Your journey to pupillage
I went to a state school in London and then studied history for my undergraduate degree. I then worked in a think tank for a couple of years, working on everything from social housing to the future of work. I then decided to do a Master’s in history, but in doing so decided that the academic route wasn’t for me.
I did a couple of mini-pupillages and decided the Bar was for me. The GDL at City University followed, during which I did a few more mini-pupillages, mooted, volunteered for various legal charities and applied for pupillage – successfully, thankfully.
The pupillage application process was a difficult one, but not as scary as I thought it might be. I generally found that my interviewers were kind, even in response to my very worst answers…
39’s pupillage interview process is fairly typical: a written application followed by two rounds of interviews with panels of three. The assessment criteria are the same for each stage and include key criteria such as intellectual ability, expressive ability, interpersonal skills and commitment, drive and efficiency. The 39 Essex Chambers website has up to date information about that – see 39essex.com/recruitment/pupillage.
The pupillage experience
Choosing which Chambers to apply for can be tricky. I decided that I wanted where I went to have a good public law practice, but I didn’t want to limit myself to that. 39 felt like a good fit because it was strong across a range of different practice areas.
Reflecting that, pupillage at 39 is split into four different seats: public, commercial and construction, planning and environmental and civil liability. You ordinarily have at least two supervisors for each seat, which I found gave me exposure to different aspects of each area. There is a lot of law to cover in a relatively short period of time though!
I found the quality of work to be really high during pupillage – pupil supervisors are all highly respected in their fields. Despite being busy I always found that my supervisors were quick to give constructive feedback. Chambers also puts on a full training series, covering a range of areas including wellbeing at the Bar, advocacy sessions and ethics.
An important part of pupillage at 39 Essex Chambers is the practising second six. You quickly get used to appearing in the small claims court a couple of times a week, which is great advocacy experience. Opportunities aren’t limited to that though: for example I was very lucky to be instructed as a junior on a week-long professional negligence case concerning an injured racehorse.
The assessment process for tenancy is transparent, with the aim being the no-one should be surprised by which way the decision goes. For each seat you receive feedback midway through the seat and then at the end, when you are assessed by your supervisors against the same six key competencies used for the pupillage process. Pupils also do two written assessments and an oral advocacy assessment, for which you also receive feedback. Towards the end of the year everything goes into a folder to the pupillage committee, who make a formal recommendation to the management board on whether you should be offered tenancy or not.
The transition from pupil to tenant
Immediately after pupillage I spent a year as a Judicial Assistant at the Supreme Court, and so have only just got back to Chambers – as a result I’m still very much learning what tenant life is all about.
I’ve been fortunate to have a very full diary so far; the bigger challenge is making sure I’m not taking on too much! In the six weeks since I’ve been back in Chambers I’ve done a number of small claims / fast track trials, been instructed on the Infected Blood Inquiry, acted pro bono to produce written submissions in a Supreme Court case and begun to develop my Court of Protection practice. The work is extremely varied, which I like.
What is your practice like now?
Again, I am really only at the very beginning of my practice but so far I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve felt fortunate to have more former pupil supervisors as informal mentors to help smooth my transition into tenancy – I do hope they realise that they’ve made a lifelong commitment in this regard.
I’m in court around two times a week on average, mostly in small claims / fast track trials or Court of Protection hearings. I’m enjoying developing the different styles of advocacy required for each area.
My workload each week varies, but it’s something I feel in control of and it has been made clear to me that it’s OK to say no to more work if I haven’t got capacity. I tend to work hard during the week but am pretty protective of my weekends.
My future ambitions are to develop my practice in public, planning and environmental law. It’s great to be somewhere where I know I’ll be well supported to do this.
What is the culture of chambers?
39 Essex is a big Chambers, but I’m always amazed at how collegiate it still manages to feel. Walking down Chancery Lane can be a long journey on some days due to all the members of Chambers you bump into!
In my short time as a tenant I’ve bothered colleagues frequently with silly questions, and have always been given the help – and patience – that I need. The clerks have also been really supportive, and I haven’t felt pressured into doing things by virtue of being one of the more junior members of Chambers.
We’re fortunate to be located in a modern building with excellent facilities right in the centre of Chancery Lanes. That means lots of bright conference rooms, showers with a towel service, table tennis, pool table and lots of great views over Lincoln’s Inn.
So far I’ve found Chambers to have a healthy social life – we have weekly Chambers drinks in the clerks room, a monthly Chambers lunch and parties at Christmas and in the summer. There’s always someone up for a celebration (or commiseration) drink after a case too.
There’s shedloads of impressive silks around the place, but no-one that I feel the need to hide from. I didn’t expect to end up at a festival with the head of Chambers during pupillage, but I’m still here and we’re off to a gig together in a few weeks so I can’t have done too much wrong…
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
A really important attribute to demonstrate, I think, is curiosity about the law. Chambers won’t expect you to be the finished article when you’re applying for pupillage, but they will want to see someone who is willing to learn and interested in how different areas of the law work. So try to read recent judgments, listen to legal podcasts (LawPod is great) and attend events if you can – all of these things will help.
At the same time don’t lose sight of interests outside of the law. Firstly, work isn’t everything. Secondly, Chambers want to recruit people that they are going to want to have around for the next 40-odd years. This doesn’t mean that you have to be captain of every sports team and have read War and Peace six times. Indeed, some of my best moments in pupillage interviews were when talking about my search for the best fish and chips in London – turns out barristers are really interested in that.
Finally I’d add that there really isn’t a massive rush to get pupillage. Lots of the best barristers I know have done something else first, whether that be legal or otherwise. It’s a long career and having some other experience under your belt before you begin can be a really good thing, both for securing pupillage and for settling into life as a barrister afterwards.
It’s really important to emphasise that the Bar is for everyone. There remains a lot of work to be done, but on the part of 39 Essex Chambers we want to receive applications from people from the full range of backgrounds. There’s not a set model for what makes a good barrister, and we’re committed to recognising that all sorts of different life experiences can equip someone with the skills to be an excellent barrister.