Atkin Chambers has revamped its graduate recruitment process, exiting the Pupillage Gateway system and offering its pupils £72,500 from 2016 – the highest award at the Bar.
The construction-focused chambers takes two or three pupils every year, and previously offered a pupillage award of £60,000, of which £15,000 could be drawn down for the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).
The 21 per cent rise to £72,500 allows for £25,000 to be taken for the BPTC year, more than covering the full cost of the course fees, which now exceed £18,500 at some providers.
The move also puts Atkin out on its own as the chambers that offers the Bar’s highest pupillage award, outstripping the previous highest award, the £67,500 given out by 2 Temple Gardens.
As part of a wider overhaul of the rest of its recruitment process, Atkin has quit the Pupillage Gateway application system in favour of its own timescale. The application deadline for its October 2016 pupillages will be 18 December 2015.
“We have no grudge against the Gateway, but we thought it hampered us given where we stand in the market,” pupillage committee member Fiona Parkin QC told Lawyer 2B, explaining that students can only pick 12 chambers and the type of graduates Atkin is looking for will all select the same nine or ten top commercial sets straight away. That only leaves a couple of spaces in their Gateway application free for slightly more specialist chambers meaning that Atkin, a set with a strong specialism in construction, energy and technology-related work, can get squeezed out.
As part of the recruitment revamp, Atkin will only ask applicants to provide a CV and covering letter. “Some other sets have a complicated application form: we don’t think that assisted us in discriminating between candidates,” Parkin said. The set has also moved from a single interview to a two-stage process. The first part is a “blind date approach” in which candidates are given two or three minutes to put together a presentation on a topical subject, then given 10 minutes to argue it. In the second part students are set an advocacy problem and given time to construct a skeleton argument.
Atkin has also attempted to “take the subjectivity out of pupillage” by introducing regular standardised written exercises throughout the year and has given the pupillage committee much greater oversight of pupils’ activity rather than leaving it to the discretion of individual supervisors.
Meanwhile, two other sets have also increased their pupillage awards. One Essex Court, 7 King’s Bench Walk and Essex Court Chambers have both moved from £60,000 to £65,000. Stone Chambers now also offers pupils £65,000.
The number of first-six pupillages fell below 400 for the first time in decades last year, dropping to 397. The number spiked during 2012/13 due to regulatory reasons, before which it had hovered around 430 in recent years.