Devereux Chambers’ Alice Defriend offers her advice on selecting sets, written applications, and interview prep
With several thousand budding barristers competing each year for a few hundred pupillage spots, applicants might be left scratching their heads as to how they can make the cut in such a competitive field.
Having recently completed pupillage, new tenant at Devereux Chambers Alice Defriend sits down to give us her top tips for selecting the right sets to apply to, putting your best foot forward in paper applications, preparing for interviews, and handling some inevitable rejection.
1. Could you tell us a little about your route to the bar, why you wanted to become a barrister, and your current area of practice?
It was only in my final year of my undergraduate degree that I started to properly consider a career at the bar. I did mooting and pro bono work at university and really enjoyed being an advocate for others. I was also drawn to the intellectual challenge that a career at the bar has to offer.
My route to the bar was relatively straightforward. I studied Law both at undergraduate and Masters level. After my studies I worked for a year as a Judicial Assistant in the Court of Appeal. Working with my judge and watching top barristers doing their job was a great way to prepare for pupillage. I applied for pupillage twice; my second and successful attempt was while I was working as a Judicial Assistant. After I obtained pupillage I spent the interim year completing the Bar Course and worked for three months as a Judicial Assistant, this time in the High Court.
Since becoming a tenant I have been practicing in all of my chambers’ main practice areas: employment, personal injury and tax. I also do consumer credit and commercial work. This has been great as a junior tenant because I’m getting exposed to many kinds of work requiring different skillsets, which will develop me into a well-rounded advocate.
2.How would you advise applicants go about selecting which sets to apply to? What factors should they consider?
The first and most important thing is to decide which areas of practice interest you. The bar has become a specialised profession and most chambers no longer do a bit of everything. Once you have made that decision, you can research which chambers specialise in those practice areas and focus your applications around those chambers.
Next, look at the work chambers do within those areas of practice. What types of clients do they work for? Do they tend to represent the claimant or the defendant/respondent, or an even split of both? Does that work sound like something you would be interested in doing?
It is also important to be realistic about which sets you’re likely to have more success with. Look at the profiles of their most recent tenants to see their qualifications and experience. How do your qualifications and experience compare?
3. How many applications would you advise making in the upcoming cycle? Is there such a thing as too many?
There is no magic number. How many applications you choose to do is a matter of judgement.
On the one hand, you want to give yourself the best chance of obtaining pupillage and so you want to be applying to a good number of sets to increase your chances of success.
On the other hand, you do not want to make so many applications that you compromise the quality of those applications. There is no point in making an application if you are not going to give it the time it needs. You need to give yourself enough time to properly research the chambers, tailor your application to that chambers, proofread the application, and so on.
One of the most important qualities of a barrister is excellent judgement, so this will be a good test of that skill!
4. What advice would you give regarding answering ‘essay-style’ application questions?
My three top tips for answering those types of questions are:
1. Make sure to have a clear structure. Signpost your arguments. Use headings if you have the word count. Split your points into distinct paragraphs.
2. Be sure to back up your points with evidence and/or examples. For example, if you’re saying you’re an excellent advocate, what experience do you have which demonstrates this? If you’re saying you’re interested in a certain area of practice, what exposure have you had to that area and what was it about that exposure that interested you?
3. Ultimately relay your answer back to why you are a good candidate. If chambers are asking “why us?”, they’re more interested to hear why you think you would be a good fit for them rather than why you think they’re great.
5. Is it worth including non-law experience on an application?
Absolutely, so long as you are able to demonstrate how that experience is relevant to a career as a barrister. When preparing my pupillage applications, I reviewed my CV to see what transferable skills I could demonstrate with each employment and work experience, both law and non-law. I then selected what I considered to be the strongest examples to include in my applications. For example, in my applications I included my waitressing job at university, as I would deal with very difficult customers (a skill which barristers know all too well) and was required to manage my time effectively to balance my job alongside my studies and extra-curricular commitments.
6. Do you have any tips for handling rejection? Is it worth asking for feedback on an unsuccessful application?
It is an inevitable part of the pupillage application process that you are going to get rejections. Be kind to yourself and remember that you are competing in a highly competitive pool of candidates, for a comparatively limited number of pupillages. In my first application cycle I was rejected by my chambers at the paper sift.
The important thing is to take every opportunity to learn from the rejections. It is worth asking for feedback on an unsuccessful application. Some chambers do provide feedback and some do not, but if you don’t ask you don’t get.
7. How should applicants prepare for an interview?
Find opportunities to practice your interview skills, whether with your peers, your Inn, through mentoring schemes.
I prepared a cheat sheet for each interview which set out the key elements of the main causes of action you would expect to find in the chambers’ practice areas. For example, a lot of sets I applied to had a personal injury practice. For those sets I prepared a cheat sheet with the key elements and principles in the tort of negligence, which often came up as a legal question in my interviews.
Sometimes sets will ask questions about a topic that has recently received coverage in legal current affairs, so make sure to keep abreast of the news.
8. Please give us your final top tip…
Try to get many people to read over your applications. Whether it be your friends, peers, parents, mentors. This will help you with proofreading your applications, but will also help you with making them as succinct and as easy to read as possible.
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