We sent one of our contributors, Anjali, to a recent event advising aspiring barristers on how to land a pupillage. Read on for her five key takeaways!
This event was made up of a Q&A panel session with pupils and barristers alike practicing in family, crime and commercial law. After this, attendees were able to benefit from the wisdom of a professor and barrister, who having worked in the chancery division, was in an ideal position to give us his top tips on how to land a pupillage. Below are the top five things that you should consider when applying for pupillage:
Mini pupillages are effective ways of being able to ascertain which area of law you may wish to practice in, whether becoming a barrister is the right route for you and also helps you to perhaps distinguish which chambers is the best fit for you too. So far, it appears that minis are extremely helpful on a personal basis when it comes to decision-making about your career. But how many mini pupillages should you complete? Does it matter what you do during your time at chambers?
You may have completed three mini pupillages at this stage, or perhaps 10. Regardless of if that number is high or low, the mini pupillage experiences that go on your application should be relevant and reflective of your interests in the chambers you apply to.
You should have completed enough mini pupillages to answer the following questions:
It is recommended that you consider doing four mini pupillages, but how might you decide which ones are best for you?
One should be in an area you aren’t so keen on. This could either help you confirm that you’re not a huge fan, or change your mind entirely! You should complete two mini pupillages in an area you are confident in, somewhere you think your expertise lie and somewhere you will prosper based on genuine interest and drive. Finally, you should complete one in an area that interests you but that you may not quite know enough about.
The better the grades, the smoother the journey will be. However, which grades matter and how much do they matter if you want to be a barrister? Admittedly, becoming a barrister requires consistently high academic achievement. You will find some chambers almost always appear to hire those with a 1st. However, in terms of official requirements, most chambers will require a 2:1. Furthermore, it is preferable that students show a consistent record of high achievement at GCSE but especially at A-level.
This doesn’t mean that if you haven’t achieved perfect grades you will not gain a pupillage. Importantly, grades do not make the person, if you have the qualities of a good barrister you may, in fact, be the ideal candidate. Being a team player, enthusiastic and resilient are qualities that not even the most outstanding candidates may have. Furthermore, if you have completed a masters which shows significant academic improvement after completing a degree in a specialised area of the law, you may find yourself with an edge over other candidates. This is of course not a certainty, but it may help.
You must be aware of the difficulties concerning low grades, but recognise that success is not defined by what’s on paper. This is why interviews can be the best chance to showcase your character, abilities and determination.
Mini pupillages are not the only method of preparation for pupillage, neither is mooting or debating. After all, while mooting and debating provide good practice for students to develop public speaking skills, it is not quite what barristers actually do in court. So how can you gain a better understanding of what barristers do excluding these activities?
The answer is simple, you should attend court. Take a look at what cases are being heard, and if anything piques your interest, go and watch the trials. Make notes as you go along and think about what is being argued. Consider watching an entire trial process, from the open to the end, enjoy watching a cross-examination and gain a better understanding of the skills required by a barrister to think on their feet while under pressure.
The one thing repeatedly advised to us was to answer the question. More times than you’d like to think, students will take a look at the application form in front of them – the questions:
Even some of the incredible candidates that the barrister had seen just couldn’t seem to answer these questions effectively. If you have completed a mini pupillage at the chambers you are applying to, use your experiences to answer this question. You need to make sure that your application is not generic. Avoid saying you want to apply to a chambers because they specialise in a certain area of law, especially when there are so many other chambers that may also specialise in the same. Be unique with your answer. Why does this chambers in particular suit you better than the others? Be specific! What was the moment you decided you wanted to become a barrister? What are your interests? Are you interested in the debates within that area of law? Was there a certain case that has fascinated you in that area of law?
Knowing the answers to these questions can help you answer the ones on your application effectively.
Pupillage interviews are often split into two rounds. The first round will usually be your standard Q&A. You may get some uncommon questions that can throw you off a little, but think your answer through and don’t give them a strange answer in an attempt to be unique. They are looking for a team player – even in this individualised career choice. More importantly, don’t avoid the question and wander off-topic. There are some resources online that can take you through some fairly generic questions asked in interviews – though I’d say it’s the unusual ones you should be thinking about a bit more carefully. These tend to be non-law related.
In criminal law interviews, you may find that your first-round interviews are somewhat similar to others’ second round. You may have to prepare for a mock trial of some sort. You don’t need to know the area of law in its entirety, just have a clear base for your legal argument – you’ve had plenty of practice by now. Make sure you address those in the room according to who they are acting as, i.e. the judge, the client, etc. You address each of these people in different ways, tones, language, remember to think about this during preparation.
Finally, it may not be a mock trial, it may be a written assessment of some sort instead. In this, just remember to plan, have a clear structure and a clear line of argument. Do not write the answer to the question you wish you had. This is something we all learn at the beginning of law school, don’t let your nerves get you down now!
Words: Anjali Narbheram
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