Securing pupillage — It’s a jungle out there!!

Katya Hosking, of Devereux Chambers, guides you through


Applying for pupillage is exciting, but it’s also difficult and time-consuming. You have to be uncomfortably honest with yourself, and it’s hard to maintain your confidence as the weeks go by; but if you want to be a barrister, you have to get through it. I found the only way to survive was to be relentlessly practical.

Help! How do I choose which chambers to apply to?

I started by making the longest list I could. I knew that I was interested in employment law, but I was keen to have as broad a practice as possible. So I searched Chambers & Partners and Legal 500 for chambers which were ranked for employment law. Next I looked up barristers who had appeared in recent significant employment cases, and added their chambers to my long list. Then I tried to find out about other areas of law which would complement employment law.

Mini-pupillages were essential in identifying fields in which I could see myself practising. For instance, I wanted to do plenty of oral advocacy right from the outset, and I soon realised that personal injury would offer that opportunity. My previous career in education meant that was another area I explored.

I’ve also been active in the Discrimination Law Association for some time, so that was another way I identified barristers who were doing the kind of work I’m interested in. Other sources include the Law Careers Network, the Inner Temple Library current awareness blog and, of course, Legal Cheek.

Finally, I had to cut the list back down. My partner’s job meant we couldn’t move to a wholly new city nor afford extra rent, so I could only apply to chambers near home or near generous and hospitable family members. The introduction of tribunal fees drastically reduced the amount of employment work, so I also had to be realistic about which chambers were genuinely active in that area of law. Last, as a kind of tie-breaker, I tried to find out more about the structure of pupillage — for instance, transparency about the criteria against which pupils would be assessed — and about chambers’ approach to offering tenancy.

But what on earth do I put in the application?

Here’s the best tip I ever had for writing applications. It’s a way of coming up with the specific pieces of evidence you need to include.

First, make a list of things you’ve done which you’ve enjoyed, been good at, or learned a lot from. (If you think about it, these are exactly the things which should be guiding your choice of career anyway.) They could be from school, work, family life, volunteering, hobbies, travel — any context at all. If you’re stuck, look at old diaries, calendars or social media posts. Don’t worry about the content at this stage, just come up with as many as possible. Write each one on a post-it note.

Second, write a short description of each one which (a) sets the scene, (b) says what you did, and (c) describes the outcome. Focus on your own actions, but don’t think they always have to be successful — it’s useful to have examples of your mistakes, as long as you can explain what you learned from them.

Third, decide what each scenario demonstrates about you. For instance, it might illustrate a skill or an aspect of character, or explain an interest in an area of law, or show you’ve learned a lesson which will stand you in good stead as a barrister.

Finally, write each question from the application form on a separate piece of paper, and then you’re ready to allocate your scenarios. Some will be relevant to several questions, so just move the post-its around until you’ve got at least one or two for each question.

Don’t forget you can include scenarios in the employment history section, under ‘Responsibilities/Achievements’: you’ve got 300 words there, so don’t waste them. Any scenario you haven’t used in the form can be saved for those hard-won interviews!

Interviews? Wait: you mean even after I submit the form, it’s not over?

If you’re lucky, you’ll get interviews, and now is the time to start preparing. A handful of tips:

• Get serious about following up legal stories in the news — but always read the actual case reports, never rely on articles in the media (even in Legal Cheek!)

• Brush up on your legal research skills. I thought mine were pretty good, but an assessed mini-pupillage on a completely new area of law stretched them well beyond their limit. You’ll need to be systematic and efficient as a pupil, so get started now.

• Remember that you’ll get better at interviews as you do more of them. Many people submit applications in one, two or more years before getting pupillage, so those first unsuccessful interviews aren’t wasted as long as you learn from them.

Good luck!

Katya Hosking is a tenant at Devereux Chambers. She completed her pupillage at the set last year. Find out more about pupillage at Devereux here.

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