Pupillage gateway

Guy Fetherstonhaugh QC, the Chairman of the Training for the Bar Committee, expresses his enthusiasm for the new pupillage application system.

I am long enough in the tooth to remember PACH (the Pupillage Application Clearing House), its eventual online successor OLPAS, and its spawn the Pupillage Portal. I also remember vividly the dissatisfaction in my Chambers with each: the un-user-friendly application forms; the lack of any ability to tailor the forms to suit each Chambers’ speciality; the draconian deadlines; the torrent of paper that should not have, but did, accompany the online systems. The goodwill that the Bar should have, and did, feel for its own system gradually evaporated. In 1997, 243 sets of Chambers used the system; by last year, that had reduced to 100.


It is no surprise that my Chambers and many like it gave up the struggle and left what should have been a clean, neat system, with lots of helpful features designed to help Chambers and applicants for pupillage sort out a busy season to their mutual advantage. Despite the considerable hidden cost involved with going it alone (think of all those hours spent in uploading, processing and reviewing material), it seemed preferable to design an ad hoc system to suit oneself.

Conscious of these evident shortcomings, and spurred on by increasing dissatisfaction among the remaining sets, the Bar Council set out a year ago to devise a new system. The aim was for us to have our own system, and not one devised and owned by a third party that would be resistant to improvement. We also seemed best placed to think through what should be provided. The process started with a thorough specification and tendering exercise. Jobs Go Public, who handle an enormous amount of local authority and public employment work, were chosen as the contractor most likely to deliver a cost-effective and winning product.

Attention then turned to the profession’s requirements for an effective system, one that would: be attractive and easy to operate by Chambers and applicants alike; readily enable communication between recruitment committees, candidates, referees and the Bar Council; allow the storage of data from previous applications; permit applicants to tailor their applications to individual chambers; include an internal sifting procedure and interview scheduling tool; and meet the BSB’s equality and diversity (E&D) monitoring requirements. Seventy five questionnaires to Chambers were filled in with helpful suggestions; 20 in-depth interviews were conducted with recruitment committees, and road testing was carried out by numerous volunteers as the new system was developed. The system was thoroughly re-written from the ground upwards.

Ladies and gentlemen: the new system – Pupillage Gateway – has now arrived, having opened for business on 1 March 2013. Unlike the system it replaced, (a) Chambers have been able to tailor their offers to suit their own practice, and to draw out from candidates specific reasons for preferring them; and (b) candidates have the whole of March to browse and familiarise themselves with the Gateway: they can fill out and store their application in draft, and tinker with it over the month.

But there is a host of innovation and, well, straight gorgeousness embedded in the new system. Even if your Chambers did not sign up for Pupillage Gateway this year, in response to the adverts carried in this journal, you will want to have a look at the site now, in readiness for your participation next year. Our ambition is that everybody at the Bar will use Pupillage Gateway so that the process whereby students can begin to become practitioners will be universally open and transparent. Please contact PJunejo@BarCouncil.org.uk for your guided tour.

The new Pupillage Gateway is not the only good news to emerge in recent weeks. The Bar Council has also launched a brand new brochure “Your Career as a Barrister”, which tells students what they need know: the what, who, how and why. The brochure is also available online, where there are links to all the recent endeavours the Bar Council has made.

Guy Fetherstonhaugh QC, Falcon Chambers

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