As the pupillage application season bears upon aspiring barristers, many have questions about the process. To support with this, I recently hosted a Q&A on Instagram, offering guidance and sharing my experiences. This blog post compiles these valuable exchanges to support and inspire you on your journey to becoming a barrister.
Q: Do you recommend having someone read through your application or too many cooks?
A: YES, have people read through your applications! It’s beneficial to have a mix of experienced barristers (mentors), friends and peers (who have completed pupillage/training contracts), and non-legal people. This approach offers a rounded view. My “lay” friends would assess if the application genuinely sounded like it was about me, while my legal friends delved into the material. Mentors were crucial for final drafts, ensuring the application was as strong as possible. Sharing cloud versions of your documents makes it easier to share and get suggested amendments from those giving you feedback.
Tackling Essay Questions
Q: How did you manage essay Q’s?
A: It’s important to remember that you’re not writing a dissertation. Your task is to demonstrate the ability to argue and form reasoned conclusions. Research should assist you in addressing the question, not overwhelm it. For instance, when I had to answer a question about the harmful consequences of gambling, I incorporated relevant statistics from that year, particularly focusing on how Covid affected gambling rates. The goal isn’t extensive research akin to a university essay but a well-argued, concise response.
Q: With the “most interesting case you’ve read” Q, did you select one from that chambers?
A: Selecting a case from a relevant practice area is more important than choosing one specifically from the chambers. Chambers’ members will be well-versed in key cases in their field, so it’s easier for them to engage with you about it. The risk of choosing a case from the chambers is that they might know it in great detail and ask probing questions. Ensure that your interest in the case is genuine and that you’re thoroughly familiar with it, including its progression through lower courts if it’s an appeal case.
Law Reform Questions
Q: How to approach law reform questions, specifically for commercial sets
A: For Law Reform questions, it’s critical to understand the existing law and its practical implications. Your response should reflect a comprehensive understanding of how potential amendments would impact practitioners, individuals, and companies. Weigh the pros and cons of changes to a specific area of law, explaining in practical terms why such reform is necessary or, in your opinion, unnecessary. Be prepared to discuss the challenges and weaknesses of any potential reform, substantiating your position. For inspiration, look up legal articles and essays on Law Reform.
Q: How can I prep for interviews?
A: Familiarise yourself with your own voice – practice speaking in front of a mirror, record yourself answering questions, and critically review these recordings. Develop a question bank for practicing your pupillage application responses, and include questions from previous interviews. Seek help from friends who have secured pupillage or completed tenancy, or mentors at the Bar for mock interviews. Keep in mind that first-round interviews typically last no more than 15-20 minutes.
Q: Stuck on how to answer “weakest element of your application”
A: Always pair a weakness with a strategy for improvement. Interviewers seek to understand your self-awareness and commitment to self-development. For example: a weak area of your application could be lack of mooting experience, and you could explain how you have made up for this by participating in pro bono advocacy where you have presented oral submissions and taken questions from a tribunal. You can conclude that: “whilst I haven’t had competitive meeting experience, I’ve gained real life experience and obtained tangible results with my advocacy.”
Demonstrating Skills Concisely
Q: Tips on how to demonstrate a skill you have with an example on a limited word count?
A: Utilise the STAR technique for a concise yet effective demonstration of your skills. Begin by setting the Situation, then describe the Task at hand. Follow with the Action you took, and conclude with the Result achieved. This method allows you to be succinct while still delivering a powerful message. Here is a video I made on using the STAR technique:
Standing Out on Application Forms
Q: How can candidates make themselves truly stand out on application forms?
A: The key is to present your authentic self, not an idealised version. Emphasise your abilities and achievements, and be clear about your intentions to become a barrister and join that chambers. Make it challenging for them to overlook you.
Balancing Parenthood and the Bar
Q: Taking longer than expected to complete the Bar due to having a child. How to approach this?
A: Prioritising your course completion is crucial. While I can’t offer specific advice on balancing motherhood with Bar studies and pupillage, I know it’s feasible with the right chambers’ flexibility regarding childcare responsibilities. The appropriate chambers will understand and support your situation.
Specialisation in Family Law
Q: If we choose a family-based chambers, and get pupillage—does that restrict our area of work after pupillage?
A: Your future work scope depends on several factors, including the chambers’ practice areas, the availability of work for juniors, and your transferable skills. For example, if you aim to shift from a specialist family law pupillage, it might be challenging. Specialisation has its merits, but be conscious of its potential limitations.
Why Choose a Specific Chambers
Q: Any helpful tips on when Chambers ask ‘why us’?
A: Understand that chambers are acutely aware of their market position and client preferences. To respond effectively, research how the chambers perceives its strengths and what appeals to its clients. The more insight you have into their self-view and client relationships, the better you can tailor your answer. Here’s a video I made on researching chambers for applications:
Commercial Pupillage Experience
Q: What kind of hearings/cases can we expect to appear in during pup in a commercial set?
A: Experience in commercial sets can vary. Expect to handle applications, bankruptcy petitions, winding-up petitions, and small claims trials. The specific work depends on the chambers’ junior-level assignments. For an idea of typical commercial/chancery pupil work, refer to resources like the Chancery Bar Association’s specialist pupillage checklist (https://www.chba.org.uk/news/specialist-pupillage-checklist).
Researching Civil/Commercial Law
Q: Hey! Could you give advice on how to research key issues in civil/commercial law?
A: Focus your research by practice area and stay informed about current issues. For instance, if interested in tech and intellectual property, keep up to date with AI technology developments. Utilise sources like newspapers, podcasts, legal news updates, and follow top lawyers in these areas.
Discussing Mini Pupillages
Q: How do you talk about mini pupillages? Other than just saying “I observed an X hearing”?
A: Detail what you learned during your mini-pupillages and apply these insights to your application. Consider mentioning any assessed work you completed and positive feedback received. Demonstrate how these experiences have given you a closer look at a barrister’s work.
Approach to Repeat Applications
Q: Tips on repeat applications please
A: Avoid overhauling your entire application after a rejection. Instead, seek feedback, apply it constructively, and view your application from an outsider’s perspective. Persistence and resilience are key in repeat applications, focusing on improvements rather than complete revisions.
Articulating Thoughts and Focusing
Q: I’m finding it hard to articulate my thoughts and sit down to focus.
A: Overcoming focus challenges requires varied approaches. Recording voice notes while walking, discussing responses with friends, or jotting down ideas in a notes app can be effective. The drafting process is multi-staged, and sitting down to write is just the final part. Incorporate elements like music or candles to create a conducive environment, and remember to take breaks.
Handling Mitigating Circumstances
Q: What is the best way to approach mitigating circumstances?
A: Share only what you are comfortable with, focusing on relevance, such as explaining grades that deviate from your usual performance. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate resilience or management strategies. Most people empathise with difficult circumstances, but ensure that what you share enhances your application.
Maintaining Confidence in Interviews
Q: How do you stay confident in interviews?
A: Embrace the space you occupy and the attention of the panel. It’s your moment to perform and be present. Listen attentively, respond thoughtfully, and enjoy the process. Remember, this is what you have been working towards. Here’s a video I made on confidence during pupillage applications:
Including Clerking History
Q: Do you recommend putting down clerking history?
A: Absolutely! Clerking experience is relevant, offering insights into the behind-the-scenes workings of a barrister’s practice. This experience can be a unique advantage, showcasing your understanding of client management and the nuances of legal practice.
Embarking on the path to becoming a barrister is a journey filled with challenges and learning opportunities. I hope these insights from my Instagram Q&A session have provided you with clarity and inspiration. Remember, each step you take brings you closer to your goal. Stay persistent, stay informed, and most importantly, stay true to your unique journey.
For more comprehensive guidance and resources on pupillage applications, I invite you to explore the BATB Pupillage Application Resources. Your success is within reach, and we’re here to support you every step of the way.