Is competition for pupillages significantly higher than for training contracts?

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LegallySnowy
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Good afternoon guys!

I have a question. I first became interested in law with a definite desire to become a barrister. However, upon starting University I was quickly deterred by the many exclamations of 'it's ridiculously competitive,' 'it's hard to get funding for BPTC,' 'it's a dying trade.'

I am now in my final year of University, having applied for vac schemes, training contracts, etc. But I get the feeling that my heart really lies with the bar, still. My key question is:
Is gaining a pupillage at a high paying chambers significantly more competitive than gaining a TC at a London city law firm [silver circle type level?]

I am also curious about my own specific chances. I have a couple of mini pupillages from a few years ago and more recently a couple of vac schemes at big commercial firms in London. I am a third year Law student at KCL. My grade average is currently at 64%, I am hoping to shift this up to about 66% by the end of this year when I graduate. I have a CV saturated with extracurriculars to perhaps justify my earlier grades - [although much of this is part-time employment.]

So guys.... if I was to crack on with mini pupillages, what do you think my chances are of securing a pupillage? I have read that unless you have a 1st then forget about it, but is this really the case?
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Crazy Jamie
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(Original post by LegallySnowy)
I have read that unless you have a 1st then forget about it, but is this really the case?
No, it isn't.

Generally speaking the toughest aspect of securing pupillage is getting sufficient numbers of interviews to give yourself a fighting chance of being offered pupillage. A Chambers may interview 20 people, but could have 300 applicants. Statistically your chances obviously increase once you have an interview. The tricky part for most applicants is getting in to that final 20, and essentially in the course of building your CV your focus needs to be in the first instance being good enough on paper to stand out from the crowd and get an interview.

Being good enough on paper is essentially a two stage process. The first stage is that you need to avoid anything on paper that will put you at a significant disadvantage compared to other applicants. For example, the majority of pupillage applicants have a 2:1, so if you have a 2:2 you are at an immediate and significant disadvantage. Basically, you need to tick some basic boxes to ensure that you don't give the person sifting your application an active reason to put it on the 'no' pile.

You then need to have aspects to your application that make you rise above the average applicant and stand out. Having a First is one of the things that will do that, but it is by no means a death sentence if you do not have one. Specifying things that will make you stand out is more difficult because there is an increasingly variable range of ways that candidates are standing out. Legal work experience, for example, is a good method of standing out, but the nature of that legal work experience is changing. A member on this site who secured pupillage last Summer, for example, was an assistance for a prominent QC for a time, which is clearly excellent experience and would no doubt have contributed notably to her securing the interview that ultimately won her the pupillage.

I'm sure someone can dig out the exact statistics on the percentages of applicants that secure pupillage as opposed to training contracts, but the last I checked about one in five applicants secured pupillage, whereas the figure is closer to one in two for solicitors. Those are off the top of my head and may well be inaccurate to one degree or another (if they are, no doubt someone will correct me), but ultimately unless there has been some drastic swing I'd be surprised if it wasn't still statistically much more difficult to secure a pupillage compared to a training contract.

The choice as to whether you go down that route and gun for a pupillage is of course entirely up to you. There's nothing in your post that would suggest to me that securing pupillage is unrealistic, but a lot will depend on what you do between now and starting the process of applying. Given the level of competition for pupillages successful applicants often now have notable successes or experience that have been secured after they finished the BPTC. It is therefore important to note that whilst it is possible to secure pupillage prior to or on finishing the BPTC, it is not likely, and you have to have an eye on what you might do after finishing the BPTC if you have not secured pupillage by that stage.

The bottom line is that if you do decide to go down the pupillage route, you have to be prepared for this to be a long process, and you should be seeking to improve both your application on paper and your ability as a candidate throughout that process. Making a realistic assessment of your own ability is obviously key to determining whether this is a realistic career path for you, but you also need to appreciate how difficult the path can be in any event. It is common for BPTC and law students talk about how they're completely dedicated to becoming a barrister, but the reality is that the vast majority of those students simply do not appreciate how hard the process can be, and you only see which of them actually has that tenacity once the going gets tougher after the BPTC ends. It's difficult to prepare yourself mentally for something that you likely don't really have an appreciation of, but you do at least need to be aware that the process will likely be longer and harder than you expect right now.

If you do decide to aim for pupillage, I wish you the best of luck. For all the challenges that the profession is facing at the moment, I genuinely believe that it is one of the best jobs out there and I certainly couldn't see myself doing anything else.
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LegallySnowy
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(Original post by Crazy Jamie)
No, it isn't.

Generally speaking the toughest aspect of securing pupillage is getting sufficient numbers of interviews to give yourself a fighting chance of being offered pupillage. A Chambers may interview 20 people, but could have 300 applicants. Statistically your chances obviously increase once you have an interview. The tricky part for most applicants is getting in to that final 20, and essentially in the course of building your CV your focus needs to be in the first instance being good enough on paper to stand out from the crowd and get an interview.

Being good enough on paper is essentially a two stage process. The first stage is that you need to avoid anything on paper that will put you at a significant disadvantage compared to other applicants. For example, the majority of pupillage applicants have a 2:1, so if you have a 2:2 you are at an immediate and significant disadvantage. Basically, you need to tick some basic boxes to ensure that you don't give the person sifting your application an active reason to put it on the 'no' pile.

You then need to have aspects to your application that make you rise above the average applicant and stand out. Having a First is one of the things that will do that, but it is by no means a death sentence if you do not have one. Specifying things that will make you stand out is more difficult because there is an increasingly variable range of ways that candidates are standing out. Legal work experience, for example, is a good method of standing out, but the nature of that legal work experience is changing. A member on this site who secured pupillage last Summer, for example, was an assistance for a prominent QC for a time, which is clearly excellent experience and would no doubt have contributed notably to her securing the interview that ultimately won her the pupillage.

I'm sure someone can dig out the exact statistics on the percentages of applicants that secure pupillage as opposed to training contracts, but the last I checked about one in five applicants secured pupillage, whereas the figure is closer to one in two for solicitors. Those are off the top of my head and may well be inaccurate to one degree or another (if they are, no doubt someone will correct me), but ultimately unless there has been some drastic swing I'd be surprised if it wasn't still statistically much more difficult to secure a pupillage compared to a training contract.

The choice as to whether you go down that route and gun for a pupillage is of course entirely up to you. There's nothing in your post that would suggest to me that securing pupillage is unrealistic, but a lot will depend on what you do between now and starting the process of applying. Given the level of competition for pupillages successful applicants often now have notable successes or experience that have been secured after they finished the BPTC. It is therefore important to note that whilst it is possible to secure pupillage prior to or on finishing the BPTC, it is not likely, and you have to have an eye on what you might do after finishing the BPTC if you have not secured pupillage by that stage.

The bottom line is that if you do decide to go down the pupillage route, you have to be prepared for this to be a long process, and you should be seeking to improve both your application on paper and your ability as a candidate throughout that process. Making a realistic assessment of your own ability is obviously key to determining whether this is a realistic career path for you, but you also need to appreciate how difficult the path can be in any event. It is common for BPTC and law students talk about how they're completely dedicated to becoming a barrister, but the reality is that the vast majority of those students simply do not appreciate how hard the process can be, and you only see which of them actually has that tenacity once the going gets tougher after the BPTC ends. It's difficult to prepare yourself mentally for something that you likely don't really have an appreciation of, but you do at least need to be aware that the process will likely be longer and harder than you expect right now.

If you do decide to aim for pupillage, I wish you the best of luck. For all the challenges that the profession is facing at the moment, I genuinely believe that it is one of the best jobs out there and I certainly couldn't see myself doing anything else.

Crazy Jamie, thank you so much for the time you put into writing that reply. I really, really appreciate it! I understand that if I go for this, I have to really go for it. Which will involve identifying my weaknesses and do everything I can to bulk up my CV in the right direction.

I have a couple of questions regarding the timing of applications. If I am in my final year of University, graduating this summer, is it theoretically possible to start the BPTC this September?

At what point should I be applying for pupillages? I am aware that with Training Contracts they recruit two years in advance, but since Chambers do not sponsor the BPTC, should I apply the year before wanting to start the pupillage?

Or, could I apply for pupillages now? I am concerned about funding for the BPTC and have my eye on a scholarship from one of the Inns. I have also read about 'drawdowns' from Chambers. Is it possible to have a 'drawdown' to assist in funding the BPTC, or are these intended only to assist you throughout your pupillage?

Also, what is an average salary for a London Commercial chambers throughout a pupillage? I read somewhere that it was 12k, but I also read on some pages it could be up to 6Ok. I think I might be a bit confused and in fact 6Ok is the salary for after your pupillage is completed.

Sorry for the many questions! Thank you so much for your help again and you only need answer what you have time for
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Nolofinwë
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(Original post by LegallySnowy)
Good afternoon guys!

I have a question. I first became interested in law with a definite desire to become a barrister. However, upon starting University I was quickly deterred by the many exclamations of 'it's ridiculously competitive,' 'it's hard to get funding for BPTC,' 'it's a dying trade.'

I am now in my final year of University, having applied for vac schemes, training contracts, etc. But I get the feeling that my heart really lies with the bar, still. My key question is:
Is gaining a pupillage at a high paying chambers significantly more competitive than gaining a TC at a London city law firm [silver circle type level?]

I am also curious about my own specific chances. I have a couple of mini pupillages from a few years ago and more recently a couple of vac schemes at big commercial firms in London. I am a third year Law student at KCL. My grade average is currently at 64%, I am hoping to shift this up to about 66% by the end of this year when I graduate. I have a CV saturated with extracurriculars to perhaps justify my earlier grades - [although much of this is part-time employment.]

So guys.... if I was to crack on with mini pupillages, what do you think my chances are of securing a pupillage? I have read that unless you have a 1st then forget about it, but is this really the case?




Also, what is an average salary for a London Commercial chambers throughout a pupillage? I read somewhere that it was 12k, but I also read on some pages it could be up to 6Ok. I think I might be a bit confused and in fact 6Ok is the salary for after your pupillage is completed.
Hi OP,
This is by no means a full answer, but I thought I'd offer a couple of thoughts. I'm assuming, given the bold above, that you are aiming for the London Commercial Bar.

First off, you are right to say that many sets give a pupillage award of upwards of 60k (normally + any income you make, which will vary by set) now. It's not really a salary as such, but it is paid during your pupillage year.

Second, the competition is intense. What I say here is my perception of the common experience. I do not claim this is a rule which admits no exceptions. With that qualification, the first thing I'll say is that commercial sets have the pick of the very best candidates. It's becoming very rare to get in with just an undergrad. Increasingly, the typical pupil has at least a distinction in a (Oxbridge) masters, and many can offer Phd/DPhils and some sort of relevant experience (whether it be as an academic or in a previous career path in the sector, e.g. a solicitor). Given your comments above, I would be aiming for two things: (i) getting the marks in your degree into the first class (ii) building up a good amount of experience. I don't think its necessarily the case that 'if you don't have a first, forget about it', but, at top sets at least, 'if you don't have a first, you'll really struggle'. If you want to get an good idea of the caliber of pupils taken on, pick some of the sets you're interested in and read the CVs of their pupils and recently called tenants.
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Crazy Jamie
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(Original post by LegallySnowy)
I have a couple of questions regarding the timing of applications. If I am in my final year of University, graduating this summer, is it theoretically possible to start the BPTC this September?
It's been a while since I applied for the BPTC, but Google tells me that you now apply through the Bar Student Application Service (click here)). The user guide for the process (click here suggests that the closing date for first round applications was 12pm today, which is unfortunate timing for you if that is right. I seemed to remember the deadline being a little later when I did it, but my memory in that respect is by no means reliable. Plenty of people on here will know the timetable because they will have applied recently, but if no one comes up with the answer in this thread I would make further enquiries yourself to see if you can still make an application to start in September. I've found all of that information from a two minute Google, so I'm sure you can find out more yourself.
(Original post by LegallySnowy)
At what point should I be applying for pupillages? I am aware that with Training Contracts they recruit two years in advance, but since Chambers do not sponsor the BPTC, should I apply the year before wanting to start the pupillage?
Deferred pupillages are less common than deferred training contracts, but there are still plenty about. There is a central site that lists all available pupillage vacancies, and though which you can apply for many. That site has had numerous names over the years, but is now called the Pupillage Gateway (click here). Through that site you can browse for pupillages that you could apply for prior to the BPTC. There are candidates on most BPTC courses that have secured pupillage before the course starts, though of course there aren't that many of them. I didn't start applying for pupillage until I started the bar course, but then my research hadn't been particularly exhaustive up to that point. There's no harm in applying for pupillage before the BPTC; at the very least it gives you some experience of the process.

(Original post by LegallySnowy)
I have also read about 'drawdowns' from Chambers. Is it possible to have a 'drawdown' to assist in funding the BPTC, or are these intended only to assist you throughout your pupillage?
Yes, certain Chambers allow you to draw down funds from your grant to assist during the BPTC year. Chambers that allow that generally state it on their Pupillage Gateway entry.
(Original post by LegallySnowy)
Also, what is an average salary for a London Commercial chambers throughout a pupillage? I read somewhere that it was 12k, but I also read on some pages it could be up to 6Ok. I think I might be a bit confused and in fact 6Ok is the salary for after your pupillage is completed.
I can safely tell you without researching it that the average grant for London Commercial Chambers is more than £12,000. Those sets offer some of the highest grants in the country. Have a search for Chambers in London that offer Commercial and Chancery pupillages and look through the grants that they offer.

There are two things that I would note at this stage, though. The first is that Nolofinwë's warnings about the London Commercial Bar particularly is pertinent. That is a very lofty target to aim for. Taking a look at the profiles of recent tenants at those sets will tell you something of how high the standards are in that area. London is far from the be all and end all of practice at the Bar, and there are many more practice areas than Commercial and Chancery. It may be that you have arrived at that ambition on the back of extensive research, but if (as I suspect) you're more asking about that due to its popular reputation as being the pinnacle of the profession (or at least the most lucrative area financially), you may want to widen both your research and experience base before settling on it. You do not need to practise at the London Commercial Bar to have a great career as a barrister, nor do you need to practise at the London Commercial Bar to earn decent money.

The other thing I would note is your perception of the pupillage grants as a salary. The vast majority of barristers are self employed. You will not earn a salary. You bill work as and when you do it, and receive money as and when you are paid by your clients. You receive no regular salary, and as such whilst you may well earn good money of the course of a year, chances are that money will actually arrive in your account with little consistency. A solicitor earning £60k net a year will receive £5,000 a month, whilst a barrister earning the same amount net might receive £2,000 one month and £8,000 the next. You might want to read up a bit on the reality of being self employed at the Bar. It is very different to being employed and earning a salary. Chambers grants are awarded simply because pupils otherwise have no source of income, particularly in the first six months, whilst in the second six months you will be billing work but are unlikely to receive much money in those second six months. The grants are therefore needed to provide a base level of financial support while you get your practice rolling.
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