A supervisor in chambers’ view

Pupillage in chambers is – and should be – a two-way street, and requires commitment from both sides. It is about a pupil observing his or her supervisor’s practice closely (and it may be that each supervisor’s practice will have a very different emphasis), gathering experience by proxy as to what to do and what not to do, and developing a ‘feel’ for the work and all it entails. It is also about a supervisor assessing, as best as possible, pupil development over the relevant pupillage period. That is something that can only really be tracked by one person at the self-employed Bar. It involves studying the pupil’s output closely, and ensuring that the checklist requirements are met. Finally, there is a good chance that a pupil might see, if not a case from pleading to trial, then at least large tracts of individual cases. That can be more instructive than a seminar on the Civil Procedure Rules. That is only really feasible if the pupil is intimately involved in his or her supervisor’s ongoing cases and treats them as their own.

From time to time, the question is raised as to whether the self-employed Bar should follow parts of the employed Bar, and consider assigning multiple pupils to a single pupil master in parallel rather than in series. For structural reasons, the answer of most, if not all, supervisors across chambers I have spoken to seems to be ‘no’. First and foremost, pupillage is about ensuring the best quality of training within the limitations of the organisation providing it. Given the structure of most chambers, there is likely to be a relatively small proportion of core pupil supervisors at any one time. To assign more than one pupil to a supervisor – who will hopefully have a busy practice to run, marketing to do and the other commitments – dilutes the quality of training and imposes unworkable burdens. For reasons of conflicts and confidentiality, it may not be easy to call in other supervisors to help to relieve that burden when required. That is even before one gets to the more obvious questions – who is to pay for all of these pupils in an era of skyrocketing pupillage awards, how are they to fund their law conversion and Bar training courses (even if reformed), and do we need an increase in number of pupils anyway?

Anon, current pupillage supervisor at the self-employed Bar

The apprentice

It is difficult to overstate the benefits of working and learning alongside a series of dedicated pupil supervisors. There is simply no substitute for learning the lifestyle and work of a member of the Bar than spending a year under the wing of experienced practitioners and having their essentially undivided attention for the duration. From visits to court to witnessing first-hand the techniques and approaches deployed in cross-examination, in oral applications and in dealing with judicial interventions, to time spent in chambers perfecting pleadings and attempting to unravel the infinitely varied, knotty legal problems for which clients look to the Bar for advice, the pupillage year provides an invaluable leg up into independent practice.

The flipside of this is, naturally, an intense sense of scrutiny that never really lets up: it is a trite observation that pupillage can feel like a year-long interview, and the pressure to perform for one’s supervisors and to meet the standards expected can at times be daunting, and relentless – particularly when faced with novel areas of law and practice previously not encountered at university or on the BPTC. Yet with such close scrutiny comes the satisfaction that, whatever the end result, the assessment has been a rigorous and fair one; and where pupillage leads to recruitment, a sense of achievement that is all the greater.

The Bar has in recent times come under fire for being too old-fashioned; certain traditions have, rightly, yielded in the face of just critique, but in other ways the Bar has remained substantially unchanged for generations. The practice of pupil supervision, with its emphasis on one-on-one apprenticeship-style training, is one such area of life at the Bar that has largely stood the test of time – and as a recent beneficiary of such a scheme, I would strongly endorse it.

Anon, recent pupil at the self-employed Bar

Needs of the millennial pupil

Supervisors need to identify attainable targets and goals. Sometimes they are not always clear about their expectations or how pupils are evaluated over the course of the year. Although some chambers institute active assessment programmes, this does not appear to be universally the case.

I was lucky. My first six pupil supervisor used every moment they had to ensure that my understanding was up to date and challenged me to improve myself from case to case. At times, it felt hard on me; at others, perhaps too lenient but ultimately their contributions assisted me with the core skills I needed to thrive in practice. I was extremely fortunate to have a supervisor who understood where my strengths and weaknesses lay and what to do with them.

At other stages, I found feedback was not as readily available as I would have expected. (Clear targets and goal identification are catnip to the ‘millennial’ pupils of the modern age, who have grown up in educational environments where extensive and detailed feedback is readily available.) It is not always apparent what chambers’ expectations are, apart from: ‘Don’t make a hideous mistake.’ While some chambers and supervisors clearly signpost goals and targets from day one; others can be a bit nebulous on what criteria they are assessing pupils on until a tenancy decision.

While it is the responsibility of the pupil to think how best to approach the attainment and assessment of their individual goals, this needs to happen with a guiding hand and nurturing support. Supervisors have a pastoral responsibility to ensure the positive development of pupils’ skills over the year. Some seem happier to berate.

Personal development doesn’t appear to be a favoured topic for some supervisors but pupillage is a learning experience. It is a starting point: a period where one obtains the ability to analyse and assess; the skills that are critical to a practice. This is not understood by everyone, it should be – and I think is beginning to be.

Anon, recent pupil at the self-employed Bar

A question of approach

During my first six, I was fortunate enough to have two supervisors. I spent my first three months with a fraud specialist and the latter three with a different member of chambers who specialises in serious crime. The decision to reallocate was unplanned, and although at the time I was a little apprehensive, ultimately it allowed me to experience not just two completely different areas of crime, but two very different approaches to pupillage.

The first time I met my first supervisor he asked me to describe in three words the advocate I hoped to become. In a similar vein, the three words I would use to describe him are ‘structured, invested and honest’. His structural approach manifested itself in different forms but primarily a thought of the day, themed weeks and monthly reviews.

Our thoughts of the day provided an opportunity to reflect on an area of learning and could be anything from procedural to personal. Examples include why not to send emails in the early hours of the morning (clear evidence of poor time management) and the importance of pauses for emphasis. Each thought a subtle but effective way to maximise learning and emphasised the nuances I hope to master as an advocate.

Similarly, our themed weeks (X-Factor style) ranged from integrity to speeches and everything in-between. I was given relevant tasks so by the end of the week I had cemented my learning in a particular area. For ‘Integrity Week’ I revisited the BSB’s Code of Conduct and was quizzed on its content, and for ‘Speech Week’ I drafted speeches on behalf of the prosecution and co-defendant in our trial.

My supervisor invested his time and energy into my training. He was creative and thoughtful in the execution of his responsibilities as a supervisor. At no point was I given the work he didn’t want to do, or jobs just to make his life easier. In fact, the tasks I was given actually created more work for him!

But more than that even. My supervisor did not believe that I would learn simply by being present. I was not going to learn by osmosis. It was the putting into practice and receiving feedback that was going to grow and develop my skills. And while his honesty could at times feel critical, it was always constructive and with the sole intention of improving my performance.

After such a structured approach to my first three months of pupillage, I had anticipated that reallocation after Christmas might be difficult. Especially after learning that my new supervisor was (in no uncertain terms) ‘very different’ to my first.

Now, three words to describe my second supervisor? ‘Fearless, compassionate and tenacious.’ I spent the entire three months with her in absolute awe of the ability she has to represent each and every client as skillfully and as passionately as she would her own relatives.

Even when covering a matter for another member of chambers (that would have involved a defendant spending the weekend in custody), she made submissions that as a consequence of the judge’s refusal to hear the bail application that day, a writ of habeas corpus could be issued at the High Court due to unlawful detention. It’s safe to say the defendant was swiftly granted bail!

I can’t help but feel that it was exposure to two completely different practitioners that has resulted in such a smooth transition from first to second six; appreciating the importance of structure while being inspired by fearlessness; taking each learning opportunity and applying the accumulated knowledge with compassion.

I don’t believe there is necessarily a right or wrong pupillage. All are different, because as advocates, we are all different and the training we receive cannot and should not be prescribed or rigid. I feel extremely fortunate that I was able to experience two very different approaches during my foundational first six. It has certainly shaped the advocate I am becoming; I believe for the better.

Danielle Manson, current pupil at 25 Bedford Row

Employed Bar perspective: a GLD supervisor

Pupils in the Government Legal Department (GLD) complete four six-month seats over the course of their training contract. As part of their training we try to make sure this is as varied as possible, giving them a full immersion into the world of public law. This amount of change could be daunting for anyone but, as supervisors, we endeavour to provide our pupils with the support they need to thrive.

In my first meeting with a pupil, I find out what work they haven’t had experience of yet and what they’re interested in. I try, wherever possible, to make sure that the pupil gets to experience a wide range of the different kinds of government legal work. For example, there have been opportunities to draft secondary legislation, provide legal comments on draft white papers and submissions to Ministers, undertake research, and advise policy officials.

During placements, I arrange weekly catch-ups to discuss ongoing work and career aspirations, making sure that I am available outside of this as and when a question or issue arises. These informal catch-ups are supplemented by formal mid-seat and end of seat reviews, which is a great way of monitoring progress.

The lawyers I have supervised were both offered permanent roles in GLD and are flourishing in their new positions – one advises Defra and the other the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Their jobs on qualification have provided them with great opportunities: they have briefed Ministers, worked on Bills, drafted secondary legislation, and are now involved in providing legal advice to the government on EU exit.

I have acted as seat supervisor twice over the past few years and, having completed my own pupillage at the self-employed Bar, I have been struck by the well-developed system for the supervision of pupils in GLD. It aims to give them stretching and fulfilling opportunities, in a supportive and collegiate environment, and provides supervisors with excellent training and support.

There is guidance for supervisors available on the GLD intranet and also an hour and half workshop to attend before you start supervising, to remind you about the GLD processes and approach to supervision. Supervisors are asked to complete a questionnaire on the logistics for the placement before it starts (including providing information on seat arrangements and supervision cover in absence). There is also a network of supervisors you can contact with queries, which provides a great source of support and ideas.

Katherine Willerton, DExEU Legal Advisers, GLD

Dual perspective: in-house and chambers

I spent the first six months of my pupillage in one of GLD’s immigration teams. From the outset I was given the responsibility to manage my own cases under the support of a line manager. Among the cases were high-profile judicial reviews challenging a variety of decisions by the Home Office, such as the refusal of visa applications. I was also given the opportunity to support other lawyers’ cases, including one that went to the Supreme Court.

I was conscious of the responsibility I had, and the constant flow of cases was initially daunting but the lawyers surrounding me were very supportive, always on hand and happy to help.

My second six months as a GLD pupil took me into chambers. Here, I was under the supervision of two barristers (each for a period of three months). I worked closely with them on their cases, drafting initial advice, grounds and other documents, and attending court and client conferences. Although I missed having responsibility for my own cases, working so closely with the supervisors had its benefits: it allowed me to see different ways of approaching problems, and to appreciate the differences between providing advice at the self-employed bar and in-house. I enjoyed learning from two different advocacy styles, ways of getting instructions from and forging a relationship with clients.

Experiencing pupillage both in-house and in chambers taught me how the employed and self-employed Bar work together, and developed my skillset by exposing me to the two sides of the profession. Three years on, after completing pupillage I continuously find opportunities within GLD to take on new areas and develop my skillset in a supportive environment.

Diana Deju, DCLG Legal Advisers, GLD

Diverse but structured

My pupillage at GLD enabled me to work on a diverse range of complex, often high-profile, matters at the intersection of law and public policy – and this is what initially attracted me to apply. What stood out most to me throughout the process was the quality and breadth of the work entrusted with us as pupils, the level of supervision, and the support network and training opportunities available.

My work touched on a vast range of subject areas, including EU law, employment law, intellectual property, public procurement, immigration law and prison law. It gave me the opportunity to manage my own cases, advise government departments and draft statutory instruments. This variety was incredibly beneficial in getting a first-hand insight into several areas of interest rather than being pushed to specialise early on. Equally, it presented challenges in terms of regularly having to hit the ground running in new teams and being thrown into the deep end at times.

That being said, although I was given a lot of responsibility from the start and the workload was demanding, it never felt overwhelming. My day-to-day supervision was excellent and I also benefited from a supportive network of fellow pupils and trainee solicitors. My supervisors were very generous with their time and they looked out for opportunities for me to get involved in work across teams. The feedback I received on my work was detailed, constructive and encouraging.

India Burnett, Treasury Legal Advisers, GLD

Live and lithe in public law

One of the best public law pupillages available at the Bar today is that offered by GLD, based on my own experience.

The quality of supervision was outstanding. All the cases I worked on in litigation were ‘live’. As a pupil, I was the first lawyer to read into the papers; advise the client and if necessary draft a defence. This meant every piece of work was checked by a senior lawyer, with detailed feedback given very quickly.

The highlight of my pupillage was representing the government in court. It was, and continues to be, an enormous privilege to be able to do this while still at such a junior level. The opportunities for advocacy offered by GLD have continued to develop significantly my understanding of public law principles and legal skills. Delivering legal advice to policy officials and ministers succinctly and accurately is just as challenging, and rewarding, as appearing in court.

As a pupil I managed around 80 cases, which I found challenging to begin with. The case management aspect of the job is time consuming and there are a lot of tasks to balance such as updating clients, negotiating settlement, meeting court deadlines and instructing counsel when permission for judicial review is granted. These case management duties have to be balanced against the need to advise clients on the merits and draft defences in new cases, and this can lead to long hours.

GLD goes to great lengths to make pupils feel part of the organisation and there is a real focus on helping us develop our careers. At a group level, the Attorney General, the Treasury Solicitor and Director of Litigation took time to meet with us during our training, in order to help us develop our understanding of our roles. As individuals we had frequent access to not only our supervisors, but also a network of recently qualified lawyers to guide us. This really helps to create a strong bond with the organisation from the outset.

Jonathan Orde, Litigation Group, GLD