Increased awards for pupil barristers – but also debts

The Bar: Pupils have positive experience 

Pupil barristers are receiving increased awards for their work but debt levels are also rising, a survey by the Bar Council has found.

Meanwhile, 28% of female pupils report personal experience of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Pupil barristers received median awards worth between £30,000 and £39,999 this year, up from between £20,000 and £29,999 in 2022, when they were last surveyed.

Half of pupils not doing publicly funded work were awarded £60,000 or more, compared to only 7% of those handling legal aid matters.

Median debt levels for pupil barristers increased from between £40,000 and £49,999 in 2022 to between £50,000 and £59,999 this year, with 39% of pupils saying they were in “some degree of financial hardship at present”, a fall of three percentage points.

Half of female pupils reported financial hardship, compared to less than a quarter of men – 9% of pupils said they were in a “lot” of financial hardship.

The Bar Council gathered 173 responses, representing 32% of all pupil barristers, for its Pupil Survey 2024. Fewer than a third secured pupillage after one application round, with a third saying it took two rounds, 18% three rounds and 17% four or more rounds.

Asked what would improve the process, better feedback on failed applications was top, followed by “chambers replying to applications”, improving the Pupillage Gateway platform, and advice from current barristers.

A large majority of pupils, 86%, said their experience of pupillage had been positive, although those who went to state schools or were disabled were more likely to be negative. Two-thirds met with their supervisor in-person or remotely at least once a day.

Two-thirds of pupils described a career at the Bar as “viable going forward”, with female barristers and those working mainly in crime less likely to say this. A third described it as “somewhat viable”.

However, a majority of disabled pupil barristers described a career in the Bar as “somewhat viable” or not viable at all.

The Bar Council said that while incidents of bullying, harassment and discrimination were lower among pupils than across the Bar in general, they were still “relatively high”.

Just under a fifth of pupils (18%) had personally experienced bullying, harassment and discrimination, either in person or online – but this broke down into 28% of women and 3% of men.

Sam Townend KC, chair of the Bar Council, commented: “The high percentage of pupils describing their pupillage as positive is testament to the high standard of training delivered by the Bar to the next generation…

“It is particularly noticeable that pupils consider the quality of supervision to be high, whether that is delivered in person or online.”

Meanwhile the number of pupillages advertised on the Bar Council’s Pupillage Gateway hit a record high of 638 in the financial year 2022/23, an increase of over 10% on the previous year.

The number of applicants also increased, to almost 3,000 from just under 2,800, according to the latest Pupillage Gateway report.

The biggest indicator of success in securing a pupillage was a first-class degree, with six out of 10 offers going to candidates with a first, and 36% to those with an upper second.

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