Your journey to pupillage
My route to the English Bar was less than straightforward. I studied law as an undergraduate degree in India and then moved to the UK for an LLM in international law at the University of Cambridge. It was only at this stage that I realised that a career at the English Bar was a viable option for me. I did the GDL (to convert my undergraduate degree to an English law equivalent) followed by the BPTC.
In the year following the BPTC and before the start of pupillage, I worked at the Centre for the Online Resolution of Disputes in India as their legal lead where I researched arbitration law and the use of technology in dispute resolution. Ironically, this stint began just before the start of the pandemic and so was a particularly interesting experience. I also taught law at the National Law Universities in Bangalore and Kolkata.
I would say that I did somewhere between 8 to 10 mini pupillages in between starting the GDL and applying for pupillage. These were mainly at commercial sets save for a few at sets practicing other areas of law at the very start. I did a mix of assessed and unassessed minis, starting with unassessed ones and then applying to the assessed minis.
Mooting was an activity I particularly enjoyed whilst at law school and although not strictly necessary on an application for pupillage, it is a fantastic way to hone your legal research and advocacy skills and something I would highly recommend. The Jessup and the Manfred Lachs moots particularly stand out as memorable for me: they were both brilliant opportunities to travel and interact with teams and judges from across the world.
The pupillage experience
Pupillage at 3VB is divided into 4 seats, each lasting 3 months and with a different member of chambers as supervisor. I was given a mix of research notes, skeleton arguments and opinions and would on average do about one substantial piece of work per week. However, this often varied depending on the type of work I was doing. The type of work typically depended on your supervisor but I did find that there was a good variety in terms of the areas of law, ranging from banking to general commercial litigation to public international law. I also found that a good chunk of the work I was doing was live work, meaning as part of an ongoing matter.
My pupillage was entirely remote (and from overseas) and while that came with its own challenges, chambers in general and my supervisors in particular really helped alleviate its effects. I typically talked to my supervisors at least once a day via teams/zoom. All of them were very considerate of the time difference and also made sure to remind me to take the evenings/weekends off.
There are also two main feedback sessions with members of the pupillage committee after your first and second seat each. These were quite detailed and provided a good gauge as to how the pupillage year was going.
The pupillage year also has four advocacy exercises: one unassessed and three assessed. These were a great way to get in some (remote) advocacy practice and the feedback from other members of chambers was very helpful.
Overall, I found that chambers and the pupillage committee were very supportive during the pupillage year, particularly given that ours was a remote pupillage. There really isn’t a sense of having to ‘compete’ for tenancy and it was genuinely an atmosphere that was conducive to learning and growing.
The transition from pupil to tenant
The transition from pupil to tenant can be equal parts daunting and exciting. Daunting because the safety net of pupillage is no longer there but exciting because you now get to build and shape your own practice. For my cohort, given that our entire pupillage had been remote, the shift was also particularly unusual.
However, it our case, the transition was made easier by a number of factors: the chambers orientation where we sit down with our practice managers and various members of staff to discuss how chambers operates and things we need to know as new tenants, other members of chambers who will often spend a lot of time patiently answering your questions and your peer group because there is a sense of figuring it out together. The fact that we had a practicing second six months of pupillage also really helped ease us in to tenancy as we got to take on a few smaller county court matters on the side as pupils.
What is your practice like now?
A typical working week usually involves a good mix of led and unled work, working on pleadings, skeleton arguments and the occasional written advice. I am typically in court by myself once every couple of weeks, usually for smaller claims and am led on the larger, more complex commercial disputes. I have also thus far been able to see a good mix of both commercial litigation as well as arbitration. The run up to a hearing or trial does tend to get quite busy but there is usually some down time afterwards to unwind.
What is the culture of chambers?
Chambers is generally quite a warm and welcoming place. People tend to be approachable and always happy to have a chat or go for a coffee. There are also quite a few social events from dinners, drinks and the occasional barbecue.
New tenants get their own room in chambers, usually overlooking the Gray’s Inn gardens (and sometimes the occasional stray fox!) so that is a nice perk.
The practice managers are all fantastic. They are proactive, routinely check in and always lend a helpful ear when you want to sound something out.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Some tips that I found to be generally helpful when applying for pupillage are:
(1) Research the chambers website and make a note of the criteria that they look for when assessing a pupillage application and tailor your application accordingly. The 3VB website for instance has quite a lot of information about mini-pupillages, the pupillage application process and pupillage itself. This is usually a good place to start.
(2) It is usually a good idea to treat your application like a piece of written advocacy: set out your reasons for wanting to join the bar and/or a particular set of chambers simply, clearly and concisely.
(3) Do as many minis as you can as they are probably the best way to gain insight into the Bar at that stage. Ideally if you are interested in a set of chambers, try and do a mini-pupillage there because it gives you a much better sense of what that chambers is like.
(4) Don’t hesitate to apply to any particular set of chambers if the type of work that they do interests you simply because you don’t think your profile may not be strong enough or that you may not fit in: there is really no ‘one size fits all’ and you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!