‘I was offered pupillage at the second chambers I applied to’

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Unlike his friend, who crashed his hired Jaguar into the chambers where he was interviewing, this anonymous barrister secured pupillage with minimal hitches. Here is how he did it.

I was one of the lucky ones: I was offered pupillage at the second chambers I applied to. I was probably not the best barrister academically, and I dare say there are Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) graduates out there a lot more talented than I am. Nor had I done something breathtaking outside university, such as save Africa or conduct a human rights case which changed the world. I got pupillage because I fitted in, was honest about the person I was, and I had a clear idea of why I wanted to be at that set.

The way your personality shows through is crucial. You may give the perfect answers to interview questions but if delivered like a robot, without showing your personality, the chances are the panel will not be that impressed. I “clicked” with my interview panel. Had other members of chambers interviewed me, I perhaps would not have got through to the next round. Don’t underestimate luck!

The most basic, but, in my opinion, most often-forgotten piece of advice is “be yourself”. In both your written application and in interviews do not try to be anything you are not. This isn’t meant in a patronising way, but anyone who has spent a week at Bar school will have heard horror stories of those pretending to be something they are not in interviews and becoming unstuck very quickly. There are two stories that have stuck with me in particular. The first is a story, which I think had passed around Bar schools for years; the second happened to a friend of mine, and is perhaps the most cringe-worthy!

So, the first. This particular candidate wanted to practise in human rights and international law. They thought — in what transpired to be a moment of madness — that they would put on their pupillage application that they were “fluent in Italian and German”. You can probably guess what happened at the interview. One of the interviewing panel was Italian. When asked in Italian why he had learnt to speak that language, the candidate simply performed his best impression of a rabbit in the headlights. He was not successful.

The second story will stay with me all of my life I rarely remember it without laughing. It happened to a very good friend of mine who I will not name. He thought it would be a fantastic idea to turn up to his interview for a commercial pupillage (at a top London set) in a brand new Jaguar. “That should impress the panel,” he thought. The problem? He did not own a Jaguar. In fact, the closest thing he owned to a Jaguar was a season ticket for a bus service in Leeds. He therefore hired one. On the morning of his interview he got the train to Kings Cross, the tube out to Watford, and duly collected his hire car: a state of the art Jaguar. He drove his new wheels to the chambers at which he was due to have his interview, and to his delight there was a space opposite the front door. As he approached the space, instead of pressing the brake, he accelerated and proceeded to drive straight into the very grand railings which lined the perimeter of the set. He certainly made an entrance: in fact, the interview panel came outside to see first-hand the entrance he had made. The hire care company came to collect the car and all was revealed!

Now, I’m not suggesting readers of this article would do anything as extreme as the above two examples, but more often than not candidates will feel the need to portray a different person than they actually are. Don’t. If a chambers is right for you, you won’t need to change. During the interview at the first set I applied to I pretty much gave up: I did not feel comfortable at all. Those on the interview panel, and the barristers who sat in the waiting room with us, were very different people than I was and I did not feel I could be myself. They weren’t bad people, but I felt as if I would not fit in. The interview I had with my current chambers was very different. I felt as if I could fit in there, and that they were the sorts of people I could work alongside for the next 30 plus years. I felt comfortable to be myself and I left desperately wanting pupillage there.

When I got there I found that pupillage is hard: you spend what seems like 95% of your life in chambers for the year, and are submerged into the chambers community for that time. If you don’t fit, it would be horrible. Therefore do your research, try and get work experience in the set you are applying to and see if you fit.

Finally, make sure your application is punchy, relevant, and mistake free. If you want to donate your application to the chambers recycle bin in a rather speedy fashion then rely 100% on spell-checker, waffle on, and don’t focus on structure. The reader of your application wants to be able to navigate it well, see no mistakes, and know what your answer to a particular question is. Use the skills you were taught on the BPTC when addressing skeleton arguments. Be clear and concise, but maybe don’t end with the line: “Chambers is respectfully invited to offer me pupillage on the terms set out below”.

Further reading: How to bag a pupillage during the BPTC [Legal Cheek]