Quarter of pupil barristers experiencing financial hardship

Sweeting: It remains a challenge to support pupils

Almost a quarter of pupil barristers (23%) say they are experiencing “some financial hardship” during the pandemic, a survey by the Bar Council has found.

However, the two biggest challenges cited by pupils were lack of networking opportunities (82%) and interruption to court work (55%).

The Bar Council said its Covid-19 survey of pupils was based on responses from 221 pupil barristers, 57% of the total. According to figures from the Bar Standards Board, only 386 pupillages were registered last year, compared to 592 in 2019 – a fall of 35%.

While lack of networking opportunities was a common theme throughout all practice areas, 71% of commercial pupils and 60% of general civil pupils said lack of contact with pupil supervisors was also a challenge.

This compared with 41% of those in crime sets and 36% of those in family sets. The average rate across the Bar was 51%.

Nearly half of all pupils (45%) said the pandemic was presenting “a significant challenge to their wellbeing”.

However, the Bar Council said pupils who felt a career at the Bar might not be viable for them generally cited reasons unconnected to Covid-19.

Just over a quarter (28%) said the work/life balance might lead them to look for employment elsewhere, while 26% cited insufficient remuneration.

Views on career viability depended on practice area, with 100% of pupils at family sets feeling it was viable, compared to 87% of those in criminal sets.

Pupils said the priorities for them were daily contact with supervisors, “regular diarised work”, social contact with other members of chambers, and “as much exposure to court attendance/remote hearings as possible under the circumstances”.

Across the Bar, 83% of pupils felt supported by their chambers, with half of them speaking to their pupil supervisor at least once a day. Only 11% of pupils were unhappy with their supervision.

Derek Sweeting QC, chair of the Bar Council, commented: “The good news that emerges from the survey findings is the high percentage of pupils who are very satisfied with their pupillage experience and feel supported by their sets.

“That is a testament to the dedication of chambers and pupil supervisors, who have worked hard under difficult conditions to ensure pupils have been given the training and support they needed throughout the pandemic.

“But pupils are clearly struggling with the lack of networking opportunities, interruption to court work and their general wellbeing.

“In a year where pupillages have decreased by 35%, it remains a challenge to support pupils in a way which addresses these issues and allows them to complete pupillage feeling confident about a future at the Bar.”

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