Your journey to pupillage
I came to the Bar as a non-law undergraduate having studied English Literature at Durham University after finishing my A-Levels. Prior to starting my degree, I had done some work experience in a local solicitor’s firm and at the Crown Prosecution Service. I was interested in a career in law, and specifically at the Bar, but knew how competitive the process is, so I decided to choose a non-law undergraduate degree in a subject I loved and told myself that if after three years I was still interested in pursuing a career in law I would look to convert to law after my degree.
In the summers during my undergraduate degree, I completed three mini-pupillages (in wide-ranging areas of law, including both civil and criminal), marshalled a judge at the Court of Appeal, and attended a number of legal career insight events. I decided I did want to pursue a career in law and specifically at the Bar, but first I needed a break from study so I worked for six months (I volunteered three days a week with the legal charity Reprieve, volunteered one day a week for my local Citizens Advice and waitressed in a local pub to earn some money) and then I travelled for 6 months.
When I returned from my travels, I started the GDL in London. I worked as a waitress part time alongside this to help fund my studies, and also undertook four more mini pupillages at a variety of sets. By this time, I had a better idea of the type of practice wanted to pursue, so I focused on obtaining mini-pupillages at sets specialising in public law. During my GDL, I also undertook some pro bono written advocacy for Amnesty International and took part in a number of mooting competitions for the first time which was a brilliant introduction to legal advocacy and fantastic preparation for pupillage interviews. I applied for pupillage for the first time while doing the GDL to 7-8 sets and got through to a handful of first round, and a couple of second round, interviews but received no offers. Going through the process was an invaluable experience, and I learnt such a lot from this which helped me in my preparation for applying the following year.
Following completion of the GDL, I started the BPTC having obtained a scholarship from Gray’s Inn. During my BPTC, as well as continuing with mooting, I volunteered with Communities Empowerment Network, where I was given the opportunity to represent the parents of children who have been temporarily or permanently excluded from school, to help them to challenge the exclusion. It was incredibly rewarding to gain experience of “real-world” advocacy alongside more formal, legal advocacy on the BPTC. I applied for pupillage for the second time during my BPTC (this time applying to 11-12 sets) and obtained an offer from Landmark which I accepted.
In the year between finishing the BPTC and starting pupillage at Landmark I worked as a Judicial Assistant in the Court of Appeal, most notably working on the Heathrow Airport expansion appeal.
The pupillage experience
I was drawn to Landmark for two main reasons. First, when I attended an open day there prior to applying for pupillage I was struck by how genuinely friendly and approachable everybody was, whatever level of seniority. While everyone is exceptionally talented and impressive, no one made me feel intimidated. This held true at the interview stage which made what is undoubtedly a stressful and anxious experience that little bit easier. Second, as well as the warmth of Chambers, Landmark’s prominence in public law, with barristers appearing in all the major and constitutionally significant cases each year – Begum, Miller, Heathrow Airport to name but a few – was indicative of the quality of work Chambers produced and the opportunities available.
Pupillage is split into four seats, each of three months, with a different supervisor for each seat. The first three seats are in each of Chambers main practice areas: Planning/ Environmental, Public and Property. At the end of each of those seats you undertake an assessed written exercise in that area of law. For your final seat, you can request to repeat whatever practice area you most enjoyed or would like to gain more experience in. You are set work mainly by your supervisor, but there are also opportunities to do work for other members of Chambers. There are also two advocacy assessments which take place during the year, before the tenancy decision.
While there are opportunities to take on your own work during the second six of pupillage at Landmark, you are encouraged up until the tenancy decision to focus on work for your supervisor to maximise your chance of successfully obtaining tenancy. However, the tenancy decision is usually taken after your first three seats, so people typically take on much more of their own work in the final seat which is brilliant preparation for when you become a tenant.
My experience of pupillage was unlike most (and hopefully not one which will be repeated) as I was a pandemic pupil so spent most of the year at home during a lockdown rather than in Chambers with my supervisor. Landmark made every effort to ensure I still had the fullest experience possible, for example I was able to assist with and observe the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, a case in the Supreme Court concerning child tax credit and a number of planning inquiries.
Finally, and importantly, Landmark make clear that there is space for all its pupils to be offered tenancy so the only person you are in competition with is yourself. In other words, provided you meet the standard required for tenancy, you will be made an offer, regardless of the decision made in relation to your co-pupils. This is so important because the only people who can truly empathise with you during pupillage are you co-pupils, and so to feel you can fully support each other rather than being in competition with each other is extremely valuable.
The transition from pupil to tenant
My transition from pupil to tenant was more challenging than most because I had spent the majority of my pupillage year in a lockdown due to the Covid pandemic, which restricted my ability to take on my own work during the second six.
However, the support of members of Chambers made the transition far easier than it would otherwise been. Landmark genuinely does have an open-door policy; I have never knocked on the door of a member of Chambers – however junior or senior – and been turned away. Everyone is always willing to offer you their time to sense-check some advice, to ask a question or to ask where to find the best textbook/ resource. Even now, over a year into practice, members still knock on my door regularly to check-in and ask how I am getting on. Opportunities to be a junior to more senior members of Chambers – and observe how they run a case – are also incredibly helpful learning experiences in the early stages.
What is your practice like now?
I have a broad practice focused on public and planning law. Landmark encourages it’s juniors to maintain a broad practice in the early stages which has lots of benefits: it makes you more marketable, it helps you to work out what you enjoy most and what you may like to specialise in, it gives you the opportunity to work with a wide range of solicitors and more senior barristers, and it makes your work life interesting and varied as no two days are the same.
The balance of court and advisory work depends a lot on the area of law you’re working in, but I enjoy the balance I have. Some weeks I will have a planning inquiry which will involve travelling to somewhere in the country for a hearing; other times, I have SEND hearings which mostly take place remotely; more recently I have been attending Infected Blood Inquiry hearings in London. Other weeks will be spent doing written advocacy in the form of an advice or opinion. It really is the variety of both the content and form of work at the Bar, and specifically at Landmark, which is, in my view, its greatest appeal.
In terms of hours and work/life balance, I feel very lucky to be at a Chambers where work/ life balance is respected by both the clerks and other members. Others may have a different view on this, but I try to be firm with myself about not working weekends and would prefer to start working early on a weekday to protect my weekends as much as possible. My biggest advice is to set your non-negotiables early on and feel able to say no when you are genuinely at capacity. My view is it is far easier to build a sustainable practice, and avoid burn-out, if you do this from day one.
What is the culture of chambers?
As previously stated, it was the culture at Landmark which was one of the biggest draws for me to the Chambers, and my experience since starting practice has only proven that impression to have been correct. The Bar survives and thrives on its collegiate nature, and I have always found everyone at landmark to be friendly and happy to offer you their time and help.
Chambers is also very sociable with internal team parties/ drinks, cakes every Monday (encouraging everyone to come together once a week), and a Chambers’ football and (soon to be) netball team. Chambers also organises a number of well-being events, most recently including sessions on diet and nutrition, fitness, and managing stress and resilience, as well as free sessions with an osteopath and a yoga instructor. There is a particularly strong collegiate relationship between the women in Chambers which I personally really value, and which is encouraged by our monthly female members lunches.
Finally, the clerks and staff at Landmark are simply first class. They make you feel truly supported, they listen carefully to your individual fears and ambitions, and they are always supportive and helpful in a moment of crisis. They can help manage tricky encounters with clients, they notice and celebrate your success, and they are always looking out for new opportunities to put you forward for.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
My top tips for securing pupillage at Landmark are:
1. Be concise. Try to communicate your point in the fewest words possible. This demonstrates good written advocacy and means your answers will be focused and clear.
2. Do your research. Invest time in understanding the type of work we do at Landmark by talking to our members and researching the cases we are involved in. Explain to us why it is that the type of work we do, is the type of work you want to do.
3. Be honest. Do not try to write the answer you think we want to read. We want to know who you are, what you are interested in and what you are capable of.