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Open thread: How do I get a pupillage?

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Baby barristers advise

Hardwicke-pupils

Uncertain that you are approaching pupillage applications in the right way, or maybe just lacking inspiration to come up with something that will help you stand out from the crowd?

Hardwicke pupil barristers Michael Levenstein and Cameron Stocks (pictured above) are on hand to answer your questions in the comments section below from 6-7pm today — in Legal Cheek‘s first ever open thread careers discussion.

The duo will also be taking questions from anyone confident about the Pupillage Gateway but less relaxed about interviews, while they’ll also be happy to explain a bit about their career journeys to date.

Join them below the line from 6pm.

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

49 Comments

Anonymous

Below the line… That’s brave

(9)(0)

Anonymous

Get a first from Oxbridge amirite guise

(9)(3)

Grammar Fascist

You forgot your question mark.

S.P.G. errors = application in the bin.

(5)(6)

Ian

What’s the strangest question you were asked during interviews?

(1)(3)

Cameron Stocks

I was asked ‘if there was one question you were not asked in this interview and would have like to have been asked, what would it be and why?’

It was a strange question to be asked but it gave me drop in all those additional points that were not raised in the interview.

(10)(1)

Anonymous

Why did you want to be a barrister?

(0)(6)

Wannabe Barista

Come on already! Aren’t barristers meant to be half an hour early for everything? I want to know the secrets of getting pupillage, dammit!

(4)(0)

Pupilage applicent

Im on tenderhooks.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

*tenterhooks

(15)(1)

Anonymous

What would you say are the common mistakes made on pupillage applications?

(1)(1)

Cameron Stocks

The worst mistakes you could ever make is exaggerating your CV. If you are found out then you could completely jeopardise your chances at the bar and you could be reported to your Inn.

It happens a lot more frequently than it should and those doing it are often found out when challenged in interview or asked to expand upon claims made in an application. Just do not do it!

Also, proof read your application multiple times! Stupid mistakes can make the difference when chambers are deciding whether to invite you for an interview. Written advocacy is key in this profession and a pupillage application is your chance to demonstrate that you have the requisite written advocacy skills.

(11)(1)

FailedBarrister

If the interviewing has completely the opposite views to you(or is- in substance- wrong) is it good to point this out? I did this in one interview (I did check afterwards and I was correct) and was promptly rejected. I believe I was polite when doing so.

(2)(0)

Michael Levenstein

The Bar is an adversarial profession. Therefore, it is important in interviews to expect plenty of ‘push-back’, whether genuine or engineered just to see how you perform under pressure. Everyone makes mistakes, so it is of course possible that any interviewer may occasionally get the law wrong in substance, but, like with so many things in this profession, presentation is important. Therefore, how you correct the panel, if at all, is critical. Come across as too belligerent, and your cockiness will be rewarded with a swift rejection (even if you were right). Come across as too submissive, and they might question whether you have what it takes to resist a judge who (when they get the law wrong) ‘bullies’ you into accepting what he has to say (that’s what appeals are for!)

So, my advice would be to present the best argued case when before a panel–this is more important than whether you actually believe what you’re arguing (remember, half the time you’ll be on the opposite side when in court!) If and when you are to disagree with those interviewing you (either in opinion or as a matter of substance), be firm in your position, and do not necessarily change it even upon resistance, but make sure not to highlight any error on their part as personal or somehow a ‘victory’ for you. Just state your case, relying on the law/arguments you know to be right, and let them come to their own conclusions. Also, considering the experience of the panel interviewing you, it is always best to be confident, but never certain of one’s assertions. ‘I take the view’ or ‘am of the opinion’ are ways many barristers convey strongly-held positions on certain things, without coming across as infallible.

(7)(1)

Law Student

How many mini pupillages’ should one ideally have undertaken to be considered a good candidate for a pupillage?

(0)(1)

Cameron Stocks

Simply, there is no magic number of mini-pupillages that will make you the perfect candidate.

I would recommend trying to get a mini in as many areas of practice as possible. It is a lot easier to justify an interest in commercial practice if you have been on a mini in a commercial set. Also, try to get around the country on minis. It would be difficult to persuade a London set that you want to practise in London if all of your minis have been in Newcastle.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Michael Levenstein published a book: http://www.algora.com/435/book/details.html

You describe yourself as a ‘philosopher specializing in utilitarian ethics and moral objectivism’. May I ask, why did you choose a career at the Bar?

(2)(0)

Michael Levenstein

Fortunately, much of my time is spent just thinking. Not in the abstract, of course, but I have long considered it a privilege to get paid doing what you love. A large part of the appeal of the Bar, for me, is the opportunity it provides to analyse legal issues in-depth and critically assess their prospects at trial. Advocacy is only part (and for some, a very small part) of this profession. The vast majority of work is done in chambers, hunched over dozens of lever-arch files and a blizzard of paper.

What I have found, however, is that for all the work a pupil/junior barrister does, few problems are ‘easy’. Most of the law we have to deal with is not clear-cut, and is either ambiguous or has not been applied to the exact fact pattern you have to deal with in the present case. It is that opportunity for creativity which has fuelled my enthusiasm for this career, especially since I find it fuses together the practical and the philosophical very well. Barristers should not forget that however interesting a legal problem, they represent a real person/company, with real problems, and that it is the solutions they care about more than any nuanced legal argument. For me, combining analysis with practical problem-solving is a dream job.

(15)(2)

Anonymous

Does Legal Cheek’s proclivity for calling pupils ‘baby barristers’ irritate you?

(3)(1)

Michael Levenstein

Not at all. It implies Cameron and I still look good for our ages. If we were to be judged on our professional experiences thus far, being called ‘babies’ seems apt.

(8)(4)

Anon

How did you got about researching the sets you had applied to prior to interview?

(0)(0)

Michael Levenstein

Little leaves a worse taste in the mouth of whoever is reviewing your application than seeing the wrong chambers name on it. Equally, listing all the reasons why you’ve wanted to practise commercial chancery since you were 3 probably won’t be well-received as a criminal set. So, doing your homework is essential.

1) Look at chambers’ areas of practice. Unless it is a common law set, few chambers would expect prospective pupils to express interest in all of these areas. That said, showing an interest in only one narrow area (that only one member of chambers might specialise in) is equally problematic.

2) Mini-pupillages provide an invaluable opportunity to ask first-hand questions of members of chambers you wouldn’t otherwise be able to from trawling through their websites.

3) Look at recent cases that the chambers advertises to get a feel for what they’re most ‘proud of’/what best characterises the nature of their practice areas.

4) Chambers & Partners and the Pupillage Handbook are also valuable guides. So too are the Pupillage Fairs that many chambers attend to answer questions in person.

(2)(1)

Lawstudent

Is it worthwhile applying for pupillage in the third year of a law degree, or is it best to wait until you’re doing the BPTC? Are chambers likely to interview you again if they rejected you the year before?

(2)(0)

Cameron Stocks

Definitely apply in the last year of your law degree. If nothing else, it gives you a dry run at applications/interviews.

There is nothing stopping you from gaining pupillage prior to commencing the BPTC. Both Michael and I were successful pre-BPTC so it is possible.

(3)(1)

Cameron Stocks

As to the other part of you question, I do not see any reason why you would not be offered another interview. Chambers receive hundreds of applications every year and being rejected does not necessarily mean you are not ‘good enough’ for that set.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Strong written advocacy skills are essential to landing an interview. Could you please elaborate on what is strong written advocacy skills? I am in the process of drafting my applications and any tips would be greatly appreciate.

(0)(0)

Michael Levenstein

Written advocacy is one of the most important aspects to succeeding at the Bar. Increasingly (especially in civil practice), cases are won and lost ‘on the papers’, which means that a crisp, accurate and convincing style is all-important. Strong written advocacy is more than neat margins and proofread text. It is about conveying an idea with vigour and clarity.

When drafting your applications, don’t cut corners. Have as many pairs of eyes as you can look over it. Re-read it to yourself until thoroughly bored. Ask yourself if you can cut out unnecessary verbiage. Flowery language is a common weakness of even the strongest applicants. Being a barrister is not about ‘sounding’ lofty; it’s about presenting arguments in the clearest possible way. Knowing your audience is therefore crucial if you are to succeed at persuading it.

Don’t be afraid to take intelligent chances in your applications. Chambers literally may read several hundred for a couple openings, so it behoves you to demonstrate an aspect of your life experience or interest which will capture their attention. I find the easiest way of doing this is by linking whatever it is you’re most passionate about to how it relates to the study and practice of law (and if it doesn’t, perhaps rethink your career ambitions!).

(6)(1)

Anonymous

I am considering applying to your chambers but I feel the set has a very ‘leftist’ ethos and my experience is from the right. Would my time be wasted making this application or have I got your set completely wrong?

(1)(1)

Cameron Stocks

Try not to judge a book by its cover. There is a lot more to a set of chambers than what is advertised on its website.

I made that mistake when applying for pupillage. I am a gay man from a very working class background and I was incredibly worried that I wouldn’t be accepted at certain sets.

I realise now that view was completely unfounded. If an applicant was to look at my profile online, all they would see is a white male with a good education and nothing else about my background and how I got to the bar. This is why it is incredibly important to try and get to know as many chambers as possible through minis and all the other host of Inn/BPTC events that are held throughout the year.

(18)(0)

Law Student

Describe the interview process for a pupillage. What assessment/s were you required to do, and in front of a panel of how many?

(0)(0)

Cameron Stocks

The interview process is tough, there is no denying that. For my first round interview at Hardwicke, I had to do an advocacy exercise and then a follow up interview.

As for my second round interview, there was an unseen advocacy exercise and a written assessment which was to be completed prior to the interview.

The exercises are perfectly manageable and chambers obviously recognise that you are at a very early stage of your career and will not be providing Supreme Court worthy advocacy.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Does it help being

1. White
2. Male
3. Public School Educated?

(12)(6)

Cameron Stocks

I wouldn’t say that it does at all.

I say this knowing that I meet two of the factors set out above but I am not a representative of the entire bar.

As commented elsewhere, I come from a very working class background and attended a local comprehensive school in the North East. I remember telling a careers adviser at school that I wanted to be a barrister and they genuinely laughed and suggested that I consider applying for the police if I was interested in law. From that point on, I was even more determined to make it and here I am.

It is possible to be a barrister even if you come from a very normal background and speak slightly like a cast member from Billy Elliot.

(17)(3)

Applicant

In all of my pupillage interviews thus far I have been asked if chambers would be required to make any “reasonable adjustments” for me.

I asked that chambers could refrain from serving alcohol and pork products at chambers functions as I find them offensive. Each time I get awkward glances from the panel and have not yet been offered a pupillage.

Am I being unreasonable in asking to be accommodated in this way?

(5)(36)

Anonymous

Should I wear a waistcoat for my interview?

(1)(1)

Michael Levenstein

It depends. Look at the photos of members on the website. If no one is wearing a waistcoat, it’s safe to assume that you won’t be penalised for not wearing one. That said, it certainly conveys a sense of formality, which may very well be appreciated by the interviewing panel. Certainly if a few members of chambers appear in a three-piece suit on the website, I’d consider it wholly acceptable.

(4)(5)

Curious

How many rejections did you receive before you obtained pupillage?

(2)(0)

Cameron Stocks

LOTS. Get used to them.

In fact, Hardwicke was the only set that offered me an interview. In hindsight, I put that down to the weakness of my pupillage gateway application. Hardwicke is a non-gateway set and I had previouisly been here on a mini and had met members of chambers at various events. As a result, I could tailor my application and make it much more personal than my generic gateway application.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

What is the worst mistake pupillage applicants can make?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

See “Applicant” above!

(9)(0)

Interviewer

Not having a poo before going in to interview.

(19)(2)

Anonymous

Either or both of you must have been asked at interview why you wanted to become a barrister rather than a solicitor. What was your response?

(1)(1)

Michael Levenstein

I think a more likely question that a given chambers would ask is why do you want to practise in its specialist areas. However, having an answer to your question is certainly a good idea. For all their similarities, there are marked differences between the two professions. Obviously, the Bar prizes oral advocacy, as its members are entitled to appear in court and litigate on behalf of their lay clients (although with the rise of solicitor-advocates and the like, this is changing in part).

However, I think the main difference between being a solicitor and barrister (and what attracted me to pursuing a career as the latter) is the luxury of spending time getting ‘stuck in’ to difficult legal problems. Many solicitors do not have the time to grapple with knotty areas of law, simply because their firms (especially the larger commercial ones) deal in volume. Barristers less so, and by the time a case reaches their desk, it often has failed to settle because the parties are entrenched in their positions or there are legal complexities which haven’t been resolved. Therefore, it falls upon the barrister to address these issues if an amicable settlement is to be reached. Of course, if that isn’t possible, then he/she must be prepared to argue on the basis of why their client is legally–and not just factually–right. This is a labour-intensive and inherently analytical process. It’s not for everyone, but those who love critical thinking are welcome!

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Thank you. Appreciated.

My question didn’t spell it out, but I have been faced with that question in the context of barrister v solicitor-advocate. I guess a decent answer would be to develop the points you’ve made as being more important, more often to a barrister.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Many people applying for pupillage have ticked all the boxes – mooting/public speaking, good grades, positions of responsibility, the list goes on. Many people can also write decent applications. How, then, can one stand out among the crowd?

(1)(1)

Cameron Stocks

Im afraid there is no magic formula for making yourself the stand out candidate. I know that is a bit of a cop out of an answer but it is true.

I know that I was asked a lot in my interview about the fact that I took up skydiving whilst at university and I spent a lot more time talking about that than all of the minis that I had done.

I’m not saying that you should all rush out to sign up to throw yourself out of a plane for a hobby but if you do anything different/interesting then make sure to mention it on your application form. I can only imagine how repetitive it is for an interview panel to hear the same things over and over again about how many minis you have been on and how many times you have mooted in the past.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Hello,
What is the best way of preparing for ethics-related questions (apart from reading the BSB handbook) if applying for pupillage pre-BPTC?
Many thanks

(0)(0)

Michael Levenstein

Professional ethics is not always an easy topic, but it is all-important. Therefore, one should take seriously preparation for these sorts of questions (which many chambers will ask during interview). Applicants are not expected to be familiar with the BSB Handbook or Code of Conduct (although familiarity with it certainly can’t hurt!).

I think there are (at least) two necessary ingredients to answering ethical questions:

1) Always err on the side of caution. Apply the ‘blush’ test. If what you’re suggesting in the circumstances is not something you think/feel an advocate could admit before a judge without confidence in his/her conviction, then don’t do it.

2) Be practical. Logically think through the problem–its origin, why it has evolved into a problem, the relevant stakeholders, and whether any competing duties are owed (and if so, do any take priority?). Trace it out. Not every answer is in a book; that’s what your fellow colleagues in chambers, solicitors and even the Ethics Helpline is for. Use them – that’s what practitioners do!

(2)(0)

Anonymous

How important is it to have an Inns Scholarship on your CV for pupillage applications?

(0)(0)

Cameron Stocks

It isn’t essential but it is obviously a good indicator, prior to being interviewed, as to whether you possess the requisite skills for a career at the bar.

However, there are a lot less scholarships than there are applicants and it definitely isn’t going to be fatal to your application if you do not have an inn scholarship.

I would strongly recommend applying for the Inns scholarships. Firstly, they offer much appreciated financial help during the GDL/BPTC but they also give you a chance to experience an interview in front of a panel of barristers and members of the judiciary. I found that my scholarship interview was a great dry run for my pupillage interview.

(0)(0)

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