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Lawyers share their biggest humiliations, from dozing in court to falling off chairs in interviews

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It’s all to show failure is normal

Law students hoping to enter the profession may see Supreme Court-appearing silks as infallible bastions of legal knowledge and sharp wit. But did you know one such QC showed up to a City law interview so hungover he walked into the door on the way out?

This was the experience of Sean Jones QC, a tenant at 11KBW who has represented the likes of the University of Oxford and Newcastle United. Sharing some of his stickier moments on Twitter using the #FailureIsNormal hashtag, he revealed:

The #FailureIsNormal campaign was this weekend launched by Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers. He told Legal Cheek:

“The point of #FailureIsNormal is to try and show people that almost every successful career is built on a foundation of setbacks, humiliations and outright failures.”

One particularly “crushing” elements to trying to make it as a barrister is the rejection. There are plenty of people who are easily good enough for the job but because of the low number of places they can spend years fighting for a pupillage spot, Wagner said. And he knows exactly how that feels: debuting the hashtag a few days ago, Wagner told his 37,000 Twitter follows he’d faced 23 pupillage knock-backs:

Plenty of other barristers were quick to use the #FailureIsNormal movement to share their tales of rejection. Zoe Saunders for one admitted she’d failed one of her A-levels then faced “numerous interviews” before making it as a family barrister, while 5RB’s Felicity McMahon said she made almost 50 applications:

Aside from tales of rejections, there are also those of embarrassing — and very relatable — moments. For starters, anyone who has ever observed in court will understand why Max Schofield, a first-six pupil, dozed off partway through a case:

And then there’s Ollie Persey, who is training at the Public Law Project. He slipped off his chair during one interview and battled food poisoning in another:

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70 Comments

Anonymous

Took a group of third-year-undergraduate-level summer school students to the Crown Court. Harrowing incest case. Became increasingly uneasy about His Honour’s consciousness level. Chinese student hisses to me ‘Is the judge asleep?’. Yup.

Anonymous

During my interview, I had the largest bogie hanging loosely from my nose, which I obviously hadn’t noticed. Discreetly pulled it from my nose and held it in my hand for a safe place to dispose of it. Well that vision was swiftly dashed. Interviewer puts out hand for a handshake, well that’s when it transferred, he took my bogie with him. Utterly mortified, but went on to accept the job. I see that man everyday and he hasn’t said a word and neither have I.

Anonymous

Was instructed on two applications at the same court on the same day. Easy I thought. I proceeded to deal with the second application first, the judge asked me to clarify the party names and then advised that he hadn’t received the file. Fast forward 5 minutes after the judge and his clerk has searched through piles of files and it dawned on me that I had made a mistake. Judge was quite amused however I was mortified.

Anonymous

Wagner is at Doughty Street…

Anonymous

I once farted loudly on a conference call. Thought that no one would know it was me, but the meeting coordinator (a trainee at our firm) could see a speaker icon whenever someone was talking on her app….

Not Oxbridge

#Failing. I havent been given a chance at any mini pupillages but my GDL counterpart with little legal knowledge has bagged 2 but hey!!!! Atleast i get to tell you guys

Anonymous

If you’re not getting mini-pupillages your CV probably doesn’t meet the minimum standard for a first-round pupillage interview…

Anonymous

Maybe rather than attacking your GDL counterpart, you could improve your own CV/applications.

Anonymous

I once spent ten minutes asking a member of Reed Smith’s graduate recruitment team a list of (very specific) questions I had prepared for a member of Osborne Clarke’s graduate recruitment team. I did this because the Reed Smith bloke happened to be standing near Osborne Clarke’s stall at my university law fair.

Top that.

Anonymous

The Sean Jones QC entries are worth dwelling on.

His CV seems to say he was the Andrew Dixon scholar at Worcester College Oxford for a BA and then he went on to do a BCL.

He was called to the Bar in 1991 which suggests he was 22 or so that year and we could infer, couldnt we, that he was being interviewed for training contracts in 1989 prior to graduation in 1990.

Consider the following lines of inquiry:

1 it was so easy in 1989 for a person with such a profile to get an interview in the City, that even being an Oxford high flier the detail is so trivial that the interview date does not get committed to memory and there is no need to be reading the financial Times or the most recent law or property reports in the days just before interview.( You can attend at short notice and get absolutely hammered the night before.)

2 while you may be so good at law that you are en route to the coveted bcl qualification – in the privileged environment of 1 to 1 or 1 to 2 tutoring at Worcester College – outside of that you are not so clever that you realise you ought to dress smartly nor that you should prepare as in 1 above.

I suggest this creates the opening for points 3 and 4 below.

3 it really is not that hard to be a City Solicitor or commercial barrister, as he is now,

4 it is not that hard to be a high standard answerer of exam questions to sit the coveted bcl.

Also

5 it would be worth obtaining sean’s exam answers for the scholarship standard degree result, and the bcl and anonymising them. We could then take exam answers for similar questions from smartly dressed, well prepared students from former polytechnics who got first class degrees in law and see if everyone leaps to say “Good grief, look at the gulf between the messy, drunken genius Sean and the smart , well prepared duffer from the former poly”. Or it may be the other way about. “Well, to our surprise, the poly answers are much better than Sean’s were. Tho now we can put Sean in context, it is not really surprising is it ? ”

We have seen the Clifford Chance solicitor that has sued Oxford expose the underbelly of students there organising their own tutorial classes, of tutors being meant to cover the gobbets (modules) that will appear in the exam papers in 1 to 1 or 1 to 2 tutorials and of the routine idea of upping your degree result on medical grounds…

so combining that insight with the Sean insight

5 I now wonder, on becoming acquainted with an unsuccessful applicant for training contracts with a first from De montford, whether his degree answers would have been self evidently better than Oxford degree answers, but that the de montford student is robbed by the lack of proper scrutiny in the system and by branding issues.

6 give anybody with a decent law degree the sacred keys to a pupillage at 11 kbw , in terms of access to paperwork, courts and tutillage from a pupil master, and they could build up the sort of practice sean has. It is not that hard, you just need to see how it is done from someone who is in the middle of doing it.

7 give Sean a job as a paralegal in the city (where de montford may end up) and see, by contrast, if he would be so brilliant at it that people gawp and say ” he should be a qc”. Or whether they say “he is satisfactory at a hard job” or even “he hasn’t got the commitment and perseverance to make sure those bundles are spot on”

Loose lips sink ships

Anonymous

Are you on drugs m8?

Anonymous

Granted that there are two number fives, but which of the numbered points suggest to you that I am on drugs ?

Glug. Glug. Glug.

It would be such drama to scrutinise the exam papers of the great and the good and discover how average they were or , how, across the year group, they had all recited the very similar narrative to what they had been fed in tutorials.

Qc and marathon runner or not, Sean’s got beaten for pace here and I’ve whipped the cross in for someone with youth and more at stake than me to push the point about scrutineering. I think its hilarious. “You on drugs mate ?” Is all that he’s given the goal keeper…I can walk it over the line !

Anonymous

Must be hard to type with that chip on your shoulder…

Anonymous

I’m right, so it’s easy to type.

Join the goalkeeper on the line with the chip on your shoulder comment and it’s so limp I could back heel it through your legs and then do a chin up on the cross bar to emphasise how quickly your ship has been sunk by Sean.

Anonymous

He doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder, he’s just weird and incoherent.

Anonymous

So’s your mum.

Anonymous

“He’s just weird and incoherent” – Chambers & Partners 2018

Anonymous

You’ve done two number 5s there pal.

Anonymous

He hasn’t got the commitment and perseverance to make sure those bundles are spot on.

Anonymous

Have had some previous involvement with Sean Jones QC, very competent employment silk and extremely grounded.

Diss him again and I’m gonna come and get you!

Corbyn. Symphathiser

I’d skip the liquid lunch next time.

Anonymous

Corbyn comrade, you’re not a first class degreed Oxbridge hooray Henry are you ? I’m surprised to see you backing the status quo on this one, but perhaps you are. Hence only a sympathiser.

Corbyn. Symphathiser

Didn’t go to Oxbridge, no. I think the post above was fairly incoherent and so I gave advice which I feel will help the writer better get their point across in future.

Anonymous

I infer that your degree is potentially vulnerable to scrutineering versus de montford…which numbered point didn’t you understand then ?

Corbyn. Symphathiser

It just all seemed a bit messy, to be honest. I don’t understand your central thesis. Is it that it was easier to get a job as a lawyer way back when? I really don’t have a clue.

I have no opinions about De Montfort University, though a quick Wikipedia scan seems to indicate that it’s a pretty good place to study.

Anonymous

I don’t believe you. There are so many down votes and the expected drugs and chip comments from the navy on the ship, that the point is clearly well made and understood.

Anonymous

Yet another strange leap of logic from our anonymous poster.

SJ QC messed up an interview -> the BCL must be really easy
SJ QC didn’t read the FT before an interview -> being a City solicitor/ commerical barrister must be really easy
People downvoted your weird rant -> you must be making a spectacularly incisive point

Looking forward to the next strained football metaphor.

Anonymous

Corbyn sympathiser looking like Roy Keane there, veins bulging out with rage protesting to the referree about an obvious decision which has been correctly called. Trying to convince us that his pretend outrage is grounded on an injustice, rather than on a dramatic assertion of vested interest.

The anonymous poster takes the match ball, having scored a hat trick….hope that suffices what you were looking forward to, tough guy.

Corbyn. Symphathiser

Suck my fat one.

Big Dolla

You should decide on a nickname and frequent the comments more often.

I’d like to see more of your incisive logic on Legal Cheek.

Anonymous

Is that you Sean ? You are not going to be able to remedy your stupid own goal with that effort are you !

Anonymous

It was 4.38pm. Anonymous had 1 day, 18 hours and 22 minutes until Pupillage Gateway closed. His head was telling him he should be working on his applications, but his heart was below the line on Legal Cheek. Katie’s article had caught his eye as he had been eating his lunch and, as he glanced over the stories of established barristers’ less successful moments, his eyes widened. Time stood still, his half-eaten tuna sandwhich tumbling from his hand as if in slow motion.

This was it. One of them had let the veil slip. He’d always known, somehow. It was a feeling he’d had all his life, that feeling that something was wrong with the world, like a splinter in his mind, driving him mad, driving him to Legal Cheek.

In his hurry to join in the latest twitter exchange a barrister, no, a silk, had made a fatal error. Anonymous leapt to his feet, grabbing a white board marker as did. Almost in frenzy he started to write. “BCL” “KBW” “interview” “FT”. Words were circled, underlined, circled again. As he drew arrow after arrow, drawing the threads together. “This will bring them down” he muttered “this will bring them *all* down”.

He knew they wouldn’t accept it at first. He knew they were too used to the shadows on the cave wall. But he’d show them. As he stepped back to admire his work, at last it all made sense. It was all connected.

“Back of the net” .

Anonymous

Lol. Give David icke 3 years of legal training at de montford, anonymise his exam paper, and let’s compare it to the genius qc’ s anonymised exam paper !

Anonymous

Anonymous, please start posting as ‘De Montford’ or something, your comments are pure gold

Anonymous

Thanks but it is less stressful posting anonymously !

Big Dolla

Is it that much more stressful to post under another name with which your personal identity is completely anonymous?

Go on De Montford.

Anonymous

Thanks Big Dolla at 731. I thought your first post was enemy fire when you said incisive logic !

I think you can get stressed by it but I’ll think about it.

Anonymous

This is quite possibly the best comment I have ever seen on Legal Cheek.

Anonymous

Left a pupillage interview at [Anonymous] Chambers, who were very nice. Sensed the room was a little weird as I left.

Get stuck between the doors in the corridor due to strange locking mechanism, so I am outside the interview room for perhaps longer than anyone expects.

Hear the room erupting into hysterical laughter.

Anonymous

More context please. This is a safe i.e. anonymous space.

Anonymous

Aww if this was very recently, I might have been on this committee. Can’t remember what we were laughing at, but it wasn’t you.

Anonymous

My bet is this was Landmark… simply on the basis of those bloody doors! No comment on the laughter.

Anonymous

Discretion is my middle name – it was Radcliffe, and to be fair, I think (or, I like to tell myself while I cry into my pillow) that I heard someone say, in between the tears of laughter, that I was “lovely”. So I think I was inadvertently hilarious.

Smug former pupil

This is such a relief, I thought I was the only person who heard the interview panel laughing about them after I had left the room. Jokes on them, I got pupillage at a set that offered three times their terrible pupillage award (in the times before a minimum award of £12,000).

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Anonymous

The commenter above ranting about Sean Jones QC is clearly on glue BUT I do agree that the humblebrag stories about how little of a shit he gave about TC interviews are spectacularly unhelpful to the intended audience of this initiative, which is students who are trying really fucking hard and still not getting anywhere (not the elite few who are going to sail into pupillage even after they’ve rocked up at a few magic circle training days drunk as a skunk, just for bants).

Anonymous

Four up votes for Daniel in the lion’s den is good going.

You’ve got 13 votes for a safe point. If you had added…and I think its plausible that if he behaved like that he was either not all that Good afterall, and did not need to be, or he was spoon fed…it would not mean that you were chippy or were on glue. It would simply mean you would turn away from the dart board having scored 180, rather than the 100 which you did score, because you would have been a better player.

A lot of the up votes for the haters will likely be his friends and aquaintances. One says as much.

Anonymous

Just out of interest, leaving aside darts and football, what is the game we’re all supposed to be playing?

Anonymous

Provided we don’t actually put the vaunted price jones qc to an anonymised test, so that the down voters are spared looking stupid when it’s too close to call against the pauper, bantz.

Corbyn. Sympathiser is a great one for bantz.

All you need to play is a written voice, a thick skin and anonymity.

Anonymous

So, is your stance anti-Oxbridge, or just anti-Sean?

Anonymous

I am a leveller. I spotted that Sean could be beaten for pace and I knew all hell would break loose if I showed him up. But it’s nothing personal.

That said if you noticed this year in a levels radley public school got caught cheating first, then a few others.

I think there is an opening that they got caught this year but what they did may be the norm. It is possible that Oxbridge, being very similar to radley, acts in a comparable way and that some of the students get coached.

It is in everyone’s interest if they do. Certain public schools are notorious for feeding ceryain colleges, if i am not mistaken.

We would find out with scrutineering if they were the creme de la creme.

Those who benefit from an elevated position can spot a good leveller and they go mad. If they *have* been coached and their exam papers * would * show it across the piece, they will know better than anyone and they will want to shoot the messenger.

I do also think that if anyone bright was given a top pupillage they would get the hang of it. It is like medical college. The college will turn out doctors as business as usual but they put entry barriers up to restrict the output.

Do you think I have a point to the degree that it would be fun to do a scrutiny exercise ?

Anonymous

For an advocacy exercise at a pupillage interview once, we were instructed to role play a bail application. I can’t remember now whether we were supposed to be advancing it or opposing it, but I misread the instructions and whatever it is we were supposed to do, I argued the wrong side. Unsurprisingly I didn’t get the pupillage. But luckily (with hindsight) I ended up doing commercial instead of crime – and that set has since gone out of business.

Anonymous

Must have been some time ago if you were simulataneously applying for criminal and commerical pupillages.

Anonymous

It wasn’t recent but might not have been as long ago as you might think. I just applied for everything going on the basis that I should get a practising certificate by any means then worry about what I did later.

Anonymous

More applicants need to realise this. Qualification is everything.

BPTC student

That’s a very misleading statement. Being a chancery/commercial barrister at Wilberforce or One Essex Court is a completely different job to being a barrister at a general civil set, and both are completely different to being a criminal barrister. Some people want that first job specifically. They basically have no choice but to apply to those sets. Of course, many people just want to be a barrister. For them, your advice is spot on. But you’re doing harm to anyone who hopes to do proper big ticket commercial work and thinks that if they get a criminal pupillage they will just move to commercial law once they have a practising certificate. I challenge you to link a profile of a single barrister under the age of 50 doing international commercial work at a top set who started out as a common law or criminal barrister. No can do. You couldn’t move up there even from a decent mid-tier set like Hardwicke or 2TG.

Anonymous

Yes agreed – if you are punching for the magic circle sets, yes, you have to start there. The usual run of things is that Essex Court/Blackstone etcs pupils who aren’t taken on get third sixes the next rung down, and get taken on. You will seem some pretty big changes there from high end tax to planning, for example. So in your example, One Essex Court to general civil is perfectly possible. As you say, the other way would never happen, but frankly, you are very unlikely to get to One Essex Court from anywhere else.

My point was (and perhaps could have been expressed better) that within the boundaries of your competence, you can change practice areas with less pain than you would expect once you have qualified and you are in practice. I know scores of people who have had interesting cases and head in different directions, sometime outgrowing their chambers. Criminal law to white collar crime to general commercial litigation seems a pretty well-trodden route. I know public law specialists who have become arbitration wonks, and then onto commercial sets. Real property to family law slightly less so.

Harding

The interview was going well until they asked me to discuss the finer points of a recent judgment which I had never heard of. The unmistakeable scent of liquid shit began to emanate from my nether regions. I knew, but was unsure whether my interviewers did, that I had shat myself. They were sitting 3 metres away. Too close for comfort. I got up told them that as an advocate, I prefer to address my audience from a standing position. I moved carefully away from them. 6 metres. That bought me time. I began an impromptu presentation on the Jackson reforms, commencing my trademark ‘QOCS or ball’ game (I produce either a printout of 44.14 or a part of my ball sack and the players have to guess what it is). As I reached into my trousers to grab the printout, I momentarily forgot why I started the game, and brandished a shit-stained page of the CPR to the astonishment of my panel. Got the pupillage. Now at a good London set.

Anonymous

As a trainee I got on well with one of my supervisors. I was showing her some photos when I got back from a holiday in Lanzarote and my phone rang. I took the call and handed her the phone to check out the rest of my holiday snaps. Unfortunately I had forgotten about some photos and a video that I had received from my boyfriend earlier on that day. She didn’t say anything but I think she definitely must have seen them. I felt so bad and embarrassed!

Anonymous

Specifically what were the photos/video of?

Anonymous

A flat he had looked at, as we were thinking of moving. In South London it was. God I shudder to think what she thought of me. I immediately tendered my resignation.

Anonymous

Oh I see. That is quite funny haha!

I thought from the way you described it that the photographs were sexual in nature. Perhaps even worse, with use of adult toys or food such as cream or Nutella.

Anonymous

I wish! I was working for Jones Day at the time. If it had been pictures like that I’d have immediately been offered partnership.

Innit

My most embarrassing moment – I used to work at DWF.

Tramplepip

And all those years ago I had the choice between a TC at Pinsent or Irwin Mitchell. Guess who chose Irwin Mitchell.

Anonymous

RIP career

Flatulent of Counsel

Once let a silent one go in a pupillahe interview.

Unfortunately the message had content, and the stench was overpowering.

None of the panel said anything but the disgust was written all over their faces.

Needless to say, I didn’t get pupillary there.

Anonymous

Did you bust a pupillary later?

Little Lord Pimple

In a bid to totally alter my approach to interviews and relate more to the all male panels, I decided to:

– confirm how amazing I am due to my Grammar school, Oxbridge education and upper class status and would therefore be a wunderbar fit to the Chambers

– put in a subtle comment as to how I enjoy being part of all male clubs and societies, without giving the impression that I am gay (which would be a terrible revelation given that senior male barristers are all straight and in perfect relationships so don’t need to sleep with pupils), regarding of the fact that I may be seen as a misogynist

– make general commentary so as to show that despite my innocent looks and lovely nature on the outside, on the inside I am just as much a bigoted twit as they are, whilst being careful not to give the impression that I would in future pierce the veil of the sanctity of the bar, by being caught out by, erm, having sex in public, having a cocaine addiction, or such like.

I didn’t get the job (I think it is because my parent’s live in a high-end London area but their apartment is only leasehold) but I did get asked out my a male QC on the panel.

Anon.

hear hear old boy!

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