Your journey to pupillage
At school, I was fairly sure that I wanted to be a lawyer but had more difficulty working out how I wanted to get there. I spent a long time deciding whether to pick law as an undergraduate degree or to study something else (biochemistry, as it happens) and then take the GDL. In the end, I chose law and enjoyed it enough to continue with a master’s degree.
Whilst at university, I involved myself with mooting, having debated in school. Both are great ways to practise oral advocacy and improve your confidence, as well as being useful for pupillage applications.
In terms of work experience, I did a vacation scheme with a commercial law firm and mini-pupillages at various sets specialising in different areas, so that I could make an informed decision about my next steps. I decided that I was interested in the Bar, specifically the Chancery and Property Bar, and applied during my master’s year. I was accepted for pupillage at Falcon Chambers, which I started in October 2020 after taking the Bar Course, then called the BPTC.
The pupillage experience
Before I started my pupillage, I received a one-week intensive course in landlord and tenant law from Professor Martin Dixon of Queens’ College, Cambridge. Chambers organises this for all incoming pupils and it was very useful in providing me with a solid grounding in this unfamiliar area of law.
My pupillage was divided into four three-month seats, each with a different supervisor who gave me papers to read, set work for me to do, and provided me with feedback. I was involved in whatever work my supervisor had going on at the time and my tasks included carrying out legal research, assisting with preparation for trials and hearings, and drafting pleadings, opinions, and skeleton arguments.
Throughout my pupillage, my hours were very reasonable. I worked between 9:00am and 6:00pm and was discouraged from working outside that. The deadlines I was set were always appropriate and intended to allow me enough time to produce my best work, rather than to put me under intense time pressure. For that reason, I only ended up working on evenings or weekends a handful of times, either where the work was urgent or (twice) because a mediation had run late.
In my second six, I continued to spend most of my time doing work for my supervisors but I also picked up a few small cases of my own. I was instructed to draft statements of case and applications, to appear in court at possession hearings, and to act as a junior for a QC. Chambers also organised advocacy training and assessments to prepare me for appearing in court.
The transition from pupil to tenant
To be quite honest, I found the transition from pupillage to tenancy more stressful than I had anticipated. Chambers prepared me well by giving me some of my own work towards the end of my pupillage, so that the shift wasn’t as abrupt as it could have been, but it’s still an adjustment when you realise that the buck now stops with you rather than your supervisor. Having said that, I always felt able to ask questions to other members of chambers if I was unsure about something, which I did on a more or less daily basis at the start and still do frequently.
The other major change that comes with tenancy is that the amount of work you take on, and the time you have to complete it, are no longer fixed for you by a supervisor. Instead, managing your own diary, setting realistic deadlines for yourself, and keeping control of your working hours become essential skills. I found that the key to doing this successfully was to develop a collaborative relationship with the clerks, who were excellent.
What is your practice like now?
All of my work relates to land in some shape or form. As you might expect, I deal with lots of landlord and tenant law and classic ‘land law’ issues such as easements and restrictive covenants. But my work also regularly involves other areas such as contract, tort, trusts, professional negligence, and insolvency. I act for a broad range of clients, including residential tenants, private homeowners, farmers, property developers, and corporate landlords.
For most of my cases, I’m the only barrister representing my client, which means that I have a lot of independence and plenty of opportunities for advocacy experience. Less frequently, I’m instructed on more complex matters as a junior to a more senior barrister.
The structure of my working week varies depending on what I have on. In an average week, I might be in court two or three times, typically on short hearings, and then fill the rest of my time with a couple of pieces of written work.
My hours remain good and I’m happy with my work/life balance. I typically choose to work 9:00am to 7:00pm, although that fluctuates depending on how busy I am. Wherever possible, I try to keep my evenings and weekends free, which prevents me from burning out and also means that when something urgent does come up I have the time to deal with it.
What is the culture of chambers?
My colleagues in Chambers are a genuinely lovely and friendly bunch. People regularly pop into my room to say hello or check how I’m getting on and we tend to congregate in the library to have lunch together every day, which pupils are encouraged to attend. The atmosphere in Chambers is relaxed and non-hierarchical and, as a pupil, I felt welcome from the moment I started. Having done mini-pupillages at quite a few other sets, I genuinely think the culture we have is special.
Everyone, at all levels of seniority, is more than happy to answer questions or to be used as a sounding board for a slightly ‘out there’ argument. On days when I happen to be working from home, there’s a WhatsApp group that the junior juniors use to keep in touch and ask each other questions (and send photos of our pets).
Being self-employed, it’s up to each of us to strike our own balance between coming into chambers and working from home and, like everyone else, our working habits have been affected by the pandemic. My sense, however, is that we have quite a high proportion of attendance compared to many other sets, which I think is beneficial for those at the start of their careers.
The clerks and support staff are all great and a vital part of Chambers. The clerks have a very good understanding of what it’s like for new tenants starting out in practice and were able to guide me as I got my feet under the table. In addition to our day-to-day communications, I have practice meetings with them every few months, in which we assess how my practice is developing and discuss ways in which I might steer it in one direction or another.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Start by looking at the criteria by which applications are assessed, which you can find on our website, and think carefully about how the experiences you’ve had can be used to demonstrate that you meet them. Giving examples is key, both in the application form and at interview. Don’t fall into the trap of making bald assertions (such as that you’re calm under pressure and work well with other people) without evidence. The application form is also a chance for us to see your written advocacy, so make sure that all your answers are concise, clear, and well-structured and pay particular attention to any essay questions.
Once you get to the interview stage, my top tips would be:
(1) As with the application form, it’s not just about what you say, but also how you say it. Your interviewers will be looking for evidence of an aptitude for oral advocacy so keep your answers structured and don’t waffle.
(2) You should try to show an interest in the work we do, but we aren’t trying to test how much property law you already know. Keeping an eye on the news for topical developments in our area is a good idea, but you don’t need to worry about trying to remember all the case names from your land law notes.
(3) More generally, in my experience there is a significant degree of overlap between the questions that different chambers ask. I found it helpful to keep a note of what I was asked in each interview and if I was stumped by a question the first time around, I would make sure I had a better answer ready if it came up again.