Becoming a barrister isn’t impossible
Think it’s obvious how to draft a good Pupillage Gateway application? Then you won’t need Devereux Chambers’ top five application tips. For those who are still reading, Thomas Cordrey, one of the barristers responsible for scoring applications to Devereux, helps you to gold-plate your form.
1. Different is (mostly) good
It is great to include something of human interest in your application. Faced with several hundred applications for a handful of pupillage places, it is not long before the barrister scoring the applications gets fatigued by mooting triumphs, debating success and work experience at umpteen law firms. Whilst those things are all plus points, they are unlikely to make yours the memorable application.
What material to include in your Gateway application to make it stand out will, obviously, be unique to you. But don’t feel that you have to conform to a stereotype of the “typical aspiring barrister”. We have had strong applications from candidates of every conceivable academic and social background. Whether you have had a previous career as a stand-up comedian, a surgeon or a missionary, or whether you have gone straight from A-levels to university, to law school, always explain how your experiences provide a good platform for the bar. The common feature shared by memorable applications is an honesty that conveys the candidate’s personality and mettle.
Do note there are limits to the benefits of standing out! Each year we receive Gateway Applications where a candidate spends a disproportionate word-count passionately describing some esoteric hobby or other but without explaining how it has any relevance to a future career at the bar. Whatever information you include on your form, make sure you explain why it strengthens your claim to one of the coveted pupillage interview slots.
2. Keep. It. Short.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person who will mark your form. Each year a colleague and I mark up to 150 applications each. On average, applications are about ten pages long. Even if we only spent 60 seconds reading each A4 page that would be 25 hours, or three working days, to mark 150 application forms. Not allowing for coffee breaks.
Imagine being asked to fit that in to your existing working week and you can see how an application form which is brief and to the point will generate in the marker a sense of warmth and generosity towards the applicant. Being long-winded on the other hand risks generating frustration in the very person you are trying to impress. It’s your choice!
Spelling, punctuation and grammar. You’ll have heard this so many times:
Proof read your Pupillage Gateway application carefully before submitting it.
Nevertheless, year after year, in the thrill of telling a chambers how immensely industrious they would be if given a pupillage, it is remarkable how many candidates make basic spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. Your application will head very quickly for the “no” pile if you litter it with solecisms. For most practising barristers the written word is absolutely critical — as important as advocacy skills. If you are sloppy in drafting your Gateway application, a chambers will consider that you have little hope of succeeding at the bar.
To illustrate the point, one candidate with a first class degree in English repeatedly misspelled “Devereux” in their application. It was all the more impressive for the fact the candidate spelt it wrongly in more than one way: Devereaux, Devreux and, my favourite, Devereau — I would have thought you would at least notice that an “x” was needed in there somewhere!
4. Pride comes before a fall
Confidence is good, arrogance is not. Let your achievements and experiences speak for themselves without feeling the need to ram them down anyone’s throat. One candidate described their high score in a particular BPTC module by saying that it was “just a flavour of my extraordinary gift”! The same candidate also referred to their own “stellar credentials”. Many chambers would be put off from spending 12 months of pupillage with someone who considers they are already so accomplished. Striking the right balance between self-assurance and humility is not always easy, but if you achieve it your application will be all the more attractive.
5. Think about the Matrix
Most chambers are likely to mark your written application form against a set of objective criteria in a matrix. You only have a limited number of words in which to attract marks in each of those criteria, which will cover skills such as academic ability, advocacy ability, standard of written English, legal experience, inter-personal skills and interest in chambers’ practice areas. For that reason it is unwise to spend too much time on any one criterion: set out your advocacy credentials in a clear way so that the hurried marker will not miss them and then move on to seek points in other areas.
Oh, and in relation to the “interest in Chambers’ practice areas”, please do your homework. We still get the perennial application containing something along the lines of “I want to apply to Devereux because it is a leader in the field of shipping law”. No it isn’t. We don’t practise any shipping law and your application has just sailed into the reject pile.
Thomas Cordrey is a barrister at Devereux Chambers and a member of the set’s pupillage committee.
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