It’s that time of year again. Applications have opened at chambers around the country and prospective pupils furiously draft and redraft their forms.

So, what’s pupillage really like?

During pupillage at No5 you will usually spend your first 6 months with one or two supervisors, giving you a point of contact throughout and the chance to learn from a specialist in your chosen practice area. The work is interesting, challenging, and fascinating to get to grips with.

When your supervisor is in court you will shadow them and watch their advocacy. However, this isn’t a passive process and during my first six I read every set of papers and prepared as if I were conducting the case myself, drafting cross-examination and submissions. After I had the opportunity to watch my supervisor, we would then discuss my approach and how I would have dealt with the case. The chance to see where I was going wrong, and how I should approach thorny issues came in immensely helpful when I started on my feet and was facing witnesses of my own.

There is also the opportunity to conduct advocacy exercises with your supervisor prior to starting your second six. The most important thing about these exercises is they are relatively informal and are designed to help improve your skills, rather than being a test. Nonetheless, when your supervisor is playing judge, jury and executioner, it can feel pretty tense!  

When your supervisor isn’t in court, you will work on their paperwork, again as if you were instructed yourself. My supervisor would give me access to the same papers she had and set the same deadlines she was expected to meet. We would both then draft our versions at the same time and compare how we tackled the issues. This is a great way of simulating what practice is really like, forcing you to adapt to the reality of life at the Bar. One thing I learnt was I had a tendency to focus on perfection, with the knock-on effect that work took me a long time to complete – the strict deadlines soon forced me to speed up my working style.

As second six approaches, your supervisor will organise for you to spend time with the more junior members of chambers, watching and helping them with their cases. I found this to be really useful, as when you start on your feet your caseload is very different to that of your supervisor.

No matter how much preparation you have done, second six always seems scary. No amount of reading and drafting can prepare you for the first time you address a judge. Nonetheless, your supervisor is always on hand to offer help and support, right the way from tricky issues of law, to the simplest queries (in my case ‘What do I call a recorder?!’).

The pupillage committee will conduct regular reviews throughout your year, culminating in the final one at 11 months where you are presented with your decision on tenancy. These reviews are a great opportunity to discuss how you’re finding the process and are just as much a chance for you to give feedback as they are for you to receive it.

For those applying for pupillage this year, my advice would be this: keep it simple, let your attributes shine, and make sure you answer the question that has been asked. Good luck!