How to gold-plate your Pupillage Gateway application

Becoming a barrister isn’t impossible

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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!

3. SPG

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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7 Comments

Anonymous

A careers article open to comments? A little dangerous… Luckily this is an excellent piece. Helpful, accurate and well written. If only more on LC were like this!

(31)(0)
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Bumblebee

I agree, this article is welcome, well written and helpful. Point 5 re: the ‘Matrix’ is especially helpful.

However, I wish chambers in general would be even more transparent with regards to their assessment criteria. When making gateway applications, students have just 12 applications to play with. Inevitably students have to judge which sets are in their league, which are attainable on a good day, and which are out of their league altogether.

Every year thousands of students waste one or more of their applications in applying to sets which they would not have applied to had the sets in question been more transparent.

A good example would be the points which different sets respectively award to A-level results, degree grade, GDL grade, Oxbridge attendance and Master’s degrees. I know of one set of chambers which awards no points for university attended for example, but another set which awards the same number of points for Oxbridge attendance as they do for a first. If students knew how their academic credentials were to be weighed, they could make better informed judgements about whether or not to apply to a particular set. However, most chambers simply blithely state that they accept applications from anyone with a ‘good 2:1’.

If Candidate A got a high 2:1 from Oxford, 8A*s at A-Level and a distinction on the BCL, is Brick Court Chambers attainable on a good day? Or is it a wasted application?

If Candidate B didn’t attend a Russell Group university, but came top of the year three years in a row and subsequently aced the LLM at Cambridge, is Radcliffe Chambers attainable on a good day? Or is it a wasted application?

If Candidate C got a high 2:1 from Exeter in English, but subsequently came top of the year in the GDL is Erskine Chambers attainable on a good day? Or is it a wasted application?

These are questions which, when I was applying for pupillage, I wouldn’t have been able to answer. Candidates are stuck looking at the CVs of recent tenants. This amounts to an incredibly small sample size and it isn’t particularly revealing in any event. I have no doubt that given two candidates, one who came top of the year at the LSE and one who got a high 2:1 at Cambridge and a Master’s degree from Edinburgh, different chambers would rank them in a different order. However, speaking as a former candidate, I couldn’t even begin to guess which sets would prefer the former and which would prefer the latter.

If chambers were more transparent about these things they would get far fewer wasted applications, thereby benefiting both themselves and potential applicants.

(46)(1)
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Anonymous

I couldn’t agree more. 5 Essex Court are a shining beacon of transparency with their annual report on pupillage applications. I wonder if some of the big commercial sets are unwilling to put in writing the fact that they 95% of those that they interview went to one of a handful of Universities. They are undoubtably clever individuals but why not just be honest about who you choose to interview?

(13)(0)
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Anonymous

I know one barrister who proudly proclaims that it was a uni job as a toilet cleaner that got him his pupillage! That said, he does crime…

(7)(1)
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Bar fly

Surely it’s whip UP, not whip OUT?

The latter implies you are carrying ready prepared cocktails in your inside pocket (or perhaps in your Wenger wheelie case, £29.99 from Ryman) whilst the former indicates you are able to prepare them fresh on the spot – for more appealing and rightly deserving of a pupillage.

(2)(2)
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Charlotte

I would hereby like to point out that I would make a totes amazing pupil, and that all Chambers who want to bag my totes amazing advocacy talents should, like, come to me?

(4)(5)
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