Commercial Bar Scheme: Mentoring Under-Represented Applicants to the Commercial Bar 2023-24

Career Progression
May 2023

The Commercial Bar Association’s mentoring scheme for applicants from under-represented groups, including women, at the Commercial Bar.

One of the key challenges facing the Commercial Bar is ensuring that it continues to recruit the most talented future practitioners from all different backgrounds. Meeting that challenge means that the profession must take proactive steps to give the necessary support and guidance to potential pupillage applicants from traditionally under-represented groups, including women, to give them both the confidence and practical know-how to navigate entry into what to outsiders has sometimes been seen as an inaccessible profession.  

In 2020, six commercial sets came together to pioneer the first scheme dedicated to providing mentoring for potential applicants to the Commercial Bar from those under-represented groups.  That scheme was expanded in 2021 to ten sets.  Last year 2022, building upon that success, the Commercial Bar Association (“COMBAR”) 22 sets participated and after 316 people applied for a place, COMBAR was able to place just over 250 of them. The 2023-24 scheme will be launching this year from Friday 26th May 2023, 12pm until late September and is expected to be able to offer a similar number of places with 23 sets participating. It is expected that a similar Mentoring Workshop and Reception, to the one held earlier this year will be held at the beginning of 2024. Those sets have also agreed to cover reasonable travel expenses for mentees allocated to them.      

Consistent with its core aim of improving diversity, the scheme is exclusively for applicants from traditionally under-represented groups. Women have historically been under-represented at the Commercial Bar and are one of the key groups which the scheme is targeting.  Other groups falling within the ambit of the scheme include, but are not limited to:

  • black and other ethnic minority people;
  • people who attended state schools;
  • people from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds (particularly those eligible for free school meals);
  • those who were in the first generation in their family to attend university;
  • LGBTQ+ people;
  • those who spent time in care; and
  • people with disabilities.  

Candidates are required to have at least started undergraduate study and have not yet been awarded pupillage.  

Experience suggests that applicants are likely to get the most of out of the scheme if they apply early in their university career.  The sooner that a mentee is able to receive the guidance and support offered by the scheme, the earlier they can channel their focus towards improving their chances of obtaining pupillage in an ever-increasingly competitive environment.  

Eligible applicants for the scheme are assessed by reference to both their “potential to succeed” at the Bar and “need”, i.e. how much they are likely to benefit from mentoring.  

“Potential to succeed” is just that.  Applicants to the Commercial Bar must be able to demonstrate evidence of strong intellectual ability, usually by reference to academic results, but with due regard taken to context and any extenuating factors.  They must show a desire to pursue a career at the Bar, which may be by undertaking mini-pupillages or other suitable work experience, but also by reference to relevant extra-curricular activities such as debating or mooting.  Finally, applicants must have the ability to write and/or speak persuasively.  The two long form questions in the online application form gives candidates a good opportunity to demonstrate that facility. In order to obtain a place on the scheme, candidates must be considered to have realistic prospects of obtaining pupillage in due course.

In relation to “need”, assessors will have particular regard to the candidate’s educational and social background and the extent to which talented applicants may most gain from the assistance provided by the scheme.  A deliberate decision has been made to weight “potential” and “need” equally.  The intention of that is to ensure, so far as possible, that excellent candidates do not “slip through the net” because, for example, they are less familiar with or have by circumstance been unable to embark upon those steps traditionally taken by applicants for pupillage, and so might be scored less highly on other criteria.

Successful applicants will be paired with a mentor from one of the 23 participating sets.  They can expect a series of one-to-one mentoring sessions (either face-to-face or remote) during the scheme year, which runs from October 2023 to May 2024. At these mentoring sessions, it is hoped that the mentor can help demystify the profession and explain the role of the Commercial Bar, as well as give practical advice about how and when to apply for pupillage, what the profession is like on a day-to-day basis (including work-life balance), and provide some tips about what the mentee might do to strengthen any pupillage application they might make in due course.  Outside these sessions, we would encourage mentees to see their mentors as a “friendly ear” who can provide tips and guidance on issues that individuals might encounter on their path into the profession.  

COMBAR is also intending to organise a hybrid pupillage interview and application workshop, and a social event, to which all mentors and mentees will be invited, in early 2024.  This should be a great opportunity for all involved in the scheme to meet, and to allow mentors and mentees alike to swap notes so that everyone can get the most they can out of the scheme.

Participating Chambers include:

  • Blackstone Chambers
  • Brick Court Chambers
  • Devereux Chambers
  • Essex Court Chambers
  • Fountain Court Chambers
  • Gatehouse Chambers
  • Henderson Chambers
  • Keating Chambers
  • One Essex Court Chambers
  • 7 King’s Bench Walk
  • 11 King’s Bench Walk
  • Monckton Chambers
  • 4 New Square
  • 4 Pump Court
  • Radcliffe Chambers
  • Quadrant Chambers
  • Serle Court
  • 36 Stone
  • South Square
  • 2 Temple Gardens
  • Twenty Essex
  • 3 Verulam Buildings
  • XXIV Old Buildings

If you would like to apply for this scheme please visit the Combar Website. Deadline for applications is 22nd September 2023.

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