LCAN, the Law Careers Advice Network, primar aims was to promote and enhance understanding in the student population in schools, further and higher education institutions about the opportunities available to those who wish to pursue a career in law.

Pupillages and tenancy

After successfully completing the BVC a student is eligible to be Called to the Bar. However, they cannot practise as a barrister until they have completed pupillage – a one year period of in-service training, split between the first 'non-practising’ six, when they shadow an experienced barrister, and the second 'practising' six, when they are entitled to supply legal services and exercise rights of audience under supervision. Pupillage can be undertaken in chambers or in another organisation authorised by the Bar Council. Various forms of external training, such as working for a solicitor's firm, marshalling a judge or working with an EU lawyer, can also count towards pupillage.

Training and experience

All pupils are supervised by one or more pupil supervisors – experienced barristers responsible for organising training, supervising progress, allocating work and assessing performance. Through pupillage, recruiters can often decide whether to offer pupils a permanent place at the end of their training.

Pupillage is hard work. The first six months generally consists of observing and assisting the pupil supervisor and other barristers from chambers. Pupils are expected to undertake legal research, draft opinions, read their pupil supervisor's paperwork and observe him or her in conferences and in court.

Provided a pupil has satisfactorily completed the first six, they are able, with the pupil supervisor's permission, to practice as a barrister and even appear in court as an advocate. The transition to the second six is, therefore, significant and quite daunting. This is where a pupil starts to build their own reputation. Depending on the area of practice, they may have cases of their own, clients of their own and court appearances of their own.

In addition to the training received during pupillage, the Bar Council requires all pupils to attend advocacy training run by their Inn or circuit and an ‘advice to counsel’ course which offers practical help with managing a practice, including advice on financial issues. Barristers must also undertake a forensic accountancy course either during pupillage or during the first three years of practice.

Applying for pupillage

Chambers are required to advertise all pupillage vacancies. The Bar Council has launched an on-line searchable information resource containing an advertisement from each pupillage provider of that provider's pupillage vacancies. This can be reached at In addition to useful information for pupillage applicants, the website provides links to both Online Pupillage Applications Scheme (OLPAS) ( and non-OLPAS vacancies, and to the OLPAS website.

For those unfamiliar with OLPAS, it is an on-line pupillage application scheme running within a set timetable and using a common application form. The OLPAS system enables the submission of on-line applications to up to 12 sets of chambers in each recruitment season free of charge. The online application form is in two parts: the first is common to all applications and needs completing only once for submission to all chosen chambers. It contains information such as education history, work experience etc. The second part is displayed once a candidate has selected the pupillage providers to which they wish to apply and allows a candidate to tailor their application to specific chambers and must be completed with reference to each set that the candidate wishes to apply to. This part of the application is only sent to the relevant set.

Pupillage providers not participating in the OLPAS system can also display details of how to apply and may include online application forms. All pupillage providers must abide by a common recruitment timetable, which states that:

  • No offers can be made from 1 May to 31 July;
  • No offers can be made before 31 July in any applicant’s penultimate undergraduate year;
  • All offers must remain open for at least 14 days.

There is also a searchable list of all pupillage vacancies offered by those participating in the OLPAS scheme. The search facility can also be used to find non-OLPAS vacancies. The Chambers Pupillages and Awards Handbook acts as a companion to the OLPAS website, allowing users to browse the pupillage vacancies offline without incurring telephone costs. However, as pupillage details are subject to change throughout the year the most up-to-date information is to be found online.

Before applying, students should find out as much as they can about their preferred chambers: the work they undertake, their pupillage selection procedure, the training offered and their recruitment procedures and policy. This information is given on the Pupillage designated website, the OLPAS website, in the handbook, in the online Bar Directory and in chambers' own website and brochure. The annual National and Regional Pupillage Fairs also help students to find out more about different sets of chambers and to meet some of the people they might be working with. The BVC providers, the Inns and the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS) are also invaluable sources of information and advice on pupillage applications.

External training opportunities

As well as spending time in chambers or a pupillage training organisation, all or part of the practising six months may be satisfied by any, or a combination, of various forms of external training, provided Bar Council approval is obtained beforehand. These include:

  • six months with a solicitor or qualified lawyer employed or in private practice in an EU member state;
  • six months undertaking a 'stage' of five months duration or more in the legal departments of the European Commission in Brussels, Luxembourg or London;
  • up to six weeks as a marshal with a judge of the High Court or with a circuit judge;
  • four weeks with a solicitor or other professional person whose work is relevant to that of a pupillage supervisor;
  • four weeks with an organisation which supplies legal services to the public free of charge or for a nominal fee, such as a law centre, 'pro bono' clinic or a Free Representation Unit.

Other forms of experience may be recognised subject to Bar Council approval.


Although pupillage is the principal means by which chambers take on junior tenants, even a glowingly successful pupillage is no guarantee of a tenancy. Currently, only about 50% of pupils obtain tenancies. If someone is really determined to make it as a barrister in self-employed practice they may have to consider a third six or 'squatting' – that is, staying on in chambers on a temporary basis.

Life as a junior tenant

It is hard to generalise about life as a junior tenant as the experience will depend on the areas of practice and chambers. Sometimes junior tenants are ‘led’ by their seniors (i.e. they assist them in large, important cases) but generally they are responsible for their own cases and clients. Barristers specialising in criminal law are likely to spend a great deal of time in court, whereas civil practitioners will probably attend court less often, especially as changes in civil procedure encourage the use of alternative methods of dispute resolution. Appearing before tribunals is an important aspect of many young barristers' work.

Because junior tenants are self-employed, the flow of work can be spasmodic and the hours irregular. They may be given very little notice of court appearances. Briefs can arrive by fax in the evening, leaving little time to prepare for a case to be heard a hundred miles away the next morning. However, what is lost in terms of social life and excessive travelling will be gained in relief that they are getting enough work. Unfortunately, though, they may have to wait a while to be paid, thereby further increasing the size of the overdraft!

In addition to normal expenses, self-employed barristers also need to pay their share towards the cost of running chambers. Sometimes this is calculated on the basis of a percentage income, so young barristers often pay a great deal less than their senior colleagues. However, this is not always the case.

Life at the employed Bar

If life in chambers does not appeal, a career at the employed Bar may be more suitable to a would-be barrister. There are many exciting career opportunities in organisations such as:

In most of the above, there is a wide variety of work, considerable opportunities for early responsibility and, often, more careers support than at the self-employed Bar. Employed barristers may also have more regular working hours and some financial stability but the same level of commitment as those at the self-employed Bar will be expected.

Currently, there are about 3,000 barristers employed by various public and private sector organisations.