Five Ways Barristers Can Treat Mini-Pupils Better

As I continue the Herculean battle to obtain pupillage, I broke a promise to myself recently and undertook an additional mini-pupillage, writes OccupyTheInns.

I must admit that I had hoped to have seen the back of work experience after yet another placement in the spring. Alas, that proved not to be the case and I duly proceeded to sample life once more in a leading chambers.

With a year’s worth of professional experience in a legal role, I approached this ‘mini’ with rather more confidence than in the past and I found the response of members of chambers to be positive on the whole. Nevertheless, I believe that barristers can improve their attitudes to students. My advice to them is as follows:

1. If you request assistance, show grace in the receipt of that assistance

I have almost lost count of the number of times I have been asked by a supervising barrister to look over a document on his or her behalf. When doing so during this recent mini-pupillage, I behaved no differently from ever, reading the document to the best of my ability to uncover any errors in order to assist the barrister in question, and ultimately make my small contribution to the workings of the judicial system of England and Wales.

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Therefore I most certainly did not expect to be greeted with a level of derision that resembled rudeness when I highlighted a possible error of law in the case. Ultimately, what I had pinpointed was an ambiguity rather than an error per se – still worth mentioning, though, and deserving of a courteous response.

2. It’s bad manners to leave the mini-pupil out of pocket.

I have no issue with paying my way (as I explain further below). However, it is my view that it is unacceptable for senior members of the Bar to send a mini-pupil to purchase their lunchtime sandwich with his or her own money, and then fail to reimburse them fully.

3. Don’t let the fact that you obtained pupillage go to your head.

As a slightly more experienced candidate such as myself, who has spent time travelling and learning languages in the style urged by Lord Sumption before coming to the Bar, it is inevitable that you will find yourself under the supervision of barristers who are a year or two younger than yourself. Sometimes they can enjoy rather too much the powerful position they find themselves in during a mini-pupillage situation.

Like most people who have been called to the Bar, I possess a barristerial wig. As a barrister, I think it is understandable that I carry this with me while in a mini-pupillage situation, although it goes without saying that I would never seek to employ it to suggest that I was currently practising at the Bar.

However, there are times – such as when you are waiting outside court to meet the barrister you are shadowing and neither of you has any idea what one or the other looks like – that it is clearly sensible to put on the headgear to mark oneself out from the crowd.

I certainly do not expect sneers from some little upstart in response to such a decision, and I’d be wary of how this sort of behaviour could come back to haunt a member of the Bar – especially when carried out in conjunction with other improprieties which I shall not mention here.

4. After work socialising is as much part of the job as standing on your feet in court, so include mini-pupils!

It is extremely nice when it happens, but too often mini-pupils are not invited to the traditional après-case drink with members of chambers. My advice to chambers is written above in unambiguous English. My advice to mini-pupils is as follows: take the initiative by inviting members of chambers out for a drink with you. Friends of mine and myself have both done this with very good levels of success.

Make casual enquiries early in the week about what everyone is doing on Friday night so there can be no excuses. Then, when the evening comes around, do not be afraid to put your hand in your pocket and buy the first round.

5. For goodness sake, keep in touch

What is the point of a mini without continuing friendships that may be useful in the pupillage hunt? Obviously, not everyone ‘clicks’, but too often those weeks at chambers just disappear into the ether with no further words exchanged or relationships developed. For heaven’s sake, please don’t ignore our Facebook and Linkedin requests :-).

OccupyTheInns graduated from the BPTC last summer, and was called to the Bar in July 2011. There’s more from OccupyTheInns here.

14 Responses to “Five Ways Barristers Can Treat Mini-Pupils Better”

  1. anon

    “Like most people who have been called to the Bar, I possess a barristerial wig. As a barrister, I think it is understandable that I carry this with me while in a mini-pupillage situation”.

    Dammit, Alex!

    Stop. Taking. The. Piss!

    Reply
  2. A barrister

    I would advise those seeking pupillage not to follow some of the advice above. Members of chambers would not appreciate receiving Facebook friend requests from former mini-pupils. Nor should any mini-pupil invite members of chambers for a drink in the pub. If you are invited by a barrister you have been shadowing, then by all means accept the invitation! But yours is a strictly professional relationship and suggestions of a drink in the pub will not create the right impression.

    Do keep in touch with chambers when your mini pupillage is over, but do so sensibly. Relationahips at the Bar are not forged over Facebook.

    As for wearing a wig on your mini-pupillage… this will not make you noticeable in the crown court (everyone is wearing them; wearing a smart suit should suffice to mark you out, and do your research beforehand – google who you are following). If you wear it in the magistrates court or county court (without the rest of counsel’s attire) you will simply look ridiculous.

    Reply
  3. TLH

    Mini pupillages are a valuable opportunity to experience life within the profession. It is right that the mini pupil take the process seriously and that the barrister make it as instructive as is possible.

    I would add my own bugbear to this list from when I was undertaking mini pupillages: Don’t exclude the mini pupil from integral activities (for example, a client conference) without good reason. Being told to sit at the back of the court and wait is frustrating and pointless; the reason after all for the mini pupillage is to experience that which is normally off limits to the general public.

    For those of you who are serious about pursuing a pupillage, I would caution you to remember that you are there to learn and to mark yourself out as a person of sound judgment. I did not purchase my wig until I had begun pupillage. I would question why any mini pupil would consider it necessary to bring a wig to court with them. Wearing a wig in public when you are not a barrister, on the steps of a court no less, is an act of crass stupidity deserving of all the ridicule it attracts.

    Reply
  4. Helen Fraser-Holland

    Please can you make this character more ridiculous, then s/he has the potential to be quite a funny parody of hopeless aspiring barristers? At the moment it’s not quite obviously satirical enough, although the ‘wearing a wig’ outside court image made me laugh out loud.

    Reply
  5. Benjamin Gray

    “Like most people who have been called to the Bar, I possess a barristerial wig. As a barrister, I think it is understandable that I carry this with me while in a mini-pupillage situation, although it goes without saying that I would never seek to employ it to suggest that I was currently practising at the Bar.

    However, there are times – such as when you are waiting outside court to meet the barrister you are shadowing and neither of you has any idea what one or the other looks like – that it is clearly sensible to put on the headgear to mark oneself out from the crowd.”

    While I’m pretty sure this is a piss-take, it’s worth pointing out that anyone who does this is going to torpedo their chances of being taken on. Not only does it look silly, it’s arguably a breach of the professional conduct rules. Wearing robes is considered to be holding out as a barrister. Even first six pupils aren’t allowed to wear them.

    Carrying the biscuit tin around unnecessarily marks you out as someone who doesn’t understand the job.

    Personally I would ignore the facebook and linkedin requests of any mini-pupil for the simple reason that it avoids the appearance of any favouritism. Ditto drinks, unless it’s a specially organised event.

    Reply
  6. BB

    I assume the comment about wearing his wig is a joke…? For no mini pupil could seriously expect to wear a wig on a mini pupillage, much less actually bring one to court. I wonder why anyone would spend money on a wig prior to actually getting a pupillage but that’s beside the point.

    As for facebook friend requests, I agree with the other posters – I would ignore any such request as it’s entirely inappropriate. In fact, I would not be facebook ‘friends’ with any of the pupils in chambers, let alone mini pupils. Linkedin is perhaps different given it’s a professional networking site but even then I don’t imagine such requests are appropriate until you reach the pupillage stage.

    It’s perfectly acceptable to go along to drinks on a Friday if they’re organised in chambers or in the pub and you have been invited, but I would strongly advise against planning an impromtu gathering of your own and inviting members of chambers along.

    Although there may be cases where you wish to stay in touch with the person you’ve shadowed, I’d exercsie caution when doing so. Barristers are busy people and although I can’t think of any I know who would be unwilling to offer a piece of well placed advice occasionally it’s not practical for it to be more than this and would no doubt be discouraged due to potential rumblings of favouritism. When applying for pupillage if you put the name of the person you undertook a mini with down on the OLPAS form they’ll almost certainly be asked what you were like. So even though there may be no ongoing contact they’ll still be helping you out (or not, depending on how things went) during the pupillage process.

    Reply
  7. Richard Parnham

    You have to laugh at the attitudes towards using social media in some of these responses – Eddie Stobart’s legal team must be pissing themselves. Have a look at Legal Futures if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

    Reply
  8. Another barrister

    Please please please can this be a joke? This is like an object lesson in how NOT to get pupillage. No pupil who gives off as much *smug* as the writer of this piece is likely to endear themselves to the person who has volunteered to drag their proto-barristerial-arse around court all week.
    Here’s a tip: just try behaving like a normal human being rather than “a barrister” or a clever git. If the barrister who is allocated to you can’t do the human being thing either – well, you probably don’t want pupillage there.

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  9. Just Counsel

    A wig? Mini-pupil? You’re having a larf. None of the other stuff would impress me particularly, although happy to have a follow on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn. Wouldn’t give you any advantages though. Highlighting an error of law? Depends on how you put it over, but sounds like you tried to Be Impressive. Not a good idea. You do come over as a bit of a pompous prat, you know. Not an advantage in 2012.

    Reply
  10. Scott Baldwin

    We give our mini pupils a real taste of life at the Bar. We offer to pay their travel expenses then actually send them 50% of what they claimed 2 years after they complete the mini pupillage. We give them a copy of 4 lever arches of papers at 5-45pm for a hearing on the following day but we cunningly leave out all of the up to date evidence and key medical reports. Then we give them papers to read for a case 3 days in advance and at 8-45pm the day before the hearing we tell them it has been adjourned. We also force them to become dependant on alcohol/drugs.

    Reply
  11. Simon Myerson

    What excellent advice. I’m astonished that OTI hasn’t been offered a tenancy and I would persuade my own Chambers to fill the gap if only they listened to anything I said.

    Can I add some words of wisdom of my own? Don’t demean mini pupils such as OTI by making them accompany very junior tenants. You may think that experience of small cases is really useful to mini-pupils, but that is patronising. Ensure that mini-pupils accompany tenants of no less than 15 years call, and preferably the Head of Chambers. Noting dissipates the tension that can accompany serious work better than the behaviour OTI describes in his fascinating post.

    Reply
    • Experienced_Barrister_Impersonator

      I really like this comment !! It’s amazing !! LOL !!

      Oh btw check your LinkedIn, facebook and twitter :D

      Reply
  12. Mini-pupil wannabe

    I agree with:
    “it is unacceptable for senior members of the Bar to send a mini-pupil to purchase their lunchtime sandwich with his or her own money”

    But that’s only because I’d feel like I was taken advantage of.
    Other than that, I don’t think the points are valid.
    Unless of course, it was all tongue in cheek?

    Reply

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