Both the army and Bar require new recruits to get kitted out when they join. Unlike the army, the Bar requires you to collect that kit yourself. The unique nature of the profession can make this a daunting and expensive task.
Here are some tips on the basic items you will need for pupillage:
1. A bag – obviously. Barristers carry a lot of stuff around. People at the Bar manage with wheelie bags, holdalls and rucksacks. It’s entirely a matter of preference. Generally, you are looking for a sweet spot between something light, durable, smart (if you care) and easy to carry. Ultimately you need a bag you can mistreat for years that will not cause your spine to compact. If money is tight, as it usually is at the start of pupillage, you can spend a modest amount finding something serviceable and trying out different options. When your earnings are better, you can spend a little more on something that will last longer and suits your needs perfectly. Alternatively you can blow your scholarship fund on a holdall that lasts you your whole career.
2. A laptop – some people manage with a tablet and a desktop at home, but realistically as a pupil on the go, a laptop will serve you better. Operating systems are like cults that people sign up to and stay with their whole lives. The Ministry of Justice appears to have aligned themselves to Microsoft with court technology such as Clickshare working best with that system. That said, many at the Bar have Apple computers and manage perfectly well.
3. A wig and gown – if you are a civil practitioner, you may never use them, but why did you become a barrister if not to swish around in court garb? If you are a criminal practitioner, you will use them every day. Most of you will buy a wig tin because it’s a nice thing to have, most of you will also never use it because it’s too heavy and bulky to lug around court. You will find a decent sized Tupperware box or lunchbox does the same job for a fraction of the price. I used to keep my wig in a Spiderman lunchbox my mum bought me.
4. Court attire – as the founder of a legal outfitters I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t advise you to purchase at least two of everything in the Ivy & Normanton range. As a regular court attendee with a shred of conscience, I will pass on the advice of my friend who got pupillage two years ahead of me – buy five black, long-sleeved cotton tops for the winter (I get mine from H&M and Uniqlo) and a few collarettes to start with. These will serve you as you run from court to court and need something easy to wash and thrown on. You can also ignore this advice and just buy some nice shirts and blouses to suit your budget.
The I&N Collarette is great for when you are wearing trousers or a skirt with a suit jacket as the strings stop it riding up. The Classic Collarette is better worn with a dress and a suit jacket as it doesn't have strings and you can just tuck it into your dress. If you buy the I&N Collarette and like the poppers at the top but don't like the strings you can simply cut them off (we really don't mind.) I would buy two I&N Collarettes, a patterned and a plain one, and a Classic Collarette to start with.
I also have a couple of thin jumpers from Zara that can be worn with my long-sleeved top under a suit jacket and help me stay reasonably warm in court throughout the winter. In the summer I often wear white or black cotton T-shirts or blouses from Zara or H&M with a collarette. When I want to look particularly smart for a conference or a higher court, I wear a shirt and bands. I like our wing-collar shirt with the tuxedo front best.
If you don’t want to wear collarettes (and there is no reason you should) it is entirely appropriate for you, as a pupil, to opt to wear shirts instead. You are a member of the Bar so wear the court attire you are comfortable in
5. A Suit – women usually wear plain black or dark grey and men often wear dark navy or grey. Nobody wears a bright pink suit, so if you were inspired to join the legal profession because of Legally Blonde you were grossly misinformed. If you cannot find a suit you like, many women at the Bar buy separates i.e. bottoms from one place and a jacket from another. As long as they are the same colour it should be fine. I like to brighten my suit with a smart brooch or scarf outside court. Ivy & Normanton have collaborated with some fantastic craftspeople in our I&N Marketplace. Check out our collections for unique scarves and brooches.
Women do not have to wear skirts or dresses to court or in chambers. If your chambers suggests you should, then complete your pupillage and do a third six somewhere more progressive.
6. Shoes – black and reasonably smart. You don’t have to wear high heels (see above for any chambers that suggests you should). You do have to be able to walk in them and run back and forth from the cells or the negotiating table. It is entirely appropriate to have a separate pair of trainers for racing to court.
7. Legal texts – Hopefully your chambers will give you access to digital copies online as part of your membership. If you have to pay for them yourself learn to live with the digital subscription. In recent years the Bar has made a huge move away from paper and it will get you off to a good start and save your back if you are able to travel as lightly as possible.
8. Stationary – Legal pads and biros can usually be pilfered from chambers’ store cupboard. Expensive pens are nice if you can afford them and can trust yourself not to lose them while dashing around court. I cannot be trusted which is why I carry six biros at a time.
A phone charger and battery pack- You will be relying heavily on your phone and need to keep it alive constantly.
A bag for keeping your wires, charger etc - Not essential but it will keep your bag tidy and you will be grateful you got it.
A sewing kit – or at least a few safety pins at the bottom of your bag would help. Wardrobe malfunctions will happen to Every. Single. One of you.
Hand sanitiser – covid has not gone away and your clients will not all have washed their hands before shaking yours.
A water bottle – it's important to stay hydrated and no one really knows how long the court water jugs have been left out for.
Plasters - for blisters when your new brogues start to rub on the journey to the station.
How do you afford it?
All of the above can be extremely expensive so it's worth exploring what options for funding, second-hand items, and spread cost are open to you.
Most of the Inns of Court have a hardship fund for students and pupils. You can apply to this confidentially, but keep in mind you may need to rely on that fund at some point during your pupillage and it is unlikely they will give you money twice.
Some companies and organisations offer schemes to redistribute second-hand items useful to new pupils. Ivy & Normanton redistribute junior gowns donated by Queens Counsel and have upcoming plans to redistribute other items including suits. You can join our mailing list to receive information on when these events are held. You can also find second hand books and practitioner texts online, but make sure they are not too old as you don't want to be applying the wrong law. The Bar Benevolent Association provides financial support to barristers in need or distress. They also receive donations of practitioner attire from time to time, so you can contact them to ask for funding or if they have any second-hand legal attire available.
You can also look online on sites such as Ebay, for second-hand suits and good quality bags that would be expensive new.
To help spread the cost of your pupillage, ask your chambers if they require you to obtain a wig and gown straight away. Some may not need you to wear court attire before your second-six, which means you can spread the cost of your new purchases making them more manageable.
If your chambers require you to wear your wig and gown from the outset, then ask if chambers might be willing to grant you an advance on your pupillage award which can be deducted monthly at a manageable rate thereafter.
Karlia Lykourgou was called in 2013 and specialises in criminal defence and professional discipline. She is a member of Doughty Street Chambers where she sits on the pupillage committee. She is also the founder of Ivy & Normanton.