Your journey to pupillage
I grew up in South Wales, and attended my local comprehensive school for GCSEs and A-Levels. I had decided from around age 16 that I wanted to be a barrister, having done an informal mini-pupillage, and despite the barristers I met warning me what was ahead! I did my undergraduate degree in Law at the University of Oxford. After my undergraduate, I did the BPTC LLM in London.
During my BPTC year, I volunteered at the University of Law Legal Advice Clinic, where I would attend court with a duty advisor in the family court, and assist litigants in person with their cases by negotiating on their behalf and representing them in court. I also took part in mooting during my BPTC year, both at my Inn and with my BPTC provider. Prior to and during my BPTC year, I undertook several mini-pupillages in mixed-common law sets and family sets.
After my BPTC I worked as a paralegal for two years – my first year at a high street firm in East London in their matrimonial finance team, and my second year at a boutique firm specialising in international family law. Whilst I hadn’t planned to work between my studies and starting pupillage, I’m grateful that I did because of the experiences this gave me. For example, learning from experienced solicitors best practice in conducting litigation, and talking to and supporting clients through difficult times in their lives.
I did three rounds of pupillage applications: the first during my final year at university, the second during my BPTC year, and the third during my first year of work. Due to my interviews being in March to May 2020, my interviews were all virtual, and so the first time I set foot in 42BR was on my first day of pupillage! The pupillage application process at 42BR consisted of a ten minute first-round interview talking mainly about my application. There was then a thirty minute second-round interview where I was given a non-legal discussion question to prepare half an hour prior, and the interview centred on my thoughts on the question, as well as an ethical problem question and more general interview questions.
The pupillage experience
I applied to 42BR because of its strong reputation in family law, coupled with the chance to explore other areas of civil that are centred around people and day-to-day issues, such as employment and housing.
My first six was divided with three months in family and three months in civil. My pupillage looked perhaps different to how it would today as I started in 2021, and so hearings were still largely remote and many members of chambers were working largely from home. My first three months were spent with a family practitioner, attending court on largely public law matters. I was able to observe a wide variety of multi-day hearings and get a better understanding of the day to day working of the family courts.
My second three months were spent with two supervisors, one specialising in personal injury, and the other, now a silk, specialising in employment and housing. I observed a number of multi-day hearings and conferences on a broad range of civil matters. During the course of my first six, I was given tasks to complete, such as preparing cross-examination, position statements, draft orders, and closing submissions, and I was given feedback on these by my supervisors. These pieces of work were not formally assessed, neither was there an application form or interview for tenancy.
During my second six, I was in court most days on private family matters, RTA small claims, employment tribunal cases, Stage 3 personal injury hearings, and housing cases.
The transition from pupil to tenant
The transition from pupil to tenant was virtually seamless! The only overnight difference I really saw was that I was added to the chambers mailing lists and many WhatsApp groups.
I had a meeting with the clerks to go through practicalities being a tenant, such as communicating with the clerks and chambers fees.
What is your practice like now?
I will usually be in court on average four days a week, with the fifth day being used as preparation time. My practice remains varied, although I have stripped away some practice areas and now work only in private family and employment, with some housing work. My decision to step away from some areas of work came following my 6-monthly review with the clerks around a year after being on my feet. I didn’t find that there was a pressure to specialise, but neither is there a pressure to remain practising in all areas.
My intentions coming into pupillage (as can probably be seen from my background!) were to specialise solely in family, however, I currently enjoy the balance that my family and employment practices give me.
In terms of work life balance, this inevitably varies week on week, as sometimes the unpredictable nature of human-centred law such as family means that evening and weekend work is necessary. However in general, I’ve been able to manage my diary and commitments so that this is the exception rather than the rule, and have always felt supported in doing so.
There is a mentoring scheme in place in chambers, for those who are under five years call to be mentored by those five years’ call and above. My mentor (author of 42BR’s previous Legal Cheek interview!) and I try to meet for coffee once every month or two months, and it’s a space to talk about legal and non-legal issues.
What is the culture of chambers?
From the start I have found 42BR to be a very supportive and approachable group of people. Members of all seniority are available any time to chat through any tricky issues you’re facing or provide that piece of case law that’s on the tip of your tongue.
Many members of chambers are away from chambers much of the time, due to a combination of many of us being in court, or working from home. However, there’s monthly drinks in chambers, and other more ad hoc social events for the junior juniors. Later this year, we’ll be moving into a new building which will be an exciting time for all involved.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
There’s not much to say about getting pupillage and life at the Bar that hasn’t already been said ten times over. Personally, I found that my interviews at 42BR were the ones I was the most “myself” for, which is perhaps reflective of how at ease I was made to feel during the process!
It can also be helpful to really think about the more practical aspects of life at the Bar, rather than the more obvious legal aspects. For example, your law degree/GDL/BPTC will prepare you well enough for the courtroom, but how will you fare telling clients their prospects of success on the day of trial?