• Robert Spicer

Pupillages Part 1

PUPILLAGE

Stepping back in time almost half a century, the pupillage system for would-be barristers was almost entirely unregulated. The Bar Standards Board was not even a twinkle in the eye of the regulators. Professional conduct at that time was ruled by a slim volume – Boulton’s Conduct and Etiquette at the Bar. In relation to pupillage, Boulton stated simply that a barrister may not receive a pupil into his Chambers or accept a pupil fee until he has notified the pupil’s Benchers of his intention to do so and has received no objection from them. That was it.

In passing, Boulton also commented that it is contrary to professional etiquette for a barrister to do, or cause or allow to be done, anything for the purpose of touting, firstly or indirectly, or which it is calculated to suggest that it is done for that purpose. The most obvious example of this class of professional misconduct occurs where the barrister seeks out the company of, or unduly associates with, solicitors and their clerks.

The system, if it can be described as such, largely involved personal contacts. I knew a number of practising barristers from my school and university days, one of whom had been my fagmaster ( If this needs explanation, fagging was a particularly vicious aspect of life in a minor public school, involving small boys acting as servants for large boys).

When I approached him, he dismissed my informal application because he said that my hair was too long.

Following a number of other disastrously unsuccessful approaches, it was suggested that I should contact a set of chambers which were largely unknown to the profession. This set comprised a wide range of individuals and was headed by a man who had been excluded by a mainstream set because of alcoholism. He told me that they would take Mickey Mouse as a pupil if he could pay the pupillage fees of 100 guineas to the pupilmaster and 10 guineas to the clerk. The fact that I had a van clinched the deal because the head of chambers was a devotee of auction sales and needed transport for the items which he bought.

By 1981 the Senate of the Inns of Court and the Bar was issuing a Code of Conduct for the Bar of England and Wales. Annex 5 of the Code set out, in half a page, the duties of pupil-masters and pupils. The Code also stated that a barrister who acts as a pupil-master may not seek or accept nay pupillage fee. Again, that is it.

The serious point about this is that it could not happen in 2013. The current pupillage system is tightly regulated. For example, the Pupillage Handbook, issued by the Bar Standards Board in September 2013, is 61 pages long plus appendices. Its stated purpose is to ensure adherence to the rules and procedures pertaining to pupillage and also to promote good practice and to achieve greater consistency between pupillages through the provision of information and advice

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