Your journey to pupillage
No two applicants have the same ‘journey’ story to the Bar. Unlike on MasterChef or the X-Factor where all the contestants seem to have the same back story, everyone’s is slightly different. My ‘journey’ is as follows:
My secondary education was at two state grammar schools in Kent. I studied history as an undergraduate at the University of York. Whilst at school and university I had a whole host of part-time jobs: from packaging frozen food, to erecting marquees, to fitting curtains in the well-heeled homes of the UK.
My legal studies kicked off sharpish following York. Whilst in my final year at York, I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship from Inner Temple for the Graduate Diploma in Law (“GDL”). I started the GDL in the autumn after I graduated from York. I studied the GDL at BPP in London. Whilst at BPP, I was again fortunate to get a scholarship from Inner Temple for the Bar Professional Training Course (“BPTC”). I started the BPTC as soon as I finished the GDL. I studied the BPTC at the University of Law in London.
My mooting experience started when I was a history undergraduate. In my final year at York, I decided to join the University of York Law Society to see whether I wanted to pursue a career in the law. It was by joining this Society that I became aware of mooting. I enrolled in the first competition I could and, fast forward a few months and much to my continued surprise, I was competing in the final at the Supreme Court in front of Lord Hughes. Mooting is a great way to see whether oral advocacy makes you tick. From York until I finished the BPTC, I competed in about 6 mooting competitions. My mooting had an international dimension as I was part of the team that represented the Inner Temple at a moot in Bologna. Mooting can take up a lot of time and so, whilst it is important and useful experience, do not let it dominate your life such that it becomes all encompassing and distracts you from other worthwhile experiences.
My mini-pupillage experience was slow to get off the ground. I found mini pupillages tough to get. It took me until the latter part of my GDL year to complete my first mini pupillage. I have since discovered that chambers can be inundated with more mini pupillage applications than pupillage applications and so do not be disheartened if you struggle to get mini pupillages early on. I was fortunate that I was awarded a Pegasus Access Support Scheme (“PASS”) scholarship by Inner Temple. Part of the PASS scholarship is a mini pupillage in a set of chambers of your choice. Once I had one mini pupillage under my belt, I found it easier to get other experiences at other chambers. I think I did 7 overall. There is no set number of mini pupillages you should do before applying for pupillage. Whilst it is advisable to do a few before applying, you can still get pupillage, or come close to getting pupillage without them. I was fortunate enough to be first reserve at a London set of chambers without having done a mini pupillage. I also did mini pupillages in as many practice areas as I could to see what twigged my interest. On top of my mini pupillages, I spent a couple of weeks marshalling Lady Justice Asplin in the Court of Appeal and a week marshalling HHJ Richardson QC in Hull Crown Court. If people are finding it tough to get mini pupillages, I would encourage people to think about getting marshalling experience (sitting with a judge) and work experience at solicitors’ firms specialising in litigation. Both activities will provide insight into the profession and will strengthen your applications for both mini pupillages and pupillages.
Immediately after completing the BPTC, I worked as a groundsman at my old school. After exhausting the quality reading material in the caretaker’s office, I applied to be a county court advocate. Fortunately, my application was successful and for a few months I appeared as an advocate in the county courts of the South-East of England. This provided me with extensive and real advocacy experience. I stopped being a county court advocate as I had been offered a job as a paralegal in a commercial litigation boutique in London. I accepted the role to gain experience of complex commercial litigation. My time as a paralegal was time well spent as it equipped me with a crucial insight into, as well as a confidence to operate in the world of litigation.
I got pupillage on my third attempt. The year that I was successful, I applied to as many chambers as I could. I think, in total, I applied to around 25-30 chambers. The process of applying for pupillage is gruelling. You will also find that every barrister will give you different advice on how you should go about the slog of obtaining pupillage. The key to it, in my opinion, is to be diligent and tenacious: give each application careful attention, but don’t get disheartened if, despite your labours, you get nowhere.
The pupillage experience
I was initially drawn to Littleton because they are very highly regarded, they had been recommended to me a number of times, and the work they did sounded interesting. As a paralegal, I was also involved in a case in which a baby barrister from Littleton was instructed on a newsworthy employment tribunal claim. I thought it was very impressive that someone so junior was doing something so advanced and interesting so early in their career.
I was sold on Littleton, rather surprisingly, by my experience of the interview process. Whilst it was very exacting, I felt like it offered me a fair and real opportunity to show my abilities; far more so than other selection processes that I had gone through. The rigour of the process, plus the fact that at each stage I met more engaging, friendly, and welcoming barristers who seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, revealed an environment which I thought I would enjoy working in.
Pupillage is split into four seats of three months. You will have a different supervisor for each seat. The tenancy decision is taken after you have completed your third seat. During the nine months prior to the decision, you will be exposed to diverse, exciting, and interesting work. The diversity of the work is ensured as you will be required to do work for different members of chambers, all who possess slightly different specialisms. This could be from assisting a silk advise a major sporting body, attending the High Court on a multi-week civil fraud case, assisting your supervisor with disputes within the employment tribunal, drafting grounds of appeal and skeleton arguments in an appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, or attending the Supreme Court to argue the finer points of Diplomatic Immunity.
Littleton puts you through your paces in the nine months prior to the tenancy decision. Alongside the work that you do for your supervisor and other members of chambers, you will be required to do seven formal assessments. Whilst the process is demanding, it quickly advances your advocacy abilities as well as your legal knowledge. Not only does practice make perfect, but after each assessment you are provided with detailed written and oral feedback from two or three members of chambers.
Although you are worked hard during pupillage, the members and staff of chambers are very supportive throughout the process and encourage you to join and attend in with chambers social and professional networking events.
The transition from pupil to tenant
The transition from pupil to tenant has been made much easier by the support I have received from Chambers. It is undoubtedly a stressful period where everything appears daunting. However, the training provided at Littleton more than prepares you for the realities of life as a junior tenant, chambers has a number of formal inductions prior to starting tenancy to help prepare you for practice, and there is always someone free for a chat or at the end of a phone.
The transition has also been made easier as the clerks have been brilliant at finding me exciting led and non-led work. This allayed the worry of not having any money coming in when the pupillage award stopped and also occupied my mind so that I did not ponder the magnitude of being a self-employed barrister.
What is your practice like now?
Early life as a tenant of Littleton is far from dull. One week you could be in Watford Employment Tribunal running a trial; another you could be being led by a senior member of chambers in an employment trial, a commercial trial, sports arbitration, injunction application or investigation. My first trial as a tenant was a fourteen-day financial sector whistleblowing dispute in which I was led by Lydia Banerjee. One of my colleagues’ first trials as a tenant was acting as sole counsel in a multi-day sexual harassment claim in the East London Employment Tribunal against a silk from another chambers. Another was being second junior in an appeal in the Supreme Court.
What is the culture of chambers?
Littleton is tucked away in a modern building in the corner of the majestic Inner Temple, which means we get the best of both worlds – air-conditioning and a lovely setting. We are also lucky to have a terrace which is used in the summer to host Chambers events, both social and professional.
We are fortunate at Littleton to have such supportive colleagues. There is always someone on hand to help you out with a tricky question or chat over a coffee. Chambers also hosts regular social events. These are always well attended and are great fun.
The clerks and staff are brilliant: supportive, friendly, and attentive in equal measure. They are always more on top of matters than you are, and can be relied on to lend assistance whenever it is needed. The clerks and our fabulous Chambers Director Liz Dux will encourage you to be ambitious and take on bigger and better work. They also understand that life at the Bar is hectic and highly pressurized and are very good at ensuring you take well-earned restorative breaks. The last thing you want is Ms Dux putting her head round your door (whilst you are asleep face down on your desk) telling you off for working too hard! Our equally marvellous Administrative Director will ensure that you don’t drop the ball on important professional administrative requirements.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
Be diligent and tenacious: give each application careful attention, don’t get disheartened if, despite your labours, you get nowhere, and if you are unsuccessful one year, make sure you make the most of the following year and do something which will enhance your CV and make you a better applicant.
As regards chambers, focus on those sets where you are genuinely interested in their area of speciality and make sure you research what will be required of you if you are successful in securing an interview.