Your journey to pupillage
I first decided I wanted to be a barrister at the tender age of 14. Sadly, I had an ill-informed careers advisor who told me that you couldn’t be a barrister from a state school or with a regional accent! Thankfully none of that is true (although sadly I don’t have much of an accent these days anyway…!) but since I didn’t know any better at 14, I parked that idea for a while. I didn’t come back to it again until my final year of university.
In the meantime, I did a vacation scheme at a corporate law firm to see if the solicitor route was for me instead. I was offered a training contract and realised that neither corporate law nor being a solicitor was for me!
I studied an undergraduate degree in Law at Oxford University where I fell in love with medical law. By that time, I had done some mini pupillages in London and the Midlands which re-ignited my interest in going to the Bar. I studied a Master’s degree in Medical Law at King’s College London where I realised that I wanted an insight into real-world work experience before committing to spending my life in courtrooms.
After my Master’s, I became a Community Advocate supporting vulnerable people to advocate for themselves and access support, usually healthcare. I then became an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate advising decision-makers on how to make best interests decisions under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. This job was challenging because I was fresh out of university but it taught me a lot about being a good communicator and having a common-sense approach to problem-solving.
I took a break from work to study the Bar Course, then continued the healthcare trend by working in Policy and Standards for a healthcare regulator. I started applying for pupillage at that point (although I didn’t know about Chambers until my third round of applications when I was offered pupillage with 7BR).
My final job before pupillage was as a Senior Caseworker at INQUEST, advising bereaved families about the inquest process when their loved ones die in the custody of the state (mostly in prison, police custody or psychiatric care). During that time, I met a couple of barristers at 7BR who worked with us pro bono. I was immediately inspired by the mix of work, its quality and their friendly and unpretentious approach in their cases. This was when I knew I wanted to apply for pupillage with 7BR.
I’m very grateful that I did a variety of work before pupillage as it helped me better understand the broader context in which barristers work and helps me support clients going through the most difficult times of their lives. I also found that ‘life experience’ is something that 7BR understands and values.
The pupillage experience
Somehow, I hadn’t been aware of 7BR until my third time applying for pupillage. My experience of barristers from 7BR had felt like a real breath of fresh air – exceptionally friendly, down-to-earth, and unpretentious barristers for such a hard-hitting set.
That has been my experience of pupillage. Pupillage is an unusual way to start your professional career, but everyone at 7BR has always gone out of their way to make its pupils feel at ease, comfortable and supported. There’s an open-door policy at 7BR so I’ve never felt like I couldn’t ask a question – especially when you’re first on your feet and you suddenly forget everything you’ve ever learnt!
I was really drawn to the pride 7BR takes in being multi-disciplinary. I had three supervisors across three seats throughout my pupillage: compulsory civil and criminal seats and then a third seat in an area we can choose (with a mandatory month of family law to be spread out when possible). I chose family as my third seat.
Throughout pupillage I’ve found that mix of work invaluable in accelerating my learning, keeping things exciting and even to keep work ticking over during the Bar strikes. I’ve had days where I’ve done a criminal trial in the morning, headed back to Chambers to draft a debt claim defence and then finished the working day off with a family law brief about Female Genital Mutilation Protection Order.
I believe the mantra that a mixed practice keeps you sharp and, on your toes, but it also means I’ve been doing an interesting mix of work. I’ve also felt like I’m doing more challenging work than I ever thought I would as a pupil. You hear about pupillages almost entirely made up of bail applications and little more, whereas my first few months at 7BR was almost exclusively Crown Court work. It was months before I set foot in a magistrates’ court or did a bail application!
7BR has an incredibly supportive approach towards learning and development. As pupils we did assessments where members of Chambers set us advocacy exercises and provided us feedback. It feels a little weird at first if it’s been a while since you were last formally assessed… but the feedback is invaluable in giving you the practical edge you need once you’re fresh out of Bar school. I was also encouraged by my supervisor to apply to join the CPS Grade 1 Prosecution Panel which opened me up to more instructions.
You get put forward for a huge amount of work, and your supervisors and clerks will find opportunities that interest you. Even when you are first on your feet (and inevitably nervous!) it feels as though you are trusted and supported. You can trust that if you are put forward for something that feels outside of your comfort zone it is because Chambers has faith in your ability – this is something I found very comforting during my second six. I’m also a Derbyshire lass at heart and love any opportunity to head back ‘home’, so I found it really appealing to be able to work on both the South-eastern and Midlands circuit!
The transition from pupil to tenant
I have only just been taken on, but I felt that pupillage was always all about easing the transition from pupillage to tenancy anyway. The whole approach of Chambers to tenancy is simply of wanting, encouraging, and equipping you to succeed.
What is your practice is like now?
A typical week sees me in court pretty much every day – predominantly a mixture of prosecuting trials, mentions and PTPHs, family law work and inquests (with the odd bit of civil paperwork – usually debt claims!) I’ve had a spate of civil trials settling, but I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into more small claims and fast track trials.
My family work is a mixture of public and private children law, lots of section 8 orders and case-management hearings and a good mix of legal aid work with privately paying work. I’ve found that mixture very helpful when first starting out.
I’ve also found it helpful to be in court as much as possible. The clerks are great at filling our diaries and I’ve always been extremely busy as a pupil. Having said that, I’ve never been nervous to ask for a day out of court to catch up on paperwork.
It’s fast-paced, interesting, and exciting work. You never quite know what you’ll be doing in any given week!
What is the culture of chambers?
It sounds cliche, but 7BR really is as friendly and supportive as everyone says it is! As a pupil I felt that everyone in Chambers, regardless of seniority, was interested in us and our development and wanted us to succeed. Whenever you covered a case for someone more senior, that member of Chambers was always happy to give up their time to talk us through it.
Members of Chambers genuinely enjoy each other’s company and hang out outside of work. There is always someone to go for lunch or a drink with to celebrate a success, ask a tricky question or just to catch up.
Outside of the more spontaneous social life, Chambers has fortnightly cakes in the kitchen, monthly drinks, and Christmas parties etc. I went to the Junior Christmas party as a pupil and, regretfully, sang a lot of terrible karaoke.
Chambers also has a mentor system where you’re allocated a mentor before you start as a pupil. I found that extremely helpful to have someone to feel especially safe to ask your ‘daft’ questions!
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
I think the key is to have a genuine enthusiastic interest in a broad mix of work – there’s no getting away from that and it is one of the most attractive draws of pupillage at 7BR. The work is varied and of a high quality for pupillage!
I always felt Chambers were interested in the more non-conventional aspects of my application and CV, where I could show what sort of a person I was. Although I happened to go to Oxford, I don’t think they cared about that in the same way other Chambers might. During my interviews they were far more interested in my previous careers and personal life experiences, through which I leant resilience and pragmatism. So, don’t be afraid of highlighting experiences which will make you a good barrister or a good fit at 7BR, even if they are not ‘classic’ CV examples. 7BR are interested in versatility, breadth, and practicality.