Your journey to pupillage
I went to the University of Hull and studied law with French which meant I spent a year in France. I then did a Master’s at Leeds in International Finance and Banking law, then after the two year bar course, I started pupillage. In total it took a total of six years to reach pupillage, and throughout I worked in numerous different law firms getting all kinds of different experience. I did a number of different mini-pupillages in a range of practice areas to get as much experience as I could. I also did vacation schemes in both London and Manchester. I always knew I wanted to stay in the North, but I did one vacation scheme in London which confirmed what I already knew, but I just wanted to make sure of my decision.
The pupillage experience
I had done a mini-pupillage at Exchange and I always knew I wanted to be based up North and that I wanted to do commercial law, and with Exchange’s big presence across the North, it seemed the perfect fit.
The pupillage application process consisted of the normal paper application, then two separate interviews, with the first round interview in the Liverpool chambers and the second round in the Manchester chambers. The second round interview consisted of written and oral exercises, and a number of interviews. I got more of a feel for Exchange at the interviews themselves, and it is not as pretentious as you imagine a lot of the sets to be. What I liked about the interview stage was that I was interviewed by such a mixture of people including the clerks, junior barristers and senior barristers, with younger people and women, which made it slightly less intimidating. Both senior clerks from the Manchester and Leeds chambers interviewed me in my second round interview. Once I had been offered pupillage, the fact they had I had met them previously meant I was made to feel more at ease when I went into chambers.
Prior to starting pupillage, I had already been invited into chambers to meet people informally which meant my first day wasn’t as intimidating as it might have been. The beginning of pupillage involved getting settled in, working on papers and looking at files to ease into things. It wasn’t half as intimidating as I expected, and I think a lot of people do expect it to be, but everyone was so lovely and down to earth. When you are going into pupillage, you know the work is going to be hard, there will be pressure, and you’re going into a new environment, but to have that worry alleviated instantly takes some of the pressure off.
Pupillage is a whirlwind at first because you’re seeing such a broad range of things from all different people. You have your supervisor but you also shadow other people in different areas, so you see and learn so much, it is about being a sponge and soaking it all up. It is such a steep learning curve that you come out of it a completely different person.
I had one supervisor in Leeds for my first six, and a second in Manchester for the second six. Learning from two supervisors and being spread across the two cities has really benefited me, and now I can go to and speak to both of them. At my level, you are constantly asking questions and pulling on people for assistance and so being so comfortable in both sets of chambers means there is an even bigger group of people to ring or knock on the door of.
Assessment wise, pupils have a formal review every three months to scope out progress. My first six was pre-Covid so I was in chambers every single day, my supervisor was generally in everyday but if I was shadowing someone else we would still speak every day. This meant I already knew how things were going before the reviews. Pupils need to keep track of your own progress, and so if there are things you think you haven’t seen, for example witness handling or property, then you can discuss this with your supervisor. This means you constantly monitor your progress alongside your supervisor and you can have a big input into what you think you need more help with, or more experience of, so you do have a big input into your pupillage. Going into pupillage, I didn’t know what to expect, but I absolutely loved it – you just grow so much.
At the junior end, the commercial department is going from strength to strength and the junior end is just growing and growing. There is so much good quality work and it helps having so many people around at your level that have the same problems and queries.
The transition from pupil to tenant
You build tenancy up so much but then the second six is so full on, you are almost too busy to worry, but it is still always on your mind. When you do get tenancy, it is odd as you build it up to be this huge thing but not much changes. I was told on the Friday late afternoon, I had various calls all weekend with congratulations but then went into court on Monday as normal. The bigger thing is going from non-practising first six to practising second six, and Exchange make that transition as smooth as possible. On my first day on my feet, I was in the Winders list and there were other people from Chambers in the list too. It was nerve-racking doing my first day in front of other people from Chambers but it was reassuring to know they were there too.
What is your practice like now?
My practice is so wide ranging even though it is just commercial, there is still a mixture of insolvency work, general commercial litigation and property work. I get to do some cases from start to finish so from drafting pleadings then going right through with the case. There is also opportunity to junior the more senior people in chambers, it is so varied and that is what makes it so interesting. Ordinarily, you can expect to be in court every single day or at least every other day, whereas now due to Covid, you can have three or four hearings in the same day and do it all from the same desk, so if anything, Covid has made us much busier!
Coming out of the pandemic, I am now in court physically twice a week at least. There are still a range of remote hearings via telephone or video, but face to face are becoming much more frequent. I can’t visualise everything becoming face to face again, or not for a long time at least, but face to face makes you remember why you do the job, you get a feeling when you’re stood in court which you don’t quite get when you’re jumping from hearing to hearing behind a screen, you get that professional feeling of being in court and in front of a judge.
In terms of the future, I am simply loving it at the moment. I want to carry on as I am as it really is such a steep learning curve: once you get comfortable doing a certain type of hearing or application, you then go up to the next level, get comfortable then go up again. I want to carry on as I am, learning more, getting experience in as many areas and doing as many different things as I can. Exchange is so supportive if there is an area you want to do, or any area you don’t.
The clerks are fantastic, and you get to know them so well – it is so important to have a good relationship with all of the clerks. They give you as much work as you want, you can always turn around and say “I don’t have the capacity to do that” or “I don’t feel comfortable doing that”, and they are fine with that. Because Exchange is so big, there is always someone for the work to go to if you’re not able to do it. The role and aim of the clerks is not to burn you out, they will give you as much as you can handle, but you do have to be able to time manage in this job.
What is the culture of chambers?
It is just so supportive both informally and formally. It is supportive informally, in the sense I can pick up the phone to any number of juniors and even a number of seniors, or knock on the door of anyone in chambers for assistance or run things by them.
There is also a formal mentoring scheme in place for after pupillage which is a brilliant scheme. You have that one person who you might go to things about which you might not go to others with, so it is also for issues beyond work. This extends to upcoming pupils, I am currently mentoring next year’s upcoming commercial pupil, she has been into chambers to meet members, so the support network comes in right from when you are offered pupillage. Everyone genuinely wants you to do well at Exchange, I thought it would be competitive but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everyone wants to help others, and due to our size there is always someone who will know the answer or point you in the right direction. The people are my favourite thing about Exchange, I wouldn’t enjoy it half as much if I was surrounded by different people.
Throughout the lockdowns there were events organised including commercial department drinks and wider chambers events. Since lockdown there have been various in-person drinks organised, meetups on the mass chambers scale have been more difficult, but that is not to say that the juniors haven’t gone for drinks amongst themselves.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
You need to show a commitment to chambers and the North. Exchange prides itself on having such a big presence in the North, so it is so important to show commitment and show you won’t do pupillage and carry on your career elsewhere.
Get as much experience as possible, do minis in different practice areas, try going to different locations and a range of different chambers, get as much advocacy experience as possible through mooting, debates and negotiation and look at Inns of Court events.
Really do not give up, it is the best career! It is a lot of work to get there, but once you are there, it is so rewarding.