Several barristers’ chambers have decided to postpone mini-pupillage schemes, as they operate on a co-location working basis due to coronavirus.

Among the chambers to have put pupillage work experience on hold are One Essex Court, 7KBW, 3VB and Brick Court. Meanwhile, Blackstone has taken steps to undertake them remotely.

A mini-pupillage gives future barristers a taste of the Bar and an idea of how chambers operate. They are the Bar’s equivalent of an internship or vacation scheme and usually are between one to five days. Most are short and unassessed, so sets are usually able to offer between a dozen and several dozen mini-pupillages a year.

Most sets state that mini-pupillages are intended for those who have already studied some law modules – and for those usually in the second year of law school and above.

Students from Singapore were meant to undertake mini-pupillages at Fountain Court, but this has also been placed on hold. One Essex Court, 7KBW, 3VB and Brick Court have all told The Lawyer that they have taken the tough decision to postpone their schemes.

Students undertaking mini-pupillages at Blackstone Chambers will work remotely. The set requires anyone who wants to apply for a pupillage to undertake a mini-pupilage and with applications currently in the interview stage, Blackstone will continue to work with interested candidates on a remote basis.

Blackstone’s deputy chambers director Mat Swallow said: “We have for a long time recognised the importance of mini-pupillages as an integral – and compulsory – component of our pupillage recruitment programme. This period of work experience is hugely beneficial, both in terms of attracting the best candidates – providing an opportunity to meet and spend time with the people who work here – and to allow those candidates to shine in a way that might not be demonstrated in a CV.

“Given that it is such an integral part of our pupillage recruitment, we were extremely reluctant to postpone or cancel any of this year’s batch of mini-pupils because of coronavirus. We might typically have 50 to 60 mini-pupils per year, each normally spending at least three days in chambers, plus two days allocated to complete a set piece of work from home.

“When the Covid-19 crisis hit we were well over halfway through the programme and initially sought simply to reduce the time spent in chambers from three days to one, with the other two days managed virtually.

“This became impossible following the most recent guidance, so the remaining mini-pupillages are now being conducted wholly remotely. This revised process began this week, and the early feedback has been positive – and we are confident will not impair the ability of the supervisors to assess a candidate’s performance.”

Mini-pupils are required to keep in regular contact with their supervisors and stick to formal working structures.

The majority of chambers are operating on a co-location basis – with half of the staff working from home and the rest working in chambers, with staff swapping over weekly. The Lawyer understands that members are working from home unless they have a hearing.

This is the latest area to be affected by coronavirus – with The Lawyer reporting yesterday that the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal would be closing on March 23.

While the civil courts are still open for business, jury trials have been put on hold. Law firms are also grappling with the issue of how to continue operating despite the quick spread of the virus, with some having already closed their premises. Last week, Taylor Wessing closed its London office after a member off staff tested positive.

Baker McKenzie was the first firm to close its office in London on February 28, in response to a person returning from Northern Italy – one of the worst affected areas in Europe. Its office reopened on March 2.

Other firms to have closed offices include Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, which shut in New York after a partner tested positive for COVID-19.

Clayton Utz closed its Sydney office on March 5, when an employee told the firm his wife was a family member of an elderly lady who died of COVID-19 earlier this week in Sydney. The member of staff and his wife tested negative and the firm reopened its office.

KWM also closed its 800-staff Sydney office due to a suspected case.

Click here for all the latest developments on what firms are doing in response to the coronavirus spread.

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