Life as a Pupil

Having recently finished pupillage at 39 Essex Chambers, what is clear is that the Pupillage Committee genuinely care about giving pupils the best training and making the year as stress-free as possible. That’s not to say it’s completely without stress, of course – the very nature of the process is stressful. But I found that because Chambers is so forward-thinking and objective in its approach, if I hadn’t been taken on at least I would know that I had had a fair assessment.

Pupillage at 39 is organised like a training contract. We have four seats throughout the year covering four different practice areas: (1) construction and commercial law; (2) personal injury and clinical negligence; (3) public law; and (4) planning and environmental law. For each seat, you have a different supervisor(s) (some seats have two supervisors).

The supervisors give pupils a range of work, from set research tasks to drafting pleadings and opinions. Given the seniority of the supervisors, a lot of work is very challenging, but you get involved in some fascinating cases. The supervisors are also very fair in giving pupils enough time to complete the work, and ensuring that pupils ask questions they may have – pupillage isn’t just a year long test/interview, it is also a training programme. They don’t expect pupils who are starting a completely new area of law, like planning, to immediately understand the legal framework. We are also not expected to spend hours photocopying, making bundles, and doing tea rounds. Although of course, I was more than happy to help when my supervisor was putting together authorities’ bundles.

We got regular feedback: halfway through each seat and at the end. The halfway feedback consisted of comments, and the final feedback included a grade for each competency. There were also assessments but these were very carefully managed, and my view is that they were fair – there was no attempt to trick us or catch us out. Plus, there is the added bonus that pupillage is not competitive – each pupil is marked against an objective standard.

Second six is a practising one, so pupils can expect to get into court maybe once or twice a week enjoying the delights of road traffic accidents, and similar low value civil claims but ensuring that we get some advocacy practice. The practising six is, however, carefully managed by supervisors who want to ensure pupils still have enough time to do work for them.

Getting into court is preceded by a couple of sessions with the most junior tenants to share all their top tips and precedents. We also received invaluable (and completely unassessed) advocacy training from a few more senior members of Chambers, which allowed us to practise our witness handling skills and closing speeches.

Chambers operates a strict 9am-6pm rule to make sure that pupils can still do other things with their time and to ensure fairness between pupils, some of whom may have other, for example, caring responsibilities. In that sense, pupillage in Chambers is perhaps less like a training contract!

My overall impression is that the Pupillage Committee (and Chambers more broadly) want us to succeed.

By Stephanie David.

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