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Mini Pupillage - first step to a career at the Bar

Since the start of my LLB studies, I have worked towards an elusive career at the Bar. My journey is far from cliché. It is not a career “I have dreamed of since a child”. I fell into the world of law when I started working for a barristers’ chambers in early 2017. Prior to this, my knowledge of the Bar was little to none.

Starting as a temporary receptionist, I quickly became chamber’s permanent fees clerk. I learnt a lot about the inner workings of a barrister’s role, quickly learning that a lot of the hard work is outside the courtroom. The more I learnt, the more my interest grew. I felt that I knew a lot of what being a barrister entailed, but I had never stepped foot in a courtroom before. I had sat in conferences with clients, dealt with cases and billing but found it difficult to imagine what goes on in the courtroom, and watch a barrister in full action. 

From competing in moots and advocacy competitions to researching the ins and outs of the profession, I worked hard to build a stronger CV in order to apply for the BPC. The one thing left to tick off was a mini pupillage: shadowing a barrister in their day-to-day work life, attending court and meeting clients. I was lucky enough, after applying with my CV and cover letter, to gain a week’s mini pupillage with family law barristers. 

My imagination drew a courtroom to look like those on TV programmes; grand, dark wooden-walled rooms with rows of pew-like seating and a judge at the head of the room with a gavel. So, I was not sure what to expect on my first day. But the reality is, a lot of civil and family courts look nothing like this! It was very plain, much like a lecture hall, computer chairs and a wooden dock-like desk where the judge or magistrates sat. Mini pupils are always to be sat at the back, mainly next to your client, which is a great view to witness and learn.

On entering the court on my first day, I was checked by security. After a bag search and drink checked by taking a sip, walkthrough metal detector, manual detector and one confiscated perfume later (it was a glass bottle, which did not cross my mind! Check your bags before you go. I got it back at the end of the day!) I was in a court building for the very first time. Very airport-esque. 

One of the matters was dealing with a complex child arrangement. A lot of the day was spent negotiating back and forth between the opposing Counsel, our client and checking in with the Circuit Judge. There was surprisingly little time spent in the courtroom itself, which took me by surprise.

The next two days were spent at a court in the next town over, relating to a care proceedings matter. It was a two day final hearing, which included cross examination. Same airport-like security as before (no perfume this time!). It was much more intense than the days prior. More opposing Counsel to represent all parties; Local Authority, one for each respondent and the guardian. Cross examination is similar to an intense questionnaire. Each Counsel took turns to ask a series of questions relating to the case to try and get to the truth. I sat right at the back of the court, watching in awe as each Counsel in their own personal way questioned and probed the witness on the stand. There was less interaction from the judge on this case. It was a heavy two days, but very insightful, exciting, and real eye opener into a career at the Bar.

Top tips!

1. Take a notepad – throughout your mini pupillage, make notes on what you see, hear, and do (whilst abiding to confidentiality rules, nothing case specific). Note down any questions you have, phrases or words you are unsure of to relate back to at the end of the day. I took my laptop on the later days to make notes faster! I also noted down the other Counsel involved on the matters to research after my mini pupillage had ended. Networking, of course!

2. Dress smart, but comfy – the days can be long, sometimes sitting down, sometimes running around court-jumping from conference room to conference room. Smart suit or dress and tights, blazer, or jacket. I wore heels, but I would not recommend – sucker for punishment!

3. Be seen, but not heard –  Counsel would introduce me as their mini pupil, I would say “hi”, but I predominantly sat in silence learning and observing unless spoken to. There is so much to take in and makes notes about anyway!

4. Always be professional – Some matters you may deal with can be difficult to hear, or stories may be hard to witness, so try to be composed and professional at all times especially around clients. They are much more nervous than you are, so try not to show it.

5. Be prepared for questions – I got a lot of questions from other Counsel on the matters I attended in the advocates room; what are your hopes? Which chambers are you applying to? What is your area of interest? What were your thoughts on that judgment? So, prepare yourself to answer your life goals to people you have never met! I met a few barristers who gave great advice in relation to applying for pupillage, what to work on and how to strengthen applications.

A mini pupillage is great to expand your knowledge on what happens in court, but also ensures that a career at the Bar is right for you. My mini pupillage experience only ignited my career goals further, and I will definitely be applying for a few more before the next goal - pupillage applications! I would recommend anyone who is looking into a legal career to apply for a mini pupillage, it looks great on CV’s, and it is overall a great experience! 

Grace Allen

Abi Ryan

Hi! I’m Abi, 31 years old from South Wales. I started my full time LLB journey in October 2021 with the hope to progress onto the Bar Practice Course and become a barrister. Studying through the OU has meant that I can work a full time, demanding job, be a mum and still gain qualifications to get to my career goals.

I am in my final year of studies, and lucky enough to have been offered a conditional place to study the Bar Course at Cardiff University. So, this year will be spent applying for mini pupillages, researching the Inns of Courts to apply for memberships and preparing for my LLM studies in September 2024. I currently work as a fees clerk at a barristers’ chambers, so I have a unique insight into what a career at the Bar entails already.

I hope to blog my journey from LLB to LLM student, in hopes that it would help or inspire those who are thinking of stepping into the same career journey as I am, as I believe that anyone can excel in a law career, regardless of your background, age and situation.