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Rupert Jones, barrister at Citadel Chambers - Third Six Pupillages: Time to regulate limbo land?

 Rupert Jones

The third six pupil lives in an unregulated world between pupillage and tenancy. Yet for hundreds of newly qualified barristers, many with thousands of pounds of student debt, it's their only option if they want to stay at the independent bar.  

Typical third six pupils didn't secure tenancy, which may have been for various reasons. Undeterred, they looked for other chambers - probably on the Bar Council's website, which has a list of third six vacancies. Such opportunities come up frequently in all areas of law and at chambers of the highest repute.  

The benefits for chambers are plain. You get to pick from a pool of high quality applicants - in many cases exceptional candidates whose hopes of securing tenancy were foiled only by an even more exceptional candidate. You don't have to pay them an award. You can use them to service your solicitors and do the work no one else wants to do. You can even charge them chambers rent when they do it. You don't have to give them a vote on chambers issues. Best of all, you can decide whether to offer them tenancy at a time that suits chambers, if at all.  

All this leaves the third six pupil with none of the securities of pupillage: no guaranteed fee (though some chambers do offer a financial arrangement); usually little or no training or supervision; and often no idea about their prospects of tenancy. The only thing that differentiates them from a squatter, apart from a slightly more appealing name, is the possibility of tenancy - and even then that may be illusory.  

Even the title 'Third Six Pupil' is misleading. They are neither technically a pupil nor confined to a third six month period, as a third six doesn't even have to last six months. Such arrangements can last much longer, even years. Third sixers can even find themselves moving to a third or fourth set of chambers and doing a third third six.  

The third six is a flexible thing and no doubt that fact makes it all the more attractive to chambers, with the result that opportunities are created that wouldn't exist if red tape interfered with the process.  

A third sixer is in a vulnerable position and at risk of being exploited. They have little or no bargaining power. They are keen to please and impress. They may be in a perilous financial state. While the third six may be a voluntary agreement, the reality is that third sixers have no real alternative if they are to hold on to their chosen career.  

The Bar Council's Third Six Pupillages Working Group's view is that, to the extent that some reform of the system is in order, that is something that the Bar should do for itself, rather than waiting for regulation to be imposed.  This is in tune with the thinking of the Criminal Justice Reform Group, whose 2015 report recommended that the Bar Council issue guidance on Third Six Pupillages.  

As a result, barristers' views are being sought on everything to do with third six pupillages, including a 10 point list of good practice and whether a name change from Third Six Pupillage should be explored.  

Rupert Jones, barrister at Citadel Chambers and a member of the Bar Council's Third Six Pupillages Working Group. 

You can help by sharing your views. Should this area be regulated? Should there be guaranteed earnings? Have you experienced third sixers being exploited? Whatever your view, the Bar Council Education and Training Committee would like to hear from you. Please email Alex Cisneros: acisneros@barcouncil.org.uk or visit https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/X3TFTMM