Your journey to pupillage
I started out at The Kings School in Macclesfield. I didn’t know I wanted to do law as they didn’t offer it at A-level, but I had always enjoyed performing and in Year 11 or 12 someone told me that the courtroom was like a stage and the idea stuck. I did a history degree at the University of York and it was in my final year there that I decided to pursue a legal career and I started to look for experience with solicitors’ firms as well as in chambers.
I was lucky enough to meet a barrister on a family holiday and went on to do some shadowing with him before completing a number of mini-pupillages. I went on to do the GDL and it was in that year that I thought I would give pupillage applications a go on the first round. I was offered two pupillages, including one at Kings, and went straight onto pupillage after my bar course. I worked hard but I imagine there was some ‘right time, right place’ involved too.
The pupillage experience
I knew I wanted to stay in Manchester, so I only applied for pupillages there. Kings is a great set with a great name, and I wanted to start my career off in the best place I could. I did a mini-pupillage at Kings and really enjoyed it and thought it was different from the other mini-pupillages I had done. The first day involved lots of talks from different barristers and a judge came in too, then on the second day there were lots of advocacy exercises. Because I didn’t do a law degree, the practice area talks were really interesting for me and I found there were all these areas of law I had never heard of. It was during my mini-pupillage at Kings where I first learnt about The Court of Protection. Simon Burrows gave the talk on Court of Protection and Mental Health work and he was so passionate about the area. I was invited to lunch in the summer before starting my pupillage and was very pleased to hear that he would be one of my supervisors!
I was offered a common-law pupillage; however, during my interview I was clear I wanted to do Court of Protection, mental health, and public law work. Even though Kings wanted a common-law pupil, they recognised my interests and came up with a way of tailoring my pupillage to match them. I spent three months with Richard Livingston in personal injury and clinical negligence, before moving onto three months with Simon Burrows doing Court of Protection and mental health work. The transition into my second six was really easy, I did a lot of personal injury work and then slowly built up my Court of Protection practice.
Having two different supervisors in the first six was really useful as both had such different styles and approaches. With my first supervisor, I spent quite a lot of time in chambers as he had quite a heavy paperwork practice. This meant I got to meet lots of members and practice my drafting skills. When I moved over to my second supervisor, I was in court pretty much every day with him, there was never more than an afternoon of paperwork. I kept both supervisors in my second six.
Assessment is conducted on an ongoing basis at Kings. My supervisors set paperwork tasks and then provided feedback. After court or conferences, my supervisors would ask me questions and see whether I understood and see if I would ask the right questions and whether I had picked up on the right things. As well as wanting candidates with intellectual abilities, as chambers invest a lot of time and money into pupils, they want to make sure you are the kind of person who will fit in. I was encouraged to spend time with the clerks and other members of chambers who I am sure reported back to my supervisors as well. I really appreciated and liked the ‘on-going’ nature of pupillage assessment at Kings, as I know some chambers set specific assessment tasks or interviews. Everyone has horror stories of a bad day in court and I don’t think a single assessment reflects life as a barrister. One bad day in court doesn’t define you and isn’t representative of you as an advocate, so I think the ongoing nature of assessment at Kings is a good one.
At the end of every three months, supervisors would fill in a review sheet and you would fill in an identical sheet and then a meeting was held with the head of pupillage. During the meeting we would discuss what was going well or any concerns, though it would largely focus on what pupils wanted to get out of the process and how you felt it was going. It was an opportunity to review, rather than an assessment.
The transition from pupil to tenant
It was a natural, easy and seamless transition through to tenancy. I had been on my feet for six months already so just carried on the next day. During second six I didn’t feel like I was a pupil, I still wanted to do well and impress, but I didn’t feel like I was treated any differently than I would if I were a tenant. During my second six, I think I was often a little nervous to ask ‘silly’ questions as I wanted to impress, but over the past two years I’ve grown in confidence and found the support network at Kings to be fantastic – now I ask ‘silly’ questions all the time!
What is your practice like now?
Most of my practice is still remote, I’ve had three hearings in person since March 2020. With Court of Protection work especially, lots of it is directions hearings and timetabling for future evidence, so until you get into final hearings and contested hearings, most of the work is done in meetings and conferences before you go in so you don’t really need to be in the courtroom as such. I think a lot will stay remote. I do miss being in court though and would like to be back in at least a few days a week.
In terms of work/life balance, some people may struggle with the amount of work I do and some may want more, but for me it’s pretty perfect. I am never afraid to ring my clerks to ask for paper days if I am overwhelmed, and if they can accommodate it, they will put one in for me and allow me that breathing space to prepare. Now everthing is remote, the work/life balance is a lot better; I’m not racing for trains or getting back late after an afternoon hearing. I felt like I was working a lot harder during pupillage, but I am sure this was because I was spending eight hours preparing a case rather than the 2 it actually required! It is a hard career, and it takes a lot of work, it isn’t a 9-5 job but I still tend to get most of my weekends and whilst there is the odd evening when I’m up late, there are days when my hearings will vacate and I find myself with a free day or two.
I have recently started to broaden my practice and am now picking up some Human Rights and Judicial Review work. When I have asked about expanding into different areas, I have felt supported by the clerking team. For example, Court of Protection work is split into health and welfare, and property and affairs work and at the moment my practice is largely the former, but I’m looking to develop my property and affairs practice. When I have spoken to the clerks they have been really supportive in suggesting conducting seminars and helping me to build new relationships with solicitors firms.
What is the culture of chambers?
With Covid, I haven’t really been into chambers in almost two years! My team is really helpful and friendly, we have a great support network. When there is a cross over with an area of law I’m not familiar with, I know I can pick up the phone and ask the clerks who I should ask for help. I recently sent a message to a colleague asking for help and within two minutes he called me and talked me through it all. Even though I am two years beyond pupillage now, that supportive atmosphere is still there. We have things like a Court of Protection team Whatsapp so if anyone has a query, we can bounce ideas off each other. It is a really nice environment, especially over the last year – being a barrister means you work on your own, so it can be quite lonely, but Kings manages to create an environment which makes you feel like you’re part of a team, which is especially helpful for people at the junior end.
Socially, since lockdown, the Court of Protection team has been out for dinner. During lockdown we had Zoom quizzes as well.
Chambers is split across three buildings in Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham. In Manchester we have a library with desks that anyone can use, but you can also rent permanent desks too. Chambers is spread across a number of floors with desks grouped in rooms, usually shared by people practicing in the same area. There are lots of conference rooms you can book out as well for client meetings and calls.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Apply for the mini-pupillage programme. This has been virtual for the past two rounds and rather than just select 20 people for both days, on the first we’ve had it open to anyone. If you show that engagement with chambers that is one tick in the box. There are so many seminars and podcasts on our website too, listen to those and engage with members as much as you can. I often get messages on LinkedIn and I am always happy to respond.
Kings specialises in areas like planning, business and property, personal injury and clinical negligence and public law, we don’t do crime or family work, so make sure you tailor your application appropriately.
Good academic results are great, but a lot of applicants will have good grades. Show us something different, tell us what makes you someone we want to meet. We want friendly, enthusiastic people who will fit into the supportive atmosphere that we have in chambers.