11 things not to do in a pupillage interview

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You’ve made the cut. You’ve secured that pupillage interview. And as you wait sweaty-palmed to meet your inquisitors, you realise that the next 30 minutes will determine whether you’re taken on by a top set of chambers, or spend the next 12 months working part-time in a frozen chicken factory. @Wigapedia advises on what NOT to do next…

1. Pretend you know any law.


You don’t. In fact, you know — in legal professional terms — less than the chambers cat (and we don’t even have a cat). You can (pretend to) be interested in the law and express a tentative opinion about it. But you’re not kidding anyone that you know much beyond Donoghue v Stevenson. Only half of us have heard of that case anyway, and the half that have can’t even remember if it’s the boy who was eaten in the boat, or the snail in the ginger beer case…

2. Act like you think a barrister should act.


Because in fact you’re acting like an actor thinks a barrister should act. Mainly like a complete arse. Many barristers are complete arses. But they don’t want some spotty uni-leaver reminding them of their arse-like qualities. (That’s what the solicitors do.)

3. Mention that your dad’s a judge, or your mum is a solicitor.


We’ll all resent the fact you’ve been given an unfair leg up this far — even if you haven’t — and we’ll be damned if we’re going to help you get another one. We got here the hard way. We used to live in a ditch and had to eat mud for breakfast…(cue violins)

4. Wear that tie/scarf/brooch which you think shows you have a great personality.


It doesn’t. It shows you have terrible taste in accessories. That tie with comic figurines on it? Or the brooch that looks like you’re being attacked by an enraged gecko? They’re just likely to distract us from your answers. And believe me, we don’t need much distracting. Oh look, a bee….

5. Get the name of chambers wrong.

Even a little bit. Saying ‘Hardwicke Building’ (when it’s actually ‘Hardwicke’) or Temple Garden Barristers (instead of Temple Garden Chambers) acts like nails on a blackboard to the interviewers.

If you’re too young to know what a blackboard is — it’s a board, that’s black and on which nails scraped down it, sound intensely irritating. (Later renamed a ‘chalkboard’ — see above — for anyone who was unable to cope with objects being assigned a colour.)

6. Try to remember and say back the names of the interviewers.


We don’t think it’s engaging, or cute, or impressive. It sounds like you’re pitching an advertising concept in Mad Men. And you’re not sharply-enough dressed to do that. And have you looked around the room? We mainly look like refugees from a TK Maxx warehouse explosion.

7. List your hobbies as “reading”, “walking” or “going to the cinema”.

Unless you consider normal day-to-day activities such as “blinking” and “breathing” are also hobbies, these things are not hobbies for most sentient and/or mobile individuals.

Hobbies are racing swans or building models out of scrap metal or land yachting. Oh, and while we’re on the subject; things like “visiting mausoleums” or “attending séances” are not hobbies either, they are just downright weird.

8. Stare at us blankly when asked obvious questions.


Most barristers’ chambers have interview panels made up of those who couldn’t think of a good enough excuse to avoid being on the panel. They are mainly not even semi-trained in interview techniques, and so tend to ask questions of almost comic inevitability. “What attracted you to our chambers?” or “What makes you think you’d be a good barrister” or “What would you like your practice to look like in five years’ time” are not exactly left-field, are they?

So if you’re not prepared with a zinger of an answer for these types of questions, the trickier ones — such as “What would you do if the judge stormed out of court shouting he was bored stupid by your submissions” — are really going to stump you, aren’t they?

9. Regale us with tales of your prowess as treasurer of the university bungee-jumping society.

You know how much Jeremy Clarkson cares for cyclists? Well, we care a lot less than that about your position of quasi-leadership in any university club. President of the Union? That’s mildly interesting. CEO of your own legal services company? Now we’re listening.

10. When asked why you want to be a barrister, use phrases like “fighting for justice” and/or “fighting for the underdog”.


We’re recruiting barristers for our chambers. If we wanted a Marvel superhero, we’d have asked you to come in a leotard and a cape. And we’d expect you arrive by flying in through the window. It’s perfectly acceptable to say you’d like lots of money and fancy parading round in a wig. At least it’s honest.

11. And finally…you know that bit where we ask you if you’ve any questions? The correct answer to that question is almost universally…


Unless of course it’s an interesting question we’ve not heard 200 times already. Which it won’t be. That’s actually our signal that the interview is over and it’s time to exit. “So make like a tree, and leave.” © Biff Tannen


James Potato

Ha, agreed.

In particular point 7. Some applicants virtually say: “my hobbies include breathing oxygen and converting protein intake into muscle energy”.



Lots of students can barely afford rent, let alone hobbies.

To say your hobby is “snowboarding” is basically to say: my father is loaded.

Very complacent.


Some of these are sensible, some are not.

Being a good interviewee isn’t about being convenient for your panel, it’s being memorable. And if that means your interviewers are forced to take a tea break that’s 5 minutes shorter than they’d like because you’ve made a valiant effort to make treasurer of bungee jumping sound exciting and relevant, then good on you. You’re doing what an advocate should be doing.

(Though the success of such a strategy probably relies on being at least mildly convincing and/or engaging while doing so)


If you ask me what I do in my spare time, why the hell shouldn’t one of my answers be “reading”?

Jim Nately

Because the person who likes to engage in a spot of offshore yacht racing, or played hockey at county level, or devoted Monday nights at uni to playing contra-bassoon for the Really Terrible Orchestra, or is an atrociously unskilled but determined judoist will appear significantly more well-rounded, interesting, motivated and sociable, and to have more of a psychological bolt-hole for when the job is stressful, exhausting, lonely and unrewarding upon having just got back from a trip to Cardiff and lost the sixth CFA in a row.

Also, because there’s a fair bet that someone on the panel will be better read, and you’re just begging to be asked an awkward question by someone with a passion for 19th Century Russian literature (and ice-climbing).


Absolutely fine, but again – why shouldn’t one of my answers be “reading”?


I just remembered – some friends are applying at the moment for a pupillage where the set question for the first round interviews is something like “describe the last book you read”. Not a particularly interesting question, I’ll grant you (and I agree that you’ll want to have something significantly more interesting to talk about as well), but if someone enjoys reading it’s clearly not irrelevant

Juan Pertayta

Your examples are interesting: yachts, hockey, contra-bassoon, judo. Three of the four are stereotypically posh or hearty or both. I’m not convinced that hobbies on pupillage applications are really about breadth of interest or strength of character. They often seem to be – or at least the advice given to applicants often seems to be – to include hobbies that say something socially about the applicant.

I’d love to think pupillage committees could take a genuine interest in people who are their local British Legion pool champion, who are keen on karaoke, who enjoy ice skating at the council rink, who follow and bet on greyhound racing, or who spend weekends doing up Ford Fiestas. I doubt it though.

Jim Nately

With the greatest of respect, I think that yachts, hockey, contra-bassoon and judo are all interesting hobbies. Possibly except playing contra-bassoon. Anyone with much experience of playing music knows that the bass usually gets the least interesting parts.

On a (slightly) more serious note, all anyone is really looking for is something to suggest the applicant might have socialised with people outside university, can organise their university work so as to get to do the other things they want to do, might have something to chat to solicitors about, and that the applicant has a life so that when he or she goes through a bad patch 18 months down the line s/he isn’t going to collapse into a quivering wreck (or worse) because for that person work is all s/he has.

But as to whether its racing yachts, playing darts or LARP-ing—nobody cares. Although expect to have to explain larping…

Juan Pertayta

Agreed. Not about larping though: just googled that and I would certainly need convincing about an applicant who spends weekends running around Burnham Beeches dressed as an elf wielding a foam sword.


It is amusing how the only slightly unusual and individual hobby mentioned is instantly labelled as somewhat undesirable.


Well I guess I don’t have to spend the weekend firgniug this one out!

If it's not Patrick Swayze it's nothing mate

I know many successful lawyers (unless being listed on the Legal 500 and chauffeured around in a £150,000 car is not a measure of success in this job) whose main hobby is reading… one has over 10,000 books in his library at home.

The state of recruitment at the lower end these days does mean that to distinguish yourself from the crowd your hobbies need to include volunteering at a ship-breaking yard in India and using semi-radioactive debris from old tankers to create works of modern art which are auctioned and the proceeds of which are donated to a charity for children with leukaemia at which you are an executive director with a passion for making personal visits to the wards while dressed as batman (and playing hockey at intergalactic level twice a week)…. but there really is nothing wrong with reading being a way you love to spend your free time.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies”


Best it helps though..

silky smooth

Niteowl Attorney

You exaggerate.

However, none of this is mildly interesting to anyone from the New Worlds. Try “leaving an impoverished and despotic nation that gaoled people for joining a trade union to travel three months at sea by power of sail and settle in an uninhabited part of the New Worlds (take your pick – US, Canada, Australia etc) and helping build it into a great country” as some of Niteowl’s people have done, and as I have also by being here. Or you could be someone who spent your whole life in your valley (England) marrying your cousins every second generation as you inevitably have by being there in the same gene pool.

Which explains a lot, really.


* brooch


Sodslaw —
“Absolutely fine, but again – why shouldn’t one of my answers be “reading”?”

Because if that’s the best you can come up with, or something you deem worthy of inclusion, then you’re not matching up to people with better hobbies.

‘Reading’ could realistically be taken as a given.


Read the post- I didn’t suggest it would be “the best I could come up with”, just that it would be ONE OF my answers. And some people enjoy reading to relax and some people don’t, so how could it possibly be “a given”?

I’m not suggesting that reading is the most remarkable and interesting pastime, but you don’t get to discount the entire world of literature


Because it’s presume you’re presenting yourself at your best on the form. So if that’s what you’re advancing as your hobbies and interests, we presume that’s the best you can do.


Of course the Bar can’t accept ‘reading’ as a hobby they want to see in their pupils. After all, since the Education Acts in the 19th century, entirely unsuitable people have been learning to read. It’s bad enough that the working classes are getting involved in politics; can’t have that kind of riffraff getting called to the Bar (legal, not alcoholic) as well, can we? Not ‘the right sort’ at all. It will be the end of the Bar as we know it.

At least only accepting applicants with hobbies that are too expensive for the common herd, or at the very least with an exciting gap year that will prove that Daddy has enough spare cash to throw away on that sort of thing, will ensure that – despite all this d*mned diversity – there’s a better chance of keeping out the Wrong Sort. Such as anyone who thinks that there are only three kinds of wine (red, white, and pink), or thinks that ‘broach’ is what you pin on your blouse, rather than (as everyone worth knowing knows) what you call it when your yacht turns broadside on to the waves and wind, risking capsizing.

Who cares if they don’t know whether Donahue v Stevenson was about boats or snails? If you need to know that, you can look it up (or get some clerk or secretary to look it up for you). Who cares if they can’t think of a single relevant question to ask about their future career as a barrister? After all, barristers are born (into the right sort of [rich] family), not made! Just look what happens when we get an applicant whose dad is a pop star!

Those deluded plebeians who think that their academic results will give them a chance at entry to the Bar had better confine their ambitions to the one in the Dog and Duck.

Niteowl Attorney

That’s why people from the 17th Century have been departing your fine nation.

That’s why nations like the US, Australia, Canada and the like exist.

Everybody with a pulse knows that England is a nation of Different Rules for Different People. The fact that your young duke is a barrister – without examination – just speaks of how great and intelligent these Different People must be.


Sorry Niteowl, I don’t understand what you mean. Could you explain?


No Jen, your view of the Bar is deluded. There are very many barristers who have not come from the sort of background you mention. Instead of blaming your failure on the same sad old excuses, you should just accept that you aren’t good enough or pleasant enough to make the cut. You don’t need to have sailed around the world or discovered a cure for cancer. I know it will come as a shock, but it is possible to be interesting and well-rounded without being the offspring of a billionaire. Yes, you may have to work for a living (as many people do), but unless you are a galley slave or something like that, I refuse to believe that you have no free time. Pupillage committees want to know what you do with that time. They are looking for a colleague that they can get along with and occasionally chat with about something other than donoghue v stevenson. If your answer to the free time question is that you moan about perceived unfairness and complain that your parents can’t afford to send you to India, you are probably not what they are looking for.


“Interesting” – you are making many assumptions, for which you have no evidence. One of which is that I have – or have ever had – any desire whatsoever to be a barrister. And as for my parents, they stopped having to support me after I graduated from university for the first time, and got a job.

My free time, such as it is, is full of many things – including reading (which has taught me about many things from astronomy and quantum physics, to philosophy, to embroidery, to history and social anthropology – and sailing). I can also forge an arrowhead from steel bar, and strip and clean an SA80 (and use it while wearing full NBC gear), I’ve sung in choirs, played in bands, and can do calligraphy in six different styles. As a person who has taken part in many different pastimes, and met many different people in my career, I know that expensive, ‘exciting’ hobbies are not the hallmark of ‘interesting, well-rounded’ people. They are the hallmark of people who can pay for expensive hobbies.

Yachting around the world does not make you an interesting person; reading does not make you boring. To assume that the only hobbies ‘worth talking about’ are the exciting, expensive ones is itself deluded – it assumes that being ‘an interesting person’ is something you can pay for. ‘Interesting’ is what you are – not what you do.

To say that only the expensive, exciting hobbies are ‘worth it’ is to deny an equal chance to all of those applicants who simply can’t afford to go yachting, or to take a gap year to go building orphanages in Tanzania – or to those who simply don’t want to. Applicants who may be just as ‘interesting’ and well-rounded from making the most of the chances available to them, or whose hobbies are quieter and more thoughtful.

While the Bar concentrates on flashy, expensive hobbies that select for people who can pay, it will remain what it is – a bastion of privilege. The numbers bear this out: a vastly larger proportion of barristers have been to Oxford, Cambridge, and fee-paying schools than in the general population.

And if you want someone who is interesting to talk to (on more than one subject), your best bet is to pick someone who is widely read. I may not have been sailing, but I know enough to take part in a conversation about boats (or ships). I can hold up my end in philosophy and ethics. You want to discuss martial arts (western or eastern) or fifteenth-century fashion? Soviet armoured vehicles or baking? I am your woman. A reader can go anywhere, see anything, learn anything.

Another reason (among many) that I don’t want a pupillage is because I already have a nice job lined up. And one of the things that got me that job? The fact that I have read widely…

Jim Nately

You should acquaint yourself with the ‘bar barometer’. Please see chapter 13 the following

I don’t think anyone has suggested that reading is not a worthwhile use of one’s time. Barristers should be widely read as possible if for no other reason than the fact that exposure to the different voices authors adopt helps us find our own voice. And anyone who has spent much time in a court will have noticed literary references in the submissions of experienced advocates.

I don’t propose to repeat myself. I have already set out the reasons why chambers look for hobbies and interests and what we (or at least when I was once roped into helping with the sift, I) look for.

Juan Pertayta

Jen 1 – Interesting 0


Jen “while the Bar concentrates on flashy, expensive hobbies that select for people who can pay, it will remain what it is – a bastion of privilege”… it doesn’t. The point is that everyone applying is expected to be well-read; it is a given, rather than a good talking point in the form of a “hobby”. Everyone does (or should do) it.


Jim – I did.

Numbers as follows:

Page 48: Level of debt amongst pupils. 22.5% have no debt. Now, how do you think that happens, with at least three years of university fees and the BPTC (which can cost up to £17,000 for the year) on top? A further 2.5% have less than £1,000 debt. Where does all that money come from? (Unless the no-debt pupils are those who are later entrants who saved up?)

Page 49: Most frequently attended universities. The most frequently attended is Oxford (20.2% of pupils) and the second-most frequently attended is Cambridge (14.3%). So more than a third of pupils are Oxbridge graduates. Looking at Oxbridge and social class, there is some data (admittedly from 2010) indicating that Oxford and Cambridge were the two universities with the lowest proportion of undergraduates from manual occupational backgrounds. The same figures give the total number of undergraduates in the UK; Oxford and Cambridge together account for 1.63% of all undergraduates. So a pupil barrister is 21.1 times more likely to have done their undergraduate degree at Oxford or Cambridge than the general population.

Page 50: Schools attended by pupils. 39.6% of pupils stated that they attended fee-paying schools (as opposed to 11.2% – in 2009/10 – of the general population). So pupil barristers are over 3.5 times more likely to have gone to a fee-paying school than the general population.

On page 51 (Chapter 14), it states that 64% of pupils attended a Russell Group university, and 81% came from a professional background.

The numbers are all going one way: CV indicators (Oxbridge, fee-paying school, expensive hobbies) that imply the candidate is more likely to be in the social top slice of society are favoured above those that imply the reverse.

Niteowl Attorney

What a fascinating insight into the culture in England.

However, it’s not really news, is it?


Yawn. Dull and badly reasoned posts Jen. Initial posts start off with tedious stereotyping and then declines into statistical verbiage.

None of which goes anywhere near establishing that any particular set of chambers will favour one kind of hobby or pastime over another. Yes, you read and that is great. Lots of people read, and some more than others, but what do you do with that reading. Maybe you run a book club, or write reviews of books. An interview committee might be interested in that in an interview. And do you do anything else which shows you can structure your time in ways that involve anything other than sitting in a chair? And can you talk about it in a structured and interesting way?

Anyway, it sounds like you made the right career choice.


Your article was exelcelnt and erudite.

Beagle Cheek

1. Jen sounds odious.

2. I put someone through to interview purely as they claimed to have been the rear end of a pantomime horse. They were excellent.

If it's not Patrick Swayze it's nothing

“Instances of applicants claiming to have reached Base Camp at Everest dressed as the rear end of a pantomime horse soared in 2015 after a recruitment revelation featured on”


Not a word of lie in what Jen said. I don’t point this out because it might sound chippy.

Many of the barristers who claim the bar is meritocratic wouldn’t be at the bar if it was


I think some people may be taking what is a satirical piece a little too seriously/literally.

silky smooth

… I have… many leather bound books…


Hobbies I can think of over the course of considering some people in a lazy 2 minutes in the institution in which I practice law:

a. Playing warhammer and painting little metal figurines of orcs.
b. DJing
c. FX trading
d. Playing rugby
e. Collecting wine
f. Riding a horse.
g. Woman’s Institute and baking
h. Riding motorcycles.
i. Playing in a brassband

Some of those are classcally middle class past-times, but if individuals are successful barristers and thus middle-class, it is not surprising some might engage in such. If an applicant does something different, it says nothing about your prospects. If you breed racing pigeons or play pool in the Legion it is equally valid, but it will be more impressive if you can say more than ‘I go to the pub and play pool with my mates’. The reality is that majority of any interview panel will not share your pastime and may have no interest in it – that is not the point. My kids learn musical instruments – very middle class – but I couldn’t give a fig if any candidate has a grade 7 in cello, save that it shows they can commit to something. So does running a marathon or writing a blog, or running a needlework class for underprivileged kids, or travelling somewhere (genuinely) interesting. Or maybe even something less fascinating on the face of it, but about which you can still give an interesting angle. If you can’t, wrong job. Hint: ‘interesting angle’.

Juan Pertayta

That is a truly interesting post. And in so many different ways.


Tip from someone who has actually sat on pupillage interviews: if asked the likely question “what would you do if you never got a pupillage and did not go to the Bar” do not weasle something about converting to be a solicitor or being a paralegal. This is the answer they all give. Say something exciting that will leave an impression.


Dreadful answer! ” Oh if I can’t be a barrister then I will lower my sights and become a Solicitor”! Now that is elitism! Bet they couldn’t pass the LPC, which we all know is much tougher than the BPTC. No wonder the Bar is fading away slowly.


Bollocks. Your answer should certainly be ‘become a solicitor’ ! I’ve sat on pupillage committees for 20 years.

Firstly, we want lawyers. Not someone who, if they don’t make at the bar , will (want) to become an astronaut, or management consultant or some rubbish.

Contrary to what has been said above, I truly believe most chambers want cleverish, personable people who will role their sleeves up and get on with solicitors and bill like a toucan.

Not Amused

Yes I think that’s true.


I love this!


I so wish I had not eaten all my popcorn earlier!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The comments are almost as amusing as the original post!

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