Junior barrister offers her top 15 tips to pupillage interview success

Avatar photo

By Legal Cheek on

Accept it’s a competition but don’t sweat the small stuff, says Red Lion Chambers’ Joanna Hardy

A junior barrister has taken to social media to offer some precious interview pointers to those seeking to follow in her footsteps.

Hot on the heels of her popular Twitter thread focusing on pupillage applications, Red Lion Chambers’ Joanna Hardy is back with yet more pearls of pupil-chasing wisdom, this time gearing her advice towards those lucky enough to make it through to the interview stage.

The thread, which with Hardy’s permission we have reproduced in full below, offers a range of helpful interview do’s and don’ts, along with a particularly unfortunate tale involving biscuits…

1. Accept this is a competition.

I hate to get all “showbiz mum” on you but — statistically speaking — you’ve probably got to be better than the next person who walks through the door. Whether that helps or not will depend on your personality. But it’s a fact and the landscape.

2. Don’t let the fact it is a competition make you behave like a silly billy.

Be nice to people. In the waiting area. In the prep room. Online. This is your squad. In five years time they might be your friends. Don’t intimidate. Don’t show off. Be kind.

I’ll never forget the guy who swaggered into one of the waiting rooms (wearing his school tie) and asked me which tenants I knew (none). It made me feel small and it was calculated to. Don’t be that person. If you are that person then change.

3. Look smart but be comfy.

Don’t wear new stuff you haven’t roadtested. This is not the day for the throbbing new shoe blister or the pale blue shirt sweat patch. Your lucky Christmas socks are a matter entirely for you but you will bear in mind that this job is 99% judgement.

4. Be early. So early.

A good test is to work out how long the journey would take if you had to walk there backwards through custard. Then set off about an hour before that. Don’t be crashing through the door late and sweating on other candidates. It’s impolite.

5. Listen to the question. Answer the question.

This is what my dad bellowed down the phone whenever I had an exam (and now whenever I go to the Court of Appeal). Don’t answer the question you wished they had asked. Judges tend to ask the awkward questions too. Get used to it.

6. After the question, take a second. Gather your thoughts.

Don’t spout the nonsense your brain formulated in a blind panic. Take a wee bit of time. A deafening silence for ten minutes might be a problem. A moment or two to formulate your answer shows confidence and will help.

7. Follow the rules.

This is basic. This job is about honesty and integrity. If the instructions for prep say “no internet” then don’t sit there on Google. Don’t tell your mates the questions. Don’t post them online. You’re — really — not helping anyone. Least of all yourself.

The Pupillage Gateway is now open:  Find out more about life at the leading chambers across England and Wales by checking out Legal Cheek's 2020 Chambers Most List

8. If you need reasonable adjustments then please ask.

I cannot stress this enough. Chambers will help and work out the practical way for you to do your best. You only get a few shots at these interviews. Make them count.

In my experience, chambers understand that “reasonable adjustments” don’t start and end with access alone. Time of day. Exercise format. Prep time. Prep format. Location. Arrangements for seating/standing discussed in advance so you feel comfortable. Ask, ask, ask.

9. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Stop worrying about whether to shake hands or take your jacket off in the heatwave or sip the water or take a biscuit from the plate in the middle of the table. Just be sensible and do your thing.

Someone (WHO was it?) told me a TREMENDOUS story about interview biscuits. They’d been advised to eat one (shows confidence) but also not to eat one (shows arrogance). They walked into an interview, panicked and PUT A BISCUIT IN THEIR HANDBAG. Outstanding. Simply outstanding.

10. If you (really) don’t know the answer, say so.

Winging your opinion on the impeachment proceedings is one thing. Winging the definition of section 112 of a statute you’ve never heard of is quite another. If you’re snookered, say so. You’ll get points for candour, at least.

11. Prepare but don’t autocue.

If we ask you why you want to be a barrister, we are genuinely curious. Interviewers can spot from a mile the glazed, rehearsed, auto-cue style that comes only from reciting an answer 300 times in your bathroom mirror. Don’t be stale.

12. The answer to “Do you have any questions?” can be “No.”

You’ll deny it but there is a creeping tendency to disguise a brag as a question. The interview is over. Don’t sneak in a sales pitch as you exit. “What ARE your thoughts on the orphanage I single-handedly built…?”

13. Shake it off.

Don’t walk in the door struggling under the weight of the utter misery of it all. We know it’s hard. We know it’s, statistically, a long shot. But here we all are looking at each other. You might as well have a crack now. Put some welly into it.

14. Behave sensibly during the aftermath.

I know you want to send a follow up email. And another for luck. I know you want to CC in everyone on the interview panel, just in case. I know you want to call. But, honestly, unless it’s an emergency, resist.

15. Feedback is great. But remember why you want it.

Chambers have differing degrees and methods of feedback. I used to call our lot personally and chat it through. Try to secure constructive points to *help*. If you think a GDPR DEMAND email is the way to do it, then, hey ho.

Regular readers of Legal Cheek may recognise Hardy from her headline-grabbing practical pointers to improving retention of women at the criminal bar. Tweeting last year, she urged her male colleagues not to act like they were “on a stag-do” or “make repetitive jokes about breasts or skirts”.

The Pupillage Gateway is now open:  Find out more about life at the leading chambers across England and Wales by checking out Legal Cheek's 2020 Chambers Most List

Related Stories

13 tips for Pupillage Gateway applicants from a junior barrister

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

Jan 6 2020 9:37am

Twitter users adding ‘QC’ to their name could be committing a crime, junior barrister warns

'I’m a barrista (sic) -- the QC stands for Quality Coffee'

Oct 21 2019 1:12pm

10 must-dos for Pupillage Gateway applicants from the barristers who assess them

Avoid jokes and jargon, embrace business blurb and Blaise Pascal -- and spend ages filling out the form

Mar 20 2015 1:20pm