Working Theory

by Michael Reed


I do employment law for the Free Representation Unit.


michael at


FRU / Outer Temple Pupillage

01 August 2013

Applications for the Outer Temple Chambers / FRU Pupillage open tomorrow.

I think it’s an exciting and brilliant scheme.

First, it’s great for FRU. Our job is to represent people who need legal help, but can’t afford to pay. The OTC / FRU Pupil will give us, in effect, a permanent volunteer for two six-month periods. They’ll be able to do a lot of cases – help a lot of people – and they’ll acquire the experience to do the longer, more complex cases that are hard to do on a voluntary basis.

Second, it is, to my knowledge, the first time a pupillage has been offered on a scholarship basis.1 It’s unconnected with a Chambers’ tenancy recruitment and paid for by a charitable donation.

It addresses, at least to some extent, the problem of the substantial number of prospective barristers who don’t complete their professional qualification, because there are so many fewer pupillages than candidates.

This is one of the more depressing elements of being FRU Legal Officer – watching hundreds of prospective barristers hurl themselves at the Pupillage Gateway and go splat. It’s nice to have the chance to do something about it.

Of course, one pupillage of this nature won’t make a significant difference to the system. And I doubt a raft of ‘Scholarship Pupils’ is a long-term solution. I’m not sure how they’d be funded. You’d almost certainly create a two-tier system of ‘proper pupils’ and ‘scholarship pupils’, which would be bad. And the reason that there aren’t more pupillages is that there isn’t a need for more tenants. So even if you increased the number of pupils you’d just move the problem slightly further down the track.

This would have some benefits – pupillage itself gives a better opportunity to select the best candidate than any pupillage selection process can. But it would also have disadvantages, by diluting the experience and supervision that can be given to the pupils and putting people through a stressful and difficult year, often without altering the end result.

However, we will provide a real benefit to the successful candidate – who will complete their professional training.2 So they will be looking for a 3rd Six – generally much easier to obtain – rather than the initial 12 months. This, I think, is a good thing, regardless of the fact we’re not fixing the underlying problem. Again, it’s also a good thing for FRU: supporting legal education is our second charitable objective.

Finally, the way in which we’re selecting for the pupillage is, as far as I know, unique.3

We won’t consider, and won’t know, anyone’s academic history or work experience. Only their experience of pro bono legal work and their performance during the selection process (two written exercises and an interview) will be taken into account.

This is interesting, because it sidesteps much of the criticism of pupillage selection methods – that it contains an unacceptable pro-Oxbridge bias and requires you to have accumulated CV gongs that are easier to obtain if you’re comfortably middle-class and supported by the public school system.

This is a complex issue for any of number of reasons. For example, I’m not convinced that the Bar, as a whole, has a significant pro-Oxbridge bias. Yes, a lot of barristers went to Oxbridge. But given that both Oxbridge and the Bar are trying to select the academically gifted, it isn’t surprising that there is a correlation.

But it’ll be interesting to see the results of our experiment.

So, in short, I’m deeply grateful to the anonymous benefactor whose donation made this possible.

It’s also worth noting, incidentally, that Outer Temple are making a substantial donation in kind to FRU and to the scholarship. They’re putting a considerable amount of work into the administration of the scheme and will put much more work in during the 6 months the pupil is with them. They’re not getting anything out of that other than good karma. So I’m extremely grateful to them too.4

  1. If anyone knows differently, I’d be very keen to hear details. 

  2. Subject to the Bar Standard Board approving the 2nd Six element of the scheme. 

  3. Again, if I’m wrong, please let me know. 

  4. Possibly tedious declaration of interest: I know and like a number of people at OTC. One of them is a good friend and close mentor. So I was generally inclined to think well of them, even before they handed me an additional caseworker on a plate. 

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