5 Types of Questions to Expect at a Pupillage Interview
You have made it through the first culling. Out of 150 candidates, 30 now remain. The next stage will see a further 18 applications tossed onto the scrap heap, leaving just 12 hopefuls vying for those all-important pupillages. So, what is there to expect from the pupillage interview process? What type of questions will be thrown at you? The answer, rather unhelpfully, is that it depends.
The types of questions employed by chambers at the interview stage varies hugely. A criminal set, for example, is likely to focus on different types of questions compared to a commercial set. There may be little similarity between the questions asked by family law and chancery chambers. And this itself is a generalisation. Even between chambers operating in the same practice areas, the questions can vary immensely.
The good news, however, is that you can tailor your preparation to meet the types of questions that are likely to be asked by that chambers. There are roughly five types of questions of which you need to be aware. We will look at each in turn.
Pupillage Interview Question One: The Legal Problem
In this situation, you are given a fictional set of facts and questioned on the legal issues which surround them. For example, commercial sets often provide the background facts and terms of a contract and then ask questions based around the interpretation of those terms; and criminal sets frequently provide a set of facts from which the interviewee is required to make a plea in mitigation.
These types of problems tend not to assume a high degree of legal knowledge. The questions are said to test how the candidate reacts under pressure and whether they can produce logical, coherent answers. That said, a sound knowledge of the basic legal principles in play can be invaluable in a pupillage interview and should not prove too arduous to acquire if you are aiming to practice in that area anyway.
Pupillage Interview Question Two: The CV Questions
These questions arise from the information that you have included in your CV and/or application form. Since the questions are inherently personal, there is not much advice that can be given besides “know your CV inside out”. Be able to explain everything on it (and not on it) and be prepared to relate it to the chambers’ line of work.
Pupillage Interview Question Three: The Competency Questions
The ‘evidence-based’ or ‘competency’ questions are a common pitfall for interviewees. A typical question would be as follows:
“Tell us about a time where you had to work as part of a team to achieve something. What steps did you take?”
This presents an opportunity for the interviewee to give evidence of their advocacy or of some other skill which relates to being a barrister.
The best way to tackle these questions is by using the S-T-A-R method, which stands for Situation – Task – Action – Result. First, outline the situation. Give a specific and concise description of the context. Second, state the task. This means the outcome that you were trying to achieve. Third, describe that actions that you took or the contribution that you made to achieving the outcome. Fourth, state the result and what it demonstrates about you as a candidate.
It is important to stress that this is only a guide. It should not be followed to the point where it becomes wooden in the pupillage interview itself. However, this technique does provide a useful basic structure for your answer. Think of it like a skeleton argument for proving why you have the requisite skills for pupillage.
Pupillage Interview Question Four: The Debate Exercise
An example of this would be “Make the best case you can for assisted suicide”. These questions are a test of advocacy skills and whether the candidate can make a case coherently and react well when confronted with counter-arguments. Note that it is important to be flexible; after you have finished your answer, the panel will often ask you to argue for the opposite point of view.
There is no set formula for how to prepare these questions, however, two common techniques that debaters use are as follows. First, ‘stakeholder analysis’: consider the different interest groups that might be affected by the subject of the debate. Second, think about producing one economic, one social and one political argument to support your point of view. These techniques can help to give structure and clarity to your answer. Finally, an awareness of current affairs is useful as the question often arises from something that has been in the news. For example, at the time of writing, a question relating to the Charlie Gard case might well be something that an interviewer would use.
Pupillage Interview Question Five: The Ethics Problem
These questions will present you with a fictional set of facts, which include an ethical dilemma, and ask you how you would react in that scenario. The facts can vary widely but the advice remains the same: be sensible and, if in any doubt, err on the side of caution. Do not try to find some clever analysis of the situation; this is test of pragmatism.
As should now be evident, the types of pupillage interview questions and the skills tested vary significantly. It is therefore critical that you do as much research as possible on the different chambers and find out what you are likely to be asked in each interview. This will allow you to prepare effectively. Chambers’ websites and pupillage policy documents are a useful resource for this.
Words: Ravi Jackson