Your journey to pupillage
I went to a comprehensive state school, worked on weekends from the age of 16 and was financially self-sufficient from age 18. I then completed a degree in English Literature at Cambridge (first-class), completed the GDL (distinction) and BPTC (very competent) at Kaplan Law School. I then went on to work for the German government in prison reform in Bangladesh. I then started pupillage at 7BR which was the only set I applied to.
During my journey to 7BR, I received means-tested grants towards the cost of university, and paid for living costs and for my law studies by taking part-time and summer jobs, and with scholarships. I received significant scholarships from Inner Temple (including the Princess Royal scholarship) and my law school.
I did several mini-pupillages in a mix of areas of law, which helped me recognise that a mixed common law pupillage could offer me an unusual breadth of advocacy and experiences. As a result, I focused on chambers which could provide this.
I did debating at school and during the GDL, and competed in a few moots.
The pupillage experience
I was keen to go to a mixed common law set both for the experience it would offer, and because I wasn’t certain which area I would be most interested in. As it happens, I now practise in totally different areas from the ones I was originally planning to specialise in, and I am so grateful I had the chance to explore various options before being pinned down.
There is an extremely supportive pupillage environment in chambers – juniors made sure I was constantly supported and there was always someone to call if I wasn’t sure about something. There is no competition between pupils so my co-pupil and I were also very supportive and encouraging of one another.
Pupillage is split into three periods of four months, with focuses on different areas of chambers practice. All three of my supervisors were very welcoming, open, approachable and happy to spend time encouraging and teaching me. We were also offered the chance to spend a few weeks shadowing members in other specialisms not covered by the three areas of focus for pupillage — this was very flexible.
There were lots of seminar opportunities which pupils were encouraged to attend, and we had an advocacy training programme run by senior members (separate to the assessment process) which was invaluable.
Work quality was very high. Because we have a strong Midlands presence, my co-pupil and I found we were doing much higher quality work than people we had been at law school with at an earlier stage. For example, in respect of crime, almost exclusively crown court work rather than magistrates’ work. This accelerated our development and levels of experience.
We were formally assessed through a series of advocacy assessments and written exercises. These were marked by different members, and we received helpful feedback after each one so we could improve.
Any work completed for other members was always ran past our supervisors, so they could ensure we weren’t being overloaded with work at any particular time. This was a really helpful buffer as it gave us another layer of support. We are really well looked after both as pupils and as junior members.
The transition from pupil to tenant
There was minimal difference between being a pupil and being a tenant. There was no significant shift in terms of work, and as I already felt like a part of the team, I did not notice any significant shift in terms of how I was treated by others.
What is your practice like now?
We have a chambers mentoring scheme between senior and junior members, and regular practice chats with our senior clerks to ensure our professional development is happening as we want it to. We are encouraged to take part in article and speaking opportunities and these are shared and circulated among all members to make sure we all have the same chances.
Workload and work opportunities are carefully monitored by the clerking and management team to ensure work is evenly spread across all members.
I find our clerking team incredibly supportive and friendly. I have a regular personal appointment on a weekly basis, and I have never had any difficulties in them accommodating this. They are respectful and understanding of our personal lives, and are responsive to requests if we say we would like a busier or less busy phase work-wise. They have listened when I have explained I am interested in particular types of cases, and look out for them for me. I have never had any issue as a result of turning down work, which I know happens at other sets.
The clerks are also understanding of work we are doing alongside cases; in the past two years, three colleagues and I wrote a book about inquests (published by LexisNexis) and I have completed a big pro bono project with the Prisoners Advice Service. The clerks helped me make sure I had time to complete these without losing all my free time, which I appreciated. Another colleague has undertaken a PHD in recent years, and several have made more time for their families through part-time practice and by using our generous parental leave policies.
I now have a mixed practice involving Court of Protection work, family children proceedings and inquests and clinical negligence. It’s an unusual mixture, but as my overriding interest is in mental capacity and mental health, it actually fits well together. I don’t think I could have this mix of work at any other set.
If I am not in a longer trial or inquest, I am in court around two to four times a week (this has increased since video hearings are so much more common now), and have perhaps two to three conferences a week.
I have had the opportunity to be led by a number of silks in several high value personal injury and clinical negligence cases, which have been interesting work and learning opportunities. The fact I have a mixed practice has been really useful here, for example, a personal injury case involving a 15 year old who attempted suicide in a care home and now has permanent brain damage – involves personal injury, court of protection and family law issues.
I hope to continue this mixed practice for a few more years but anticipate that once I am around eight to ten years’ call, I will likely specialise further. Again, I am really happy to have the chance to practice across a few areas for the time being. I am planning to undertake a qualification to become a mediator in the next 18 months.
What is the culture of chambers?
We have an extremely social atmosphere in chambers and a good sense of camaraderie and support. There are Whatsapp groups and email chains for legal queries and social events, and there is always someone to have lunch with and a pint after work if it’s been a tough day! We often have more formal social events and many colleagues choose to socialise with one another outside of work as well.
Our admin and management team is equally brilliant, and will help with literally any query in a cheery way, no matter how small or idiotic it is!
While we have a good number of silks and senior members in chambers, there is no strong sense of hierarchy. Everyone’s views are valid and important, and I have no fear standing up in a chambers-wide meeting to express my opinions alongside senior members. Our management committee includes a number of junior members to ensure decisions are taken with everyone’s interests in mind.
In terms of facilities, we have recently renovated the entire building. It’s a beautiful place to work, the IT set up is excellent and there is plenty of space for us all. There are social spaces for example a members’ room and a terrace (with nice planting), and the seminar suite is very practical for holding all kinds of events. 7BR places high emphasis on accessibility issues and has invested heavily in ensuring wheelchair users can navigate the buildings – members, visitors and clients alike.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
We are looking for people with a genuine interest in a mixed common law pupillage.
Treat the application form as a piece of written advocacy and use it to persuade us of your interest in the work we do. Assertions which are backed up by evidence are much more persuasive. An application form which includes a variety of interesting work experience, which links that work experience to an interest in developing a mixed practice, and shows an insight into the realities of life at the bar will really stand out.
Our application form also includes a short legal problem question. Take time to properly research and structure your answer. We also love to know about you as a person, and how your unique experiences will make you a great barrister, so don’t be afraid of showing some personality.
Be open minded about a common law pupillage. While you might be being told at law school that it is important to pick a specialism now, it is difficult to truly know what you will want to do without having tried it. It has worked out brilliantly for me, and I feel lucky that I had the chance to test myself in a variety of areas before choosing which I wanted to specialise in.