Your journey to pupillage
I completed my undergraduate degree with the Open University while working full time as a project manager in the construction industry. During my second year of study, I competed in my first moot competition. I went on to win, with the final being held at the Supreme Court before Lady Hale. That experience was the catalyst for pursuing the Bar. After that, I undertook a series of mini-pupillages to get a flavour of barrister life and narrow down the kind of chambers that I was looking for. I continued mooting to bolster my pupillage applications and won two further international mooting competitions.
After I completed my Bar Course, I spent a year as a County Court advocate – which I highly recommend. In addition, Lincoln’s Inn was an incredible resource. One of the most valuable opportunities was a scholarship which included a three-month internship at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The pupillage application process takes considerable time and effort to stand out, and my Inn of Court was invaluable in helping me refine my applications: I would encourage everyone to ask for a pupillage application mentor.
I had two rounds at Gough Square, both during the height of the COVID pandemic. As such, both of my interviews took place remotely. The first was a short 15-minute interview with three Members. The second round was far more in-depth and included a problem question which was received half an hour in advance. Both rounds were challenging but the panel were approachable and encouraging, an experience that continued throughout my pupillage.
The pupillage experience
I chose to apply to Gough Square for three reasons. First, because the culture of Gough Square was attractive. I was looking for a Chambers with a focus on collegiality and mutual success instead of internal competition.
Secondly, I wanted a Chambers that was medium sized. I disliked the idea of being in a Chambers so vast that Members may never meet each other, and I didn’t want to be just a face on the Members’ website page to any of my colleagues.
Finally, looking at the Members’ profiles, I found like-minded individuals. For example, Alison Lambert graduated through the Open University as I had. Having been rejected from a Chambers previously with the reason cited being ‘it’s where your degree is from’, I felt confident that Gough Square would focus on my performance and ability instead of more superficial elements. In addition, I saw that many of the newer Members had similar extra-curricular experiences as me, such as County Court advocacy, and all had gone on to have flourishing practices.
Gough Square only takes on one pupil at a time with an expectation that they will obtain tenancy. As such, there is a Chambers-wide focus that every opportunity is a confidence building exercise, setting the pupil up for success.
My pupillage was split into three segments. The first four months was spent shadowing Iain MacDonald whose practice spans civil and criminal. There was a good mix of court attendance, conferences and paperwork to see. Towards the end of my time with Iain, I would draft paperwork alongside him and then compare the finished product. It was exciting to work on live cases and satisfying to see a noticeable improvement in my work in such a short space of time.
The next two months were spent shadowing Lee Finch who has a solely civil practice. The biggest milestone for me was within these two months. Just before my second six was due to start, we conducted an advocacy assessment to make sure I was ready to be on my feet. It took the form of a mock trial and other Members of Chambers played the Judge, opposing counsel and witness. One of my favourite memories during my pupillage was completing the BSB forms with Lee to approve the start of my second six.
The entirety of my pupillage was peppered with opportunities to assist in research for other Members of Chambers as well as shadowing them on interesting cases. These helped me gain exposure to the kind of work I might expect at differing levels of seniority as well as getting to know my fellow Members.
The transition from pupil to tenant
The anticipation of the transition was the worst part. I had expected to feel a big change from being supervised to on my own, but this was far from reality. The bigger transition was moving from first six to practising second six when I started to have my own clients and became responsible for a caseload. I had a busy second six and was in court more often than not. That cadence continued through to my tenancy with the first day feeling no different, other than being a cause for celebration. It’s important to remember that the year of pupillage is intended to gear you up for tenancy. My supervisors and clerks did an amazing job making me feel confident and comfortable during my pupillage so that when the training wheels came off, I already had momentum.
What is your practice like now?
My practice is an extremely busy and varied one which straddles civil and criminal. I have to remind myself that this is a nice problem to have because it can occasionally feel overwhelming. I am in court most days with a mix of applications and trials. When I am not in court, I am usually busy with paperwork and preparation for upcoming hearings. My work/life balance has to have a bit of flex to it. If I’m in person on a Monday morning, it is often the case that I need to cut my Sunday short so I can travel to where I need to be the next day. This is balanced out on days when I have remote hearings which is around 50% of the time. The travel can be a good opportunity to complete other paperwork. For example, I am writing this interview on the 5.30am train to Leicester. In terms of the future, I would like to keep my practice as broad as possible for the next 3-5 years and say yes to every opportunity that comes my way.
What is the culture of chambers?
Gough Square has a pervasive sense of collegiality which is punctuated by an expectation that everyone works hard and to an extremely high standard. I have friends in other Chambers who are surprised when I talk about the camaraderie at Gough Square. Barristers are usually self-employed which can lead to an inherent sense of competition and Members becoming siloed. Fred Philpott, the founder of Chambers, wanted to move away from this more old-fashioned style of operating to one of active support and mutual success.
The foundations of Gough Square are the incredible staff. The clerks, headed up by Bob Weekes, weave magic distributing the work around Chambers and dealing with the myriad issues that arise on a daily basis. The marketing team, consisting of John Clements and Mehak Hussain, push the profile of Chambers in ever-creative ways, most recently booking out the entirety of St Paul’s Cathedral for our summer party.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Make sure you check out Gough Square’s pupillage page on our website. It sets out the criteria that we look for when we are marking application forms. We put a lot of effort into making sure we compare applicants as objectively as possible, so helping us to tick off those criteria is the best way to get your foot in the door for a first round. During the interview rounds, we try to make candidates feel comfortable and relaxed as we want to see you perform at your best. I remember leaving both interview rounds at Gough Square having enjoyed the lively debate.