the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) hosted an online networking event in June 2021. Twenty Essex allowed the YBC to use its online networking platform with the assistance of George Bennett and Deborah King. The event enabled young barristers to move between virtual tables to meet other pupils, including those from their own practice area or from their Circuit. Members of the YBC attended the event to ensure that pupils were able to discuss any concerns with young tenants.

The session demonstrated that online networking has its place at the modern Bar. Virtual platforms allow pupils from different areas and specialisms to share their experiences from the comfort of their sofas. Online networking can never replicate the camaraderie of a robing room or a long conversation on a train journey to a distant court with a fellow pupil, but it can offer a glimpse of normalcy during a period of remote working, and it proves that the collegiality of the Bar can also be experienced in a virtual setting. During the first days ‘on your feet’ some of the most important friendships are forged, and it is important that pupils have the opportunity to do this in some form while experiencing reduced footfall in the courts.

Networking with pupils from other chambers or workplaces may not be an important part of impressing a pupillage committee, but it provides a far more important function: company. At a time when fewer barristers are attending their workplaces, chambers and Inns in person, pupils need to proactively build their own network of friends and confidants. The YBC is committed to helping pupils do this. Pupillage can be difficult for some, but having colleagues who understand this unique process is invaluable, especially after a difficult hearing or a progress review. Mistakes are the portals of discovery, so sharing feedback together usually benefits everyone, but pupils will only feel comfortable to do that if they have already built a group of trusted colleagues around them.

It is especially important for pupils without personal contacts at the Bar to be able to develop an effective support network, particularly those in self-employed practice who may spend a lot of time working alone. The Bar’s community has a responsibility to ensure that the current lack of networking opportunities does not directly lead to a retention issue for those who were unable to build a network of colleagues at their level from the start of their career. The YBC will offer further online networking opportunities and welcome any suggestions on how we can continue to support the most junior members of our profession.

The Bar Council Young Barristers’ Committee will host a similar event for incoming pupils before the start of the new legal year. Incoming pupils can register their interest by emailing: Pupils may also find it useful to read The Inside Guide to Life at the Bar.