The main representative and regulatory bodies all value and support employed Bar pupillages. The Bar Council cites ‘the strong business case for offering employed Bar pupillages’ which ‘can be of huge benefit to pupils too’. The Bar Standards Board (BSB) ‘agrees that the employed Bar has a vital role to play in supporting pupillage’ and is ‘delighted by the opportunities that already exist’. BACFI is clear that ‘the employed Bar offers first class pupillages.’

A look at the figures would suggest that there is scope for increasing the number of organisations offering employed Bar pupillages. Compared with the 13,000+ figure for barristers practising in around 350 chambers there are over 3,000 barristers practising in employment, whereas the ratio of pupillages between the two sectors is roughly 10:1. Many senior employed barristers work in large legal departments where there is scope to recruit, train and absorb pupils, so why don’t more of them offer pupillage?

Despite the pandemic, 2021 was a representative year for pupillage numbers at the employed Bar: 52 were offered by 19 BSB approved employers (AETOs), according to BSB figures.

One third of the pupillages at the employed Bar were offered by the CPS; the others were in central government, several law firms, an investment banking company and a healthcare regulator. Employers shared common features:

  • A commitment on the part of the organisation and its senior barrister members to the importance and ideal of pupillage. Sharon Blackman, GC and Pupillage Training Principal at Citi, recalled the person who in her earlier career ‘went out of their way to offer me an employed pupillage. Our younger generation face so many challenges; they work incredibly hard. We owe it to them to help them.’
  • A holistic recruitment strategy that seeks to attract excellent people and retain all pupils after completion of pupillage. As Ashkhan Candey, Managing Partner and Training Principal at boutique litigation firm CANDEY puts it: ‘We aim to offer them all a job. We wouldn’t do this otherwise.’
  • A training culture that permeates the organisation, and often includes the recruitment, development and retention of trainee solicitors, and joint training with pupils, but ensures that the pupils are treated as a separate stream for the distinctive advocacy and other training required for pupillage. Training can be supported by human resource units, but the culture needs to be led by the senior lawyers. Rev’d Mark Smith, training supervisor at the Government Legal Department: ‘We expect our supervisors to be good at coaching, to give time and effort and to take it seriously.’
  • A focus on how and where best to gain the necessary advocacy experience.
  • Although they are naturally training their pupils for a successful career in their own organisations, they also regard themselves as offering training that fits their pupils to practise anywhere at the Bar, including other parts of the Employed Bar and chambers. They do not see themselves as training a separate cadre of ‘employed barristers’. Jonathan Foy, Director of Pupil Training at the CPS, says: ‘I believe it is the job of the CPS to train its pupils to become barristers, not just prosecutors. It’s tempting for any organisation to try to create lawyers in its own image but we want to create fully rounded barristers. If they stay (and they usually do), brilliant! But if they choose to go off and flourish elsewhere, good too. Being a barrister is about how you conduct yourself as much as what you know.’

Many employed Bar pupillage providers are able to offer excellent advocacy experience for their pupils; others have to work hard to get it, including arranging secondments to friendly chambers. But they have the edge over chambers when it comes to the quality of the advisory work that their pupils get to do. One of my former pupils told me that after she left government for chambers it took her four years to get written work of the same quality and difficulty as she was getting in government; and there was also the opportunity to build sustainable relations with internal clients and the skill to influence outcomes that she learned in government and took with her into her chambers practice.

Why aren’t there more employed Bar pupillage providers?

Reasons might include the cost of the ‘unproductive’ pupillage year – but as Peter Boyce, Head of Pupillage at the Nursing and Midwifery Council, says, ‘We are a charity funded by our registrants; if an organisation like us can do it, anybody of any size can.’ There may also be an organisation’s preference for recruiting lawyers with more PQE under their belts; the fact that, far from dominating the employed legal sector, employed barristers would only appear to account for one sixth of it, a fraction which becomes even smaller when the barristers in the CPS and government are left out of account – but, as these case studies show, solicitors can be proud to play the training principal role; and the difficulty, actual and perceived, of navigating one’s way through the regulations governing AETOs and organisations wanting to absorb barristers after pupillage. At the heart of the issue is the recruitment policy of commercial entities and how far they see advantage in a policy that includes growing their own. As Sharon Blackman puts it: ‘At a time when people are desperately looking for talent, better appreciating the value of diversity, this is a perfect time to consider taking pupils.’

On any view it cannot be right that, leaving law firms aside, only one commercial organisation – Sharon’s Citi – offered a pupillage in 2021.

The way forward

There is growing measure of agreement about the way forward.

The BSB says it is ‘certainly keen to encourage more employed Bar pupillages. We are currently producing a guide to pupillage at the employed Bar and planning [with BACFI] a jointly hosted information event in the autumn.’

BACFI agrees: ‘We have been a consistent advocate for increasing the availability of employed pupillages and reducing impediments to providing them. Our initiatives include encouraging provision by our members and strengthening potential partnerships with Chambers for advocacy elements of the training with a view to providing potential pupils with a range of opportunities to gain as broad an experience as possible at such a pivotal point in their career journey.’

The Bar Council says: ‘We are always keen to support new employed Bar organisations offering high-quality pupillages for the first time. The AETO application process has posed a challenge to both chambers and employed Bar organisations, and the Bar Council is keen to see it simplified so that no potential AETO is put off by excessive paperwork. We are happy to provide guidance to employed Bar organisations who are considering taking the plunge.’ They would like to see more organisations coming to the annual pupillage fair.

The large law firm DAC Beachcroft is the most recent high-profile organisation that has attained AETO status and announced that it will advertise this summer for one or two pupillages. Jonathan Robinshaw and Sahar Farooqi lead the advocacy team there. Their focus is on attracting the best possible people. They cite the benefit to their clients in terms of growing pupils who understand their thinking and also the growth in skills gained by firm’s supervisors.

The accompanying case studies show what’s possible…

THE CPS: Jonathan Foy and Radha Baan
Jonathan Foy joined the CPS in 2006, became a training supervisor in 2012 and is now CPS Director of Pupil Training. He has by far the largest role in the development of pupils at the employed Bar. He devises and delivers training to all CPS pupils and trainee solicitors, oversees the whole pupillage programme, and maintains a front line prosecution practice. With 3,040 prosecutors the CPS has been taking pupils since the late 90s. This year’s intake of pupils will be 23; next year’s is planned for 40. (There will also be similar numbers of solicitor training contracts.) ‘We guarantee our pupils a job, usually in a magistrates’ court prosecution team, subject to satisfactory completion of the pupillage. Our ambition is that 40% of all our new prosecutors will have been our trainees, whether pupils, trainee solicitors or solicitor apprentices.’ Former trainees have already reached top prosecution positions across the Service.
CPS has pupils all over the country. Each has a dedicated supervisor for the full 12 months. Their first six includes a 3-4 week secondment to a set of chambers, where they get to see defence work. The second six involves prosecuting the full range of magistrates’ court cases, at first one or two cases a day once or twice a week, progressing to taking a full day’s list of cases if appropriate. Pupils also act in the Crown Court on committals for sentence and bail applications but not, under current practice, jury trials.
Why come to the CPS? ‘There is good reward for a criminal lawyer, a level of stability and a commitment to wellbeing. But it’s mainly about the opportunity to see the different types of criminal law you wouldn’t otherwise get, from drunken driving to murder and terrorism and everything in between.’
Radha Baan completed her pupillage in 2021 and is now a prosecutor at St Albans, in the Thames and Chiltern Magistrates’ Court Team. She says: ‘The more you put into pupillage, the more you get out of it. The work is demanding but there is a great deal of scope to progress your career.’
CITI: Sharon Blackman and Corinna McClune
Sharon Blackman OBE is an MD and GC in the General Counsel’s Office at Citi, the investment banking company headquartered at Canary Wharf, with 90-100 lawyers. She is training principal and supervisor for her pupil. ‘I didn’t get pupillage when I qualified. In those days it wasn’t necessary – but I felt incomplete.
When I moved to Abbey National I was fortunate enough to have a good manager, who organised one for me.’ Sharon has been at Citi now for 18 years. ‘When I joined Citi I saw we regularly took trainee solicitors. I asked myself: why not pupils? After 5 years I raised it within the organisation. Our pupillages and training contracts are only available for our staff who have been with us for at least 3 years and who otherwise satisfy our criteria under a competitive internal process. We had to seek a number of waivers for it.’
Corinna McClune is Citi’s first ever pupil. She was on maternity leave when we spoke, having so far completed 3 months of pupillage. Following a BSB dispensation for experience already gained, her pupillage has been reduced from 12 to 8 months.
A secondment to chambers would be part of her remaining 5 months. Corinna is based in the Citi office in Belfast but keeps contact with Sharon formally once a week and at other times when needed. ‘Doing an in-house pupillage has enabled me to undertake quality sophisticated work and be at the heart of important time-sensitive decision making and reaction to significant events, while enjoying the benefits of employment.’
CANDEY: Ashkhan Candey and Matthew Rogers
Ashkhan Candey, Managing Partner of Lincoln’s Inn boutique litigation firm, CANDEY, took pupils last year for the first time ever, four last year and three this year. He is Pupillage Joint Training Principal with Head of Chambers, Mo Haque QC. The 50-fee earner 28-lawyer strong commercial/chancery firm employs a mix of solicitors and barristers and also recruits trainee solicitors and paralegals. A former solicitor, non-practising barrister, and now a solicitor advocate, he says: ‘For us it’s about having an integrated in-house offering. We offer our clients more of a US experience, in which barristers can have far greater influence and control over our litigation, with barristers and solicitors working together, often under one of our senior barristers or partners. This is not at the exclusion of the external self-employed Bar, with whom we continue to have very close (and expanding) relationships. [Indeed we encourage our pupils to work with external junior barristers and QCs to ensure that their training isn’t limited to our in-house resources.] The training our pupils get is different from that of the trainee solicitors, and we ensure that our solicitors don’t use our pupils as they would use trainee solicitors. But as a hybrid firm we don’t want people who are too precious about their role. We encourage our pupils to do paralegal work for a year beforehand to see solicitor work and get life skills. [We offer a work life balance with no hourly rate targets, as we recognise that lawyers hate the 2,500 hours they are expected to rack up by sacrificing their enjoyment and free time. In the same vein we also understand that for some the external Bar can be lonely and lack the team environment.]’
Matthew Rogers was still doing pupillage when I spoke with him and was due to appear shortly as a junior in the Court of Appeal. ‘For me it’s the best of both worlds. On one hand I can be a barrister and focus on what I find most interesting: the legal arguments and advocacy. On the other, I have the benefits (financial and social) of being part of a firm, whilst gaining additional experience from working directly alongside solicitors. All the while, I retain a more general exposure to the world of business.’
CENTRAL GOVERNMENT: Mark Smith and Toel Koyithara
Rev’d Mark Smith is one of the most experienced training supervisors in the Government Legal Department, which along with HMRC and its predecessors has been taking pupils for over 30 years. GLD itself employs over 2000 lawyers and aims to take 5 pupils every year and 38 trainee solicitors. ‘I jumped at the chance of becoming a pupil supervisor. I like working with people at the beginning of their careers, coaching, giving feedback, resolving issues that arise, giving them tools to help them perform better. I would recommend it to anyone. There is mandatory training for supervisors and lots of guidance. The business case for offering pupillage is simple: it’s a way of recruiting excellent people and training them well.’
All GLD pupils spend their first six in a GLD immigration litigation team followed by a second six in chambers, where they are instructed in immigration cases. At the end of pupillage they spend a further 12 months in training, doing effectively ‘third and fourth’ seats in two of the GLD’s advisory teams.
For Mark as supervisor ‘the special moments are when the pupil has a success in court; when they do an excellent piece of written work and I think ‘Wow!’; and when we tell them they are being retained.’ Toel Koyithara was doing his ‘fourth’ seat in the team advising HM Treasury when we spoke. ‘I like most people aspired to having a career at the Bar because I wanted to make a difference and enjoyed grappling with complex legal problems. As a blind person who started pupillage in the pandemic I did not think it would be possible. However, I have thoroughly loved my GLD pupillage. I have been able to experience a wide range of work, from appearing for the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the Upper Tribunal, to contributing to ministerial submissions. What I value most is the trust that GLD places in its pupils, and the level of support from my colleagues. A GLD pupillage provides an unparalleled opportunity to both develop as a barrister and at the same time contribute to topical issues, whilst at the same time being part of a large, interdisciplinary team.’
THE NURSING AND MIDWIFERY COUNCIL: Peter Boyce, Jessica Bass and Aoife Kennedy
Peter Boyce is Head of Case Presentation and Appeals at the NMC, a healthcare regulator, where he has worked for the last 3 years. A solicitor with 13 years PQE, he is also Head of Pupillage. Although NMC, with almost 100 lawyers, does not offer training contracts, it does support its aspiring lawyers with their applications to qualify as lawyers through the SRA and CILEx routes.
‘We offer one pupillage every year – I’d like it to be more. We absolutely want to keep every pupil afterwards, and we have always managed to do so over the years. We seek applicants with a strong academic record including a Very Competent BPTC result. We want to see our applicants already have a commitment to advocacy that goes wider than their compulsory training at Law School – for example, if they have done any pro bono advocacy; we also look for real evidence of a commitment to the employed Bar. We challenge our pupils: it’s tough and intense, but this consistently creates excellent lawyers for the future.’
There are plenty of advocacy opportunities provided by the disciplinary hearings involving members of the nursing and midwifery professions.
Jessica Bass completed her pupillage last year. For her: ‘The NMC pupillage experience was truly 12 months full of non-stop learning. I felt expertly supported as I navigated a huge variety of work, which in my first six included reviewing, drafting and advising on a range of practice areas including employment, GDPR, negligence and professional discipline. Advocacy in my second six covered a variety of hearings, from short applications to 5-6 day final hearings and even a brief appearance in the High Court. This has equipped me very well for the rigours of life at the Bar, and allowed me to work with some of the best advocates in the business.’
Aoife Kennedy, Jessica’s successor, echoes her comments and adds: ‘I have felt the NMC has really invested in me. The continuous support from my pupil supervisors, team members and other teams has provided a nurturing environment. It is distinct from traditional chambers pupillage in that the work is specialised and I have a continuous relationship with one client. In practice this means that the instructions and bundles I receive are well-organised and I am supported by other teams within the organisation. I would highly recommend pupillage at the NMC.’