From Pupillage to Tenancy in Lockdown by Nasreen Shah

Everyday life as a barrister
September 2021

Whilst this post is about my journey from pupillage to tenancy, it is worth starting with a brief glimpse at the application process.

In 2019, I applied like most aspiring barristers to a plethora of Chambers that matched my profile and intended practice areas. It was an overwhelming process that resulted in many sleepless nights.

One of the last interviews I attended was at my Chambers and immediately I knew I wanted to be a part of this set. Personally, I find it is still rare these days to walk into a traditional legal environment such as Chambers and see the world I live in everyday represented at one table. As a mixed-race woman from a foreign jurisdiction, looking at the eight multicultural individuals sitting across from me at a big conference room table was a refreshing change. I felt at home, and I wanted to stay.

Safe to say when I was offered pupillage to start in September 2020, I couldn't contain my excitement and accepted my offer immediately. Chambers immediately made their support and commitment known. I was asked to apply to our regulator, the BSB, for a reduction in my pupillage practicing period based on my prior experience, which was granted promptly.

September 2020

My co-pupil and I started pupillage with our Chambers going virtual. It is fair to say, this was rather unexpected, but then again so was the existence of a co-pupil. We did not know of each other until invited to Chambers before officially starting our journey at the Bar. Fortunately for us, we actually like each other. Well…to date.

Our pupillage was designed to focus on Chambers’ main practice areas. We were actively involved in shaping our practical education with our supervisors. Whilst focusing on crime, we were allowed to expand our interests. I focused on family law, extradition, and certain aspects of civil law, enabling me to build a strong common law practice.

First six

During my first six, I got to shadow most members of Chambers, assisting them with their live cases and research. Though we were in lockdown, I only spent a few days out of Court those first six months. This was largely due to family or civil cases that were and still are largely conducted via video-link or telephone. In crime, the picture was a bit different. Everyone travelled from Court to Court, day by day, trying to work, survive and thrive in conditions that presented themselves.

One of my supervisors checked in with me every week to get an update on my well-being and assess my level of understanding of the cases I was working on, including the law that applied.

My other supervisor invited me to shadow him during a conspiracy to murder trial. During this trial, I observed and learnt from different Counsel. I delved into their individual approaches to their cases, and I can truly say it was one of the most educational experiences. This also was the first (and only) time I have ever seen Counsel ask a defendant to rap in the witness box. It is fair to say, I was not the only one stunned by this course of action. The jury giggled along and dare I say even the learned Judge had a smile on her face.

Second Six

First day, first win. This was my experience starting second six. Oddly enough, I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. A weight lifted off me, having waited and worked for years to achieve this moment. It was the start of a new journey. Suddenly, I was thrown into prosecuting lists and defending people from all different walks of life.

My day would usually start with reminding myself of the quickest way to get to Court. I made a conscious effort to have breakfast and meal prep so that I would not be starving being on my feet all day. Once at Court I would take the 30 mins of freedom before the storm (i.e. clients arriving or defence counsel requesting a moment) to go over my papers and ensure everything was in order.

At 10 am, I would be standing in Court, hopefully able to make a start on my cases. Sometimes this was wishful thinking as inevitably clients, complainants or witnesses were running on their own schedule; that is if they showed up or were warned to attend Court at all. I quickly learned about the usefulness of Practice Direction 24 and Picton.

At 1pm we would usually break for lunch. If I was at the same Court in the afternoon would take 30 mins to catch up with my peers and use the remaining time to go over my afternoon matters. Otherwise, I would be on my way to the next court, having a snack on the train.

Typically, I would get home around 6pm, if I’d finish at Court on time. As soon as I’d walk through the door, I’d hear a knowing ping sound. This was the email confirming my diary for the next day. I’d sit down, have dinner and mostly work until 10pm so I’d be prepared for the next day. #eat.sleep.repeat

On that note, I must say one of the most enjoyable parts of this job has been to get to know all my peers and the court staff along the way. Whilst it is no secret that the criminal justice system is broken, it is remarkable how we all try to keep the ball rolling together.

When I wasn’t busy in the Magistrates or Crown Court, I worked on family and extradition matters. With domestic violence on the rise in lockdown and international cooperation between the UK and Europe being reshaped post-Brexit, life as a practitioner presented interesting challenges…


This is the day I became my own boss and started paying for it. #Commission

My clerks combine practice and business management very effectively. The motto as I see it, is:  Maximise your profits without wasting time. Whilst this job is amazing, it is tiring, and it helps if your diary is organised in a way that enables you to balance your professional and personal commitments. If my clerks had not actively engaged with me from day one about how I want my practice to develop, whilst also having the time to work on initiatives such as Her Bar and have a balanced home life, I wouldn't have been able to share this quirky post with you, my dear reader.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog post and continue to join me on my journey ahead.

Our blog