Life as a pupil – by Caroline Greenfield

1st Dec 2020

In this article Caroline Greenfield discusses what a non-practising second six, Panel Work and, having a certain number of supervisors translates into as your day-to-day life as a pupil at Atkin Chambers.

Caroline joined Atkin Chambers as a tenant in September 2019, following the successful completion of her pupillage. Caroline read law at Oxford before undertaking the BCL, and then completed the BPTC at BPP Law School.

Overview of pupillage at Atkin Chambers

Pupils at Atkin Chambers undertake three separate seats and have the opportunity to work with a different pupil supervisor in each seat.

  • The first six months comprises two three-month seats. After this there is a six-month review with the Pupillage and Recruitment Committee.
  • Pupils then sit with one supervisor for the remaining six months of pupillage.
  • Chambers provides each pupil with a QC mentor throughout the course of pupillage.
  • Pupils will produce pleadings, advices and other relevant documents arising out of the preparation and management of disputes tried in various types of dispute resolution forums, mainly for their pupil supervisors but also occasionally for other members of chambers.
  • Atkin Chambers funds the compulsory continuing education courses which pupils are required to undertake as part of their pupillage.

The supervisor system within pupillage

Across your pupillage year at Atkin you spend time with 3-4 different pupil supervisors. Based in each supervisor’s room, you get thrown into their practice and help on urgent applications, attend court hearings, and sit in on a range of calls with clients, instructing solicitors and experts. At the same time, you tackle historic or ‘dead’ sets of papers which your supervisors have collected over the years to make sure you see the full range of legal submissions a junior tenant might be asked to draft and common areas of law that feature in practice. The fact that you will do several pieces of work for your supervisor means the pressure on each piece is manageable and there is always another opportunity to show improvement. That takes the pressure off and gives you the confidence to take risks and feel that you have time to learn from your supervisor. It also gives you time to build a relationship which will last into junior practice and beyond. You often hear QCs fondly referring to your own supervisor as their former pupils. In that sense, your supervisor is your gatekeeper, making sure that you get an all-rounded training and are not treated as a general resource for chambers as a whole.

That said, there is a real ‘it takes a village’ atmosphere in Chambers. I remember members popping their head round the door to say they were going to the Court of Appeal so would the pupils like the skeletons, and more junior members approached my supervisors over the year with skeletons or advices they thought raised interesting points for a pupil. You therefore get to see the to see an exciting range of things happening across Chambers more widely. On a day-to-day basis, pupils come in at around 8.30am and leave at 6.30pm. There is not a face time culture and on one occasion when I was still in the building at 7.30pm, a member of Chambers down the corridor said, ‘pace yourself, it’s a long year and there is no need to be here all the time’.

The three advocacy exercises

The only thing that interrupts that routine with your supervisor are the three advocacy exercises and panel work.

The advocacy exercises happen every three months, normally around the time that you change supervisor. Each exercise is effectively a moot against your co-pupil and a good opportunity to learn how to translate ‘mooting’ advocacy into courtroom advocacy. You are given one week to look at the papers before ‘appearing’ before a judicial member of chambers with other members watching. That sounds daunting but the emphasis, particularly in the first two exercises, is on learning and feedback. It’s also a chance to get up and show members of chambers that you can stand on your own two feet and take a judge with you through a particular problem. Given that Atkin Chambers has a non-practising second-six, these exercises ultimately become a confidence boost when you do start going to court because you have three court-like experiences to draw on.

Panel Work at the end of pupillage

The final and distinctive aspect to pupillage at Atkin Chambers is the Panel Work. At the end of the year, pupils are given 4-5 pieces of work from members of chambers who have not supervised them to complete over 3-4 weeks. It is completely up to you when you do the work in that time frame and at the end of the period you send the work to each member of chambers (together, the Panel). Finally, you are given a whole week to complete a particularly thorny set of papers called the ‘test paper’ which is then read by the wider pupillage committee.

I always thought of this process as equivalent to sitting exams after a year of learning the syllabus. Your essay plans are the pieces of work you have done and received feedback on over the year and you are being tested at the point in the year when you know the most because you have had ten months’ of supervision and learning. The process is fair and transparent and, although you do not know what the questions are going to be, you have a general sense of format and what you need to do to pass. Finally, like the camaraderie between teacher and students during an exam period, members of Chambers make a particular effort to check in with the pupils during panel work to recall their own experiences and wish you good luck.

The social side to Atkin Chambers

Atkin Chambers is a supportive and friendly place to be a pupil. You are encouraged to attend the daily ritual of afternoon tea a few times a week which is a relaxed way to meet members of chambers, hear war stories and work your way through Atkin’s enviable biscuit spread. Every month everyone who works in the building is invited to Chambers’ lunch which is always lively and well attended. The benefit of a smaller chambers is that by the end of the year through afternoon teas and monthly lunches, you will have had a conversation with most members.

The junior tenants treat the pupils to a welcome meal and informal lunches throughout the year. These are good opportunities to hear about junior practice and receive tips and encouragement for pupillage.


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