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Chair of the Employed Barristers’ Committee Stuart Alford KC explores why the numbers of employed pupillages on offer have historically been low and discovers how the landscape is changing. 

Employed barristers make up one fifth of the practising Bar. Yet, of the 486 pupillages up for grabs via the Pupillage Gateway in 2022/23, there were just 56 employed pupillages available that year (and not all of them were advertised on the Gateway). Since 2018, the high watermark of employed pupillages on offer during one round of recruitment was 80.

The reasons for this arguably low number are manifold: the needs and practice areas of individual organisations, the amount of internal resource available to supervise potential pupils, and the onerous nature of the authorisation process are all potential elements.

Changing landscape

Traditionally, employers did not offer pupillage nor were they expected to; this was the domain of chambers. However, the landscape is changing.

In recent years, corporate law firms like Browne Jacobsen, CANDEY, DWF Advocacy, Fried Frank, and Joseph Hage Aaronsen have begun to recruit pupils. Some, now offering in-house advocacy units and even utilising the ‘chambers’ model, are offering pupillage regularly, year in, year out. Regulators, big city banks, and high street solicitors’ firms have also got in on the opportunity to train their own pupil barristers, offering them the chance to become part of their prestigious organisations in return for an in-house apprenticeship at the Bar.

The Government Legal Department (GLD) and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) remain the largest providers of employed pupillage. Between them, they account for around 45% of employed pupillage opportunities in England and Wales. But more and more organisations are seeing the benefit of barristers who are trained in-house.

Promoting career pathways

In the Bar Council’s 'Life at the Employed Bar' report, our recommendations included ‘promoting career pathways to the employed Bar’. We would therefore like to shine a spotlight on some of the organisations that offer the chance for aspiring barristers to come on board and train as employed pupils.

The utility of in-house experts who trained at the Bar is difficult to overstate. Whilst one of the advantages of the self-employed Bar is to have available practitioners from chambers who can advise on recondite areas of the law, putting barristers on a firm’s payroll gives that organisation the opportunity to access and offer high-quality advice and skills (including advocacy) from practitioners who are integrated into the organisation’s culture and business strategy.  

Employed barristers will typically find themselves working in teams of other professionals; these might include fellow barristers, solicitors, investigators and business colleagues. This collaborative and collegiate working environment is something which many employed barristers relish, as it provides a structured and supportive career without foregoing many of the best elements of being a barrister.

Overcoming hurdles

On the Employed Barristers’ Committee, we have many members who began at the self-employed Bar, and then moved to the employed Bar. We also have two representatives of the self-employed Bar, who were at the employed Bar but have moved to self-employment in chambers. For many, this is how their career works best; with their talent fostered and developed in both the employed and self-employed Bar.

However, our committee has so far got very few members who completed their pupillage at the employed Bar. This is not surprising, as employed pupillage is still a relatively new development, and the statistics reflect this. But for those who are ‘lifers’ at the employed Bar, they like nothing better than extolling the virtues of a career spent with an employer, that has given them a fulfilling, exciting, and varied career as a practising barrister.

This, then, is our task: promoting opportunities for employed pupillage where they already exist, facilitating new opportunities where we can, and helping to overcome hurdles where it is beneficial for the profession.

Have a look at the Bar Standards Board’s information on what is required to become a provider of employed pupillage. In the months to come, we will be shouting about the many great organisations that already offer these opportunities to aspiring barristers, and I will be asking employed barristers to consider this: could your firm benefit from gaining authorised status, and joining the vanguard of AETOs offering employed pupillage?

In the meantime, you can always contact us with any thoughts or questions via email: [email protected]