I am quitting my high-flying advertising role to chase my barrister dream

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Are there any specific types of legal experience which look more impressive than others?

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, a high-flying marketing executive wants to pursue a career at the bar and needs readers’ advice.

“I’m 26-years-old and currently work in the advertising industry, at one of London’s leading agencies. After three years, I’ve decided that I want a career change, and have become fascinated by a career at the bar. I know it’s a long, expensive journey to get pupillage, and eventually a tenancy, but it’s one I’m willing to make.

The key question I’m contemplating at the moment is how the time between now and the start of my Graduate Diploma in Law (September 2019) is best spent. I could stick at my current job, and take the occasional holiday to do mini-pupillages or marshalling as and when the opportunities are available. Or I could leave at some point early in the New Year, and look to gain some more in-depth legal experience, perhaps as a paralegal.

Do you think that longer-term experience would bolster my CV and show commitment to the profession? And do you think there are specific types of legal experience which look more impressive than others?”

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You’re an idiot. Stop now before it’s too late.




Do not do this.

Stay with advertising.



Suspect the people saying stick with advertising don’t know anyone who actually works in advertising. It’s a young person’s game. Lots of churn, not viable for may to stay after age 30.



Tell that to Don Draper



You’re mental. Don’t do it.






I’d suggest staying on at your job until the GDL. It’s an intense year, and the BPTC is just as bad, so if you want more legal experience, between the GDL and the BPTC or after the BPTC is a more ideal time to do it. Plus, you’ll have the benefit of all the careers services during your studies tailored to your career path and the type of law you want to practise in. There could be amazing experiences in your chosen field you’re not yet aware of. But of course marshalling and minis in the mean time are great.

All the best to you!



Commitment to the profession lol


Tired Lawyer

Firstly, don’t do this.

But if you must (and I think most of us recognise the initial compulsion), then you might well be in a good place already. Does your company have an internal legal team you could get seconded into? Do you work with external lawyers who you could do a reverse secondment with? Could you move within advertising to a role that would offer some of these things? Ultimately some proper, hands-on experience and building a network of industry contacts is likely to be more valuable than doing some photocopying as a paralegal for £4.78 an hour. You’ll be better paid, doing more interesting things, with better career prospects if you can find the right role that gives you law-facing work in industry. (It needn’t even be doing actual law—something like supplier management of external counsel would be helpful.)



DO NOT DO THIS! As a pupil, who has secured tenancy, if I could go back in time I would not have chosen this path. Yes, the money is good, but the stress is not worth it.



Are you saying you’re a current pupil? How on earth have you secured tenancy after 2 months of pupillage…?



Doing a third six, perhaps?



Or finished their pupillage last month.



Before you take such a radical step with its life changing consequences have a very careful think about why you want to come to the Bar. What is driving you? What fantasy images are in your head about yr new life? Be honest with yourself: is it dreams of cheering juries? Judges saying, ” This barrister is a star” ? Is it lots of money? Is it the dressing up? That’s fun – the first 2 dozen times. Is it an intellectual drive towards the law? If so, how much have you read/analyzed already? Is it a commitment to social change? Other than cheering juries and the dressing up every one of those desires can be fulfilled elsewhere…( NB Juries do not do this) Don’t shift jobs out of mere discontent with the one you have. Don’t shift unless you are clear and realistic about what you want and that the law will give it to you. Caveat emptor in fact. ( but we don’t do the latin anymore…)



It’s fun the first 2 times maybe



Don’t do it.



I will assume this individual is a masochist.



Legal cheek knows this is a completely pointless question because they have failed to provide any detail about WHY this person is interested in the bar. Which means that if anyone actually gave an answer beyond “Don’t do this”, their answer would be meaningless. If the person wants to be a criminal barrister, then working as a paralegal at WilmerHale doing investment treaty arbitration is unlikely to be helpful. If he wants to practise investment treaty arbitration then volunteering at FRU and doing police station attendances is unlikely to be helpful.

In the absence of any relevant detail: Don’t do it.



Well, working at FRU certainly won’t help gain skills directly relevant to investment treaty arbitration. But it is fantastic experience for client contact, running own case, early steps into legal professionalism. No commercial set, including those specialising in arbitration, would see FRU as a waste of time.



Stop trying to make FRU happen, it’s not a thing.



Don’t do it. Twenty years ago, it would have given you a great career, but not now. Besides which, you’re statistically massively unlikely to get pupillage.



Don’t submit to those who say, “don’t do it”. But equally, do not ignore those comments either. 80% of people who study for the Bar do not have any chance of securing pupillage. Identify the sets which appeal to you, look at the online profiles of junior tenants at those sets, and only if your CV is commensurate with theirs should you even consider studying for the Bar.

As for your actual question, stick with your job. Mini-pupillages are just a box-ticking exercise. You only need to do 2 or 3 of them, and you can easily do that during your annual leave (or indeed during the GDL).



I did this in 2013. I had a good job as a management consultant for a big global firm. I hated it, and I took a chance on becoming a barrister. Now I’m a junior tenant at a good set of chambers in London.

I don’t know what your qualifications and experience are. Those are the most important determining factor for how well you’ll do.

I took a good decision early on to apply for an Inn scholarship to fund the GDL. This was for two reasons: first, I needed the money; and second, getting the scholarship would be a good early indicator (before I had to commit) of whether my qualifications and experience were of the sort which was likely to make it, or not. (The former management consultant in me would consider this “quality assurance” or “alpha testing”).

Fortunately I got my scholarship, and didn’t look back: I did the GDL, BPTC and pupillage in consecutive years, then got taken on.

The real spade work starts on the GDL, which is an endless round of mini-pupillages, moots, essay competitions, chambers “getting to know you” events, etc. So prepare for that.

Before the GDL:
* Read. Read everything. Keep reading until you start to feel like you’re reading the same stuff again. Read cases, read articles about cases, read chambers’ websites, read things on the sites of specialist bar associations. Get a flavour of what’s going on in the market, and what areas of law you’re interested in.
* If you can, do a mini or two; but don’t worry if you can’t. There’s time for that.
* Join an Inn. It’s not that costly and you get access to all of their student events.
* Get a flavour of what areas of law you’re interested in, BUT be prepared to change that completely. You won’t have a developed idea till you start doing minis and learning more about life at the sharp end. 2013-me would have been surprised at 2016-me’s new tenancy, but I love what I do and I’m doing well at it.
* Prepare yourself for bad news. This process is about resilience: being able to take and absorb bad feedback, and act on it intelligently, without it totally crushing your confidence. The feedback might be that you’re not suited to X area of work, or Y chambers; that’s fine, you can go elsewhere. It might be that the bar isn’t for you. Try to find a way (like scholarship applications) to find this out early. And try to detach your overall happiness from success at this venture: I love my job, but my job isn’t what makes me happy.



What is your practice area?



Personal injury and employment.



I’m interested in those areas but, honestly, how is the money?





Quiet, fresher.


I wish I were. To be young, footloose and fancy free again. Sigh.


OP here. Money’s fine. Not the megabucks my mates make in Chancery, but more than double what I pulled in at Accenture.


I don’t understand the negativity before this. I hope you have looked hard at your CV. If you have a very good degree (1st) from a very good university (Oxbridge/RG), then I think you can feel good about this decision. Less than that it’s a gamble. I don’t think paralegalling gives you any advantage whatsoever on pupillage applications, and it might even be a disadvantage (snobbism). Your experience in advertising will be more impressive. Mini-pupillages and marshalling are good, but no need to go crazy. Getting articles published (legal or nonlegal), winning mooting competitions, winning essay competitions are also good. Depending on the chambers, some kind of regular legal-ish volunteering (e.g. FRU, CAB, other advisory/advocacy work) may be useful. Though frankly I don’t think that matters much for commercial or commercial chancery. The main thing is grades, so try to do well on the GDL. Don’t do the BPTC without securing pupillage first.



If you think a first class degree from a good uni stops this being a gamble, you’re wrong. That on your CV might make it likely that you get an interview but you’ll be up against a lot of other applicants with similar CVs.



No, if you have a CV that consistently gets you interviews it’s not so much of a gamble. At that stage I think ability to shine at interview makes a difference.



Even an Oxbridge degree isn’t enough to guarantee pupillage.

At my old shop, we had a Cambridge grad on a £12k salary as an administrator. She was hopelessly over-qualified for a role that she was told would never become fee-earning, but for her it was a foot in the door and at the ability to put a decent firm on her CV.



A person with a first class Oxbridge degree is pretty likely to get pupillage. It’s theirs to lose imo.



No argument there.



Lol. There are hundreds of first class Oxbridge degrees every year. Granted, not all of them go for the bar, but still, it’s a lot. Add those who graduated in the last three years. Then compare with the number of sets worth applying to (ca. 10)…



Across all practice areas, 10 sets are worth applying to? Fascinating.

If this is based on financial considerations, I’m pretty sure that by now more than 10 sets offer awards of £60,000 or more. Plus, you can live off a £30,000 award perfectly well.

If it’s about prestige – it’s a job. You ultimately want to earn a living doing something you enjoy. I’ve heard you can even do that at sets where fewer than half the members are silks…


Does anyone seriously believe that this is a real question as opposed to a click-bait article dreamed up by the Editors of this august site?

And to answer the question – DON’T BE A MORON – DON’T TRY TO JOIN THE BAR.



For the love of anything you consider dear to you, do not do this



Don’t listen to the naysayers, being self employed is great, and so much better than a corporate desk chained job. However:

1. Don’t do this if you are thinking of the criminal bar. Criminal barristers aren’t respected and the work/pay is atrocious.

2. I’d advise to think twice unless a) you can get into an above average to top set for pupillage, or b) you have the dedication and brains to get into such a set within 4-5 years of tenancy at most.

Don’t discount the regions, but only for the genuinely first rate regional sets, ie the ones that aren’t dominated by crime, family and PI, and which have a sizeable number of QCs (by regional standards).

Your aim even then should be to get either a tenancy or door tenancy at a top London set within 10 years or so.


Glad I left law

Narrow the issues as to why you have this ambition.

Is it because you’ve watched suits or law and order and thought that’s something you could do?

Just factor in – horrible hours, early starts on terrible trains, money isn’t particularly anything to shout about mostly, working with narcissistic people who are power/ control driven… etc.

Why not take a year out and work as a paralegal or for CAB or FRU just to see. Had I done this earlier then I certainly wouldn’t have gone into the profession – I’m glad I left.

However the best tip is – try civil service, CPS, HMRC etc, criminal and tax respectively. Good places to start re pupillage.

Good luck.

Just please talk with lawyers first, this is about you and nothing else.



Lol civil service, CPS, HMRC are a good place to start for pupillage? It is only those who get into chambers that join the CPS. It is known for being horrific, boring work, bad pay and treated like crap by everyone.



Where is the equivalent money for less stress?



Going on the game?



A criminal hack friend of mine (15 years call) reckons that if she worked the same hours as she currently works, but in a minimum wage shelf-stacking job, she would earn more than she currently does. Not vastly more, but more. And she wouldn’t have to travel a hundred miles to get to work, only to be told that she’s bad at her job because she won’t give a cigarette to a 13 year old.



Use your annual leave to do some mini pupillages and then you will be in a position to answer your own question on what to do.

Minis tend to inspire people or cause them to have a reverse turn on the career.


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