‘Do not swallow a thesaurus’, Colin Witcher advises
A barrister has taken to Twitter to share his ten top pupillage application tips as the Gateway officially reopens for browsing.
Church Court Chambers’ Colin Witcher begins by stating he’s marked around 500(!) pupillage application forms over the years, and offers advice based on what he’s come across.
I have marked around 500 pupillage forms in the last few years. As Chambers are not recruiting in this cycle, I thought I would boldly share my top 10 pupillage form tips: I do not suggest I am an expert – but these are my thoughts – take them or leave them. Strap in….
— Colin Witcher (@colinwitcher) December 1, 2020
The thread, which with Witcher’s permission we have reproduced in full below, includes some helpful pointers for those punting for pupillage ahead of the portal accepting applications from next month. Read on…
1. Answer the question.
Why do you want to be a barrister? This is not answered by telling me why you will be a good barrister. That’s normally question two. Ask yourself — what made me want to spend £20k on the Bar Course! Swear! Breathe! Then jot down the thoughts and construct an answer.
Your experience should be woven into your answers and not simply resigned to the CV section. For example, when answering what type of practice area you are interested in, link the answer back to relevant employment, or a moot competition or an event.
3. Humour is a double-edged dangerous slippery high-risk strategy.
If in doubt, do not do it. If you are doubting yourself, hit delete! Oh that reminds me, please do not write a sentence ending in ‘!’ This is a professional application not your Twitter account.
4. Be measured.
Trust me, with respect, no mini pupil has given me a closing speech point and won the case for me. I was just being nice. Oversell and you are at risk of being ripped apart. Do not overstate your experience. Do not use hyperbolic language. Be accurate.
5. Life experience.
Bar jobs, raising two children, being part of a local reading project, it all counts. Do not write yourself off. Not everyone can do unpaid internships supported by a trust fund. Don’t apologise. Sell your transferable skills. Don’t devalue your brand. Transferable skills from previous careers may include problem solving, working well as part of a team and also independently, able to manage your time etc. Also highlight your character traits, empathy, patience, integrity. Do not see age/background/second career as a disadvantage. See it as a way to stand out. It’s your USP. It is not your shackle. Never apologise for it; embrace it and package it for all its worth.
Be realistic. Did your grades fall short because of a meaningful life event. If there was one, and it truly did have impact, then keep your description short and measured.
7. Proof read. Repeatedly.
I once read how an applicant had always wanted to go to Garden Court Chambers. I am not at Garden Court Chambers. Hello! Have a friend, not a fancy lawyer, read it through. Also, read it aloud slowly. It will surprise you.
8. Sign post.
I am a fan of sign posting or headings. For example, “There are three principal reasons why I am applying to xxx Chambers. First…”. You can use bullet points, but personally, not for every answer. Play around. Mix it up.
9. Do not swallow a thesaurus
A long, wordy, opening line where you are clearly shoe-horning in as many big words as you can, has me reaching for a second bottle. Simple, concise, professional language and sentences are encouraged.
10. Be relevant.
Yes, I am sure you are still proud you won your Year 8 French Essay Prize, but it undermines your application. Use recent, relevant experience. Less is more.