For the past year I have been confused about whether or not I will apply for Pupillage during the GDL. With those of us aspiring to the Bar looking at self-funding around £20, 000 for the BPTC alone, the temptation to panic and worry about how high the stakes are is strong. But after spending time thinking about myself and doing more research, I decided that there’s a lot more I want to do before I feel I will be a successful and competitive candidate for Pupillage. Read on for how I came to stop pressuring myself over Pupillage.
Which area of law anyway?
Before I started the GDL I wasn’t exactly sure which area of law would suit me best. I had been pressured by my parents to go into Commercial law because in their view it was the only area that would ‘make any money’. This emphasis on only pursuing the careers that are the most lucrative is not an atypical thing for a lot of parents to say (especially African parents…) and I have discussed feeling as if your parents are trying to force your life in a certain direction on my youtube channel before. (Click here to watch ‘Parents Controlling your Future?’ which is part of my Wokeness and Wellness series.)
I think it’s important to be clear that this is not an easy or cheap career option. It would be naive to take for granted that between law school (either undergraduate and postgraduate) plus BPTC, pursuing a career at the Bar is costly. It is a difficult career choice and I know a lot of people don’t like not being able to know for sure that it won’t be in vain. In response to that I say if you are confident that you can do this and be successful, if you know where your strengths lie and that there just isn’t anything else you want to do then stay the path. Don’t feel pressured into doing something you don’t want to do out of fear or to meet someone else’s expectations.
At the end of the day you’re doing this for you and you have to make choices that are right for you too. I felt like I needed to wait before I could confidently say which area I wanted to go into. One reason I had held off making so many mini-pupillage applications was because I didn’t want to make ‘fluffy’ applications that were non-specific. I wouldn’t get anything out of a mini if I didn’t even want to do that area of law.
It wasn’t until I’d started on the GDL that I realised I definitely loved Public law. It wouldn’t be until after I had joined the School Exclusion Project and attended the RebLaw 17 Conference in November that I would know I really wanted to incorporate actions against the police and public authorities into my future practice. I was also really surprised at how much I liked Land Law and so Property and Planning also became areas of law that I marked out for future practice too. Considering that I had only really settled on these areas of law at the end of the year and Pupillage application deadlines are at the start of February, I wanted more time to explore these areas of interest and gain relevant experience.
Going around the Chambers
Before starting at City I hadn’t had that much direct exposure to barristers and Chambers so I seized every possible opportunity to visit different Chambers, interact with barristers and Pupillage recruitment and get an understanding of what I needed to demonstrate in order to secure a coveted Pupillage spot at that particular set. It also gave me a chance to suss out if I liked the place or not. Because this is such a competitive career, it can almost feel as if we have to have a ‘take what you’re given’ kind of approach. But I only found a small handful of sets that really made me feel comfortable and like I would really fit in there. After all, after Pupillage you are going for Tenancy and that’s no joke. You will be judged by pretty much the whole of Chambers and be put under the microscope for 12 months. Now ask yourself, why would you put yourself through that if you didn’t even like the place? When I’m a pupil I’m going to work extremely hard to show I would be a good tenant and hopefully the Chambers I go to will appreciate and value me.
I’ve worked too hard to sweat and labour through applications, interviews and Pupillage for a place that I didn’t really feel was the right for me. I will not be sending an application to a Chambers that I haven’t visited or interacted with directly in some way. I’m not staking my future career on a browse through a website and the sum of a Pupillage award; I want to spend time within the set’s walls, speaking to current members, speaking to Pupillage recruitment and ensuring that if I send them an application it’s because I 100% know I want to be there.
Taking the time to make myself a competitive candidate
Now that I’ve taken the time to visit different Chambers and have developed a short list, I’ve done my research to make sure that I do everything I can to ensure I am the most competitive and successful candidate I can be. I’ve heard from different Chambers about the hundreds upon hundreds of applications they receive each year and truly how fierce the competition is. In order to make sure I give my absolute best, I went around the different Chambers websites and looked at the profiles of their most recent tenants and pupils. I then created a Word document with the following headings: ‘Academics’, ‘Internships/Placements’, ‘Previous Employment’, ‘Publications/Miscellaneous’ and ‘On the Side’ (any extra curricular activities or memberships). The idea is that by seeing what those who were successful had on their CV it can allow me to look at my own experiences and see what I need to have before I can make a successful application. Part of the document is below:
It helped me make a plan for the year ahead. I’ve now got a really good idea of what kind of summer internships I want to be doing and have a yardstick to measure the quality of my applications before I apply for Pupillage. It was also good because it showed me that I am definitely on the right track and am doing the right kind of things. That gave me a nice confidence boost – sometimes as an aspiring barrister you can feel a bit lost and overwhelmed by the process so it’s nice to be able to pat yourself on the back.
I am now confident about working before I apply for Pupillage
I’ve been feeling pressured into rushing into my pupillage applications so I could know for sure I would be secure after the BPTC. I realise now that wasn’t the right approach to take. After doing my research I saw every single person who had been awarded Pupillage at the Chambers I’ve shortlisted worked for at least one year in a field related to their future area of practice. I always felt like I wanted to work before I started Pupillage but my parents thought that would be a waste of time. I didn’t agree. It seems much better to me to apply for Pupillage after having spent time doing practical work and learning important skills so that Pupillage is as much of a rewarding experience as possible.
I’m not alone. Pretty much all of the Chambers I’ve talked to have been fairly candid about how this is an expectation. I was told at one recent open day that “we really couldn’t care less if you have a double-First if you don’t have any practical work experience to show us that you would be a good Pupil and Tenant.” It’s worth bearing in mind that different Chambers place differing amounts of value on your academics and practical experience. Some sets for example really don’t want you to apply unless you are educated to Masters or Phd level and are very clear about their prioritisation of stellar academics above all else. Some don’t care what you studied or where as long as you have top-notch advocacy skills and a flair for public speaking. The point is to target your applications and know what they want.
I want to spend time doing what I love for free before I work for a fee
Although many barristers do a significant amount of Pro Bono work, another reason I am looking forward to working before applying for Pupillage is because I want to spend time working with organisations that help those most vulnerable to injustice. I want to volunteer my time not only because I want to gain practical experience to boost my applications, but also because I think that it is important for me to have spent time engaging with the issues I really care about and working to help those who struggle the most with access to justice. I thank my time at the RebLaw 17 Conference for highlighting how important it is for me to do that if I am going to be the kind of Lawyer I want to be. I don’t want to just pay lip service to social injustice, I want to build on my time at Citizen’s Advice and the School Exclusion Project to establish myself as someone who is committed to using their position as a Lawyer to helping those who need it the most.
Now I can breathe and focus on smashing the GDL, getting more minis and securing a good internship this summer
I’ve really taken the pressure off myself by not stressing about applying for Pupillage right now. The Chambers aren’t going anywhere and the competition for Pupillage isn’t going anywhere either. I can afford to focus my energy on smashing the GDL and getting a Distinction ( it’s really important for me to finish with the best grade possible). I realised that Pupillage is one piece of the puzzle, there’s a lot I’ll need to do before and after Pupillage before Blessing is at the Bar. Even then, as a Junior Tenant there is a whole new set of goals and challenges before you’re established and even then there’s a whole other journey before you make Silk. Instead of trying to force it and make everything happen straight away, I’m breaking the journey down and setting myself a series of goals and targets. This way I can give my best effort and not get too worn out.
If you are applying for Pupillage this year then GOOD LUCK!
To all of you applying for Pupillage in 2018 I wish you the very best of luck! Every single one of you should be proud of yourself and don’t be afraid to give your application to people for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th opinions. Scrap your first draft and start again. Don’t send it in until you are 100% sure that you have left the best impression of yourself on the page. When I’m writing applications it always helps for me to imagine my best friend was writing it in my place and thinking what I would want her to say about me. Believe in yourself and stay true to who you are. I think that’s the best approach to anything, not just applications.
Until next time,