Applying for pupillages is difficult, cause mounting stress for months on end, and more likely than not will end in failure.
However, if you are serious about wanting to be a barrister they are an unavoidable task and one that you can prepare and practise for. This post will give you a few tips on how to do survive the process from a person who has been through the mill and learned a few things along the way.
The Paper Application
This is the easy bit. You are in complete control of this part of the process. Start preparing early.
Lacking Bar experience? Apply for mini-pupillages. Missing that extra spark in advocacy? Do debating and mooting competitions with your uni. Need something to show your commitment to the law? Volunteer with FRU or your local Citizens Advice, observe tribunal and court hearings, write articles for student law reviews, do any and all pro bono opportunities you can find to demonstrate that you actually and genuinely will make a competent barrister – a good starting point is our Ultimate Guide to Pro Bono Work Experience.
In short, do everything you can while applying for pupillages to fill the boxes with legal experience. For most people, it’s too late to improve undergraduate academics at this point, but it’s never too late to improve your real-world skills as a barrister.
This is the part I personally hate the most. Spending weeks and sometimes months on end just waiting for the axe of rejection to fall, or to be granted a reprieve with a first-round interview, is not my idea of fun.
The only thing you can do is prepare for both the worst and best-case scenarios. In an ideal world, you’ll get interviews everywhere. More likely, of course, is a seemingly random scattering of acceptances outnumbered by a larger smattering of rejections.
Do not be despondent. Such is life. There are hundreds of other candidates, each just like you, and some are going to be lucky and some are not.
Congratulations! You’ve got to the next stage after applying for pupillage! You only need one chambers to like you, remember, so put your all into it. Start by preparing early. Interview formats vary from chambers to chambers so do check what it’s going to be.
A typical first round is simply a 15-minute chat, discussing your CV and potentially an ethical/political problem or two.
Examples of Pupillage Interview Questions:
Should the UK re-introduce the death penalty?
Should male and female sports stars be paid the same?
Should the UK introduce first-past-the-post electoral system?
Should abortion be illegal?
Should drugs be legalised?
How would you feel about defending someone who was guilty?
The purpose of these questions is simply to see you talk, argue, and think on your feet. They can seem pretty intimidating. After all, you’re being asked to pluck well-reasoned arguments from thin air on subjects that don’t have a right answer, only to be thoroughly interrogated on material you’ve never barely had time to think about.
But then that’s the test – if you can do this, you can do the job. There is no right answer; the interviewers just want to see how you cope with pressure, and how well you can defend yourself. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground. You’ve made an argument, now defend it!
Preparing for these is difficult but can be done. As mentioned in our Mini Pupillage Applications free guide: film yourself speaking, or do it in front of a mirror. We’ve all got weird verbal ticks and habits that we don’t know about. I used to close my eyes for around five seconds at a time when talking through arguments, and I had no idea until I filmed myself.
Second round pupillage interviews are generally longer and more legal based. For many law students, this is closer to home turf.
You’re often asked to prepare a discussion of a case, or a particular legal argument, given to you a few days beforehand. Think it through slowly and logically – does my argument make sense? Have I thought of all the obvious counter-arguments, and am I comfortable combatting them? What is the law on this area, and where would I reform it?
Treat it as a university assignment that you’ve got to present orally, rather than a pupillage interview, and you’ll be much more comfortable and familiar with the process.
Words: Oliver Jackson
Go to our guide on the pupillage gateway to help you find out more about how to submit your applications.