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How to give yourself the best chance of securing pupillage

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By Colm Kelly on

Applications are coming

As the Pupillage Gateway opens Devereux Chambers junior barrister Colm Kelly shares what he learnt from successfully navigating the application process

Any aspiring barrister should be excited about the prospect of pupillage. However, the application process which is the first step on the road to obtaining pupillage can feel anything but exciting. Gateway applications may present an unpleasant combination of head scratching, nail biting and tedium. With life’s other pressures having a tendency to get in the way, it can be tempting to adopt the approach of George RR Martin to his novels: confidently missing deadlines, safe in the knowledge that the end product will be of high quality. Needless to say, this is not a good idea!


Applications benefit from early starts and thorough research. First, decide what areas of practice you are interested in. Mini-pupillages and speaking to practising barristers are two of the best ways of determining this.

Next, figure out which sets practise in these areas. Chambers’ websites can be treacherous guides to what they actually do. Start with rankings in legal directories (Legal 500 and Chambers UK). If a chambers only has one or two barristers ranked in a particular field you can consider this a niche practice which is probably not viewed by the chambers itself as an area that pupils or junior tenants will regularly move into.

Thirdly, research cases and stories relevant to those areas of practice and find links. Few chambers will expect you to be experts in their areas of law, but if you have not even heard of the most recent landmark decision in the Supreme Court, your credibility will be damaged. The ‘News’ section of chambers’ websites can provide helpful material.

Find out more about pupillage at Devereux Chambers

All of this research will not only benefit your application, but will be invaluable if you reach the interview stage. So save all of your work!

Writing applications

Once you know what sets you want to apply to, the next (and significantly trickier) step is convincing those sets that your application is one that merits an interview.

As ever, first impressions are key. Your application will likely be read by somebody who is volunteering time that could otherwise have been spent doing paid work and has an impossibly large stack of paper to get through; so write your application with them in mind.

So here are my four tips on writing applications.

1. Presentation

Spelling, grammar and syntax are perhaps the easiest things on your application to perfect, and the first thing that will be noticed if they aren’t perfect. Repeated spelling mistakes in applications give a marker an easy reason to discard your form and move onto the next one.

2. Concision

Don’t be afraid of brevity. On pupillage applications, as in life at the bar, you don’t get more points for writing more.

The Legal Cheek 2018 Chambers Most List

3. Content

Don’t waffle. Make sure that each sentence contains some information not already present. It can be useful (both in applications and real written advocacy) to ask yourself ‘so what?’ as you reach the end of each sentence. If it doesn’t add anything new, cut it. This approach also allows you to check that every piece of information in your application is relevant to something that shows why you would be a good barrister. Maximise your chances of getting an interview by ensuring that your application is rich in content, rather than just rich in language.

4. Journalistic inversion

Don’t feel restricted by the structure of a traditional CV when listing your achievements in the boxes of the application form. Print journalists call it journalistic inversion when they tell you an outline of the entire story in the headline and opening paragraph. They know how to get you hooked and it is usually by telling you the punchline first, rather than by telling a story chronologically. So if you have had six jobs, but it is the third that was most interesting and relevant to a career at the Bar, find a way of leading with that example and relegating the prominence of the other five.

Dealing with rejection

There are some people out there whose achievements are so significant, CVs so impressive, and brains so vast that chambers will be falling over themselves to make offers of pupillage. Now be honest with yourself, is that you? No? Me neither.

So if you aren’t the next Lord Sumption then you are going to experience rejection. Possibly a little, probably a lot. Receiving rejections is never pleasant, but it is going to happen; expect it, and learn from it. Don’t allow it to deter you from continuing to apply. Many people go through two or three rounds of applications before obtaining pupillage. But if you are consistently getting rejected by certain kinds of sets, then maybe re-evaluate your CV and ask yourself if you really fit the profile of the most recent tenants in those sets.

The pupillage application process can be daunting, but the reward is great. So keep refining, improving and honing the applications and give yourself the best chance of obtaining a pupillage.

Good luck!

Find out more about pupillage at Devereux Chambers

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