`Entry to the independent bar is extremely competitive. But the Access to Justice Act aimed to open up opportunities by allowing those who are rejected from pupillages at the independent bar to do their full 12 months in employment.`However, Hammond Suddards Edge is the only law firm in England to take up this opportunity.`The new rules allow pupils to do their two six-month pupillages in employment. Previously, trainees hoping to become employed barristers had to spend six months in chambers and six months in a firm.`The two companies carrying out pupillage training are GlaxoSmithKline and Sun Life & Provincial Holdings. Cardiff-based 59-partner law firm Hugh James Ford Simey has also signed up, as have government bodies including the Department of Social Security, Inland Revenue, Customs & Excise, the Treasury Solicitor and the Crown Prosecution Service’s Cleveland, north London and Norfolk offices.`Patrick Walker, an employed barrister and director of advocacy at Hammonds, said: “We had hoped the Access to Justice Act would open doors to whole new platforms for pupillages. In London many of the pupillages are not resulting in tenancy so they would be looking for positions in the employed bar. The whole point about opening up pupillages outside chambers is to increase the number of pupillages.”`To be registered, firms need to have a pupil master with six years call and a solicitor or barrister who has been practising for at least three years.`Bruce Houlder QC, speaking on behalf of the Bar Council, said: “Widening training opportunities for young barristers must always be seen as a positive step. No one would expect training in a company to be the best form of training for the kind of work that has to be done by a barrister who wishes to make court room advocacy his career. There are, however, much wider opportunities for barristers than just being advocates.”
Only one firm of solicitors in England and just two private companies in the UK have been authorised to carry out pupillage training, two years after legislation was introduced to widen training provision to outside chambers.