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The 4 Stages of Pupillage Applications

Pupillage applications are hard. They’re difficult to do, 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 curse on your life and one that you can prepare and practise for. This post will give you a few tips on how to do it, from a person who has been through the mill and learned a few things along the way.

Learn about the Pupillage Gateway

Pupillage Applications Stage 1: Nailing 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 to fill the boxes on your form full to the brim with legal experience. For most people, it’s too late to improve your undergraduate academics at this point, but it’s never too late to improve your real-world skills as a barrister.

If you’d like a little more detail on the ‘paper’ aspect of the application process, take a look at our Pupillage Paper Application page.

Pupillage Applications Stage 2: The Interminable Waiting

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, in which case you’re far beyond the level of this blog post. 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 others candidates, each just like you, and some are going to be lucky and some are not.

Pupillage Applications Stage 3: Interview Time… and Pupillage Interview Questions

Congratulations! You’ve got (at least) one interview. 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:

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 5 seconds at a time when talking through arguments, and I had no idea until I filmed myself.

Be comfortable with politics and current affairs. If you know why Theresa May’s position is currently weak (as of November 2017), you’ll be in a better position to argue in an interview about Brexit, for example.

You can read more about pupillage interviews on our Pupillage Interview page.

Pupillage Applications Stage 4: The Elusive Second Round of Pupillage Interviews

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.


Written by Oliver Jackson


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