The Pupillage Gateway logo


Pupillage application season will soon be upon us, and we want to give you the best chance of securing an interview. In this series, each of the five blogs will explore the different sections of the Pupillage Gateway application form and use it to your advantage. Here,we discuss how to complete the Extenuating circumstances section.


Applicants normally use extenuating circumstances to mitigate poor academic achievements, or to highlight a significant obstacle that might have impacted upon their ability to take certain actions that might have improved their prospects of success.

There are no rules relating to what might constitute an extenuating circumstance. A non-exhaustive list of examples include:

  • Disabilities
  • Periods of ill health
  • Mental health disorders
  • Socio-economic challenges
  • Caring obligations
  • Fleeing persecution
  • Domestic violence
How do I know if I have extenuating circumstances?

You should not feel discouraged from including any circumstances that you feel are relevant to your application, but you must first determine whether they are genuinely extenuating. The barristers that are responsible for marking your application will not make judgments about the challenges that you have faced, but they will be seeking to determine whether the impact of those challenges could reasonably be construed as significant. Every person will face challenges throughout their life to a certain degree, and it is for you to judge whether your own situation amounts to extenuating circumstances or not. To that end, if the related outcome(s) could easily be interpreted as minor or something that an individual would reasonably be expected to deal with without it having a notable impact on academic or other achievement, it would be advisable to disregard this section of the form.

How do I include an extenuating circumstance?

If you do include an extenuating circumstance, then you should also seek to use both the relevant section and the remainder of your application form to demonstrate your true level of ability. By way of example, if you achieved poor results in higher education due to bullying but then went on to obtain a first in your undergraduate degree, the former will be mitigated by the latter, as it serves to demonstrate your true level of academic ability.

There is a word limit attached to this section and you will need to be concise, but you should seek to include sufficient explanation of the challenges you have faced to ensure that the barrister who is reading your application is able to assess them properly and gauge their impact. There is no need to produce exhaustive evidence but simply stating that you were unwell or poorly treated will, in most cases, not be sufficient.

The final point to note with extenuating circumstances is that they are only required to excuse results or circumstances that are clearly not what would be expected of a pupillage applicant. Obtaining a 2:2, for example, is something that could be mitigated with extenuating circumstances. However, you should not use extenuating circumstances where your level of achievement was still very high, but just not as high as you were expecting. Achieving a First but coming fifth in your year instead of first, for example, is not something that needs to be explained by way of extenuating circumstances.

To maximise your time and set yourself up for success, start your application early. Here’s how:

  1. You can create an account on the Pupillage Gateway and add to, or edit, your education, employment, and work experience history at any time.
  2. The Sample Application Form on the website enables you to prepare for the standardised questions you will be asked, and during the advertisement window you will be able to view and consider the bespoke questions that the Authorised Education and Training Organisations (‘AETOs’) that are using the Pupillage Gateway to manage their respective recruitment processes are posing.
  3. When preparing your answers, make sure that you make note of any character or word limits, and apply them accordingly. The character limits on the Pupillage Gateway include typographical symbols and spaces, so be careful to count them as part of your answer. Whether you write in bullet points or prose is a matter for you and the best format to use might depend on which section of the application form you are working on, but both approaches have been used successfully by previous applicants.

Further support

For further information about how to navigate the Pupillage Gateway, please consult the Applicant User Guide and FAQ on the website. If you have a technical question relating to the site that neither address, you can contact the Bar Council Services Team for assistance at [email protected].