Working Theory

by Michael Reed


I do employment law for the Free Representation Unit.


michael at


A Guide to FRU for pupillage applications

18 March 2013

Since the Pupillage Gateway went live recently, I though some brief advice about FRU and pupillage might be useful – for both applicants and chambers.

For Applicants

FRU work really is an asset. Especially if you a) do a reasonable amount and b) deploy it effectively.1

You do need do a reasonable amount of FRU work in order to get a real benefit. Most volunteers do one case. I doubt that this is much use, in career terms. Lots of people have done the same. It’s inherently less impressive than doing five cases, or ten. It means that you won’t have done the more difficult (and therefore more impressive cases). And it gives you less anecdotal material to draw on.

If you really want FRU to make a difference to your chance of getting pupillage, you should start early, do as many cases as possible and try to tick the obvious boxes – do both Social Security and Employment, do some longer cases and do some appeal cases.

Having done that, to use your experience effectively you need to do two things. First, make it clear what you’ve done. About 500 people volunteer for FRU every year – and most of them are aspiring barristers. ‘I’ve done FRU’ doesn’t mark you out as anything special. Having done the work and ticked the boxes, make sure you put that across.

Second, you should probably use your FRU experience to deal with the questions on the Gateway Application and at interview. It’s probably the closest you’ve come to doing the job that you’re applying for. So referring to your FRU experience is a good way of answering questions like: Why do you believe you will make a good barrister? or Identify any experiences / skills gained that you believe may help you in your career.2 Answer such questions by specific reference to what you’ve done. This is much more effective than a terse reference to the fact you’ve volunteered or a disconnected, general answer.

Finally, for goodness’ sake, don’t say you’re a FRU volunteer if all you’ve done is attend the training day (or even passed the test). It’s not true – we don’t count you as a volunteer until you’ve represented a client. Anyway, barristers tend not to be idiots. Someone will ask you what you’ve done. They’ll be singularly unimpressed if you have to say you’ve just listened to lectures for a few hours. And you’ll be worse off than if you never mentioned FRU.

For Chambers

Since a lot of candidates will be referring to FRU as part of their application, it might be useful to bear in mind:

  1. FRU trains many more volunteers than actually do any cases. Each year around 1,600 people attend one of our training courses. About 500 people do a case each year.

  2. Part of the reason for that drop off is that we assess potential volunteers before allowing them to do a case. The primary mechanism for that is that, after the training, they complete a test of statutory interpretation. Roughly two-thirds pass.

  3. Most volunteers do one or two cases. Anyone who has done more than than three is unusual. Only a tiny proportion get into double figures.

  4. Volunteers do everything on a case. So if someone has put down that they appeared in a number of EAT cases, they really have done the preparatory work, written the skeleton and stood up in court. They’ll have had some help (that’s what I’m there for) but ultimately it was their case.

  5. If you ask, we will confirm whether or not someone is a volunteer and what cases they’ve done. We don’t normally give people detailed references, though – there are too many volunteers for that to be practical.

  1. Being a Legal Officer at FRU, I would say that. But I’ve checked it with a number of barristers who sit on pupillage committees. 

  2. But don’t overdo it. If you start every answer with ‘When I volunteered at FRU…’ something is wrong. 

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