Pupillage Applications & Interviews
Make sure work experience descriptions are concrete – would anyone reading your application understand what your role entailed? If it’s relevant to the areas of law in which you would like to practise, make sure you explain exactly what work you were doing e.g. drafting applications or witness statements, preparing court bundles and what areas/issues it covered e.g. debt, domestic violence.
Try to be precise and give specific examples to questions such as ‘What would make you a good barrister.’ Just saying ‘I am good at public speaking’ is not as effective as pointing out you’ve won 2 mooting competitions.
Remember the application has to be read as a whole, it’s not just a box-filling exercise. Will somebody reading it understand why you want to be a barrister and why that area of law? This is especially important where you do not have much work experience, or all your work experience is in another area.
Get as many people to read your application as you can and do not be defensive about their feedback – just listen and try to take it on board. If you can’t do that at this stage (or, also crucially, during BPTC/pupillage), you will be holding yourself back from professional development and success.
There is no doubt that having higher grades will be (often literally) a point in your favour, as will having further academic qualifications e.g. a masters. Do not underestimate the usefulness of having worked hard at this stage – push yourself to get the best result possible and make good use of your tutors who can guide you to achieve your full potential.
Remember there is space on the pupillage application to explain any out of character lower marks (e.g. a bereavement) and you can also compensate for a 2.1 at undergraduate level (while this is obviously not a bad result, a lot of your competitors will have firsts!) with good results in a masters, GDL or BPTC so do not see the latter two in particular as simply a hoop to jump through.
While not all chambers are interested in this, I would strongly advise any prospective barrister to do some mooting or debating. Firstly, mooting in particular can really help you with your academics e.g. by making you think out tricky private law problems or practise the advocacy skills you will need for your BPTC exams. Secondly, achievements in this area are a tangible sign that you have some talent in advocacy. If you are able to put that you won something or even advanced to the final stages, this could be a point in your favour. However, I do not advise listing a number of competitions you’ve participated in if you did not make it past the first round – this will not look good.
For mooting opportunities, check with your Inn, law school and local law society. International opportunities include the Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition.
If you are still at school, check the Young Citizens website for opportunities to take part in the Magistrates’ Court Mock Trial competition (for 12-14 year olds from non-fee paying schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland), the Bar Mock Trial competition (for 15-18 year olds from non-fee paying schools in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland) and the Independent Schools Mock Trial competition (replicating the Bar Mock Trial competition with 15-18 year olds, bu for fee-paying schools only).
Opinions on this vary but doing more than 3 mini-pupillages, especially if you are pretty confident about which area of law you would like to do, is likely to have diminishing returns as you should have a pretty good idea by then of whether you think this would be a good career for you, which at the end of the day is the mini-pupillage’s real function as few offer much in the way of tangible work experience and even if they do it is only a few days, making a marginal difference to your overall work experience history.
In practical terms it can also take up a lot of space on your pupillage application and distract from more substantive work experience (unfortunately there is not a separate section for this on the standard pupillage portal applications, which means it can make it difficult for readers to track your work experience progression as mini pupillage dates interrupt the entries). Think also about what your mini-pupillages reveal about your interests – if the mini-pupillages you have done were all in personal injury/commercial sets and then you apply to a human rights chambers, the person reading your application may think you are not really interested in their areas of law. You might need to explain this on the application.
For tips on work experience, see here.
While interviews are daunting, there are lots of things you can do to prepare for them:
- Read about current affairs related to law and your proposed areas of work. It is surprising how unprepared candidates are for really obvious questions related to the big issues of the previous year. Actually reading the Commission’s report on a UK Bill of Rights will mean you can deliver a much more detailed, impressive answer to a question on that topic, for example. YLAL’s facebook page and twitter account post many news articles and YLAL delivers a monthly summary by email which is also available on the website – it’s not hard to catch up.
- Read up on recent cases from the areas of law you are interested in. Blogs like Free Movement, Nearly Legal, Pink Tape, Suesspicious Minds, The Secret Barrister, the UK Criminal Law Blog, the UK Human Rights Blog, Public Law for Everyone and the UK Supreme Court Blog are great resources
- Think about ‘classic’ issues such as freedom of speech or religion and read around the major debates and cases in those areas
- Be ready for commonly asked questions such as which law would you change (check the Law Commission’s website for examples of issues)
- Take stock of what you have learnt from your academic/work experience so far – jot down some examples of things that stood out and shaped your professional ambitions and understanding
- Be prepared to answer questions about how you propose to run a business in the current legal aid landscape – read up on major developments in funding such as the Bach Commission report and the government’s legal aid review and think about what you want your practice to look like and how you could diversity/supplement income streams
- Be prepared to answer ethics questions – the BSB Handbook is available free on their website and contains the full Code of Conduct with lots of commentary. If you are a student, even if not on the BPTC, you can probably find the OUP’s Professional Ethics book in your law library.
- If you don’t have a question at the end of the interview, that’s fine.
If you have to do an advocacy exercise, some tips are:
- Have a clear structure
- Prepare a summary of the facts but ask if this is needed – the panel may not want to waste 5 minutes going over facts and prefer to get right to the issues
- Really think about what your best argument is, and put that first. Think about what it
is the judge needs
to know to come to the decision your client wants
- Don’t panic if you get interrupted, this an opportunity to show you can really engage rather than just read off a script. Depending on how much prep time you have, try to think about what these questions might be
- If you get the exercise the night before, play it out in your mirror so you can check how your submissions flow, whether you are having trouble following your notes etc.
If something in the interview really stumps you, like you do not understand the entire premise of a question, then just ask. However, give yourself a couple of seconds to think first, don’t ask unnecessarily and don’t rush into an answer then realise you’ve misunderstood the question.
If you are asked to give two sides of an argument, then don’t give some rubbish arguments for one side assuming the left-leaning chambers you are at wouldn’t want to hear that anyway – the point of the question is to test your overall advocacy skills, and anticipating the other side’s arguments is a key barrister skill.