It is imperative that barristers in training get the support they need. Generously funded by the Inns of Court, the Pupils’ Helpline exists to support pupils who experience a problem with their pupillage, whether large or small. As the line’s manager for over three years, I have handled numerous calls and emails about various topics: the written pupillage agreement, provisional practising certificates, extended absences from pupillages and concerns about bullying, to name a few.

Operators on the line also receive calls from pupil supervisors or chambers administrators who are looking for guidance and best practice on how best to handle a difficult situation or improve their pupillage processes.

Our aim is to give practical advice about regulatory requirements for pupils, to signpost to other services (such as the Wellbeing at the Bar’s Assistance Programme) and to provide an impartial ear to those who are struggling.

We usually experience a peak in queries around September, when many pupils are due to start, or are coming to the end of their pupillage and are considering their next steps (tenancy or probationary tenancy in chambers are big ones). This transitional period can be incredibly stressful and admin-intensive. We are trained and well-versed in the Bar Qualification Manual, so we know how to help. If we can’t help, we can point you towards those who can.

Bullying and harassment is never acceptable. Our most recent Pupils’ Survey found that approximately 19% of those who responded said that they had ‘personally experienced bullying, harassment and/or discrimination either in person or online’. Pupils can be in a uniquely vulnerable position, in that their ability to qualify as a practising barrister may be in the hands of someone who is causing them distress. Pupils often do not want to disclose their situation to the Bar Standards Board – even when reportable under the Handbook – as they fear the end of their career at the Bar. The Bar Council firmly believes that more must be done to protect the pupillages of those who find themselves trapped in an environment where they are being bullied or harassed.

On the Helpline, we are keen to support your wellbeing if you find yourself in such a situation, and to talk you through what steps you can take. Everything you say to us is confidential, so you can feel confident that you will receive impartial advice and guidance, on which you are free to act to the extent that you feel comfortable. If we put you in touch with someone else, such as a committee member, we will give you a choice of who you can talk to and will take steps to keep you anonymous; the control always remains with you. The only exception to this rule is where we consider that you may be a danger to yourself or others, in which case we must take steps to share this information with the relevant people in a limited way.

We would also recommend making reports to Bar Council’s anonymous reporting platform Talk to Spot. This enables us to track and monitor the experience of pupils and barristers. It also has a facility to create private records of inappropriate behaviour which you can rely on at a later date if you choose to formalise a complaint. The Helpline can provide more information about this service, or you can access the service yourself at any time you need it.

You can seek assistance if you are concerned about the quality of your training. If you need help, we can put you in touch with a member of our Education and Training Committee, many of whom are involved in their own chambers’ or organisation’s pupillage programme. Where training issues persist, they can be harder to solve further down the line; the earlier you get in touch, the earlier we can advise about what steps you can take to tackle the problem. Finally, in the unlikely event that your set collapses, or you are otherwise facing the end of your pupillage, please do get in touch to discuss your options. Occurrences like this are very rare, but we are here to talk if it does happen.

With any issue you have as a pupil, the important thing is not to suffer in silence. Whether it’s an administrative matter related to your pupillage, a query about your training, or something more serious, it is often helpful to talk it through confidentially with someone outside your chambers or organisation, to get you the objective guidance and advice that you need.

Our aim at the Bar Council is to stamp out bullying, harassment, and discrimination across the profession. However, where it occurs, the Pupils’ Helpline is always here to assist if you need us. 

Further help
LawCare: (helpline: 0800 279 6888) (assistance programme tel no.: 0800 169 2040)
Samaritans: tel no. 116 123 or email: