Kaplan Law School head of careers Gemma Baker (pictured below) tells Legal Cheek’s Alex Aldridge how Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) students can secure a pupillage before they are called to the Bar
Commit, participate and network. The decisions you make this year will be life changing. Get involved in everything you can, from mooting competitions to Inns of Court Christmas pantomimes. You don’t get pupillage by thinking about it.
Prepare to specialise. Graduates begin most training contracts as generalists. In contrast, at many chambers they start pupillage having already chosen a specific practice area. In making that choice, be brutally honest with yourself: you have to be top dollar with the academics to back it up in order to make it as a commercial or Chancery barrister. There is, however, a danger in being too specific about what you want to do, particularly in publicly-funded work. The real world of practice isn’t as neatly compartmentalised as you might like it to be.
Develop understanding of your future clients. If you want to be a criminal barrister, spend some time volunteering in prisons. And gain experience of actually giving legal advice. By which I don’t mean doing a mini or a single Free Representation Unit (FRU) case during your BPTC. That’s just going through the motions. As I said, to be successful on the BPTC you have to commit.
Apply to sets that want you. Look who they recruit. Oxbridge first only? If so, don’t waste your time applying to them if you’ve got a 2:1. Look at the junior tenants on chambers’ websites. Do you fit that profile?
Consider not being in London. Which is more important, London or barrister?
We have cracking candidates who cannot use grammar or spell. It’s very limiting. You need to be concise and pithy in your application forms, and complete them to a standard that is absolutely perfect. Time is money for chambers. No one wants to read waffle.
Plan ahead. The Pupillage Gateway coincides with a hotspot on the BPTC in terms of deadlines and revision. This should not come as a shock. Research and write your application before Christmas and then cut, paste, review and amend it in April.
Saying you want to be a barrister because you yearn to be self-employed is not good enough. If that’s your reason, why not be a plumber? The “Why do you want to be a barrister?” question — which is such a crucial part of applications — ought to consider the law, advocacy and clients.
Self doubt is a common downfall. It can come about during mooting or advocacy exercises, which is why it’s important to face your fear of failure early — and keep going. And it can seep in during interviews. Perhaps you’re unnerved about how hard you are being challenged on what you have to say. But the reality is that if they push you it is a sign that things are going well. Be prepared to justify everything you say, confidently.
Ignore the myths. For example, “When they put a glass of water in front of you during an interview it is a test.” Rubbish. More broadly, there continue to be crappy internet stories perpetuating the idea that the Bar remains an old boys’ club, where contacts get you pupillage. It’s not true. If you find yourself hanging around with negative, pessimistic people who believe such things, find better friends.
Finally, accept criticism. But pick your advisers wisely.
Coming up later this week: a baby barrister who bagged pupillage at the second chambers he applied to explains how he did it.