Me and my shadow – being a pupil supervisor

I’ve written a blog post for first six pupils which can be found here:

Recently, I wrote a blog post on second six pupillage and some on Twitter wondered what my thoughts on being a supervisor might be. Here they are. I should add that I’ve never been a pupil supervisor, but I have been a pupil to several, a line manager, mentor (yes, really) and heard about a variety of pupillage experiences and so feel able to comment in fairly short order on the advice I’d give those who take on the unenviable and sometimes thankless task of training the future stock of stars at the Bar.

I’d suggest reading my post aimed at pupils first (link above).

1. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

When I were a pupil, we had to do second six before first six, wake up before we went to bed, clean chambers with tongue, write pleadings for High Court and pay for privilege. At the end of pupillage we’d be thrashed with a birch, if we were lucky.


While I don’t diminish some of the awful things that used to take place in chambers and the way pupils were once treated, just because they were, doesn’t mean they have to be today. I don’t for a moment think that anyone reading this would actively return to such awful practices but if you hear yourself utter “Well, in my day I had to do that” then take a moment to ask yourself whether the thing in question is reasonable today? If it is, fine. If not, then it doesn’t matter that you had to do it.

2. Expectations

In my post to first six pupils I encourage them to talk to their supervisor about what they expect in terms of notes, when to talk (and equally be quiet), clarity on work you ask them to produce (more on that later) and when they should be in chambers. Make it easy for them by instigating that conversation early on. On these or any other topic you might think ‘Well it’s common sense, they should know’ but they might not, or it might not be. It’s fairly easy to forget how you acquired such knowledge and when. Spell it out clearly and accurate expectations will be set.

3. What, when and who its for

“Do it as soon as you can”, “Whenever you get time”, “It’s not important right now” “Sometime next week”. None of these are helpful to your pupil in working out when you really need them to complete a task. I’d encourage you to set each one with a clear objective of what you want, the latest you need it by and how you are going to use it. On the last point, if you are expecting something you can edit to make your own and what instead they produce is a document in a different format, nobody will be happy.

4. Make it better, not yours

While I appreciate that sometimes you’ll need to take their work and quickly edit it to make it fit what you want, what they’ll learn from that will necessarily be limited to understanding the difference between your style and theirs, legal errors aside. If you really want to help them develop and can set aside the time show them how to make their work better but still in their own hand. Pretty soon you won’t be there to edit and correct. They’ll need to stand on their own two feet and showing them how they can improve without aping will reap dividends.

5. Talk less, smile more

Okay, so I’ve used that already in the other post but it bears repeating. I have no doubt that I was an annoying pupil. I spent most of my first six wanting it to be my second six so that I could wear a wig and talk. My pupil supervisors were kind enough to sit me down and listen to all of my questions, comments and irks. They asked incisive questions to elicit my concerns and fears. I have no doubt that they made me the best pupil I could be.

Being a pupil supervisor is a tough job, but perhaps second in chambers to being a pupil. Take the initiative and ask them how they are, what they’ve learned and where they think they might have gaps which need to be filled before their second six or tenancy decision. Listen and advise or point them in the direction of someone else who can.

The overwhelming majority of pupils I speak to describe their supervisors as amazing, talented and an inspiration so I’ll leave you with this:

Keep on keeping on

Mayfield, C (1971)

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

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