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Ten tips for…Surviving pupillage and early tenancy.

By Tom Semple.

  1. Never be afraid to ask questions. 

Chambers wants you to succeed in pupillage and future practice. You are not expected to know everything and everyone makes mistakes. However, asking for help from members of chambers, even just to point you in the right direction, shows your enthusiasm and that you are keen to build your knowledge base. 

  1. Apply for a pupillage scholarship. 

Often overlooked, the Inns of Court provide pupillage scholarships and awards to continue to help those at the start of practice. Although the funds available tend not to be as generous as the BPTC scholarships, they can still be a useful lifeline. Some awards are even made on an application-only basis, so there is little to lose in applying. 

  1. It’s never too early to start looking for your future specialism. 

If you know which areas of law interest you, speak to your pupillage supervisor and your clerks early. If they know what interests you, they can ensure that you get the most experience during pupillage and beyond. The sooner chambers knows what interests you, the sooner you can start to develop your preferred practice. 

  1. Pick up the phone. 

Don’t be afraid to call your client after a hearing. Although just an email is sometimes necessary, speaking to your clients, even in early practice, helps to develop working relationships going forward. Personality is often lost in the black and white of an email. 

  1. Find an accountant. 

Soon after starting your second six, you need to get your head around self-employment and your tax obligations. Many barristers engage an accountant to help them with their tax returns and logging receipts. There are also many accounting apps available to make completing your returns much easier. A good way to start is to find out which accountants have been tried and tested by other members of chambers. 

  1. Open a separate bank account for business expenses and tax. 

Being self-employed requires you to be disciplined with how you allocate your receipts. Most needs to be ear-marked for tax and expenses, such as chambers calls and travel costs. Identify early what fraction of a fee you can retain for yourself and put the rest away in a separate account. That way, you ensure that you have saved enough throughout the year to pay for expenses and tax bills. Ask junior members of chambers how they allocate their receipts for an idea of how much you will need to save. 

  1. Don’t overlook devilling / shadowing. 

During pupillage, you will not always see the practice areas or aspects of the bar that you wanted. Devilling and shadowing gives you the opportunity to continue to learn beyond pupillage. The clerks can help point you to other members of chambers who would be willing to let you shadow them on an interesting case, or even get involved if possible. 

  1. Learn to network. 

It often feels daunting to network at the start of practice. Who would want to speak to the pupil / junior tenant? Even if you don’t know anybody in the room, there’s no harm in learning to network and introducing yourself. Networking is an essential aspect of life at the bar and you might as well start early! Most people don’t want to talk about law anyway. 

  1. Make the most of chambers socials. 

In recognition that we often don’t see each other a lot in work, chambers tend to organise social events so members have a chance to catch up outside of practice. Whether this a meal out, trips away, or even just a cup of tea in a conference room with anyone still in the building, they all create that collegiate feeling that makes the job seem less solitary. Don’t be afraid to suggest a social yourself if there is an event you would like to try!

     10. Make time for yourself. 

It is no secret that the bar often involves long working hours and a lot a pressure. But it is essential to make time for yourself. Exercise, reading, even just taking regular breaks from your papers, are all good ways to de-stress and generally remain productive. If you feel that you are under too much pressure, be sure speak to someone! The Bar Council also have a very helpful website: the aptly named https://www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk/.

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