1. Support and advice for pupils

We are aware that it can be very difficult for pupils to blow the whistle when things go wrong. They are in a very vulnerable position because of the competition for pupillages and do not want to jeopardise their chances of completing theirs. Many are going through pupillage as the only pupil in the AETO, which can be isolating. We know that some pupils face difficulties with behaviour of barristers and others in the AETO, quality of their training, fair distribution of work, bullying and harassment. AETOs, pupillage committees and pupil supervisors must ensure that pupils are able to raise any concerns without fear of retribution.

This section includes some examples of good practice for AETOs to implement and provides information for pupils who are facing difficulties.

Before pupillage starts

1.1) Pupils are often recruited a long time before the start date of the pupillage. The BSB’s Supervision team has observed that, where the communication between pupil and AETO breaks down, lack of communication during this period can be an important factor. In particular, lack of timely information about the start date of the pupillage can create significant stress for pupils who are in employment and depend on the salary that it brings. It can also create logistical problems for pupils who are relocating and need to give notice on current accommodation and find somewhere new to live.


1.2) A structured induction process, with supporting information (key organisational policies and procedures) helps pupils to settle in to the AETO quickly and build effective working relationships. It should be designed to introduce pupils to key people in the organisation, explain the way that the organisation operates, the type of work that it does, how the training is organised and how pupils are assessed.

1.3) Pupils and supervisors should discuss in advance what is expected from pupils, whether they are in the AETO, in a conference, in court or carrying out legal research.

Understanding how chambers function

1.4) The way that chambers are administered varies according to size, area of practice and the extent to which information technology is used. In smaller chambers, members carry out administrative functions themselves. Pupils should learn as much as possible about chambers administration, both to build effective working relationships during pupillage and to provide insight into life as a tenant.

1.5) It is particularly important that pupils understand the role and function of barristers’ clerks. A clerk usually maintains diaries of work, liaises with courts, solicitors and other chambers, negotiates and recovers fees and promotes barristers.

1.6) Many clerks are members of the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks and have a variety of qualifications and experience. The most senior clerks will have significant responsibilities, including a strategic role in the management and development of chambers as a whole. Some chambers have practice managers or chief executives, who take on a strategic role in the management and development of chambers. Many of these are members of the Legal Practice Managers Association.

1.7) In the non-practising period, pupils should aim to develop a good working relationship with the clerks in preparation for when they are working on their own account. The clerks may also be able to let pupils know if other members of chambers, particularly the junior tenants, are appearing in any cases that the pupil supervisor thinks would be useful for a pupil to attend. The clerks should be kept informed of pupils’ movements if they need to leave chambers and be provided with contact numbers in case they need to get in touch with pupils outside office hours. Pupils must also let the clerks, as well as their supervisor, know if they are not able to come into chambers for any reason.

1.8) During the practising period, pupils will need to establish whether they are required to pay clerks’ fees. Chambers vary in their requirements, but pupils must be clearly informed whether or not clerks’ fees are payable and, if so, on what basis, before they receive any instructions on their own account. Pupils may also be required to contribute towards photocopying and other administrative costs, but they should not be asked to pay any rent.

1.9) The Equality and Diversity Rules of the Code of Conduct require that the allocation of unassigned work is monitored and that pupils are given fair and equal access to the opportunities available in chambers.

1.10) It is vital during this period of pupillage that pupils keep clerks informed of their whereabouts and also warn them of any commitments that may affect their availability.

Understanding the organisation in the Employed Bar

1.11) The way AETOs in the employed bar operate will vary enormously, according to size, organisation structure and area of practice. Pupils should learn as much as possible about the organisation, both to build effective working relationships during pupillage and to provide insight into life as an employee after pupillage.

Good practice

It can be helpful for pupils at the employed Bar to have a period of secondment to a chambers where they can learn how chambers operate. Appropriate arrangements should be agreed in advance, as set out in Part 2 (C5) of the Bar Qualification Manual.

Gaining adequate experience during pupillage

1.12) The purpose of pupillage is to provide work-based training in legal work under supervision, as set out in the Curriculum and Assessment Strategy, in order to demonstrate (as a minimum) the competences to the threshold standard in the Professional Statement. The imposition of unskilled work on pupils is inappropriate (eg excessive photocopying, running shopping errands).  Requiring pupils to carry out work as a paralegal where there is insufficient focus on meeting the competences in the Professional Statement undermines the purpose of pupillage.

The role of the pupil supervisor during the practising period of pupillage

1.13) Although pupils will do work of their own during the practising period, this is still part of pupillage training.

1.14) Before doing a case of their own, pupils should consult with their pupil supervisor for advice and guidance and the pupil supervisor should provide an opportunity for discussion afterwards. Supervisors should make time available to observe their pupils’ performance in court. This will assist both the supervisor and pupil to identify strengths and weaknesses in their competences.

1.15) When not undertaking their own work, pupils will be expected to attend court or conferences with their pupil supervisor and continue to assist with their paperwork as part of training.

Advocacy competences

1.16) If pupils are undertaking pupillage in AETOs with limited opportunities to take on advocacy work of their own, the AETO should ensure that the pupillage training programme is designed to enable pupils to meet the relevant competences in the Professional Statement. AETOs should be clear how sufficient practical experience of advocacy can be otherwise obtained, eg through a placement at a chambers or other organisation, or undertaking pro bono work.

Appraisal and feedback

1.17) Appraisal and feedback mechanisms (see Part 2C (C5) of the Bar Qualification Manual) should be a two-way process that provides pupils with the opportunity to flag any difficulties or concerns with their progress, their work, the supervision they are getting or relationships with others in the AETO. They should provide the opportunity for the pupil and pupil supervisor to work together to address them.

Policies and sources of help and information within AETOs

1.18) While the pupil supervisor should provide appropriate advice, support and guidance, and do all that they can to ensure that pupils feel comfortable to reflect openly about their progress or any issues that are worrying them, the reality is that, for a range of reasons, pupils do not always feel comfortable to do so. This may be because the pupil is worried that it could jeopardise their supervisor signing off their pupillage, or it may be that the pupil has concerns about the quality of their training.

1.19) AETOs should establish policies and processes that enable pupils to approach others in the event that the pupil feels unable to deal with problems by raising them with their supervisor. This might include:

  • Providing routine opportunities to speak to nominated officers such as the Head of Pupillage, the Head of Chambers, the Equality and Diversity Officer, the Human Resources department or others in the AETO.
  • Enabling pupils to provide feedback about their training to the AETO in a safe environment.
  • Mentoring or buddy arrangements with a recently qualified barrister with whom the pupil may feel more comfortable discussing their day-to-day concerns.
  • Organisation-wide acceptable behaviour policies that extend to social events.

Grievances and harassment

1.20) The BSB requires AETOs to have a number of key policies and processes in place to ensure transparency and fair treatment of pupils, and to provide mechanisms to resolve problems promptly. The policies and procedures should be provided to pupils with the written agreement (see Part 2C (C2) of the Bar Qualification Manual) and explained to the pupils at the beginning of the pupillage. The grievance procedure should set out clearly what needs to be done in order to invoke the procedure and how the procedure operates. The method of final appeal should be identified in the grievance procedure. The overarching aim should be to resolve grievances both fairly and on a timely basis, through discussion, at the point at which they occur.

Authorisation Framework

Indicator 46.8 requires all AETOs to have in place grievance policies and procedures.

BSB Handbook

Rule C110j says that chambers and BSB entities must have a written anti-harassment policy which, as a minimum:

i states that harassment will not be tolerated or condoned and that managers, employees, members of chambers, pupils and others temporarily in your chambers or BSB authorised body such as mini-pupils have a right to complain if it occurs;

ii sets out how the policy will be communicated;

iii sets out the procedure for dealing with complaints of harassment.

Rule C110m says that chambers or BSB entity must have a reasonable adjustments policy aimed at supporting its workforce (including pupils).

Guidance C151 says that these rules are supplemented by the BSB’s Supporting Information on the BSB Handbook Equality Rules (”the Supporting Information”):

https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/about-bar-standards-board/equality-and-diversity/equality-and-diversity-rules-of-the-bsb-handbook/. These describe the legal and regulatory requirements relating to equality and diversity and provide guidance on how they should be applied in chambers and BSB authorised bodies.

Guidance C151 says that the Supporting Information is also relevant to all pupil supervisors and AETOs. These will be expected to show how they comply with the Supporting Information as a condition of authorisation.

Changing pupil supervisor

1.21) It is important that, if a pupil/supervisor relationship is not working well, the AETO recognises this and puts alternative arrangements in place.

Moving to another AETO

1.22) AETOs should do all that they can to enable a pupil to complete their pupillage at the AETO. However, there are circumstances when the relationship between the AETO and the pupil breaks down irretrievably, or an AETO closes unexpectedly or is otherwise unable to complete the pupillage.

1.23) If the relationship between pupil and AETO breaks down to the extent that the pupil decides to leave, both the AETO and the pupil should contact the BSB’s Supervision team by email to supervision@barstandardsboard.org.uk. The Supervision team will, in most cases, carry out a review of the standards of training at the AETO.

1.24) If the AETO closes unexpectedly, the AETO should contact the BSB’s Supervision team by email to supervision@barstandardsboard.org.uk. In these circumstances, the BSB expects that the AETO will do all it can to find another AETO where the pupil(s) can complete their training. If pupils have any concerns, they can also contact the Supervision team.

1.25) The BSB’s Authorisations Team will usually support pupils who want (as a last resort) or need (due to AETO closure) to move to another AETO to complete their pupillage, by agreeing a waiver (for the AETO taking on the pupil) from the requirement to advertise the pupillage.

1.26) The Pupil and AETO should report the change in circumstances to the BSB's Authorisations Team.

Working hours, holidays, and sick leave

1.27) The European Working Time Directive applies to pupils at the employed Bar. It has not been established that it applies to the self-employed Bar but it may be taken as a guide to good practice, at least in relation to holidays (eg pupils should normally be entitled to a minimum of four weeks’ leave per annum, ie 20 working days not including Bank Holidays).

1.28) It is for the AETO and pupil supervisor to determine the impact of longer periods of leave (for example due to illness or bereavement) on the training programme and whether the period of pupillage should be extended to enable the pupil to meet the competences in the Professional Statement.

1.29) If the pupillage is to be extended, the AETO must notify the BSB of the new date that the pupil will be completing pupillage by completing the Notification of material change in pupillage form.

1.30) Where pupillage is extended, the supervisor must set clear and measurable objectives as to what is expected of the pupil during the extended period.

1.31) Pupils must apply to the BSB for dispensation if they need to take a substantial break from pupillage and extending the pupillage would not be appropriate in the circumstances.

1.32) Maternity/paternity leave arrangements should follow the AETO’s parental leave policy and individual parental leave arrangements should be discussed with the AETO.

Other sources of help for pupils

1.33) We expect all AETOs to have grievance procedures in place for pupils so that problems can be resolved quickly and fairly in-house. But we recognise that pupils are in a vulnerable position and there are occasions when pupils may prefer to discuss their concern with someone who is unconnected with their AETO. If problems are so serious that they cannot be resolved internally, the following sources of help and advice are available:

Pupils’ Helpline at the Bar Council

The Pupils' Helpline provides confidential advice and support to pupils. The Bar Council has established a panel of advisers to offer pupils a confidential and objective advice service. All of the advisers are barristers of at least five years' call who have received training from the Bar Council. Contact can be made, anonymously if wished, by email or telephone.

The Bar Council Equality & Diversity Helpline

The Bar Council offers a confidential equality and diversity helpline to all pupils and members of the Bar about any equality and diversity, parental leave or  bullying and harassment issue.

The Inns of Court

Pupils can also approach the Education Officer in the pupil’s Inn of Court.

LawCare Helpline

LawCare is a free and completely confidential advisory service to help lawyers, their immediate families and their staff to deal with the health issues and related emotional difficulties that can result from a stressful career in the law.

LawCare offer the opportunity for you to discuss problems which are interfering with, or have the potential to interfere with, your work performance and/or your family life and to seek help in resolving these problems.

Contact LawCare on 0800 279 6888.

Wellbeing at the Bar Website

The Bar’s Wellbeing website offers advice, guidance and a range of contacts on a range of specific issues relating to mental health and wellbeing at the Bar, including support for students and pupils.


Where internal discussion and mediation is not successful, a pupil can report their concern to the BSB

  1. Pupils who want to report a concern about their training to the BSB should use the online reporting form. However, we recognise pupils do not always feel comfortable doing this and prefer to speak to someone first. If so, they can call the BSB. Either way, the report will be taken by a member of the Contact and Assessment Team who will talk through the concern and explain what will happen next.
  2. In most cases, the report will be referred to the Supervision Team, but if the concern involves serious harassment or bullying, it is likely to be referred to the Investigations and Enforcement Team (I&E). If that happens, the pupil will have a named person in the I&E Team who will keep them informed about what is happening and when. It is likely that a referral will be made to the Supervision Team at the same time, so that a review of policies and processes in the AETO and the suitability of the AETO to continue to take pupils can proceed, as appropriate, alongside or after any enforcement action. The two teams communicate with each other when this happens so that respective roles and responsibilities are clear.
  3. In most cases, pupils’ concerns are referred to the Supervision Team. We take all concerns very seriously and will always follow up with the pupil who has made the report to get more information and to decide what steps to take and when. We might speak with pupils over the phone, via video conference or meet them in person. This will depend on the nature of the report, where the pupil is based and what would be most convenient for them. The first reason for contacting the pupil is to discuss in more detail what they have reported, for us to gain a more thorough understanding of the issues. The second is to ascertain their current position in the AETO and whether they have any concerns about us contacting the AETO.
  4. If, exceptionally, the pupil is transferring their pupillage to another AETO, we will usually wait until that has happened before contacting the AETO because we recognise that this can be a very stressful time. We will always try to ensure that the timing of any action best suits the pupil. For example, depending on the circumstances, we can agree to delay taking any steps until the pupil has concluded their pupillage, although this will depend, too, on our assessment of risk.
  5. Some pupils wish to remain anonymous but, given the number of pupils that most AETOs take, it is very likely that the AETO will guess who has contacted us. Our approach is usually to focus on the key issues rather than the individuals when we speak to the AETO, with the aim of ensuring that a high standard of training is available for future pupils or robust policies are put in place.