A prospective barrister explains how he felt when his mistake was highlighted first on Twitter and then on Legal Cheek.
I felt like beginning this article with a typo. After all, that’s the reason why I’m writing it. Probably while stressing about upcoming exams, I happened to miss one when I proofread one of my pupillage applications. Schoolboy error though it was, I would never have known exactly why I didn’t acquire pupillage that year. Instead, thanks to Legal Cheek picking up a barrister’s recent series of tweets, I have a good idea of why at least one application seems not to have made the cut.
When I saw the story on Legal Cheek, I noticed something familiar: a word-for-word quote of part of my application. It wasn’t the best way to start the week. Understandably, I felt embarrassed, even if everything was anonymous. But I was angry. I didn’t ever think that a pupillage committee member, someone who has gone through the process in the not so distant past, would ever be so crass as to lift a quote from an application form and hold it up to ridicule on Twitter.
Before the inevitable chorus of sour grapes comes from the comments, let me explain. In principle, I have no problem with laughing at what I wrote. The offending article is quite a funny blooper. And we all laugh at bloopers associated with this process, such as the story of the interviewee who gets asked who he would most like to be stuck in a lift with and replies “a lift engineer”. Good little piecemeal bloopers like that are funny because they’re usually harmless.
If only the barrister in question had tweeted a piecemeal part of the blooper, though. Instead, whole sentences from applications were reproduced. If I can identify my quote, who else can? Can other former candidates identify their quotes? What if they included an amended version of their blooper in their other applications? There’s a chance that their corrected sentence could be identified not only by the offending barrister but also by other pupillage committee members elsewhere. Instantly, some of the anonymity that should come with blind marking is lost. Instead of Applicant No173 they are now “that chap who had that typo of x when they meant y!” Seeing a screenshot of their application online probably isn’t going to be the most constructive feedback either, trust me on that. (Although, that being said, it’s more feedback than most get when they get the rejection email.)
I honestly can’t believe that this barrister thought it was appropriate and sensible to do what he did. The Bar is, of course, different from other professions but would you expect a medium-sized solicitors firm to tweet screenshots of bloopers from their applicants? You can imagine the horror not only from HR but from marketing too.
Chambers want people dedicated not only to the profession but also to them, their region and their practice areas. Why should a great applicant apply to a chambers if some members openly mock their applications? A chambers shouldn’t be relying on the fact pupillages are scarce and the number of potential applicants is high. A pupil is an investment to each member of chambers who contributes money to the pot and chambers should be looking for the best investment from the entire pool, not just those who are bothered to apply. It’s self-defeating to get a bad reputation amongst the future of your profession.
By the time this article goes out, though, another weekend will have passed in which barristers will have had to forgo the sunny weather and review applications. Being honest, I’d be grumpy about it too. I’d moan about it to my nearest and dearest. I’d tell my colleagues about that applicant who had a typo, how it made me laugh but how it counted against him or her. I’d never even think about putting it up on Twitter though.