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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

The pupillage disgrace

The English barristers’ profession guards the gates to its entry with barriers of steel. Aspiring barristers have, in general terms, to acquire a law degree, to join an Inn of Court, to pass through a vocational course, to incur large debts for the cost of these courses, to be called to the Bar in a formal ceremony and then, which only the highly-motivated can pass through, to seek to jump the final hurdle, which is to obtain pupillage with an established set of Chambers.

My own pupillage (nearly half a century ago!) was obtained by informal approaches and by paying the pupilmaster 100 guineas and the clerk 10 guineas. This informal system has now been reformed so that a formal, centralised system of application for pupillages has been created, and pupils receive a guaranteed small salary.

The effect of these changes seems to be that it is now far more difficult to obtain a pupillage than it was under the old informal system. We are faced with numbers of highly-qualified, hghly-motivated young persons, who would undoubtedly become outstanding practising barristers, facing the humiliating and demotivating process of queuing in the hope of being selected as pupils. Some go through this draining process time after time without success and without knowing the criteria which established Chambers apply in selecting pupils.

The process of accreditation of practising barristers as pupilmasters to supervise pupils also operates, arguably, as a restrictive practice. My own experience is that I have twice been refused accreditation (the process is administered by the Inns of Court) on the basis that the nature of my practice was inappropriate. I have beither the energy nor the confidence in the system to reapply.

Advice to would-be barristers? Be aware of the reality of the pupillage hurdle – if you don’t have a first class Oxbridge degree or significant contacts in the profession, your chances range from slim to non-existent.

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