How Long are Pupillages in the UK?

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Introduction to Pupillage Duration in the UK

Pupillage is the last lap in the race to becoming a qualified barrister in the UK. It’s a 12-month training period that candidates undertake, usually within a barristers’ chambers, to acquire practical skills and knowledge. However, there are a few exceptions and variables to this 12-month norm that potential applicants should be aware of. Here, we delve into the factors influencing the length of a pupillage.

The Standard 12-Month Model

The most common form of pupillage is the 12-month full-time program. It is divided into two periods of six months, commonly referred to as the ‘first six’ and the ‘second six.’ During the first half, pupils shadow an experienced barrister, commonly known as the ‘pupil supervisor,’ attending court sessions and assisting in research and documentation. In the second half, pupils get the opportunity to take on their own work, depending on the type of set they are at. This stage is generally seen as a practical application of the skills learned during the first six months, and many pupils start taking on their own cases.

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Part-time and Extended Pupillages

While the Bar Council regulations generally require a full-time commitment of at least 35 hours per week, there are provisions for part-time pupillages in exceptional circumstances. Additionally, new proposals from the Bar Standards Board now allow for pupillages to be extended up to 24 months if conducted part-time. This flexibility aims to accommodate individuals who may have other commitments or those who wish to undergo a more extended period of practical training. However, such arrangements are less common and usually need to be discussed and agreed upon with the chambers in advance.

Third Six: An Additional Step

In some cases, after completing the standard 12-month pupillage, candidates may opt for or be offered a ‘third six,’ which is a temporary additional six months with either the same or a different set of chambers. This stage is often seen as a second chance for securing a permanent position, known as tenancy, within a set. Third sixes offer a valuable opportunity for further professional development but also extend the time before one can fully qualify as a barrister.

Variability Across Practice Areas

The duration and structure of pupillage may vary depending on the area of law in which a chamber specialises. For instance, in criminal law and common law sets, the second six-month period frequently allows for a more hands-on experience with smaller cases suitable for budding barristers. In contrast, commercial law chambers tend to deal with complex cases that usually require the continued guidance of a pupil supervisor. This variability can influence not just the tasks undertaken during the pupillage but also the pace at which pupils gain independence in their professional roles. Knowing the typical structure within your chosen practice area can help you set realistic expectations for your pupillage experience.

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Impact of Tenancy Decisions on Pupillage Duration​

The decision about granting permanent tenancy is usually made in July of the pupillage year. If unsuccessful, candidates may explore the option of a third six. The prospect of a third six can have implications on the time frame one needs to fully qualify. While civil and commercial sets generally have higher pupil-to-tenant conversion rates, criminal sets are less predictable, which might necessitate a third six. Preparing for this potential extension can help manage career timelines more effectively. Third sixes can be a rewarding yet time-consuming way to gain additional experience and improve one’s prospects for permanent tenancy.

Regulatory Changes and Their Influence

Recent changes by the Bar Standards Board have introduced the possibility of pupillages lasting up to 24 months if taken part-time. These regulations aim to bring flexibility into the system, although it is still too early to assess the full impact of this change on the average duration of pupillages across the UK. However, these changes signify a trend towards more adaptable training paths to becoming a barrister. Candidates need to be aware of the latest regulations as they could open doors to non-traditional pupillage experiences that better suit individual needs.


In summary, while the traditional model of a 12-month, full-time pupillage remains the most common route to becoming a barrister in the UK, there are several factors that can influence the length and structure of this training period. These range from the area of legal practice and the specific set of chambers, to individual performance during the pupillage and even changes in regulatory guidelines. Being informed about these variables will help potential applicants make educated decisions about their career paths in law.

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