Non-Russell Group grad: ‘Is the commercial bar out of my reach?’

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I’m struggling to get mini-pupillages

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one non-Russell Group grad questions if she has what it takes to pursue a career at the commercial bar.

“I graduated with a 2:1 in economics and management studies from a non-Russell Group university. I am aspiring to be a commercial barrister but I’m struggling to get mini-pupillages. So far I’ve applied for seven and been rejected for all of them. I will be commencing my Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) in a couple of weeks and it will be self-funded as I wasn’t able to get an Inns scholarship. I’m certain I can get a distinction and I’m hoping to go on to do a masters in law or the Bachelor of Civil Laws. If I work hard do I have a chance of making it? Or is the reality that commercial chambers really are just looking for Oxbridge undergraduates with first class results? I’ve even considered applying to do a Senior Status law degree at Oxbridge after my GDL if it really will affect my chances that much.”

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Not a commercial silk

Best of luck.



Basically the question is the equivalent of “I play for my school 3rd team at rugby but I reckon I might get a game for Man City”.



I think (unfortunately) this might be impossible



Yes, when your mother said you could be anything you wanted to be she was talking crap.



Look at the sets you’re aiming for. Then look at the CVs of their junior tenants/current pupils. If you’re not comparable, then you’re gonna struggle


Helpful Henry

Just to save you time online, “you’re going to struggle” is being very kind. “Snowball in hell” springs to mind. Meh degree and med university vs first with prizes from Oxbridge.



Get out now before you waste more money on an unachievable goal.



Yes. You are not bright enough for the Commercial or Chancery Bar. I would try Family, Crime or PI.



I know of a commercial silk with a 2:1 from Southampton. It’s not impossible.


Commercial Junior

If he/she is a silk, that means he/she has been in practice for (I’d guess) at least 17 years and possibly quite a lot more. Things were different back then, and it’s very difficult to extrapolate from then to now.

I would suggest it may be more beneficial to look at juniors up to five years’ call. Can you find any with a similar background? I haven’t done a trawl, but don’t know of any offhand. If not, this is likely to be a serious uphill battle and most likely a losing one.



Southampton is a Russell Group uni



Why are people disliking this as though it’s not true?



Because only thick people go there.


You can get a job at a commercial bar. All Bar One, Wetherspoons, Vodka Revolution and Be At One would all be happy to have you!



0/10 funny



Funnier than you mate


Daisy Duke

Nasty. No need.



Dream it

Wish it

Do it



Then learn how to say “do you want fries with that”



That’s a total wan**r thing to say. di*khe*d.



2.08 is just jealous his degree only gets him to mopping the floors. No front of restaurant action for him.


Deila Dannybruge

Why the nastiness. Grow up.


It’s not just the non-Russell Group degree that is a problem, but also the fact you don’t have a first class degree. You aren’t really showing the commercial sets that your A-Level results (if they were the reason you went to a non-RG university) were a blip or an aberration, but that in reality you are a brilliant student. Bear in mind that many commercial sets barely ever take on a student with less than a First from any university – even Oxbridge.

I don’t really see how it makes any sense to do a Senior Status law degree after the GDL. You will then have just wasted all of the money you spent on the GDL, as the SS degree is a qualifying law degree. If you think you might want to do the Senior Status degree, then consider cancelling your GDL place (if it is not too late to do that and get your money back). Of course, there is no guarantee, and it may not even more likely than not, that you will get a place on the Senior Status law degree.

Getting a distinction on the GDL will make barely any difference to the strength of your application. Not ‘zero’, but not very much. Doing well on the BCL would make a difference but, again, there is no guarantee you will actually get a place on the BCL. No doubt you will get a place on an LLM somewhere, if that’s what you want to do, but outside of Cambridge and *possibly* the top London unis, I don’t think a commercial set will give it much regard unless you get a spectacular distinction (possibly not even then). Almost everyone with £10,000 and a year to spend is capable of getting a merit on a vaguely reasonable LLM course.



I think they are certainly looking for firsts, and probably Russell Group. I am due to start pupillage at a Commercial Chancery set and didn’t go to Oxbridge at all, but I did get a first and do a lot of other work experience. I also did quite a lot of mini-pupillages.

If you are struggling to get minis then it may be a sign that you need to adjust your expectations – rejections are certainly par for the course, but to should be able to get a few. You may need to look for slightly lower sets. Some will also always be looking at your undergrad even after getting a masters.

Equally, my experience may not be typical so it may well work out, but it will ceetisblt be more difficult for you to enter the commercial bar straight away after at least.



It can work for a RG grad with a stonking 1st doing very well in a BCL. Other than that you are right.



‘Degree Laundering’



As someone who just finished their GDL with the intention of going down the same route (and a similar CV), I can tell you for a fact that you will be fine if you take a realistic approach to how long getting to the bar may take you. If you excel in your GDL, compete in mooting competitions and get lots of pro bono under your belt, that will not go unnoticed (ignore what these other people have said in the comments). Should you fail to get a 1st and/or complete the BCL, it still remains well within your reach, just push the goal back a couple of years, go and become a paralegal or legal secretary for a few years. You can become a barrister wherever you want, fuck what everyone here or everyone in law school says. Assuming you’re doing the GDL at city (which you should ideally be), you’re going to meet some of the best candidates in the country. Don’t be intimated. If you want it, it’s possible, it may take an extra few years than you expected but wtf is a few years in a potentially 50 year long career. Reach for the stars, fuck the naysayers.


Solicitor who knew he wasn't good enuf 4 bar

Enjoy 3 years of paralegal work in a PI factory, followed by the inevitable realisation that it’s not going to happen and consequent scramble for an entry level compliance role somewhere!



No doubt I will be accused of sour grapes, but even with a distinction and an LLM, your odds of making good progress are far from clear.

To contextualise my view, I obtained my Law degree from a non-Russell uni (1st class) and undertook a Masters in Law from a London-based Russell. During that time, I completed an assessed mini at Fountain Court, for which I was interviewed. I also mini’d at Landmark. I then picked up an Inns BPTC scholarship and was Called a few years ago, after obtaining a VC with an award from my provider for a strong exam result. I tried to obtain pupillage for a number of years, picking up plenty of first and second interviews with each application cycle, but never quite made it over the finish line. I’ve given up now, and am pursuing a career in academia.

In my experience, in the absence of some unique selling point or bags of practical post-study experience, commercial sets generally look for candidates with consistently outstanding academic prowess. A distinction on the GDL AND an impressive grade on your Masters might be enough, but your degree will still weigh you down.

You may be better off pursuing a form of paid employment relevant to your field of undergraduate studies (economics), which clearly has its overlaps with subject matters encountered at the commercial Bar. After picking up experience which would distinguish you from a lot of other candidates, many of whom are, like you, straight out of their degrees, you could then move across to the Bar, undertaking the GDL and so forth. Besides putting some distance between you and your degree, this would also provide you with the means to finance your further studies, and, should your career goal not materialise, you’ll have the foundations of a good backup career already in place.

Succeeding in qualifying as a barrister is, to a significant extent, a matter of luck. I know people with excellent credentials who never made it, and unremarkable candidates who just so happened to be in the right place at the right time, with the right words coming out of their mouths in interview. Best of luck, whatever you decide to do.



You have no chance.

I went to a “decent” non-RG uni that had a number of barrister alumni who still assisted with the law school. The closest any of them came to being “commercial” barristers were doing industrial disease claims against factories and employment disputes. The rest are in crime and family practices. All of them said don’t bother with the bar unless you have a First at undergrad. You also have little to no chance getting into Oxbridge.

Pursue the solicitor route and try to find your way into a reputable commercial disputes team. After 5+ years of solid experience, maybe even some low-level advocacy, consider qualifying as a barrister if you’re any good.

Don’t tell any firm you interview with that you have considered or still are considering the bar.



Short answer “Yes”, way out of your reach. A non-Russell Group 2:1 these days is at best seen as a 2:2 given grade devaluation at those institutions. A 2:2 from a third tier uni with a track record of mediocre academics evidence by the uni choice or lack thereof. You get that first in the BCL, (chuckles), and re-apply. Until then your application will be binned instantly.



There are some non-RG universities which arguably are more reputable than some of the RG. I may be biased, but I graduated from St Andrews and I would not call it a “third tier uni”. Loughborough, Bath, Kent, Aberdeen, Lancaster, Leicester – these are quite good universities, maybe not necessarily for law, but still very respectable.



Leicester is RG



Some of the Russell Group are third tier, as your point shows.



Aim at common law sets.



“I’m certain I can get a distinction”.


“I’m hoping to go on to do a masters in law or the Bachelor of Civil Laws.”




Some very good guidance in the immediate two comments above me – the reality is, that you will most likely struggle immensely and that your chances are unfortunately very low.
In my opinion, you have two options:
1. If you really want to be a barrister, switch your interest from top commercial sets and apply somewhere else, preferably to the regional chambers, where you arguably stand a better chance, especially if you intend to top up your degree with BCL or LLM from one of the top unis. That way you could still be able to potentially do commercial work sometimes in the future, but on a smaller scale. If you are flexible in this regard, you should also consider other areas of law, like family or personal injury. Admittedly, they are less prestigious but the main question would be whether your heart is set more on just becoming a barrister or on commercial law specifically.
2. In relation to point one above, if it is commercial law that interests you more, maybe consider a route of solicitor? Of course it is not an easy way too, but in comparison to commercial bar it is still more accessible. You might still find it hard to get a TC in the City, but regions should be a safer bet. Also, in some (distant) future you may then consider topping up your solicitor qualifications by applying to a dual solicitor-advocate role, which could potentially satisfy to some extent your hunger for bar.

Good luck!


Ex Barrister

Decent advice but good regional sets are still massively oversubscribed. The majority of barristers at my old set were Oxbridge and the rest of us were Russell Group. Think only 1 pupil in the 5 that we took on in my time there didn’t go to Oxford.


Just Anonymous

I don’t normally post on the Career Conundrums, because I think they’re all entirely fictitious.

However, for the sake of actual students reading this in similar circumstances, I will say this.

Be realistic.

Mini-pupillages and Inn scholarships are easier to get than pupillage.

So if you can’t persuade barristers to give you the former, why do you think you can persuade them to give you the latter?

I’m not saying give up. I’m saying that there are clearly objective weaknesses in your application. Now, if you can identify and remedy those weaknesses, then great. However, if you just go on to apply for pupillage without changing anything, then I think you are probably wasting your time.


King Crab

Beleev in urself xoxo


Martin Routh

I think some of the responses above are unnecessarily cruel, but to save you a lot of heartache (and money), it might be time to recalibrate.

The first observation I would make is that you don’t say where your university is; non-Russell Group is not much of a guide. For instance, the difference between (say) UEA/Hull and Greenwich/Huddersfield is immeasurable. Former is viable for the Bar (although maybe not top commercial sets), latter is not really.

If you have applied for a reasonable number of mini-pupillages and haven’t got any of them, then there is a good indication in that about how your application is viewed by the sets to which you have applied. The bar for getting a mini-pupillage is comparatively low; far lower than the bar for pupillage: sets in that part of the market will generally be prepared to offer a mini-pupillage to anyone they would consider (on paper) giving an interview to, as a rough rule of thumb. if you can’t get a mini-pupillage at xyz sets, then it would be seriously against the run of things for you to then get an interview (let alone an offer) from xyz sets. The threshold for getting an Inn scholarship is still lower. If you have applied for, but not got, an Inn scholarship of any description, then that ought to raise concern about how your application is looked at by objective people assessing it.

If I were you, and you’re really set on it, then don’t give up your aspiration of the Bar, but rethink your target. One option is be a solicitor first and then cross-qualify; much easier to get in at a middle-ranking civil set if you do that. Alternatively, aim for common law, general civil, or regional sets. It’s still incredibly competitive, but at that level it can happen if you persevere.



Your current CV is unfortunately not that competitive for the bar in general, and especially the commercial bar. A senior status law degree from Oxbridge or the BCL would improve your chances enormously, for any set of chambers. Getting onto these courses is also very competitive so you might also want to look at other RG course options. I would also broaden your horizons in terms of jobs targeted— there are plenty of other interesting jobs in law that may be more realistic. Working as a solicitor in litigation has a lot of the appeal of the commercial bar (though you might need to develop your cv to get into a good firm as well). Best of luck.


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