The Author

Elaine Freer
Elaine Freer

About this blog

Welcome to the 5PB Blog where you can find comments and thoughts on current legal topics.


This week 4 years ago I spent the week in a courtroom in Southwark Crown Court. I was a mini-pupil at 5 Paper Buildings, and shadowing Stephen Hopper as he prosecuted an internet shopping fraud. The mini-pupillage had been organised many months earlier, well before the Pupillage Gateway (then called OLPAS) had opened in April (as it used to). By fluke, I had ended up on mini-pupillage in the week which contained 2nd August – pupillage offer day. And the fluke was bigger than that – I’d had a first round, and then a final round, interview at 5 Paper Buildings. I was on a mini-pupillage with a set who might be about to turn me down on the Friday morning, and resign me to another year of pupillage applications. Luckily the case made for excellent observing, and that took my mind off the impending doom.

Thankfully, fate wasn’t that cruel. On Friday 2nd August, I was making my way to Southwark from Cambridge when the train broke down at Letchworth. However-many hundred people a commuter train to London holds at that time on a Friday morning were evicted onto the platform, and in this mayhem, I had missed my phone vibrating at 09:01. Eventually, penned like a penguin on the platform at Letchworth Garden City, I listened to my voicemail. I doubt anyone has ever been happier on that station than I was that morning.

That 4 years later I am a tenant at those chambers, and the mini-pupillage co-ordinator, rather gives away what that voicemail said. In August 2013 I was one year into a PhD looking at, amongst other things, the role of mini-pupillages in improving socio-economic diversity at the Bar. Rather by accident, mini-pupillages have become my pet subject. And so it seemed apt that, 4 years on from being on a mini-pupillage, I should write a blog post about them.

5PB was not the only mini-pupillage I did. I found them very helpful to confirm what area of law I wanted to practice in by seeing the work done in different areas. I did really enjoyable mini-pupillages with a chancery/commercial set and a public law set. But they set it clear in my mind that I wanted to be doing mainly courtroom advocacy. Similarly, a mini-pupillage with a set that solely defended in criminal cases made me realise that I wanted the chance to prosecute as well. A mini-pupillage in the Midlands, followed quickly by a London-based one, showed me that I would prefer to practise in London. I can’t begin to list all the things that I learnt from mini-pupillages, but so much of it has been useful.


  1. There are far more people who want to do mini-pupillages than there are slots available at most sets. We receive more than twice the number of applicants as we have places.
  2. Make sure you know what sort of set you are applying to. I have had letters talking about all the public law work that we do, or the amount of international work that we do. Some members of chambers do some public law-based work, and some have done international cases, but we are mainly a regulatory and criminal set. Most of the work that most members of chambers do is criminal. It risks looking like you haven’t done your research properly. Beware sending out the same cover letter to multiple sets, which is often how these errors happen
  3. Look carefully at what the set you’re applying to wants. We ask for a cover letter and CV, some sets have application forms. There are lots of tips online on how to present CVs and cover letters. University Careers’ Services can also help.
  4. Whichever format is used, make sure you include the information requested, such as preferred dates. It looks bad if you haven’t followed straightforward instructions.
  5. Put your grades on up to your most recent set of results – even if you are part-way through university it’s likely that you have some results, from coursework, mock exams, formative assessments etc. Make sure it is clear what type of assessment it was, and your mark.
  6. We look for people to have, or be on track for, a 2:1 in any subject from any university as a starting point. If you have not got a 2:1 but have mitigating circumstances then these will be considered – but you will need to state, at least briefly, what they are.

If you’re offered a mini-pupillage


  1. Follow the instructions in the letter or email containing the offer. Do they ask you to reply to confirm? If so, do!
  2. Most chambers won’t be able to tell you very far ahead of time what you will be doing – the nature of the Bar is that most counsels’ commitments change right up to the last minute. You’ll probably be told to contact someone specific the week before your mini-pupillage. Again, make sure you do.


  1. Wear dark, smart clothes. If you don’t own a suit, think what you’d wear to a formal job interview – smart and boring are usually good guides. Most people in court will be wearing black, and you shouldn’t be dressed in a way that will stand out from that.
  2. Most of life at the Bar is nothing like TV, especially the junior end. At the Criminal Bar, lots of unglamorous travelling, with a packed lunch, to the back end of beyond to wait around for a long time. Silk this is not. But it is a good way to see if these are things you are able and willing to put up with. If not, then this is probably not a career you’ll enjoy.
  3. Related to that, wear comfy shoes, and bring a bottle of water and a packed lunch! Many courts no longer have catering facilities, and some don’t have any food shops nearby.
  4. You will be expected to show a level of independence – for example, getting yourself to the right court building, courtroom and on time. These are crucial qualities for barristers. Google Maps is very helpful, and HMCTS gives the addresses of courts online. Make sure you’ve looked at train times and have a good idea of how long the journey will take.
  5. You might get chance to see the papers in the case – read them, even if the case seems boring. You will pick up how barristers write, and what certain formal documents (e.g. a indictment) look like.
  6. It sounds old fashioned, but be seen and not heard. This is a real case. It has real implications. Counsel may well need to concentrate, especially if things aren’t going as they had planned or expected (very common at the criminal bar, however well-prepared you are!)
  7. Make a good impression. Phones off in court, and no falling asleep. There’s a lot you can learn just by just watching what’s happening around you – there will always be something.
  8. Mini-pupillage is an opportunity to meet barristers and ask them questions, but not constantly, and not when they’re doing something else. Your cross-examination skills are better practised elsewhere. If you think of questions and it’s not a good time to ask, write them down and ask later.

Posted by Elaine Freer on 31 July 2017 at 17:48