13 tips for Pupillage Gateway applicants from a junior barrister

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‘Don’t say you are fluent in French just because you once successfully ordered two lagers in Dieppe’

Joanna Hardy, whose pupillage application advice went viral on Twitter

One junior barrister has shared some tips for those of you punting for pupillage ahead of the portal reopening tomorrow, on Tuesday 7 January.

Joanna Hardy, a criminal barrister at Red Lion Chambers, tweeted 13 titbits of advice on Thursday based on her own experience. The below thread, which we have pulled out from Twitter and republished as bullet points, makes for an amusing and helpful read:

1. Keep it simple

You’re an advocate. Welcome to the squad.

Advocates don’t use four adjectives and the synonym function until their eyes bleed. Or, at least, the good ones don’t.

Keep it punchy, short and tailored. Repeat after me: Word. Limits. Are. Not. Targets.

2. Don’t exaggerate

We know it’s competitive but don’t play loose with the truth. Your integrity is your everything.

Don’t say you are fluent in French just because you once successfully ordered two lagers in Dieppe.

Advocates don’t overstate their case.

Chances are, on your second day, someone will have an obscure and time-pressured informal translation and they’ll ASK YOU FLUENT PERSON BECAUSE YOU ARE SOOO FLUENT.

Heaven help you. Don’t come crying to me.

3. Help your reader

Spot the difference:

“I was absolutely thrilled and delighted to be awarded the very prestigious and highly competitive Smith Scholarship in 2017”.

“2017 — Smith Scholar. (Awarded to the highest scoring student of 300)”.

4. Don’t name drop unless it is relevant to something

Who you did a mini-pupillage with and what you learnt from them is relevant. Who you happen to know, without more, is irrelevant. Don’t do that.

5. Bullet points — sometimes — are your friends

We’re all interested in how you write. And, chances are, you’ll have the opportunity somewhere on a form to shine with your beautiful, persuasive prose. But, occasionally, a bullet point list can be marvellous. Balance your form.

6. Check your referees are cool with you using them, that they know who you are and can say something sensible

Just do this. Please.

7. Get a brutal person to read it

This cannot be your mum. Your mum will just beam with pride at you, add all the adjectives, persuade you you’re fluent in French, get you to mention that nice QC you once met down the road and it will all be awful. Anyone but yer mum.

8. Own your story

Not everyone gets to the pupillage starting gun by following the same path. Your experiences have shaped you. Tell us about them. Please. Personally speaking, I’d much rather hear about your time as a barman in a challenging pub than about your yachting moot*

*Then again, I don’t do yachting law. And mooting is always great. But you get the gist.

9. Be frank and clear about extenuating circumstances

This is a level playing field:

If you need adjustments — ask.
If you had a difficulty — tell.

In my experience, chambers are excellent when considering and assisting with these areas.

10. Tailor your form

Please, please don’t cut and paste. I don’t know why but we CAN JUST TELL that you have sent this same paragraph to everyone and just swapped the name about. Like those awful boyfriends/girlfriends when you were 17. Write a fresh one. Thank me later.

11. Once you’ve sent it, do something else

Don’t call chambers every day. Don’t email chambers every day. Don’t go online and obsess over who has heard and who has not. Stay healthy and calm and well-rested and prep for interviews.

12. Twitter sources

Some great sources on Twitter are @pupillagehub, @pupillagepodca1 and, obviously, for the hive of collective support our pal @BarristerSecret — but also start your own support network. It’s not an easy or a particularly fun time. Surround yourself with decent, supportive folk.

13. I don’t envy you

You’ll need all your luck, skill, the very best of spirits and good humour. But I do wish you all the very best as this pupillage season opens. Good luck 💫

The 2020 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List

Meanwhile various other barristers made it clear that their DMs were open for any questions from prospective pupillage applicants. The trend, started by Max Hardy, a criminal barrister at 9 Bedford Row who bears no relation to Joanna Hardy, encouraged students worrying that it’s not ‘what you know but who you know’ to message him for advice.

Others quickly followed suit:

Take advantage of their generosity students and good luck with your applications!

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek's careers events:

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BAME Applicant

Thanks for the advice White People!



Thanks for the comment Racist!



9.57 – 14. Don’t be a pathological victim when it comes to race issues….


Boohoo Fashion

Don’t be a triggered, pathological liar when you know people can be judged on their race instead of their ability for the job



Perhaps the real racists are at London chambers that only have 1 or 2 non-White barristers in the whole set?



So dull. Taking on a tenant because of the colour of the skin is racists, especially if it is to top up a percentage to appease the likes of 1030.



Who said they need to be taken on by skin colour?

Plenty of Oxbridge BAME applicants out there.

Finding racism ‘dull’ is why we won’t shut up about what’s really going on here.


Now Oxford is handing out 25% of places based on postcodes instead of ability it is going to be harder to be sure one has the right sort of Oxford graduate at the application stage. Filtering out the charity cases who got a place for virtue signalling purposes will be a must in the near future.


Probably none are disabled either. Well done on excluding large numbers of students!




How is this comment in any way relevant?



Well done, telling the disabled one to shut up. Good look, bully.



Where did I tell you to shut up?

I queried the relevance of your comment to the topic in hand.

Clearly not a lawyer.


When you’re in a hole (spotted trying to prevent the highlighting of discrimination) stop digging (telling me to shut up again and insulting my intelligence)


Telling someone spouting crap to shut up is not bullying. We spend too much time these days giving airtime to victim mentality bollocks.


Yes sorry, I’ll be a good disabled boy sat in the corner not bothering the real people, if that’s what you want sir.



@Tim, at the risk of “feeding the troll”, what exactly is the “discrimination” you claim to have identified?

Let’s see if you can respond without resorting to (further) name calling.


The fact you can’t identify flagrant discrimination proves you are disablist and therefore not worth my time. I hope you, one day, see the error of your ways and seek the help you urgently require.


@ Tim
Please stop it now.
What is the “flagrant discrimination” involved in members of the Bar offering tips to pupillage applicants?


Criticised for offering advice now? Unless Legal Cheek edited out all BAME offers…



9.57 – 14. Don’t be a pathological victim when it comes to race issues….



She missed out “Have an Oxbridge first or come top of the year in one of the next tier down”. That certainly helps



Academics don’t matter that much at the Criminal Bar, as the work is not very intellectually challenging: it’s all fact and no law. You might be OK with a degree from Keele or Warwick. Family/common law/libel/personal injury is the next level up in terms of how difficult the work is, with a commensurate ramping up of university expectation. So Durham and London will suffice. If you want to practise at the Commercial or Chancery Bars, where the toughest work and greatest prestige is, then it has to be Oxbridge.


Anon 2

A large proportion of Oxbridge grads are privileged dunces who have been spoon-fed their entire lives. Although, I imagine this is true for Durham and London too. They’re interchangeable.



Oxbridge graduates are by definition brighter and better educated than anyone else. Any assertion to the contrary is perverse and dishonest. Oxbridge dons are trained to spot the intellectual cream of each generation. If you do not get in to Oxbridge, it is simply because you were not clever enough.


An angry man

There are many bright and well-educated people who did not attend Oxbridge or any university. Oxbridge graduates are not brighter and better educated than ‘anyone else’, that’s complete nonsense.



If you do not attend Oxbridge or university, (i) it is because you are not bright enough to do so; and (ii) it results in your not being as well educated as those who are Oxbridge or who otherwise went to university.


It’s a rather binary approach to suggest that the one shot a 17 year old has at securing strong A-Level results (resits don’t really figure) is the ultimate measure of a person’s intelligence.


It’s not A levels which are relevant. Many people who get into Oxbridge have the same A level results as those who go to other universities. But the admissions process at Oxbridge discerns the very best candidates.

Cambridge grad

Lol 12.24… funny that anyone would genuinely think this. I certainly know a whole load of non-Oxbridge people that are far smarter than I am.

Also, I’m not sure you understand what the phrase ‘by definition’ means.



Oh my. It’s you again. Must you hijack every thread with the ‘Oxbridge grads are brighter than everyone else’ twaddle?

You really do reek of insecurity and it’s not pleasant. So go back to your revision and stop spreading nonsense.


Oxford grad

Yes! And it’s always worded exactly the same. It’s so boring (not to mention idiotic).



It is true that Oxbridge grads are generally much brighter.


Actual real life barrister

The real fool is the person who thinks the law is some impossible academic puzzle, as opposed to something that’s relatively easy to learn given time, and something which is actually, almost always about the facts of the case.


Commercial Barrister

It depends. If you do real work – commercial or chancery – then it’s about (invariably very complex) law.


Fake worker

‘real work’ lol


Actual real life solicitor

Actual real life barrister…you smack of family/crime/housing. I can tell you’re not at a Chancery/Commercial set.


It’s really not that complicated.


“Real” is a term of art. Just sayin’


But not all Oxbridge degrees are created equal.

For example, Oxford admits over 50% of those who apply for Classics compared to 20% for law. Classics students are more likely to get a first due to the entry standards and the standardisation of marks.

I don’t think it’s fair to say that someone with a 2:1 in Classics from Oxford is ‘brighter’ than someone with a first in law from UCL or Durham. I would certainly view the law graduate as a better candidate.



But that’s not true because the non-Oxbridge graduate is by definition less intelligent. If they were on the same intellectual level, they would not have been rejected.



You do know that there are universities outside the UK?

Not everyone overseas can afford the £20K+ a year it costs to send someone without a British passport to Oxbridge.

These students are bilingual, focussed on working hard to justify uni costs and are certainly a cut above most.



Of those in the UK with British passports, it is right to say that Oxbridge graduates are in an elite bracket compared to those who went to other universities. Given that the Oxbridge admissions system is geared to discern the very best minds, those rejected at interview stage are by definition not clever enough to get in. And if you do not even apply to Oxbridge, it is because you know you are not good enough.


You really should brush up on your GCSE statistics and logical reasoning. You may convince more people that you are an Oxbridge graduate.


Boring chat

It’s almost like he/she didn’t read you original comment and then spouted out some absolute rubbish. You made a perfectly valid comment about different courses, and how a Durham LLB graduate has arguably had a more rigorous and competitive education than an Oxford Classics graduate. A quick look through LinkedIn profiles will show you how there are grads even at Leeds and Southampton on the LLBs there with 8/9A*s at GCSE and straight A/A*s A levels, better than Oxbridge language grads and classics and theology grads. But people with agendas won’t listen to the truth. The best of the best will on many occassions come from Oxbridge, but there are sufficient exceptions to demonstrate how flawed such broad assertions are.


The best of the best invariably come from Oxbridge. This is because the admissions tutors are trained to discern the cleverest candidates, regardless of what subject they are applying to read.

Cambridge grad

Again, maybe try looking up how to use ‘by definition’ in a book? Or asking a friend to help you?


Oxford grad

One of those rare occasions where I’ll agree with a Cambridge grad…


If you think “by definition” is being used wrongly here, you certainly did not go to Cambridge. You reek of Warwick.

Cambridge grad

If you think the definition of ‘non-Oxbridge grad’ is ‘less intelligent’ (or similar) then you are, by definition, a plonker.

Commercial QC

Have you looked at the profiles of junior tenants or pupils at commercial sets? Most are from Oxbridge, but a substantial number attended other Universities.

Brick Court took someone from UCL. Wilberforce recruited a York graduate. Radcliffe has a junior from Reading. Quadrant’s pupils attended Edinburgh and LSE.

Your comment that it ‘has to be Oxbridge’ is factually untrue and can be easily disproven. You obviously have no knowledge of the bar and prospective pupils should ignore your ill-informed commentary.


Commercial junior

In the main, at the elite sets, it has to be Oxbridge. Those who went to tier 2 universities are outliers, and even they tend overwhelmingly to have an Oxbridge postgraduate degree. (So not technically Oxbridge, but degree laundering has assisted them.)



Yeah, but are any of them Black, Asian or any other ethnic minority?

This is what really puts prospective pupils off – no-one looking like them is on the website.

Daring to ask why seems to trigger fury from barristers.



Tenants at high-ranked sets who went to tier 2 universities are very much outliers and not the benchmark. Even most of these non-Oxbridge undergrads have attemped to cure their positon through degree laundering, via an Oxford BCL or Cambridge LLM.

There is a reason why top chambers insist on Oxbridge in the overwhelming majority of cases. The work is the toughest at the Bar and therefore requires those with the best intellects. Plus, your instructing solicitors will mostly be from City firms, who will themselves in the main be Oxbridge, and they will want to seek legal advice from their intellectual equals or betters.


Boring chat

Even though to some extent I agree with your general sentiment, to describe the Oxford BCL as degree laundering is really pathetic. Look at the history of the degree, it has not always been an Oxford undergrad who got the Eldon scholarship or Vinerian scholarship. Look at the lists of QCs at the top barristers chambers, it is not only people with Oxbridge undergrads, and to be a QC is to reach the top of the profession.

To the person who mentioned top City lawyers being Oxbridge, you really need to get a grip. Academic competence is a basic requirement for a career as a solicitor. To get partnership it is more important to have a strong work ethic, good sucking up skills, someone powerful to champion your career and contacts thanks to daddy’s connections.



Whilst the above commentator was harsh, he/she was fair. The Oxford BCL is degree laundering par excellence if you have a non Oxbridge undergraduate degree. It is always amusing to ask someone where they went to university, to be told “Oxford”; you ask when they were there and they indicate a year’s period; you then find out they did the BCL and went to, say, Nottingham as an undergraduate. So the correct answer to the question was “I went to Nottingham”.


Being able to spell “practice” will probably also help, you prick.



“Practise” is how the verb is spelt. You are not well educated, are you?



There aren’t many comments on this because it’s correct, entertaining and well written and so the LC trolls don’t know what to do with themselves


Hurr Durr

Shit! It’s almost like people only react negativly to drivel and respect decent content. Who would have thought it?!


Elliot R

1. Be attractive.

2. Don’t be unattractive.


Alan Robertshaw

One tip for doing well in interviews might be to not name yourself after a misogynistic mass murderer.



Objectively a sensible position since attractiveness and persuasiveness have well proven correlation. Of two candidates with similar other attributes, the attractive one will have better prospects.


Get an IP lawyer

Is this entire article basically copyright infringement?


John Curran

@Anon, 11.16.

First off – not being provocative, genuinely curious.

What is so demanding about commercial law for the barrister who has practised exclusively in that area for a number of years?

Surely, at that stage , you understand the intricacies of the most of the broader areas, and are somewhat familiar with more discrete issues – so it cannot be an impossible intellectual challenge per se? Alternatively, if you have practised in commercial law for x number of years and still find it difficult to understand, apply and advise, perhaps it is not the law itself that it proving the difficulty?

If it’s not the law itself, then is it the workload? And if it is, is this what makes commercial law ‘the toughest work’ ? And, therefore, is the combination of workload and intellectual achievement demonstrated by a 1.1 or 2.1 from Oxbridge, the only (or main?) way in which you can demonstrate that you will be able to handle the large workload?

Or have I got it totally wrong? Strong possibility. It’s just I often see it bandied about that commercial law is the toughest without any real explanation.






Some things are inherently difficult (and trickier than others) and continue to be so despite practice. Like mountaineering or playing chess. Same with commercial and chancery work. Sure, you get better at it, but it is still challellenging, and more so than family or personal injury, which are the intellectual equivalents of colouring in.


John Curran

Thank your for your reply!



#1 tip: have a parent that is already in the industry or have a parent that gives a lot of well paid work to the chamber.


Extra large margherita pizza

The significant number of barristers who have solicitors as parents or other siblings and cousins at the Bar is something that should be discussed more openly.

Must be great to have such useful connections to check over your pupillage form, help you understand the practice area without the need to read or even push your career choice in the first place.

Where’s nepotism on Joanna’s list?



Here’s a proper tip – if you’ve applied to chambers in a previous year, before making a repeat application write a letter to them requesting access to your personal data under GDPR rules. You might be astonished at what you dig up, and from my experience it doesn’t harm your prospects one jot.


Same Anon as above

Including verbatim comments about you made by interview panels, and paper application mark schemes.



Where in the GDPR rules does it say you can gain access to the written verbatim comments?



Article 15(1):

“The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller confirmation as to whether or not personal data concerning him or her are being processed, and, where that is the case, access to the personal data…”

In recent years I’ve applied to about ten different sets, and received at least some useful information back. A couple included comments barristers made on my paper app and interview performances. A few have thrown in their mark schemes.

Some sets chuck their papers away quite quickly though, which is a good way of getting out of providing the above.


Home truths

Of course, the real views never get written down. Nobody is that stupid – and if they are, then you should be looking at a different set. Same goes with asking for feedback, it will be anodyne. It may appear to be tailored to you, but will almost certainly be as much a cut and paste job as you have done for your applications. Not saying I am a fan of that practice, but the reality is, if you didn’t get offered a place, nobody wants to spend too much time writing you some nice feedback. This is not always the case, but far more often than the profession would like to admit.

As for why commercial law (including chancery) is more ‘intellectual’, it is about speed of thought. Those that can work out the answers (or arguments to be more precise) the quickest tend to do better. That skill is even more important when on your feet – your answer is going on the transcript and won’t be easy to row back from; so you better have thought through the consequences in those few seconds before answering the question. The longer you have been in practice, the more you have seen similar fact patterns, hence why you have more experience of similar situations to draw on.


I don’t agree with the whole “tailor your form” advice. Obviously remember to change the name of chambers and don’t say you want to do commercial law to a criminal law set. But if you’re applying to say 3 virtually identical sets (for example, Red Lion, 2HC and 2BR) you can certainly copy and paste the majority of the application. If done sensibly, it’s an efficient way to do your pupillage applications and I don’t think chambers should be penalising this. We all do copy and paste jobs for skeleton arguments


An Barrister

Popped in for the first time in a couple of years and I see that the old chestnut of whether Oxbridge students are brighter and better than anyone else is still running.

I’ll pop back in another couple of years to find out if you’ve resolved it.



Oxbridge Graduate Who Knows Their Place

It’s hilarious, because they aren’t bright enough to consider STEM graduates at MIT and other places.

Those graduates can design space rockets to blow a QC’s carefully crafted skeleton argument to dust in microseconds.



But the conversation is not about MIT is it? It is about Liverpool, Hull and Sussex.





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