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How to survive the pupillage Hunger Games

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By The Careers Team on

Hardwicke’s two new tenants reveal how they made it to fully-fledged barrister status


This week Legal Cheek Careers headed down to Lincoln’s Inn to meet the two pupil barristers who have just been taken on as tenants by top 30 commercial set Hardwicke.

Oxford English literature graduate Ryan Hocking and UCL law graduate Michael Tetstall (pictured below, left and right) reflected on what it was like to make it this far.


Legal Cheek Careers: How does it feel to be an actual barrister?

Ryan Hocking (RH): A relief, more than anything else. A degree of low level anxiety that has been constantly in the background over the last year has just gone. Having said that, I’ve been so busy since getting the news that I haven’t had much time to reflect.

Michael Tetstall (MT): I went on my honeymoon not long after I got the decision and I have just got back, so it’s probably too early to say. But I’m certainly feeling a bit more relaxed! That may be because of the holiday, though. The hard work starts from here: from my year in chambers I can see that building a practice as a self-employed person doesn’t just happen.

Legal Cheek Careers: Was there ever a time when you thought you might not make it through what is a Hunger Games-style process?

MT: There were no major disasters, fortunately. It was more that I was dogged by a feeling that maybe I wasn’t quite getting there. The learning curve on a pupillage is very steep — I’ve learnt more this year than in any other year of my life — and once you are on it, you are expected to keep improving, continuously. I was lucky in that you get a lot of feedback at Hardwicke, which helps calm the nerves.

Looking back, I suppose the time I most doubted myself was after bar school in the year before I secured the pupillage while I was working as a legal researcher. I lost count of the number of emails I received starting with “We regret to inform you that…”

RH: I didn’t secure a pupillage until after bar school, either. In the time between my GDL and when I got the pupillage I must have made 50-60 unsuccessful applications. Mentally, that was the really tough period in terms of maintaining your self esteem and forcing yourself to look objectively at the reasons you were being unsuccessful. Gradually, though, I began filling those gaps on my CV, and as I did I got more interviews and started to progress further in them.

As for pupillage, it’s a very steep learning curve, as Michael says, but you are buoyed by the fact that you were offered pupillage in the first place and as such are probably capable of doing the work, provided you listen to the feedback and direction you’re given.

Legal Cheek Careers: How have you improved?

RH: Looking back at the work I did in the first few months of pupillage … it was a bit bar school. My written opinions now are shorter and more confident. I have a better sense of when I need to show my working and when I don’t. The thing to remember is that you will be pushed outside your comfort zone and you have to make mistakes in order to improve.

A moment where I realised that I had really made progress was when I was talking over a case with my supervisor before a day of applications in the High Court. I mentioned something about why I thought the other side was wrong and my supervisor said “Say that again”. He then used it in his skeleton later that day. That was a good feeling.

MT: It can be hard to pinpoint specifics in your development. You just gradually — well, actually, quite quickly at points — get better. I remember the review after what was effectively my first seat as being significant. To be told that I was on the right path was a major boost.

Legal Cheek Careers: What was it like to first appear on your feet in court?

MT: Exciting and terrifying. It felt like a significant moment in my career to be appearing in court as an advocate in my own right. Had I not been so nervous, I probably would have stopped to appreciate what a big day it was for me. I was hugely over-prepared and in the end it was all over very quickly!

RH: Nerve-wracking. I had previously done cases with the Free Representation Unit (FRU), and spent the year before pupillage working as a solicitor’s agent, but it felt like the expectations were different being there as a barrister. I spent far longer than necessary preparing for that first hearing, which was a lot of fun once it got going.

Legal Cheek Careers: Your lives must be quite different now from when you were embarking on the BPTC in 2012, right?

MT: Until three weeks ago I was still living in the same shared house opposite Pentonville Prison. But my wife and I have now just moved into a flat in Bow. Other than that, though, it’s pretty similar.

RH: My life isn’t really that different at all. I’m still in a big flat share, as I have been since bar school.

Legal Cheek Careers: What would your advice be to people beginning their pupillages this autumn?

MT: Pace yourself — which isn’t to say coast. Rather, find a pace that you can maintain. You need to be impressive for ten months, not fantastic for three months and then burn out before Christmas.

RH: Try to have fun and enjoy the social facets of the year. I was bad at walking around and saying hello to people. Now I’m trying to do that more, and it makes life more pleasant. There are nice people everywhere, go and talk to them.

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