What should I do between now and my pupillage in 2021?

Aaron Mayers
8 min readMay 12, 2020

Great! Pupillage starts in 18 months… Now what?

First of all, if you are fortunate enough to have been offered pupillage this year, congratulations! You have passed a monumental milestone in a unique time, with online interviews, changing deadlines and all round uncertainty.

The journey to obtaining pupillage is one that comes in many forms for different types of people. I have observed people who seem to have seamlessly and exponentially ascended from school, to university, to Law school and then hopped onto pupillage. I have observed others who seem to have triumphantly conquered the path to pupillage having overcome years filled with a range of adversities, tragedies, prejudices and self transformations.

My own journey is one which finds itself somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, and I now have a pivotal opportunity which marks the beginning of what I expect will be a demanding, challenging and fun career.

However, quite soon after I received the offer, my mind was overcome with a nagging question: “Now what?” I had 18 months to fill before pupillage commenced, and I wanted to make the most of this time.

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Which skills should I develop or improve?

How do I increase my professional value to ensure that chambers see no other option but to offer me a tenancy?

This year, should I have more fun?

Do I need a break?

After pondering these questions for a few weeks, I finally sat down and devised the plan which I believed would put me in the best possible position to get the most out of pupillage and prepare me for my career at the Bar.

The main priorities which made up my plan were as follows:

  • Building professional skills
  • Build a connection with my chambers
  • Having fun
  • Money
  • Becoming comfortable in my home to be
  • Building good habits

Here are a few of the many examples which I implemented into my 18 month strategy to prepare me for pupillage in October 2020:

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Building Professional Skills

My usual imposter syndrome and fear of complacency compelled me to ensure that my professional development would not plateau in this interim period. With that being said, I looked at the pupillage assessment criteria for my chambers and thought about ways in which I could improve upon these traits in the remaining time I had.

I realised that my job at the time (working as a paralegal in Jersey, Channel Islands) was no longer serving my medium-term professional aspirations, and I sought a paralegal role in London which would challenge me and accelerate my learning in terms of the key assessment criteria for pupillage. I also considered it important to secure a role which was relevant to my intended practice area, litigation focused and afforded me with the responsibility to carry out legal research which contributed to advice.

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Building a Connection With my Chambers

Get in contact with people from your chambers as early as possible, and get to know what life behind the scenes is really like. This will develop your mental picture of what it will be like to work there, and it will also make settling into your pupillage a lot easier if you’re spending time with people with whom you already have rapport.

Fortunately, my chambers made this quite easy. Chambers hosted several internal networking events to allow future pupils to get to know existing members, pupils and senior members of chambers’ business management. They have also helpfully arranged regular pupil zoom meetings during the lockdown period. In addition, I sought out recent pupils individually and arranged to meet them for lunch (or virtual coffee) to get a deeper insight into what life as a pupil in chambers was really like, and how best to prepare for the “year long interview” that so many people become anxious about.

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Having Fun

I used my network of recent pupils and junior barristers to ask them about how best to prepare for pupillage, and there was one answer that I heard over and over again. HAVE FUN. BOOK A HOLIDAY. SWITCH OFF AND RETURN RESET AND RECHARGED.

I needed no further encouragement. However, the timing was unfortunate and with the Covid 19 lockdown, booking holidays is off the cards, at least for a little while. Nevertheless, the main point here is to take time away from work and do things you enjoy. In lieu of travelling, I’ve been investing my “fun time” into creative activities like making music, and new forms of outdoor exercise.

What do you like to do when you don’t have to do anything? Whatever your answer, do more of that in the coming year.

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Everyone will begin pupillage from different financial positions. Money is a topic that many of us do not like to be candid about. However, I’ve always believed that financial planning and discipline would see me encounter less financial hardships than I perhaps otherwise would.

I wanted to make sure that my finances were not an overwhelming burden during my pupillage. Therefore, I consulted my long term savings and investment plan and made provisions so that I had a pragmatic plan for things like loans and overdrafts so as to alleviate potential financial pressures which might rear their ugly heads during pupillage. This means that during my pupillage year, finances will be one less thing to worry about, leaving me to worry about the more important things (like remembering how many sugars my pupil supervisor likes in her coffee).

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Being Comfortable in my ‘Home To Be’

My pupillage will be based in Oxford, which is not an area I was previously very familiar with. I have scheduled some time later this year to explore the area, seek out the best location in which I can live (and afford) and generally become more acquainted with the area which will soon be my home. I’ve also been in contact with some friendly junior barristers in the area, who have given me some great tips as to how best to settle in (and where to get the best takeaways after a long night of pouring over advice).

Being comfortable in your place of work is an important factor for your level of performance during pupillage. Consider your favourite non work related activities and what facilities there are in the area to provide for this. Also consider transport links not only for work purposes, but also for the purposes of getting around to see family and friends.

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Building Good Habits

One skill that has served me well up until this point in my career is the ability to constantly look for and implement new ways in which I can be more effective with my work. Whether its routines which start at 5am, using new productivity tools or simply the ability to use legal research tools more efficiently, I am willing to try all manner of things to see if they result in a higher level of performance and overall fulfillment.

With this in mind, I would recommend spending some time thinking about what your routine is likely to be when you’re in chambers next year. What will your working hours be? How long is your commute? What will you do before and after work? You may not have all of the answers now, but in my view it is a good time to start thinking about this so that you can slowly begin to adapt your routines and habits and build these elements into your day.

Remember when you first started university, and (possibly after a long summer of parties and no morning routine whatsoever) all of a sudden it was time to begin a regimented schedule of lectures, seminars and reading? It is that feeling of uncomfortable adaptation that this advice is designed to avoid. For example, if you know that the only feasible way you can get to the gym during pupillage is to fit it into your routine at 6am, and you’ve never done this before, why not give it a try now for a few weeks and ease yourself into a new morning routine? The idea is that by becoming comfortable with your routines and habits now, when your pupillage starts, the only part of your day that will be different is the work part. The rest of your day will already have been adapted to accommodate this change.

Final Thoughts

I know that it can feel slightly strange to receive a pupillage offer and then have 12–18 months waiting for pupillage to commence. Of course, like anyone you should be ecstatic that you’ve been given a great opportunity to launch your career at the Bar. You should also feel sufficiently secure that you have, at a minimum, what it takes to succeed in this career path. However, if you’re like me and there’s a voice in your head which is telling you to make the most of the spare time you have and get yourself in the best position to start pupillage, with both competence and comfort, I hope some of the ideas above can help you to think about what you’d like to achieve in this next year.

Well done for getting this far, and all the best for your pupillage and the rest of your well earned career!

Who is this article for?

Those who have pupillage offers but won’t start pupillage for another 12–18 months.