A pupil's story

A pupil's story

A recent pupil explains ...

As one might expect from the size of Chambers and the areas of practice covered, a 12-month pupillage at 3 Paper Buildings is a broad experience. Pupillage is a demanding year and a rigorous introduction to the profession. Throw yourself into it and you will get a lot out of it.

First Six

During the first six you settle into Chambers. As with any new job it takes a month or two to learn how things work; libraries, clerks and such. If you don't know how something works, ask. There is usually someone around to ask whose memory of pupillage is still (painfully) fresh. In court, and with clients in conference, the focus is on watching and learning from the sideline. Absorb as much information as possible. What you absorb is intangible - a practical understanding of the way the court systems work: procedure, dealing with court staff, judges, witnesses and clients.

A key feature is the variety of work, from complex legal problems to indexing trial bundles. Pupils have a valuable and practical input behind the scenes in the first six. As well as observing, the role involves researching, preparing and checking paperwork and, where needed, providing administrative back up. You are a sounding board for your pupil master, bringing a fresh perspective. You cannot be expected to know all of the answers at this stage: asking questions is expected and encouraged.

In addition to work for your pupil master, you are a useful resource for other members of Chambers, to assist in research, accompany them to court and conferences and to prepare paperwork. This paperwork is an important element in assessing progress through pupillage. As part of this process you experience different areas of law and different styles of preparation and presentation. Some of this work is extremely complex, some less so. The breadth of work you are expected to undertake is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the 12 months. More often than not you will be looking at an area of law or procedure that you have never seen before.

It is a fact of pupillage that you are under constant assessment and you get used to it. However there is always someone around to ask when it seems to be getting a bit much.

Second Six

Having watched and learned for six months, the second six at 3 Paper Buildings is completely different. The difference between watching and doing cannot be emphasised enough. The second six is when you begin to get an idea of what practising at the bar is really like.

Pupils are in court almost every day on a variety of cases: small claims hearings in the county court; crown court applications; magistrates' court trials. Quite apart from the stresses of dealing with your own clients and witnesses for the first time, other problems arise. Crowded court waiting rooms can be impossible places to talk to your client for the first time, take notes, hold your papers, have a cup of coffee and look dignified. Courtroom layouts vary from court to court, as does procedure and speed of proceedings. Opponents vary enormously in quality and personality, from bewildered fellow pupils to seasoned barristers and battle hardened solicitors. Even finding the court building can sometimes be a challenge. Invest in a court guide.

All these things are daunting to begin with, but they do gradually get less stressful as the months slip by and your confidence and experience builds. Members of Chambers are on hand to assist in averting any crisis. There is much to be gained from accompanying junior members of Chambers to the courts you are likely to be appearing in, during the last month of the first six.

The one constant theme throughout the second six is the getting the balance right between your own court work and paperwork for members of Chambers. Befriend the clerks. They have an uncanny ability to spot when you are about to drown under deadlines, last minute briefs, irritated clients. Keep an open mind. Pre-pupillage ideas about areas of law in which you want, or don't want, to practise may change when you see them during pupillage.