Careers
Created with

Open thread: How do I bag pupillage?

By on
52

Three of Hardwicke’s pupil barristers advise

With pupillage application season getting underway this week, we have gathered together three hotshot rookie barristers to help those embarking on the process.

The trio, from commercial and common law set Hardwicke, will be on hand in the comments section below from 6pm to respond to your questions about getting a foot in the door at the bar.

How did George Eyre, Helena Drage and Chris Burrows (pictured above) secure their pupillages at Hardwicke? And what advice would they give to those hoping to follow in their footsteps?

They have different perspectives. Burrows became a barrister after 12 years in the Army while Drage had a previous career as an academic specialising in bioethics and global health justice. Eyre followed a more conventional route, graduating with a history degree from Oxford before doing a law conversion course. Their advice on the application process that will hopefully help Legal Cheek readers to stand out from the crowd.

Join them in the comments section of this article from 6pm, where they will be taking questions until 7pm.

Hardwicke follows Pupillage Gateway dates but has a custom application process. Find out more.

This thread is now closed. Thanks for participating. You can read the questions and responses below.

52 Comments

Anonymous

How many applications did you submit before being offered pupillage?

(1)(1)

Christopher Burrows

I submitted just under 50 applications in 2 years.

(9)(0)

Anonymous

How many interviews did you have?

(0)(0)

Christopher Burrows

In my first year of applying I felt very fortunate to get 3 first round interviews, and then be invited back for 2 second rounds. In my second year, I must have attended about 25 interviews (both first and second rounds).

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Thanks

(1)(1)

George Eyre

I was lucky enough to get pupillage in my first year of applying. In all, I made around 15-20 applications to gateway and non-gateway sets.

(2)(0)

Helena Drage

I also submitted roughly 50 over two years. I had about 20 interviews (counting first and second rounds separately).

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Would you consider only having a single mini-pupilage as being detrimental to a pupilage application?

(1)(0)

George Eyre

This is a tricky one. I think it is useful to consider what chambers are looking for when they ask you to fill in the ‘mini-pupillages’ box on the application form. Generally my view was that they were looking for engagement with and enthusiasm for the bar in general, interest in that chambers’ specific area or areas of practice, and (if you are able to do a mini at that set) what it is about the particular chambers that you saw and liked on your mini.

On this basis, I would say that having no mini-pupillages at all would be a problem and generally it is better to have a few rather than none. If you feel you are able to demonstrate these things by speaking, on your form and in the interview), about only one mini-pupillage then it might not be a problem, but my view was always that it would be easier with more.

On a different level, it is worth thinking about the fact that you are applying in the hope that you will spend a significant amount of time in that chambers. A mini-pupillage is a fantastic opportunity to meet members of chambers in a less stressful setting than an interview and to experience the day-to-day atmosphere of the set. This can be invaluable, and is likely to help you be genuine when you are telling an interview panel what it is about the set that made you apply.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Depends what else you have on there

(0)(0)

Law undergrad

Is it worthwhile applying for pupillage in the final year of my law degree, or is it best to wait until I am doing the BPTC?

(0)(0)

Christopher Burrows

I would say don’t wait, but be realistic about the competition.

In the first year of applying, I was 15+ years out of university with a little bit of legal knowledge having done the GDL and several mini-pupillages. Some sets offer pupillages pre-BPTC to strong candidates: there were several in my cohort, but generally I believe it helps to be on the BPTC or have other legal (and non-legal) experience to help differentiate your application on paper.

(0)(0)

Maria

What would you say are the main differences between successful and unsuccessful applications for pupillage?

(0)(0)

Helena Drage

It goes without saying to not forget the low-hanging fruit: no typos, correct spelling and grammar, don’t get the name of the Chambers wrong! I hear that a surprising number of candidates express an interest in a particular area of law when that Chambers don’t really have particular expertise in that area. In my view Chambers want to hear about 1. why you want to undertake pupillage at that particular set and 2. what it is about you that makes you a promising barrister. Direct all your answers to those questions. Be clear, concise and confident in your writing.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Easy question: why did you want to be a barrister

(1)(0)

Helena Drage

My background is in academia and it was only during my time working at a university that I decided to pursue a career at the Bar (I was easily in my mid-20s by that point!) My work involved research, written and oral argument. It was that which I enjoyed most about academia and I could see how easily those skills transferred to the Bar. I wanted to work in a more client-facing role and so a career as a barrister was a natural next step.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

In your opinion, what are the four most vital aspects to take a pupilage application to the interview stage?

(0)(0)

Christopher Burrows

Building on Helena’s comment above, I would suggest the following can help turning applications into invitations to interview:

1) Be organised: take your research, your qualifications and experience, and think about how best to structure each application. I used a spreadsheet.

2) Get feedback on every application: have careers advisors, tutors, friends and family proof-read your applications for you, but also get them to tell you whether they enjoy reading them.

3) Have a convincing story to tell – even if you don’t tell all of it.

4) If you don’t need to use all of the word count, don’t. On the other hand, think very carefully about your response to a question if you have only used 10% of the total allowed.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

What sort of interests did you have outside of law when applying for pupillage?

(0)(0)

Helena Drage

I did quite a bit of amateur dramatics, I enjoyed sailing and I was a mentor for charity involved in advocating equality of opportunity for secondary school aged young women.

(0)(0)

George Eyre

While I was studying I played quite a lot of sport, mainly rugby and cricket.

While we’re on the subject, I would say that it’s incredibly important to make sure interests of this sort are in your application forms. If you are able to demonstrate in an application your interests outside of the law (preferably in an engaging and relatively concise way) you stand a much better chance of catching the eye of the person reading possibly hundreds of application forms, which are inevitably quite similar.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What do you each think is the biggest threat facing the junior bar?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I didn’t go to Oxbridge (unlike most of you!), but have a 2.1 from a perfectly respectable university and actually think I’d make a good barrister. Is there any hope for me?

(2)(2)

Helena Drage

Of course! I didn’t go to Oxbridge and I didn’t find that it held me back. It goes without saying that academics are very important across the board. My advice would be to have a look at the profiles of the junior members of the sets you are interested in to see if your particular academic achievements align with those members. Academics are just one (important) part of your application. Think about what else you have to offer in terms of work experience in and outside of the law, mooting or other public speaking, pro bono work and your interests.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I’m applying for pupillage next year. Are there any activities outside of debating and mooting that you would recommend that I get involved in to demonstrate advocacy potential/ability?

(1)(0)

Christopher Burrows

Advocacy comes in many forms, but I would recommend volunteering for charities which support those most in need of legal and quasi-legal representation but who can’t afford to instruct fully-qualified professionals.

(0)(0)

Helena Drage

Following on from Chris’ comment I volunteered at the Free Representation Unit and found it a very valuable experience in terms of my applications and developing my written and oral advocacy skills. It was also incredibly rewarding to help achieve a concrete outcome for a client. I recommend it very highly.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I have 4 minis, several mooting awards, and just got published. However, I also have a low 2.1 (Oxford) and have currently taken a year out. Should I apply in this round of applications, or would it be better to wait until I can afford an LLM and then apply after that?

(2)(1)

George Eyre

I would say certainly apply unless you simply can’t afford the time. There is nothing to lose. Your CV sounds impressive and if (which I think is unlikely) you have absolutely no luck, the process of applying is one in which some practise goes a long way.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Thank you so much!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What is your best advice for preparing for pupillage interviews? Both first and second round

(0)(0)

Christopher Burrows

Interview preparation is very personal. I would always speak with my careers advisor a day or two before, and then make sure I had gone over my notes the night before. On the day, I would just ensure that I was smartly dressed, on time, and courteous.

(0)(0)

Helena Drage

I thought carefully about the following sorts questions before going in to my first round interviews – why do you want to be a barrister? Why this set? What area of law are you interested in? Tell us about a recent case which has interested you. In terms of second round interviews this will depend to a large extent on the areas of law in which the set specialises, but you may be asked to tackle a legal problem question. I had a read over my tort and contract notes in advance and also the BSB ethics manual by way of revision.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

If you haven’t done a mini pupillage at a particular set, what sort of factors do you need to consider when answering why you want to join that particular chambers

(0)(0)

George Eyre

Generally, I don’t think you should worry too much about having not done a mini at a set before you apply, although I know some chambers place much more importance on them than others. I think sets often understand that there are a lot of pressures on your time and it’s not possible to do a mini everywhere.

Aside from that, I think the key is to be as specific as possible. There’s little harm in telling a set you applied because they are top ranked in x practice area, but the chances are they already know that and all other applicants will also have reminded them.

For that reason, it’s good to think about whether you have had any other contact with the set. An example would be if you were on a mini with a rival set of chambers and your supervisor appeared against a member of the set you were applying to. Talking about this on your form would be a convenient way to express an interest in an area of law in which you know the set practices and to say what it was about that member’s advocacy that was memorable. It might be helpful later down the line to keep a diary of what you did on your minis which extends to this sort of thing.

(2)(0)

Helena Drage

Think creatively about your answer to the question “why this set?” What do you think are the challenges facing the Bar and what has the particular set done to meet those challenges head on? Does the set publish academic work? Does it have a particularly impressive social media presence? Does it undertake pro bono work? Is it engaged with social enterprise?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Question for Christopher. What’s more stressful, pupillage or the army?

(0)(0)

Christopher Burrows

At the moment, the Army. That said, some pupillage interviews came pretty close.

I don’t start my second six until April, so I reserve the right to revise my response then.

Any experience of staying calm under pressure, particularly where other people are depending on you, is beneficial if you are serious about the Bar. It doesn’t have to be as extreme as joining the Armed Forces: sports, adventurous pursuits and, again, volunteering can be just as good.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Thank you for your response.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

If you had to reapply for pupillage again, what one thing would you do differently?

(0)(0)

Christopher Burrows

Each pupillage application is unique.I revised my approach between my first and second year of applying in that:

– I refined the list of chambers I was going to apply to earlier in the process; and

– I concentrated more on what I wanted to write / say than on trying to predict what chambers wanted to hear.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What do you think was the reason you were chosen over other candidates? (Obviously, you weren’t interviewing others, but do you think there’s a specific reason/area you were particularly strong in that made you stand out?)

(0)(0)

Helena Drage

We’re not sure we can answer that one, but we have each given some pointers above about how you can make your application stand out.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What would you say makes a written application stand out?

(0)(0)

George Eyre

I think Helena and Chris have responded quite well to this above. If I had to add something it would be brevity. Getting your point across concisely is going both to please and impress the person reading the form.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Is it an advantage being a career changer at the bar, and looking at it another way are 22 year olds too young to become barristers? It seems to be the reverse among City law firms, who seem to prefer recruits straight out of university, or even at university. Would you advise a 22 year old with hopes to be a barrister to get experience as a solicitor first, or indeed join another profession, before turning their attention to the Bar?

(0)(0)

Christopher Burrows

I don’t believe there is a stock answer to this. As a career changer, I am well aware of the advantages and drawbacks of becoming a barrister later in life. Equally, I don’t believe that every 22 year old is too young to become a barrister.

Self-awareness is key: if you can honestly say you are ready for the responsibility now, then apply.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

A question to the panel, statically minorities are at a disadvantage entering the bar, do you feel this is the case? Is it sub conscious bias or is there a gap between the quality of the candidates?

(0)(0)

George Eyre

I don’t think it can be denied that there are prevailing structural inequalities which influence people who want to become a barrister from a very early stage in their lives. This is not an easy question for me to answer because I have very little experience of these.

I think chambers understand that grades etc are far from the only way of assessing candidates. They therefore try extremely hard to devise an application process which allows them to see the underlying potential of applicants and are mostly successful in doing so. Chambers have a genuine interest in recruiting the best candidates who will go on to become the best barristers. Experience shows that very often these are people who have experienced inequality and chambers know this.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

I’m in the first year and some of my friends are already applying for mini pupillages and going to events at chambers. I’m finding it difficult to keep up with my workload and was wondering if you have any advice about non-time consuming steps I can take to show chambers I’m interested but without falling behind on work.

(0)(0)

Helena Drage

It’s important to not get overwhelmed on your path to pupillage. There is a lot of advice out there are and it is easy to find yourself feeling under pressure. You have plenty of time to build your applications. The most important thing is to concentrate on your university studies and get the best possible degree that you can. It might be an idea to see if you could do 1 day informal work experience at a set or shadow a barrister at court for a day. I did some of this before undertaking mini pupillages and I found it less time consuming that mini pupillage. Some sets won’t be set up for this kind of arrangement, but others are.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

How much can you expect to earn as a junior tenant?

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories