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5 tips to secure pupillage

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By Sophia Hesling on

Gatehouse barrister and pupillage committee member Clare Anslow offers advice for those interested in a career at the bar

Gatehouse barrister and pupillage committee member Clare Anslow

Ahead of Legal Cheek’s ‘Pupillage application masterclass’ next week, panellist and barrister at Gatehouse Chambers, Clare Anslow, offers her advice to those seeking pupillage.

Anslow completed her undergraduate degree in philosophy at Durham University before completing her law conversion and barrister training courses with the intention of gaining work experience before applying for pupillage. Now a barrister at Gatehouse Chambers, formerly Hardwicke, Anslow specialises in property law. Over a decade on from being called to the bar, she reflects upon her career and shares five tips for students interested in following a similar career path.

1. Be pragmatic about the chambers you choose

“Mediocre applications are never going to serve you well”, notes Anslow, who believes that “you are much better off doing fewer applications and doing them well”. Yet with chambers offering limited pupillage places every year, the temptation to apply everywhere can seem tempting. Therefore, Anslow recommends that when applying to a chambers, look at the previous tenants, going back five to six years. She recommends looking at not just their university or grades, but who they are: their interests, for example, and seeing whether these align with yours. Further, Anslow recommends attending events and asking chambers what they look for in prospective pupils, and if this does not align with you, expanding your research into different chambers to ensure that you apply to the one you could build your career at.

2. Experience is useful, but the lessons learnt are vital

Anslow previously worked as a legal caseworker, as after completing the bar training course, she wanted to gain some practical work experience as she admits: “I wasn’t ready and didn’t think I would be any good [as a barrister]”. But she acknowledges that, although useful for her, work experience is not a prerequisite, and the type of experience is of limited importance in applications. What is important is “showing what you have learnt” from any experience, noting that mooting, being a paralegal and even taking a gap year travelling are all valid examples of experience.

The application deadline for pupillage at Gatehouse Chambers is 8 February 2023

3. Know the chambers and what they stand for

A common mistake for most first-time applicants is copying and pasting answers to the question, ‘why this chambers?’ and only changing the chambers name (which chambers can easily spot, apparently). So, to be successful you need to know specifically why you are applying to that set. For example, Anslow notes that due to Gatehouse’s stance on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), chambers decided to change its name from Hardwicke to Gatehouse. If applicants didn’t know about the name change, or the reasoning behind it, this would suggest a lack of interest or research into chambers and impact their application, she says.

4. If at first you don’t succeed, try again

Rejection is never easy, with Anslow acknowledging that it “doesn’t mean you aren’t good, you just haven’t quite hit the mark yet”. With her even noting that there is “always an element of luck which you can’t account for”, which although small, could mean that an application which would have been successful the previous year, isn’t this year through no fault of your own. Therefore, perseverance is an essential skill during pupillage applications. If unsuccessful in the application stage initially, Anslow recommends casting a critical eye over your submission and realising where it is you can improve. Also, make a note of chambers’ recruitment criteria, which should be displayed on their website, and check that your answers are hitting the criteria. This a great way to improve your chances of success as written applications are often marked against this criteria.

5. Explain your argument

Interviews are testing your knowledge of the law, advocacy, and ability to deal with interruptions, explains Anslow. However, if “you don’t hit the nail on the head legally, but explain your position, that is better than if we challenge you on your position and you fold”, she adds. Anslow imagines interviews as a type of advocacy, as you aim to market yourself to a chambers. Similarly, if you become a barrister, advocacy will form an essential part of your role, therefore being able to successfully represent yourself shows the chambers your ability in the future to be able to represent clients, as the interview is about the chambers seeing your potential as a barrister.

Clare Anslow will be speaking alongside other barristers at ‘Pupillage application masterclass — with Gatehouse, Henderson, Landmark, Radcliffe Chambers and 2 Temple Gardens’, a virtual student event taking place on Tuesday 24 January from 4-6pm. You can apply to attend the event, which is free, now.

The application deadline for pupillage at Gatehouse Chambers is 8 February 2023

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