In May 2024, The Bar Council awarded Wilberforce Chambers a Wellbeing Certificate of Recognition for “invaluable work demonstrating commitment to wellbeing in the barristers’ profession”. The Bar Council remarked, “Wilberforce Chambers’ continuous work and dedication to wellbeing is very impressive.”

  • Quote symbolThe atmosphere at Wilberforce is particularly welcoming and the supportive environment I enjoyed throughout pupillage has continued into tenancy.

    Francesca Mitchell, Junior Barrister

General information about pupillage

Download our Pupillage Brochure

Wilberforce Chambers looks to offer up to four 12-month pupillages each year, with substantial funding. Chambers has an excellent retention record. It is unusual for pupils not to be recruited as tenants at the end of their 12-month pupillage.

There is no limit to the number of tenancies we offer at the end of the pupillage process. Chambers offers pupillage with a view to taking on all pupils as tenants at the end of their time with us, so we take great care in our selection process to identify candidates who have real potential to join Chambers at the end of their pupillage. Importantly, our pupils are not in competition with one another for a tenancy but are assessed solely on their own abilities and performance.

In addition to the substantial pupillage award, substantial amounts of barrister time (both of supervisors and others) are spent on pupils, and we look to give pupils a structured and comprehensive introduction to life at the Bar.  That includes:

  • sitting with at least five different pupil supervisors during their 12 months with us;
  • sharing the daily professional life of their pupil supervisor;
  • seeing a spread of chambers’ work;
  • producing pleadings and opinions in their pupil supervisor’s cases;
  • attending conferences with their pupil supervisor, the solicitor and the lay client;
  • attending Court with their pupil supervisor and other members of Chambers;
  • receiving regular feedback on their work from their pupil supervisor;
  • having their work-load monitored by their pupil supervisor;
  • having an opportunity to work with a variety of junior tenants and silks;
  • getting to know our clerks and begin to learn what skills and approaches will assist in building a successful practice; and
  • having an opportunity to contribute to life in chambers.

We are looking for pupils with (i) high intellectual ability, (ii) good oral and written communication skills, (iii) an interest in Chancery Commercial work, who are (iv) mature and confident, (v) have the ability to work with others, and who (vi) can analyse legal problems well, demonstrating (vii) good practical and commercial sense. We have a minimum requirement of a 2:1 degree in law or another subject.

We have a strong record of recruiting non-law/GDL students and as explained below we take care to ensure that our interview process does not disadvantage those who have only recently commenced their legal studies.

We are committed to promoting and achieving equality and diversity in Chambers, so we want to receive applications from anyone who has the qualities and skills we are looking for, no matter what university they have attended, no matter what age, race, gender or sexual orientation. It is with that commitment in mind that we joined the Pupillage Gateway a few years ago, as we consider the process to be beneficial to pupillage candidates.

We use contextual recruitment (specifically, RARE Contextual Recruitment) as part of our recruitment process, if a candidate wants us to have that information.  The RARE contextual recruitment system provides us with information about applicants which assists us to select candidates with the potential to become pupils.  We take account of the contextual data acquired via the system at the first stage of our application process (see further below).  Provision of the information is voluntary and no candidate will be marked down for choosing not to supply it.

The application process: how do we decide who to offer pupillage?

Applications for pupillage must be made through the Pupillage Gateway, the online pupillage application scheme, except where an applicant is exempt under the applicable rules. Visit the Gateway website at the link above for full details of how the Gateway operates and to find our application form.

There are then three stages during which your application will be considered:

  1. Consideration of the application form;
  2. Long-list interview; and
  3. Short-list interview.

At the first stage, we are looking for evidence of outstanding intellectual ability, excellent written and oral communication skills, and an interest in and commitment to the Chancery Commercial Bar.

There is no ‘set’ way in which to demonstrate this, but a few tips are as follows:

  • First, please make sure you provide us with as much information as you can regarding your academic achievements, or other indications of intellectual ability (such as information about your work in a previous career, if you are a career-changer).
  • Secondly, when giving evidence of your communication skills, candidates often focus on their experience of mooting: that is great and please include it if you have done mooting, but also think beyond it as mooting or debating is not the only way to show you have had occasion to speak to people and tried to persuade them to think in a particular way.
  • Thirdly, take time over the questions on the application form. Substantively, these provide you an excellent opportunity to show yourself in the best light, and in particular to show us your interest in the types of law involved in our areas of practice.  Presentationally, they are an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your written communication skills – the best answers tend to be structured, easy to read and concisely expressed.
  • Fourthly, candidates often proceed on the basis that the number of mini-pupillages they have done at chancery commercial sets directly correlates to their interest in and commitment to practice at the Chancery Commercial Bar. Mini-pupillages are certainly one way to demonstrate that, but a multitude of mini-pupillages at these sets is usually not necessary.  We are also interested to hear what areas of law have interested you in your academic study (and why), what you have learnt from any mini-pupillages you have as to why chancery commercial practice is likely to suit you, and what wider interests you have that lead you to want to practice at Wilberforce Chambers.

In addition to our application form, all candidates will have the opportunity to provide us with contextual information using the RARE Contextual Recruitment system.  Provision of this information is entirely voluntary, and no candidate will be marked down for not supplying it.  Where that information is provided, we use it in two ways:

  • First, we will use it at the first stage in cases where there are more candidates ‘tied’ on a particular score than there are remaining interview slots. The assessors will consider whether contextual information provides a basis for preferring one or more of those candidates over others.
  • Secondly, once all our first-round interview spaces are filled (there are generally 36 spaces available), we then offer a further 4-6 interview spaces to applicants who have not been offered an interview, but who have recorded one or more ‘flags’ on the contextual recruitment system.

If you are invited to a first-round interview (the ‘long-list’), there will be a c.20-25 minute interview with two members of chambers which involves the discussion of a problem question. You will be invited to attend chambers half an hour before the interview time to consider the problem. The questions are deliberately designed to focus on real-life practical issues and the application of general legal principle, rather than knowledge or recall of detailed provisions and cases. We are most interested in how you reason and present your argument/reasoning.

Around 12-15 candidates proceed to the shortlist interview. Up to four members of chambers attend this interview, which is longer at around 35 to 40 minutes. A substantial part of the interview is set around discussion of a problem question which, at this short-list stage, will be more complex and involved than at long list.

Thereafter, successful candidates will be notified of an offer of pupillage or of a reserve offer in accordance with the pupillage gateway timetable.

We believe that using problem questions is fairest to our applicants because it allows for the most direct assessment of the key skills we are interested in measured against the application criteria.  It is important to stress that they are emphatically not tests of legal knowledge.  We will neither mark you up nor down for knowing or not knowing the names of any cases that may be relevant.  What we are looking for is your ability: (i) to identify the issues arising from the problem questions; (ii) to take a view on those issues which is backed up with logical reasons; (iii) to explain that view to us in interview analytically and clearly; (iv) to respond to and follow through the implications of the various challenges the panel will put to your view; (v) to be flexible in identifying arguments to the contrary and in advancing those arguments; and (vi) to display practical and commercial awareness.

We want all candidates to do their best at interview and our aim is always to help you to display these qualities.  We want you to enjoy the to-and-fro of the discussion with the panel, and to leave feeling you have had the chance to display yourself at your best. Displaying yourself at your best does not always mean sticking doggedly to the position you adopted when you came in.  Almost all candidates find themselves presented with new information or lines of argument at some point in an interview: the whole point of our problem questions is that any answer you give to them creates further points for discussion, prompted either by the candidates answer or by questions from the interviewer.  This reflects practice and dealing with, for example, questions from a judge.  We are interested in seeing how you respond to and adapt to the new information: whether this means adapting the line of argument to incorporate it, changing your view entirely, or explaining why the new information does not affect your view.

All our interviewers have been trained to interview fairly and properly, and this includes taking account of the whole interview.  So, taking two hypothetical candidates, a weak or nervous starter can compensate by taking on board new information and dealing with it well, and conversely, a strong starter can be undermined by failing to engage with developments during the interview.  A ‘wobble’ in the interview is not necessarily fatal.

The pupillage year

We recognise that pupillage is an inherently stressful year and, so far as possible, we strive to create an environment where pupils can perform at their best; it is that standard against which we want to assess them. Our pupil supervisors are generally drawn from the ranks of middle and senior juniors in chambers – and they remember what it was like to be in the other position.

On that basis:

  • We assess pupils for their suitability as tenants throughout their time in Chambers by means of a process of continual assessment, rather than by a separate, formal assessment procedure at the end of pupillage.
  • That continual assessment takes into account where pupils are in the year – we expect to see progression and are well aware that the first time a pupil sees a particular piece of work in say October will be very different to the work produced in April and May after the pupillage year.
  • While each supervisor will have their own methods of working, pupils are assessed against a common standard, and each supervisor gives detailed feedback on how to improve during the seat.
  • There is oversight with direct meetings with the head of the Pupillage Committee around halfway through the (pre-decision) pupillage process.
  • There is a pupil mentor, who is a junior who is not involved in the formal pupillage process, available to discuss informally and confidentiality with any pupils, as well as the more formal process to raise any issues.
  • Save in exceptional circumstances such as impending urgent hearing or perhaps during trials, there is a firm expectation that pupils will not work beyond 9am-6pm and not expected to work at weekends.
  • As part of the pupillage process we have a small number of advocacy assessments. These are however assessed on a pass/fail basis only, and are treated principally as learning exercises to give pupils a sense of the reality of early-years Chancery commercial advocacy.
  • We frequently offer tenancy to all pupils in a given year.

Prior to the tenancy decision, even though pupils are in their second six, they will not carry out work in their own right. We take the view that the complexity of our work and the breadth of our practice is such that the pupils’ focus should be on learning and experiencing chambers’ practice areas. Even after the decision, while there is likely to be the opportunity to do some of their own work, it is rare and the focus remains on exposure to our practice areas.

What award is offered?

We offer a generous pupillage award. This is reviewed annually and is intended to be in line with the highest awards available for our sector. The award for a 12-month pupillage commencing in October 2025 will be £75,000 and will be paid monthly. A proportion of the pupillage award (currently up to £30,000) can be drawn down during the BPTC year.

We pay for our pupils to attend the compulsory courses which they are required by the Bar Council to undertake.

What is the timeframe for applying and when are the interviews?

Pupillage October 2025 (please consult Pupillage Gateway for up-to-date information/deadlines)

All our interviews are carried out in person, subject to exceptional circumstances.

Number of places Up to 4

Deadline for chambers to submit adverts for pupillage on the Gateway; applicants may log in to browse vacancies 27 November 2023

Gateway submissions window opens; applicants may start, edit and submit their applications 3 January 2024, 11:59pm

Submissions window closes; no further applications or amendments to applications will be allowed 7 February 2024, 11:59pm

Shortlisting and interview period  8 February – early May 2024

Offers of pupillage made through the Gateway  10 May 2024, 9:30am

From pupil to tenant

Tenancy Offers

We regard the recruitment of exceptional pupils and junior tenants as crucial to our continuing success: for every pupillage we offer, there is a tenancy available. We aim to reach a decision about tenancy after approximately 9-10 months of pupillage. All pupils, whether or not they are offered a tenancy, are entitled to remain with us for the remainder of their pupillage on a full pupillage award. We make every effort to assist those who are not offered tenancy to find pupillage and eventually tenancy elsewhere (and have a track record of success in placing such pupils). Any money earned by pupils during their second 6 months will be in addition to the pupillage award and expense-free.

New Tenants: Financial Support

Members of Chambers share the expense of administering Chambers. For established members, contributions are based in part upon the rent of the room occupied and in part upon income received. We have a series of measures of financial support in place for new tenants:

  • In the first year of practice, tenants are not required to pay room rent and only pay general expenses on income received over £75,000.
  • In the second and third years of practice, the property element of the expenses are capped.

To assist with any financial constraints at the start of practice, junior tenants are able to draw funds in their first year against fee notes issued (up to a maximum amount of £15,000). They then have up to two years to repay this interest-free loan to Chambers.

New Tenants: Allocation of Work

In order to ensure that every new tenant has a fair start to practice, chambers’ allocation of work policies apply to pupils during their second six and all members of chambers upon starting practice. This means that both other members of chambers (including your supervisors and any potential leaders) and the staff apply fair policies in determining who is put forward for work. As a result, we are confident that all new members will have the opportunity to get their career off to a flying start.

On starting tenancy, pupils will enter the juniors team (we have four clerking teams). The senior practice manager and practice managers in the juniors team have years of experience in helping members become established.

Continuing Development

Wilberforce Chambers recognises that the need for training and support does not end with the acceptance of the offer of tenancy and the beginning of practice. We pride ourselves on providing a supportive environment in which all barristers can thrive. All junior tenants are encouraged to discuss their cases with other members of Chambers and appropriate members of staff where possible. All barristers, regardless of seniority, have regular meetings with their clerking team in order to monitor practice development and work-load.

Equal opportunities

We are committed to the promotion of equality and diversity across all aspects of our practice. Equality of opportunity is essential for the maintenance of high standards and the provision of a quality service to clients. It also ensures a harmonious working environment for members of Chambers and staff. In particular we adopt best practice equality and diversity procedures in our pupillage recruitment which involves the use of application forms, a two-tier interview process and the use of objective selection criteria in accordance with the recommendations of the Equality and Diversity Rules of the Code of Conduct. Applicants with a disability are encouraged to contact the Secretary to the Pupillage Committee in confidence if there are any reasonable adjustments that may be made in relation to their applications.

Equality And Diversity Policy

Community impact

Wilberforce maintains a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Through our Bar Access Programme we are actively involved in outreach and access initiatives to encourage and support people from diverse backgrounds in developing a career at the Bar. An important element of the Bar Access Programme is our on-going partnership with the Sutton Trust (the well-known charitable foundation whose aim is to promote social mobility) through which we support their various initiatives in the legal arena. For example, we continue to run mini-pupillage / placement programmes for their Pathways to Law pupils and Pathways Plus students and a number of our members are actively involved in a mentoring programme for Sutton Trust students.

We have also built strong relationships with the Legal Social Mobility Partnership, and the Pegasus and Bar Placement (Social Mobility Foundation) programmes and provide support to the Barristers’ Benevolent Association.

Wilberforce is recognised as a Silver Pro Bono Patron by Advocate (the pro bono charity of the Bar that finds free legal assistance from volunteer barristers). This is a reflection of the organisational support we provide Advocate to help hundreds of people achieve fair and equal access to justice.

Nicholas Luckman, our Practice Director, is a Business Board Member of Support Through Court, a charity dedicated to providing free, independent assistance to people facing proceedings without legal representation.