A pupillage is the final stage of training to be a barrister and usually lasts one year, in England and Wales being made up of two six-month periods (known as "sixes"). The first of these is the non-practising six during which pupils shadow their pupilmaster and the second will be a practising six when pupils can undertake to supply legal services and exercise rights of audience.
At the end of the first six months a pupil must get their pupilmaster to sign a certificate confirming satisfactory completion and send it to the Bar Council. The pupil will then receive a Provisional Qualification Certificate. At the end of the second six months a pupil must get their pupilmaster to sign another certificate confirming satisfactory completion and send it to the Bar Council Education and Training Department. The pupil will then receive a Full Qualification Certificate.
Although pupillage is used to describe the training for all barristers, there is little in common between different sorts of pupillages. A good example is the enormous contrast between a criminal bar pupil and a commercial bar pupil: during the second six months of pupillage, the first will be in court on a daily basis, dealing primarily with witnesses and facts; the second will rarely go to court, dealing with written legal analysis for companies and assisting senior members of chambers with their work.
Criminal pupillages are split into two different phrases. The first is known as the "first six". This involves witnessesing the pupil's supervisor at court, in conference and assisting with paperwork. In many chambers, this is the more relaxed part of the pupillage, as the pupil has little responsibility.
In the second six, each pupil is responsible for their own case load. This will range from first appearance in the magistrates' court and crown court to full trials. Some pupils may undergo jury trials, but this is very rare. The work will be allocated by the clerks at the end of the working day (frequently at 6pm or later) and the pupil will then be expected to prepare the trial for the following morning.
The amount of work that a pupil will gain in their second six is dependent on their chambers. In leading criminal sets pupils will receive a frequent supply of work, although solicitors are taking more magistates court work in house. However, as clerks do not prioritise pupils, it may take a considerable amount of time before they are paid for the work they do. In some cases, pupils will never be paid for the work they carry out in the magistrates court. This has led to a situation where criminal pupils struggle to make ends meet.
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While pupils are allowed to supplement their incomes by undertaking part-time work outside of their pupillages, with the permission of their pupil master or Head of Chambers, the Bar Council also requires pupils to apply themselves full time to pupillage. Therefore opportunities for earning outside of pupillage are limited by time constraints.
Pupillage is recognised as a difficult and demanding time. Pupils must attempt to impress as many members of their chambers as is possible. They will also have to impress their clerks by competing as many cases as possible and still impressing solicitors.
The Working Time Directive applies to pupillages. Pupils may therefore work a maximum of 48 hours per week, unless an opt-out has been signed. However successful pupils will work well in excess of 48 hours per week and will take little or no holiday.
Gaining a pupillage is not easy. A candidate will need to demonstrate strong academic qualifications (preferably First Class Honours degree from a leading university or excellent extracurricular activities). Working for the Free Representation Unit is strongly encouraged by pupillage selection committees.