Barrister shares top 10 pupillage application tips as Gateway reopens

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‘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.

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.

2. Experience.

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.

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6. Mitigation.

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.

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11. Be the child of a judge. Ideally an appellate one. You can explain the challenges of understanding what is expected of a barrister since your views of that are limited to your parent and their mates plus the parents of your friends at your expensive boarding school. You never know, once you have overcome these challenges eventually you too can be a judge and become the poster child for a judicial diversity campaign.



“The non-Oxbridge appointment was Karen Steyn QC of 11KBW. Born in South Africa and brought up in Kent, where she attended local state schools, she studied history at Liverpool University.”

Get your facts right. She never went to an “expensive boarding school”.



Karen? Is that you?


Future pupil

This is a really useful insightful guide. Thank you LC



Good advice. I would also emphasise the importance of not being too eloquent. Prioritise clear communication over trying to look like a galaxy brain genius.


The Criminal QC’s Only Fans Account

12. Be White.

You’ll fit in with most of the other barristers that way!



BAME pupillage numbers reflect the BAME population of the nation. Of course most barristers will be white when 87% of the UK population is white. So take your implied allegations of discrimination and rampant self-pity off to some pathetic echo chamber.



Wow – yet ANOTHER racist barrister with zero empathy for BAME barristers who on evidence, earn less than White barristers in every practice area.

Hope you don’t patronise the one or two BAME people in your chambers like that? Telling them that racism is only a fairytale? You might lose Twitter followers.



Earnings differences track socioeconomic discrimination, which is rampant. You are looking to prefer one group disadvantaged by class discrimination at the expense of others facing the same challenges on the basis of their skin colour, which seems pretty racist to me.


Can’t Choose Skin Colour, Can Open Book

Are BAME people responsible for your university choice, A Level grades or willingness to open a book and study to be able to earn more in life?

You are not a ‘victim’ just because you label yourself as ‘working class’.


7:55 shows how off kilter things are. Now just pointing out an accurate statistic and criticising a post that implied a position that is untrue is “racism”. You can’t reason with the brainwashed.



BAME barrister numbers don’t actually represent the BAME population, only about 8% of QC barristers are BAME and 13% of the population is BAME. Likewise, the 8% largely come from well off middle class backgrounds too.



The poster referred to pupillage not silk. Silk is not a credible metric since it can reflect decisions made 20 or 25 years ago as it takes time for those appointees to work through to retirement. Look at silk application success rates for BAME candidates and women. There you will see discrimination. Against white men.


White Male Victim

I know, there are hardly any White male QCs. So glad someone pointed this out.

We White males are such victims who can barely afford second homes. Shall we go down to Temple together and hold a vigil for all the White men who aren’t CEOs, judges, Prime Minister, doctors, accountants or bankers?


WMV, the issue is the socioeconomic background of the white section of the profession. It is concentrated in a very narrow range of privilege. Sarcastic comments like your seek to undermine the very real discrimination that exists based on social background and is utterly hypocritical. Sorting out social privilege bias would wipe out almost all the alleged discrimination based on ethnicity.

Truth Sayer

What most whites just don’t get is that discrimination at the bar is REAL for all BAME barristers. It happens every day in a million subtle and even unsubtle ways. Until all whites really get this then there’ll be no true equality.


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