What your dissertation could say about your future barrister practice area

In the face of pressure for prospective pupils to set out their desired practice areas, your dissertation can help you understand which area of law is your specialism when applying for pupillage.

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It is becoming ever clearer that barristers chambers are specialising in particular practice areas and have plans to grow and develop in pre-determined directions. Chambers increasingly operate in a similar way to firms which are, at their heart, businesses. The roles that Senior Clerks and Chief Operating Officers play are vital to ensuring smooth Practice Management across all of the different chambers practice areas. 

For the prospective pupil this can often be intimidating because you may not yet know which areas are likely to be the ones you are going to be most competitive within and, as a result, an attractive addition to chambers’ business development goals. 

Figuring out which area of law is going to be your area of law can be difficult. This is especially true if you have not yet begun your formal legal training to enable you to start practising law. Without the vital context that you get from seeing work first hand, drawing conclusions as to which areas you are most likely to dedicate your career to can seem almost impossible. 

Why it is important for the prospective pupil to understand which practice area is theirs

Nonetheless, many pupillage application questions are asking prospective pupils to set out the trajectory they believe their career will develop in and how pupillage at their chambers will enable them to reach these goals. An understanding of which areas of law you are focusing on developing your career into can be helpful when faced with questions along these lines. 

There are many cases where barristers have claimed that their career happening to focus upon a particular practice area was down to pure luck and or being in the right place at the right time. This then lead them to the area that they fell in love with and dedicated the rest of their career. 

Having a game plan is a valid strategy

However, for some people it is important to have a concrete plan before involving themselves with the process of becoming a barrister and approaching chambers for pupillage consideration. This is especially true where the Bar has come after a career in a particular profession or building specialised skills in a particular area. For example, somebody who has pursued advanced studies in Science may be inclined to focus on Intellectual Property as this area demands similar skills. 

Knowing which practice areas fit your acquired skills and knowledge can help you identify your covetable skills. These are the skills that make you inherently valuable because they are not held by many other people. Understanding what your covetable skills are goes hand in hand with identifying possible specialist practice area(s). 

How your dissertation can help you discover your practice area

To understand what your dissertation could reveal about your interests, you need to first consider whether your dissertation was a well considered and researched piece of work that you are proud of. If that is the case, then proceed. If not but you have since written journal articles or blog posts which are at a high standard then you can refer to these. 

Your Undergraduate or Masters dissertation can hold important insights into potential specialist practice areas. In most instances, this piece of work was around 9,000 to 10,000 words long and was entirely chosen and researched by you. Even if you did not study law until the GDL, your dissertation can still reveal insights into what you are truly passionate about.

For example, a colleague of mine wrote an LLM dissertation on Arbitration. Later, when applying for training contracts he was able to secure one at a boutique firm which specialised in Arbitration. It’s not a mistake that the firm which aligned most with his established interests was the one he was successful with. 

What to consider when looking back at your dissertation

When looking back at your dissertation, take the time to re-read it and consider what follow up questions are raised by the conclusions you have drawn. Think about the natural discussion points that arise from the issues you raised and analysed. Consider the sources that you referenced and which ones you thought to be the most powerful and compelling.

If you do not find these questions lead to genuinely interesting lines of inquiry for you, that could suggest that the subject matter within and surrounding your dissertation topic/theme is not likely to inform a future practice area. However, if you find yourself engaging enthusiastically with the topic of your dissertation and the related issues, that may suggest to you which practice area you are likely to find the most success in. 

Once you have thought through your dissertation, you can then start to consider how your academic interest translates into practical skills that you have demonstrably obtained through practical experience. Whilst some chambers place an extremely high emphasis on academic attainment when making their pupillage decisions, this is not the approach at all chambers. This therefore requires you to be on the ball when it comes to relating your academic interest into practical skills. 

My best advice is to find yourself a quiet few hours without interruption to read through a copy of your dissertation and see what it could reveal to you about your coveted skills and future practice area. 

Good luck as always. 

Until next time, 

Picture of Blessing Mukosha Park

Blessing Mukosha Park

I'm a Future Barrister, Digital Entrepreneur and Content Creator. This blog is partially a journal and also a guide for aspiring barristers to consult and guide them during their journey. I hope reading this blog motivates, educates and inspires you. I currently live in East London and you will find me working on my laptop or in front of a camera. Say hi if you see me around!

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