The first winner of the ICLR Pupillage Award

Posted on 25th Jul 2016 in ICLR News

For a select few, obtaining pupillage is a foregone conclusion. Most pupillage-hopefuls, however, invariably find themselves plunged into an unbearable state of limbo, punctuated by obsessively checking the post and their email for news of an interview.

The whole process of applying for pupillage reminded me of a massively protracted penalty shoot-out, the outcome of which either spells out sheer elation or, for the unlucky ones, yet another round of the same uncertainty a year later.

Of course, getting the pupillage is only half of the battle: there’s still the pupillage itself to think about. In many ways, navigating the gauntlet of obstacles on the path to a career at the Bar is something of a right of passage. Tricky pupil supervisors and competition for tenancy are par for the course. Financial pressures, on the other hand, can stop even the smartest, most dedicated candidates in their tracks.

The fact is that by the stage many would-be barristers have managed to start pupillage, their personal finances have been depleted just getting them that far. There comes a point where there is simply nothing left in the pot. True, chambers are required to pay a pupillage award, but in sets undertaking predominantly publicly-funded work, the value of the award is just about sufficient to cover the cost of accommodation for the year.

In recognition of the difficulties faced by many talented individuals during pupillage, the ICLR introduced its own pupillage award of £12,000 in 2015. The framework of the award is simple enough. To be eligible to apply, applicants must (a) have secured pupillage that (b) pays a pupillage award not exceeding £14,000 over twelve months. Eligible applications would first be assessed on financial need. Those demonstrating a clear need for financial support would then be assessed on their merit (their written persuasiveness, dedication to the Bar etc) in two short pieces of writing. The six best performing applications then proceeded to a final round of assessment.

Rather than put applicants through the discomfort of yet another interview, we instead set them a task that ICLR is uniquely placed to assess: the drafting of a law report headnote.

The headnotes we received from the final six all demonstrated considerable skill, both in terms of the ability to identify the issues at the heart of a complex judgment and then to express the court’s holdings succinctly and accurately. The Pupillage Award Judging Panel (Mr Justice Roth, 1 Crown Office Row silk Margaret Boron QC and ICLR’s Editor, Clive Scowen) reviewed each contribution in minute details, weighing up the plusses and minuses for each. In the end, after considerable deliberation, the Judging Panel selected the very first winner of ICLR Pupillage Award.

It gives us great pleasure to announce that this year’s winner is Sophia Stapleton who will be taking up her pupillage at 2 Dr Johnson’s Building in the autumn of 2016.

Sophia’s route to the bar has been fairly unconventional. Originally interested in the sciences, Sophia took her science based A-Levels and failed, by her own admission, to achieve the grades that met her potential. This, as Sophia explained to me, made it all the more important for her to pave over the mishap of her A-Level results with a stellar performance in her degree.

Upon starting a degree in Biosciences at university, it would seem that a career in the law was not yet on Sophia’s radar, until she started taking law-based electives. To Sophia’s pleasant surprise, the law was a subject she had a natural flair for and soon her legal modules outnumbered the science modules. Before she knew it, she’d graduated at the top of her year with a first class.

Sophia’s main legal interests are criminal and employment law. Her university dissertation examined sentencing guidelines for sexual offences. She took the opportunity during her BPTC at City Law School to branch out, opting for electives in employment and company law.

No stranger to the rigours of the pupillage recruitment process (one of her pupillage interviews was held in front of a panel on nine), Sophia secured the pupillage Holy Grail on her third attempt.

We hope that this award gives Sophia the headroom to dive head first into her pupillage at 2 Dr Johnson’s Buildings and helps her to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. At the very least, she shouldn’t have a problem buying her first copy of Archbold!

We are already preparing for the 2017 Pupil Award, so watch this space for more information on the forthcoming award process which will commence in Spring 2017.


Written by Daniel Hoadley, Barrister