‘The bar must do better at giving pupillage applicants feedback’

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By Kieran Alker on

BTC graduate and aspiring barrister Kieran Alker recounts his ‘frustrating’ experience and suggests a way to improve the process

Applying for pupillage has dominated my Januarys and Februarys for the past two years and I wanted to share one incredibly frustrating experience I have had following the latest round of applications/interviews. This is in the hope that the small suggestion I make below for improving the process for applicants (and, as I see it, raising the standards of the profession as a whole), will be considered.

Like so many others applicants, I failed to secure a pupillage this year which in itself is very frustrating and disheartening (to say the least). However, as is so often pointed out, resilience is key and rejections are a natural part of such a competitive process, so, it’s something you have to try and get used to.

Unlike previous years however, I did manage to secure a second-round interview at a chambers I liked, and I thought that both interviews went well. However, despite this, I found out that I had been unsuccessful at 3pm on 7 May by email, having stared obsessively at my phone all day, waiting to learn of the decision. No feedback was provided in this email — fine, so as most would expect I immediately replied, thanking the set for letting me know and asking the panel for some feedback.

I received no response to this email and therefore, sent a further email on 20 May, once again asking for feedback from the panel, and checking they had received my previous correspondence. On 25 May I then received a response which stated that the chambers could not offer any feedback, except to say that “2 of the applicants were a little better and they were successful”.

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I find this poor. Surely, the least chambers can do to support those battling incredible odds to try and enter a profession which is becoming harder and harder to enter every year, is to provide feedback to those who fall at the final hurdle. When you spend countless hours writing and reviewing applications, preparing for interviews, and then waiting anxiously to hear back from chambers, I feel that providing feedback to candidates that are unsuccessful at interview (particularly a second-round interview), should be a minimum requirement. This is also not taking into account the fact that the vast majority of applicants will have spent many hours applying for, and then working in jobs which they feel will make their pupillage applications stronger, i.e. we gear our entire lives around trying to secure one.

For me, this is the only second-round interview I have secured to date and therefore, the feedback I was expecting to receive would have been by far the most useful and as such was the most highly anticipated. The fact that a chambers (as in this case), can congratulate you for securing a second-round interview, and identify how incredibly competitive the process was, in the same email as refusing to provide feedback, to me is confusing and demonstrates a reluctance to help future colleagues in contradiction to the posts I see on social media platforms all the time from members of the profession.

I understand that members of chambers give up their very precious time to sift through applications and conduct interviews, but I do not consider it unreasonable for candidates to expect feedback when they have made it so far through the recruitment process. Nor do I think it would take an unreasonable amount of time to send the notes made by the panel (at the very least), to those who ask for them. Constructive feedback makes people feel like their time and effort have been valued and goes a long way to softening the blow of an otherwise harsh rejection email.

I feel strongly that the profession needs to change the way it operates and recruits because of the young talent it ultimately passes by, and I feel that making personalised feedback mandatory for candidates who have secured an interview, would be one very small way of changing it for the better.

Kieran Alker is a first class law graduate. He completed the bar course with BPP University last year and aspires to become a barrister.

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