In 2010, after a two-year gestation, a detailed review of pupillage led by Derek Wood QC made a number of recommendations to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) about the infrastructure of pupillage and recruitment in a 190 page report. Only three years later, the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) Research Team published its 350 page review of the future of legal education and training, and made further recommendations concerning pupillage. And in its report into the Future of Bar Training published in March this year, the BSB announced that it was looking to introduce new flexibility in work-based training, while reviewing quality assurance. More recently, the BSB has indicated its intention to launch a pilot in relation to improvements in pupillage supervision, alongside the 2017-18 intake of pupils, with a yet further consultation to take place later this year.

None of these reports has questioned the value or appropriateness of pupillage. Indeed, the greater part of the prodigious amount of research carried out has recognised the importance attached by the Bar and others to supervision in chambers or other advocacy training organisation as an essential component in training and qualification for the Bar. But there is a sense that pupillage supervision is an area that may need some TLC.

We on the Bar Council Education and Training Committee consider that we articulate the views of the whole profession in believing that those who know what is best where pupillage supervision is concerned are those who have been supervised, and who have in turn become supervisors. We are steeped in the field, know what works and seek to implement best practice, recognising that it is in our best interests to train our future tenants to be as good as possible. Equally, we are not vain enough to suppose that we have achieved a state of perfection. We do, however, take the view that self-help and peer-to-peer encouragement are usually better than regulatory activity.

The Pupillage Supervisor Network

The Bar Council has been active in this field for years. First, it runs the Pupillage Helpline, under which members of the profession support pupils in resolving all types of issues arising out of pupillage, including regulatory and welfare matters, with suitably anonymised problems feeding back into the Council’s work. Secondly, the Bar Council fields enquiries from supervisors seeking specific advice in relation to the supervision of pupils and the application of the regulations.

But we felt that more was needed. With self-help in mind, we set up the Pupillage Supervisor Network (‘the Network’) a year ago. This is just part of our wider work in the area of third-six pupillages, and mini-pupillages. The Network meets regularly, under the guidance of the Bar Council Education and Training Committee. Anyone involved in the provision of pupillage is invited to join and attend the meetings, including supervisors, Designated Pupillage Training Principals, Heads of Pupillage, members of pupillage committees (or representatives of the management committee in smaller organisations) and any support staff responsible for the organisation of pupillage. Representatives attend from both the employed and self-employed Bar (including the Government Legal Department and Crown Prosecution Service); from private and publicly funded sets; from virtually every field of law and practice. We seek to support the Bar in delivering a high quality of pupillage, wherever it is undertaken.

The aims of the Network are to create and share best practice between those delivering pupillage, and provide a forum for discussion about pupillage. We aim to disseminate what we learn to all sets. Our meetings also provide an opportunity to deal with specific topics relevant to pupillage. At the last meeting, we had an informative presentation by a member of the Bar Council IT Panel on the importance of pupils complying with data protection regulations, and the safeguards supervisors have to put in place in order to ensure the pupils comply.

The Network is gaining traction. It is free; participation takes little time; and we hope that those who take part will ensure that consistent practices in supervision become the norm. Better that than have regulations impose consistency upon us.

Supervisor training

Pupil supervisors must also keep their supervision skills up to date. This includes knowledge and application of the BSB Handbook, the Pupillage Handbook, the Professional Statement (incorporating the Threshold Standard and Competences) and also training and coaching skills, including the ability to give appropriate feedback to pupils. We plan to set up a number of supervisor refresher courses, to supplement the training given by the Inns, which is widely acclaimed, but short. The Network recognises that not all those providing pupillage training are able to deliver it in the same way. Chambers, for example, cannot be expected to provide the same framework for pupillage as that found in a corporate pupil trainer. Therefore we shall work closely with all our stakeholders in order to support diversity in the provision of pupillage training which is consistent with the regulations.

Next steps

The BSB Pupillage Pilot will review the following areas: length and structure of pupillage; role of pupil supervisors; written contracts for pupillage; and the process for administering pupillage (registration and completion). While we do not envisage substantive changes to the current arrangements for pupillage, we believe the BSB is of the view that an apprenticeship model would be permissible in our regulatory framework, most likely in the employed Bar. The BSB also wants to take steps to encourage a wider range of pupillages, and other final-stage training opportunities, to be made available. On your behalf the Network will make representations to the BSB regarding the Pupillage Pilot.

Of course, not all regulation is bad. Indeed, in an article published in these pages a couple of years ago, we argued that the BSB should retain those of the current restrictions which encourage good practice in pupillage, such as the requirement for one supervisor per pupil. But the sense at the Bar is that pupillage has been under the microscope for a long time now, and should not require so many fatiguing consultations, workshops and pilots into what most of us think is done rather well.

Contributors Guy Fetherstonhaugh QC and Simon O’Toole are members of the Bar Council Education and Training Committee. Please direct any questions regarding the Pupillage Supervisor Network to: Sam Mercer:


  1. Take every chance to listen and learn. It is rare in life that you will get several months of one-to-one tuition from an successful expert.
  2. Be honest about the areas and skills that you want to work on. That way supervisors can help you improve.
  3. Bundle up your queries and questions until they reach a natural pause in their work. You may even find some of the answers yourself with a little more time to reflect.
  4. Copy the way they work: writing style, hours, filing system, style of notetaking. Not only will it make their life easier, you will learn a new way of working, which you might prefer.
  5. Remember that supervisors want you to succeed. If you’re being stretched or challenged, it’s because they want you to show what you can do. Being a barrister is a challenging profession, and we can be overly critical of ourselves in analysing what we did/didn’t do. We continue learning throughout practice, so make a note of the lesson learned, what you could do differently next time, learn from any mistakes, but do not dwell and remember that growth and resilience follow challenging experiences.


  1. Give your pupil a guideline start and end time for the working day (otherwise they will feel obligated to arrive early and/or stay late to impress) – and then stick to it.
  2. When setting the ground rules at the start, go through even the obvious ones (eg don’t speak to the judge in court, don’t pipe up in conferences or check e-mails/internet on your phone, don’t go and ask other members of chambers to help you with assessed work). It is surprising how often pupils will get that sort of thing wrong if they are not suitably warned in advance.
  3. Make sure that your pupil gets exposure, not just to you, but to other members of chambers (eg by doing work for them and attending both formal and informal social events). Tell pupils whether they are invited to come along to chambers’ parties, solicitors’ drinks, marketing and social events in the evenings (otherwise they will dither and feel unsure).
  4. Monitor the amount of work that your pupil does for Silks, senior and junior members of chambers and make sure that each pupil gets a broadly equivalent level of exposure.
  5. Remember that you have control of your pupil’s working environment, the positive and negative experiences, and that pupils are at a vulnerable stage in their career due to the competition, uncertainty and insecurity. Give constructive feedback, point out what they did, and how it could be improved without personalising the criticism – people hold a negative comment for five times longer than a positive.