Pupillage advice: welcome to the rollercoaster ride of a life at the Bar

Posted on 6th Oct 2016 in Legal Profession

This first week of the Michaelmas Term is traditionally the time when pupils start their training for life at the Bar. His Honour John Samuels QC,  Chairman of the Lincoln’s Inn Pupillage Scheme has some useful words of advice.



The “gold medal” in the barristerial Olympics! The aspiration of so many of those who, following the effort and expense of a law degree, the need in many instances for another year on the GDL, and an even more arduous and expensive BPTC: this is the final hurdle in the steeplechase now known as the Pupillage Gateway. How many hours spent preparing individual written applications preceded that invitation to interview? With what anxiety did you present yourself before the Pupillage Committee: the modern equivalent of the Court of Star Chamber? There has to be an assumption that once pupillage is secured, it is a smooth downhill run all the way.

Forget it! Pupillage represents practice at the Bar in embryo: and the Bar is, and will remain, a rollercoaster for you. On some days you will soar; and on others you will plumb the depths of despair. And I am speaking largely of your successes and disappointments within the confines of your pupillage Chambers, rather than your forensic experiences before difficult or benign tribunals.

The best advice I can offer to the pupil is to anticipate disappointment. If there are other pupils in your set, you will regard them, and rightly so, as friends as well as professional colleagues: but remember that you are being continually assessed as a potential tenant, as are they. Despite the friendship, you ultimately are in competition for what may be a single tenancy, or even no tenancy at all in your pupillage set. You will sometimes only know when friendship offered from unexpected quarters is to be accepted, or treated with due reserve, too late. Like the Victorian child, and depending on what your Chambers expect of their pupils, the pupil, particularly in a formal conference setting, should be seen and not heard.

If you are at a Chambers party alcohol – and the release of inhibition which this brings – may be a trap for the unwary. Beware over-exposure on social media. Even if what you post is objectively innocuous, what you say about yourself is potentially accessible by those who may check up on your judgment, in the context of your potential tenancy application. Are you providing just too much information about yourself? Is the overall impact of your entry on Linked In just too fulsome and gushing?

Always look the part of the professional; even if younger tenants dress down in Chambers. Maintain excellent relations with Chambers staff; but avoid undue familiarity. Expect no thanks from anyone; but accept generosity, including help towards food and travel, with appropriate gratitude. Participate in any and every educational opportunity provided by your Inn. Residential weekends are not only fun, but can be networking events when lifelong friendships are formed.

Should any serious issue arise in pupillage, which you feel is not being handled appropriately within Chambers (albeit the Chair of the Pupillage Committee and/or the Head of Chambers should be the first port of call) ask for a confidential meeting with your Inn’s Head of Education and/or a senior Bencher of the Inn: they can and will help in such circumstances, which sadly are not entirely unknown.


His Honour John Samuels QC,  

Chairman, Lincoln’s Inn Pupillage Foundation Scheme.


For details of the Lincoln’s Inn scheme: contact sellisha.lockyer@lincolnsinn.org.uk

See also: the ICLR Pupillage Award