Advice

Should I stop chasing pupillage?

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187

‘I feel like I’m going backwards’

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one bar hopeful is losing hope.

“Hi Legal Cheek. I’ve just completed my third cycle of pupillage applications. I have a high 2:1 in law (non-Russell Group) and an outstanding on the BPTC. In my first year of applying, I didn’t receive any offers. I wasn’t surprised, I knew my CV wasn’t strong enough. In my second year of trying and now with some legal experience (minis, shadowing and an internship), I secured two interviews but no offers. I’ve just finished my third round of applications without receiving a single interview offer. This despite gaining further experience (two more minis and six months as a paralegal). Should I give up? I feel like I’m going backwards…”

If you have a career conundrum, email us with it to careers@legalcheek.com.

187 Comments

Sorry

Do you have a full time job? Paralegal for a bit

(8)(11)

Anonymous

And reassess your career choices. Being a barrister is now in the sub-set that includes astronaut, premier league footballers and Victoria’s Secret models.

(30)(1)

Anonymous

Do not give up! The whole system is pretty random. I got offer on first attempt in the first place I applied to (having a law degree from a foreign uni and UK LLM), while some Oxbridge educated friends spent couple of years applying for jobs. Honestly, do not see any logic in this, this is largely a matter of luck.

(36)(7)

Duncan

Are llms hard? Do they require far more work than an LLB or same effort? Thanks

(14)(1)

afsoinsofn

depends where you go. in my view, LLB was harder

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Same for me! But my LLM was at a lower ranking uni than my undergrad, so that may be the reason

(2)(0)

Anonymous

No, they are a piece of cake. It is basically a gap year. No one cares about an LLM. The only one year course in the UK with any cachet is the BCL.

(7)(3)

Anonymous

What if you do your LLM at, say, LSE or UCL, specialising in international or commercial law? Would that be “a piece of cake”?

And money isn’t a problem, I’m very well off thanks to daddy

(11)(2)

Anonymous

Total piece of cake. No-one in a pupillage interview is going to care unless you did the BCL or went to the States.

Duncan

Are US LLM’s more difficult? Or more demanding? Say at harvard or NYU? As opposed to British LLM’s?

Again, dw I can still afford it 🙂 my concerns are how strenuous the courses are and where I may achieve a high grade!

Anonymous

US LLMs are simple as the JD course itself is a post-grad course, so most law schools simply offer JD classses to foreign students as a fee-garnering LLM package. No-one will care what grades you get. The thing that will make a difference in interviews is most likely to be whether you gained one of the more prestigious UK scholarships to attend one of the top 10 US-law schools. And that is something a spoilt little rich kid can’t buy so easily with daddy’s cash.

madgrad

Cambridge LLM carries a lot of weight too, and its a doddle.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

It doesn’t carry “a lot of weight”. A Cambridge LLM is for those too lazy to do the BCL or those who want to play in Cambridge for another year. Last time I interviewed someone with a Cambridge LLM my only question on it was “Why didn’t you do the BCL?”

Anonymous

Life’s hard.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

And then you eventually realise that while your mother said you can be anything you to be she was talking bollocks.

(7)(3)

Anonymous

Yours obviously never taught you to proofread!

#epicfail

Anonymous

Oh bless, it uses hashtags, while trying to be smart about typos. How ghastly.

citylawyer

I think it depends on what area you are looking to practice in. I suspect that it might be possible to get pupillage with your credentials at a decent criminal set or possibly a lower tier common law set even after a couple of attempts. However, based on your background alone, obtaining pupillage at a decent commercial or commercial chancery set is far more difficult as the standards are incredibly high. I know friends and colleagues with great CVs (with Oxbridge Firsts, mooting expereince, prizes etc.) who really struggled.

(19)(1)

Anonymous

Do the PSQ. At present you appear to have no experience of advocacy at all and no relevant experience in any field of law. The PSQ will allow you to earn a reasonably good income for a start and give you client contact.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

“reasonably good income” is quite subjective here.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

did you have to put that? Or are you a very bored second year trying to look smart by making silly comment- virgin.

Rick

I AM NOT A VIRGIN!!!!!!

Anonymous

Standard rate is £100 per police station with an average of 2 to 3 per 8 hour rota. So you will come out with about £30 to £50 per hour. Your BVTC / LPC gives you exception from the 1st Stage so you only have to do the Portfolio. Its better than paralegaling which is your only other option when not yet qualified. Worst case, you do it and have an extra income source and gain some experience. Best case it helps you qualify.

Archibald Pomp O'City

How rather refreshing to see a comment with useful advice rather than a dismal attempt at wit.

Anonymous

Spoiler. Cheers, sons crying. Nice one.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

It may be that your CV is going backwards, in the sense that the sort of things that chambers look for may now be a bit out of date. For example, my set looks at advocacy experience and positions of responsibility, among other things. If you haven’t done any advocacy since the BPTC, then it might now look a bit stale. If you can fit FRU or solicitor’s agent work into your work schedule, that could keep things fresh and give you something more to talk about at interview.

(32)(1)

Kronos

Give up, move to LA, and apply to join Greenberg Glusker LLP!

It’s clearly a top, top titan of a firm – why else would it be mentioned so frequently in the comments on Legal Cheek?

(6)(42)

Anonymous

It features because of pointless unfunny trolling.

(17)(5)

A concerned citizen

You need to be euthanised, for the good of humanity. I can promise you that it will be completely painless – unlike reading your painfully unfunny GG comments for the fiftieth time.

(5)(7)

Anonymous

You with the euthanasia obsession who has commented here several times before in exactly the same way, please get help before you hurt somebody, or yourself.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Brothers! Sisters!

A universal basic income is the hallmark of a civilised society! No one should need to work! People work too hard as it is!

Embrace your idleness and campaign for Jeremy Corbyn!

We need to tax City Greed at 75% and redistribute it for legal aid and a basic income!

VOTE LABOUR! FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW!!!!

(9)(55)

Anonymous

Stranger! Stranger!

A lack of a safety net is the hallmark of a fair society! Everyone should need to work! People work too little as it is!

Embrace your greed and campaign for Theresa May!

We need to cut back on disabled greed and hand that money back to the City boys and girls!

VOTE TORY! FOR THE TOP, NOT THE BOTTOM!

(48)(6)

Anonymous

Do you also post the GG ‘jokes’?

(0)(1)

Anonymous

🎶OH J-JEREMY CORB-BIN🎶

(0)(4)

Anonymous

Maybe it is JDP going crazy after LC started to delete all his/her (?) comments.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Do not give up! It is correct to say it is a bit like a lottery! The 5 year limit can often be extended if you have relevant legal work experience as it is in place for continuing professional development reasons. Real life work is what will set you apart – chambers want to see that you can do the job as everyone has the BPTC, minis etc keep working and finding examples through your work of how you are developing the skills needed to be a Barrister

(16)(2)

Anonymous

I know and feel your pain! Keep on going, widen the scope, network more and sharpen your application. Getting there one time means you have something someone will want.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

I’m coming to the end of my fifth cycle of pupillage applications. I have a first from a non-Russell Group university, a Masters from a Russell Group University, an Inn scholarship, a handful of relevant (but now dated) minis, a VC on the BPTC with a couple of awards, international mooting experience, and two years of paralegal experience. There has been some pro-bono stuff sprinkled here and there, too.

I’ve made close to 100 pupillage applications over the last five years, and obtain more and more interviews with each passing year. I obtain at least one final-round interview every year. This year, I have had ten first-round interviews, and converted four of them into final-rounders. I would have quit years ago if I wasn’t getting close. It is a maddening existence.

My comments may not be particularly helpful as, like you, I’m on the outside looking in. But from my years of pushing through the drudgery, one thing has become clear – one’s ‘fit’ with chambers is very important.

However, ‘fit’ is a difficult thing to achieve. At the paper stage, it is hard to sell oneself to chambers if you have no direct experience of them or their work. Some chambers make matters worse by having little online presence, and therefore little material with which you can establish links.

Even if you do have some connection with chambers, you may sometimes get the wrong end of the stick, or your app will land in front of someone who actually doesn’t think very much of you anyway.

On that note, in the past I have gained access to some of my application mark sheets from some chambers. I have seen big disparities in the way members of the same committee award marks. There is and will always be a subjective element to the process.

At the interview stage, technically excellent interviews may not result in offers because you do not have the personality that particular chambers is looking for in a pupil. I’ve experienced that a number of times, and it’s reflected in the feedback I’ve received. It is a frustrating reality, and something you can’t really remedy.

Once lots of chambers start rejecting you, the question of whether your personality is not suited to the work of a barrister is raised.

But perhaps that is just paranoia forged from years of rejection talking. It might just be because far too many people are funnelled in to the BPTC, with nowhere to go thereafter. It might just be because it has disrupted the last few years of my life, but I believe the pupillage demand/supply gap is a major issue the Bar as a whole needs to address. It wouldn’t be so bad if the BPTC grads had somewhere to go reflective of their work and achievements – but a lot of them don’t.

My advice is based on my current plan of action. Continue making your applications, but with each passing year drift further away from jobs traditionally thought of as more closely aligned to the Bar. Find a job in the Civil Service or an NGO, and start getting on with life. I’d advise looking into qualifying as a solicitor, but in recent years the avenues for BPTC grads have been blocked, and so it may be better to wait for 2020 or beyond. Hopefully the SRA qualification shakeups will introduce a new path for us.

Good luck out there – life for those of us stuck in the pupillage purgatory isn’t all that fun.

(108)(0)

Barrister but a shit one

Let us know if you get your pupillage! Sounds like you thoroughly deserve it.

(19)(1)

Anonymous

It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, I’m afraid. And to be honest, I’m at peace with it. I have become thoroughly disillusioned with the Bar, its processes and its people.

As I stated above, ‘fit’ is important, and it has been made painfully clear to me that irrespective of my achievements, passion and persistence, I don’t fit in anywhere at the Bar. Many who complete the BPTC just don’t. Time to find somewhere I do.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Best of luck to you.

It is so easy to forget that you have other options in life and ultimately, those that truly matter (your partner/kids/family/dog) won’t ‘love’ you more for being a barrister than not being one.

Plenty of unhappy, alcoholic barristers out there with broken marriages and kids they never see seeking validation and attention anywhere they can get it. Don’t make your career your identity.

(13)(0)

Anonymous

This is so true! But of course if you have done the BPTC your family – whether that’s your parents, partner or kids – will generally want you to succeed at the goal you set yourself in the first place, so this sometimes just adds to the pressure, especially if they have given you support by providing finance / letting you take time out of paid work / borne the brunt of the household chores.

Anonymous

My elderly dying uncle (my only living relative) said it would be the proudest day of his life to see me on my feet in court.

The sheer stress of not being able to get pupillage means that I am suffering from bed-defacating.

Anonymous

Yep. I can see just how upset and frustrated my parents are, mirroring my own feelings. Thankfully, like me they have come to understand the process of obtaining pupillage for what it really is, rather than take my inability to obtain it as a reflection of my work ethic or aptitude.

Anonymous

We’re all in the same boat. Paralegal experience is good, a real-world insight into the practice field is always good marks. Minis in all aspects of your chosen field add weight. But pro bono, moots, debates and real world advocacy experience haven’t been mentioned in your profile. Focus on those if they’re lacking. You’ll also need a whole lot of luck, unfortunatley. It’s a maze that we’re all trying to navigate.
Was once told there is a huge difference between mooting and advocacy – every LLB/BPTC grad has the former. Not everyone has the latter. It’s the latter that is key: FRU, police station rep etc.
The Bar loses talented and capable advocates not because they are not chosen for pupillage, but because they give up rather than keep fighting.

(15)(1)

Anonymous

One of the hallmarks of a good litigator is knowing when to give up and when to keep fighting.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Perseverance is the key.

Everyone loves a trier.

(10)(2)

Anonymous

This is key because remember in the saturated market chambers are now keen at looking at how long will you stay with us/will you commit to the Bar long-term.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

God no! I don’t want to see someone who tried too hard. I want to see effortless success. If someone works too hard to achieve the entry tickets then they and their mind are too dull.

(3)(3)

Scep Tick

Change your surname to Denning or Browne-Wilkinson or Sumption or any other QC or judge you can think of. They’ll be queueing up for you.

(23)(4)

Bendy Hendy

Personally, I recommend kidnapping a QC’s child. Don’t give it back until you’ve got what you want plus a pair of plimsolls. For god sake done forget the plimsolls.

(31)(0)

Big Jobbie the Dominator

Get back in your box, Hendron!

Did I give you leave?

(4)(0)

Fred

Give up one the bar but not the job.

I assume it’s the actual advocacy you enjoy and although it wasn’t something I initially thought I would enjoy, I do now. So I can see the appeal, but there are other ways into the court room if that’s what you want to do. The Bar buy it’s nature tend attract the sort of people, who’s faces fit etc and maybe yours doesn’t. Mine most definitely wouldn’t fit in any set of chambers I can think of but I still spend a grate deal of time on my feet in court.

So as long as you don’t mine not have ‘of counsel’ tacked on the end of your name look at the other legal professions

(2)(6)

Anonymous

U cant even spell mate never mind apply to chambers

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Can you try devilling/pupillage in Belfast? Or even Dublin at a stretch?

(2)(3)

Anonymous

There are only a small number of places and you have to sit an extremely competitive entrance exam. Is your dad or uncle a QC? If not, then no devilling for you. Plus there is almost no work once you are in.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I think the uncomfortable and often unspoken truth is that if you start off with a non-Russell group university undergraduate degree you are going to have a tough time of it. As others have stated the odds are already pretty slim for Oxbridge undergraduates seeking pupillage and if you are non-Russell group you are really fighting an uphill struggle.

Part of the problem is that BPTC providers like the UoL and BPP don’t give a s*** where you did your undergraduate degree. Clearly they just want your tuition fees. They will promise misguided applicants the world and offer them encouragement to get those fees. From an economic standpoint that is very unlikely to be a worthwhile gamble – although obviously I appreciate that there will be a small number of examples of non-RG undergraduates who have made it to the bar. You need to have an objective look in the mirror as you will probably be better off applying for something else instead.

I also think “perseverance” on its own won’t get you anywhere and adding some additional mooting experience to your application the following year is unlikely to make a difference. The academic snobbery prevalent throughout the bar will mean that your application will realistically almost always come second to someone who has an Oxbridge undergraduate degree. I predict a pupillage application reviewer’s eyes will be drawn to that part of the form first over any extra-curricular experience.

(45)(3)

Anonymous

Hello, I got an offer of pupillage in my fourth year of applying, actually from a very prestigious Chambers (far more up-market than many I’d been desperate to join). I don’t think you should give up, but I do think you should have an alternative plan and work towards that. If you can’t be a barrister what would you want to do next and realistically could do? It may be hard work but can you work towards both goals?

In addition to FRU work and your paralegalling, try writing legal articles, because that shows oomph and will look impressive.

Don’t give up, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket either. Good luck! xx

(20)(2)

Anonymous

It took me 5 years of applying. I was often rejected without interview at low ranked chambers, and ultimately secured pupillage at a top tier set. It is almost entirely pure luck. Do get someone senior to look over your application – there might be improvements you can make to your written application.

You have nothing to lose in carrying on trying for pupillage, but in the meantime try to secure a job you enjoy so that you don’t hate life in the interim whilst applying for pupillage.

(23)(1)

Anonymous

The advice of juniors up to 5 years’ call is likely to be much more helpful as they will have seen it from both sides.

Most “seniors” at the Bar probably have no idea what the process entails and, frankly, would have absolutely no chance of getting pupillage today.

(9)(0)

St82A7

Time to give up, go into legal recruitment with all your peers.

You’re non-Russell group, who spoon fed you the lie?

(28)(19)

Anonymous

Don’t do endless FRU cases. The saddest part of spending time there was watching excellent advocates take on 20+ cases and still get nowhere because of academic snobbery over which university they picked aged 17.

You have one life. I stopped applying after 4 application rounds to set up a business. I’ve travelled to 40 countries since then and only wish I started sooner. Lost two stone of weight from law school and felt like a new person. Dating-wise, I definitely got more attention by not being involved with the law as I think I came across as much more relaxed, happy and approachable. It’s been incredible and beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

No depression, sexual harassment, insecurity, racism, worry over getting paid by solicitors, couriers sending papers at midnight or aggressive members of chambers. I don’t walk around feeling stressed all the time or thinking I have anything to prove.

Confront reality. The Bar is full of narcissist, emotionally-broken, alcoholic, entitled snobs. Read what’s on Twitter and be honest about whether you’d like those whinging, manipulative attention-seekers as friends. No amount of followers, cases won or booze ever makes them feel whole.

You have one life. The peace of mind you get from stepping away from the pupillage chase to actually do the things you want to do with that life is beyond monetary value. I’m grateful every day for those opportunities.

(69)(11)

Anonymous

Despite your repeated attempts to sound happy, you still sound very bitterly resentful towards the Bar. I hope one day you truly are happy in your career and can move on from this hatred towards barristers.

(19)(60)

Anonymous

There we go – an ad hominem attack because I chose not to live a stressful and nightmarish existence.

Why do you think so many in the profession harass one another or turn to alcohol? I don’t think it’s because they’re particularly happy and fulfilled.

(37)(3)

Anonymous

hahahaha you moan about ad hominem attack when your entire original post was a personal attack on barristers..

(10)(22)

Anonymous

And now I’m meant to realise my grave mistake and mourn what I missed out on..?

OP, go out there and get those dreams you have. Putting your life on ‘Pause’ because you’re waiting for pupillage is ultimately beneath your talents.

Anonymous

Well it wasn’t so much a mistake. You tried and failed to secure pupillage. I hope you can move on with your life, a life outside law (and not reading Legal Cheek). I know people who are happy with their alternative careers after failing to secure pupillage. Despite your protesting, you do not seem to be happy..

Anonymous

I now need a barrister’s permission to read Legal Cheek and to voice an opinion…?

This really doesn’t help the ‘Barristers are actually lovely people’ argument.

Anonymous

Don’t think that was the argument. You have never practised at the Bar and have no idea what barristers are like nor do you have any idea what practice at the Bar is like. Yet you post as if you do.

Anonymous

So you think people who have never practiced at the Bar have no right to an opinion on the behaviour of barristers? As if we don’t know any very well from the BPTC, public Twitter accounts, pro bono advocacy appearances, relationships or working for them??

Amazing how some barristers physically can’t handle any criticism. There’s the narcissism and insecurity at work again.

Anonymous

So you think people who have never practised at the bar know what its like? 99.9% of barristers do not have twitter accounts, the BPTC is not practice and unless you are a clerk you will never have worked for a member of the bar. Amazing how some failed applicants can’t handle the idea that perhaps they just were not that good. There’s the narcissism and insecurity at work again.

Anonymous

You think the only way a barrister could employ another person is as a clerk???

You aren’t really in practice, are you?

Anonymous

If you are so happy with your lucky escape, why are you on this site?

A barrister

Sadly, I have to agree with your assessment of members of the profession

(20)(0)

Andon

If you are so “over” the Bar and are pursuing a non-legal career, it is a bit odd that you are still perusing and commenting on Legal Cheek. Methinks the failed BPTC graduate doth protest too much.

(0)(7)

Anonymous

Is your practice so poor that you have plenty of time to look at Legal Cheek too…?

(16)(9)

Andon

On the contrary – my practice is so healthy I only need to work a 3 to 4 day week most of the time. But anyway, I posted at 7pm. A better questions is, is your social/sex life so poor that YOU have plenty of time to look on LC at 11pm on a Friday night?

(0)(6)

Anonymous

So much pointless aggression thrown around. No job is worth that.

Feel genuinely sorry for your wife and children.

Anonymous

One can overcome the problem of having attended a university with a lower reputation for undergrad by doing really well, ranking very high in their year and pursuing the Oxfod BCL or Cambridge LLM and getting a First or Distinction.

(1)(1)

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