Your journey to pupillage
I completed a law degree at University College London in 2016. Whilst at university I initially knew very little about the Bar and certainly held no prior ambitions of becoming a barrister. I participated in my law society’s first year mooting competition which I thoroughly enjoyed. I took part in the second year mooting competition, reaching the final held in the Supreme Court and judged by Lady Justice Arden (as she then was). I also undertook a wide range of mini-pupillages in second year from crime, through personal injury to commercial and chancery which confirmed my interest in the latter.
After some deliberation, weighing financial realities and the good fortune of receiving a scholarship from Inner Temple, I commenced the BPTC in late 2016. I started the BPTC without a pupillage offer and therefore spent a good portion of the lead up to Christmas preparing applications to Chancery sets which were then outside of the gateway timetable. I also applied for the little known but extremely rewarding Fox Scholarship offered by Middle Temple. I was fortunate to obtain a pupillage offer from New Square Chambers in Lincoln’s Inn and, shortly before, was accepted to take part in the Fox Scholarship. During the second term of the BPTC I also tutored trusts law at the LSE to second and third-year undergraduates.
After completing the BPTC in 2017 I set off for Toronto, Canada in September. The Fox Scholarship is an exchange programme where two Canadian qualified Solicitors/Barristers (being a fused profession where lawyers are called as both) spend 10 months in London Chambers and two newly qualified barristers are placed at litigation firms in Toronto.
I began pupillage with New Square Chambers in October 2018, commenced tenancy in 2019 and have practiced at New Square since.
The pupillage experience
In a word “quality” drew me to New Square, quality of both work and the staff and members. I had undertaken a mini-pupillage with New Square prior to applying for pupillage. During my short time in Chambers, I saw a breadth of chancery work covering a contentious trust dispute to a hard fought insolvency application. I had always had a broad interest in the law and a set where one could practice a range of subject matters appealed to me.
Equally importantly in my view, the members of Chambers I met during my mini-pupillage were extremely welcoming, good humoured and collegiate. Seeing first hand that New Square’s members enjoyed both their work and the discussions and social interactions with other members was (and remains) an excellent combination.
I was placed with four pupil supervisors during pupillage. My first seat was largely property focused and I worked almost exclusively for my supervisor save for the occasional research task for other members. The initial 3 month period of working only for my supervisor gave me the peace of mind to find my feet before working for other members.
My second 3-months was focused upon contentious trusts and estates work. The pace of work was swift and I was always kept busy, but the rewards of experience and confidence were apparent as a result.
The method of training at New Square is something of the tried and tested format. I would read into a set of papers that my supervisor was working on and prepare a first draft of advices, pleadings, skeleton arguments for hearings and the like. After my supervisor completed the work themselves, we would discuss the case generally, the differences between work products and I would receive detailed feedback.
There were no particular expectations on my working hours, with a general suggestion of 9-5. Often, I would find myself leaving Chambers at 5 but continuing to work later into the evening, though this was my own decision and certainly not an expectation. When the summer months arrived, I was encouraged by my supervisor to finish early for the day and socialise with other members. New Square has always had a very social and friendly atmosphere and as a pupil there was a lot to be learned from hearing the war stories of other members. That remains true as a tenant, taking lessons from the experiences of others.
New Square offers the benefit of a practising second six pupillage. When moving to my third supervisor with an increased focus on company law work, I enjoyed balancing work for my supervisor and other members of Chambers with my own instructions. The nature of early instructions are typically bankruptcy petitions, possession hearings and the odd long journey to “hand up” a consent order, all of which is invaluable for learning how a court building operates, how to deal with opponents and with judges.
After receiving my positive tenancy decision in July, I moved to my final supervisor with an emphasis on civil fraud and insolvency. Members were also very keen to ensure that I had a good grounding in the work I would be receiving in my early years and I therefore assisted with a number of insolvency and estate matters which was invaluable.
New Square takes only one pupil a year meaning no competitive advocacy exercises. Pupillage reports are provided by supervisors, members for whom work is completed and solicitors instructing the pupil in their second six. Feedback is also given by the senior clerk. I was able to enjoy my pupillage thoroughly, knowing that I was only in competition with myself to meet the standard required of a new tenant. Overall, my pupillage year was a very enjoyable and rewarding experience that set me up well to start tenancy.
The transition from pupil to tenant
Because of the practising second six and the support of junior members in preparing me for early year work I found the transition between pupil and tenant largely a natural and easy one. The first day of tenancy remains an unusual experience where the supervision and oversight fall away, and your opinion carries the weight of a fully-fledged barrister, but having practised for 6 months “on my feet” by that point the transition was certainly easier than it might have been.
As for the flow of work, this too was relatively fear-free. By the time I started as a tenant I had gained a small number of repeat instructions and formed strong relationships with members who would refer cover hearings to me or pass along work more suitable for a baby junior.
Whilst there is led work available in New Square this is not the norm for junior members who will typically be the “type” of barrister who wishes to forge their own path, win their own work and run their own practice. That being said, my final supervisor received a large trial brief for a multi-week partnership fraud dispute, and I was recruited as his junior. The experience was taxing and rewarding in equal measure. I have since been led on a small number of other matters as a tenant but would use the term only loosely. Typically, my led work involves myself and another member working on a large case together, but usually with distinct aspects of the case we are each working on, occasionally crossing paths for joint advises or conferences.
What is your practice like now?
By design I remain a broad chancery barrister. The ratios of my various areas of practice have shifted since I started tenancy, but the core areas of my work have remained unchanged. As above, my work is almost entirely unled and I am therefore sole counsel on 99% of my case load. I enjoy the responsibility that comes from unled practice and the onus which rests upon me to be fully conversant in the area I am advising upon or arguing.
I have developed a significant insolvency practice with a particular focus on claims brought by Insolvency Practitioners and litigation funds to recover assets from third parties and, more commonly, former company directors. Alongside which I practice trusts and estates with a large amount of contentious probate claims (will challenges and the like) together with real property and landlord and tenant work. Specialising at New Square is readily possible, actively facilitated and encouraged where that is a members’ choice.
Due to the nature of my work, I am in court at least once a week and often more regularly. I appear regularly in the High Court particularly on probate and insolvency matters and across the county courts (though generally with a south-east focus). I enjoy spending time in Chambers and “post-pandemic” aim to be in Chambers at least twice a week. The amount of work I take on is ultimately for me to control but as I am fortunate and love my job, I tend to find myself kept very busy. I start work at around 6:30am when working at home or 7:30am in Chambers to benefit from a few hours of email-free time, typically working until 5:30pm.
Work/life balance remains my biggest personal challenge, but I am improving at taking time off when needed and informing my clerks when I am at maximum capacity. Even when I am at my busiest, however, the job always remains enjoyable and deeply rewarding.
I am a member of our pupillage committee and take an active interest in helping our pupil succeed during their year of training. I am generally either a formal or informal mentor for our pupil. I have also participated for the first time this year in the Chancery Bar Association’s mentoring scheme which was very rewarding.
As for future ambitions…silk…perhaps… I shall have to wait and see. On a more practical note, I would like to continue building my practice, to learn more about the areas in which I work and see where this takes me.
What is the culture of chambers?
New Square is a friendly and welcoming set. Members are supportive of one another, generous with their time and always happy to discuss cases and share their experience. Post pandemic there has been a concerted effort to encourage social get togethers that are not designed as marketing efforts but for members and staff to enjoy spending time together. The one remaining (arguable) difficulty is remote working, which has taken hold across the Bar and working life generally. Chambers has co-working spaces to accommodate those who have elected to no longer occupy a fixed room in Chambers. Whilst the number of members in Lincoln’s Inn during term time is generally stable, I am hopeful that as more in-person hearings resume numbers of members regularly in chambers will increase.
We are also graced with an excellent clerks’ room and support staff. We have two practice teams with barristers assigned to a particular team. At my stage of practice, I am in reality clerked by everyone depending on which clerks have the best relationship with particular instructing solicitors.
The clerking team is closely involved in Chambers-wide and individual marketing efforts and work to push barristers’ practices forwards as a team. Michelle Greene has recently been appointed senior clerk and Nathan Hitchman as deputy senior clerk. Crystal Fernandes has joined Chambers as marketing manager. There is a real sense of energy across members and clerks to further develop New Square’s reputation across Chancery work. The relationship between barristers and clerks is also what I would describe as modern; the traditional austere divide between barristers and their clerks replaced with a relationship that is both professional and friendly as our clerks work with, not simply for, members of chambers.
Top tips for those wanting to become a barrister/secure a pupillage at your chambers
I would give five top tips which are in summary:
(1) Academics are important but applying knowledge is more important: the bar is an academic world, a point widely known. The importance attached to academics will vary between area of law and between Chambers but will never be unimportant. However, there is increasingly in my view a focus upon selecting an individual whose skills go beyond paper grades. If you have an application which is academically lacking or “nothing special”, you are likely to need to do more in other areas to bolster your application. This could be further education (e.g. Masters Degrees), lived and worked experience such as working as a paralegal or building a base in a sector with transferable skills first, or making your CV stand out with an impressive and unusual feature (items showing drive and initiative are often well received in this field). Provided you can do enough by way of written application to receive an interview, paper grades assume a reduced importance if you acquit yourself well in applying your knowledge and demonstrating the skills of persuasion and analysis sought after at the bar.
(2) Ensure you have a realistic knowledge of the practice of junior members: many applicants read the profiles of Silks at a set before applying and cite their recent supreme court appearance as the reason they wish to apply. Whilst this shows a degree of research it shows an equal lack of reality. Having a good grasp of what practice will look like in the first 2-3 years of practice and a convincing desire to take on the work that the early juniors are engaged shows more realistic research. Equally, because you cannot run to the Supreme Court before walking to Romford County Court it is helpful to pupillage applicants to know that they will enjoy and be fulfilled by the work available to them in the early years when applying.
(3) Relax, the fit of pupil and chambers needs to be mutual: whilst pupillages are highly sought after and lateral movements between Chambers are more common than ever before, it is important to train and commence practice at a set where you are likely to thrive. Chambers’ expectations and their internal cultures will all vary and in a very real sense the right chambers will find the right pupils for them and vice versa.
(4) There is no right time to apply for pupillage and a CV can always be improved: rejection is common in the pupillage process but does not mean that you have an insurmountable hurdle and will never succeed. Ask for feedback after a failed interview or application process and seek feedback which is as specific as possible so that you can improve most effectively. I have given some suggestions above for where applications can be improved. There is often a sense that applications should be made in the final year of a law degree or whilst on the GDL. Many succeed at that stage of life, but many do not. Taking time before applying in which to gain experience can often be the key to success in receiving a pupillage offer but also in performing well whilst a pupil, benefiting from the learned judgment that the working world affords, as well as the ability to work with a range of people and personalities.
(5) Accept that there is a large element of luck involved with success: this final tip speaks for itself, sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to a job application process but do not be deterred!