Open thread: How do I secure a pupillage?

Hardwicke pupil barristers advise

Hardwicke-pupils

With pupillage application season now well underway, three rookie barristers are on hand in the comments section below to respond to any questions you might have about securing a foot in the door at the bar.

How did Clare Anslow, Simon Kerry and Louis Zvesper (pictured above) bag their pupillages at Hardwicke? And what advice would they give to those hoping to follow in their footsteps?

With only Kerry attending Oxbridge (he went to Oxford, while Anslow and Zvesper graduated from Durham and King’s College London respectively), the trio have different perspectives on the application and interview process that will hopefully help Legal Cheek readers to standout.

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. You can find out more here.

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

61 Comments

Gus

Did you already have contacts in Chambers that helped you secure the pupillage?

How would you advise a student with good academic credentials but no contacts at the Bar to cultivate some?

(1)(0)
Louis Zvesper

I had no contacts.

The most useful thing I did in this respect was to get a mentor through my Inn (Lincoln’s), who was able to give really valuable insights into what sets are actually looking for on the paper applications. I don’t think you really need to ‘cultivate contacts’ except insofar as it can give you information about the work and the application process.

(5)(0)
Anonymous

Is that an optimum number? What were you doing wrong in your first year?

(0)(0)
Louis Zvesper

I don’t think there is an optimum number – it depends on what you want, how much time you have etc.

My first year I don’t think I made enough applications – as Clare said, you learn a lot from each one. I was also very inexperienced. I made a lot of use of my mentor second time round, who helped a great deal with structuring my application (in his words – barristers are information junkies – they want as much information as possible in as short a space of time).

(0)(0)
Clare Anslow

Over the years I probably made about 45 applications – 10 Gateway applications each year and then a selection of non-gateway applications each round. You learn a lot each time.

(2)(1)
Simon Kerry

Similar to Clare, across 3 years of applications about 15-16 every year, so 45 – 50 in total.

(1)(0)
Anonymous

How do you think extenuating circumstances in regards to academics would be considered in pupillage applications?

(0)(0)
Simon Kerry

It would very much depend on what they were. An application will be looked at as a whole, and academic results will be a very important element. Of course, if there are really exceptional circumstances that mean your performance isn’t reflective of your ability, that would be considered.

(0)(0)
Anon

How did you structure your application? I’m concerned about using bullet points because I think this looks lazy but I know it needs to also be concise. Did you also write it in the first person, etc. I did this and I did that or did you simply state the things you’ve done and experience you have in legal employment, etc?

(2)(0)
Clare Anslow

I don’t think bullet points are a problem at all – they are a great way of making your point in a concise manner. It is important to remember that the person reviewing your application may only spend a couple of minutes on it, so anything you do to make it easier to read will help you make the cut.

I would definitely recommend writing in the first person – anything else would sound a little odd. This is your opportunity to sell yourself, and it needs to be personal.

The key thing to remember when stating anything in your application is to ask how it relates to (i) being a good pupil/barrister and (ii) the chambers you are applying to. Every sentence you write needs to be related back to that.

(6)(0)
Anonymous

How would you advise getting creating connections and getting experience when you don’t live near London?

(0)(0)
Simon Kerry

There’s plenty that you can do. First and foremost, there are many great sets outside London, so there should be plenty of mini-pupillages or work experience near wherever you happen to be based. I lived in Bristol for 3 years while making applications, and made a number of contacts through a mini I did on the Western circuit.

If you are doing bar school in the regions, you’ll probably find that there are events, advocacy training sessions etc with external speakers or members of the local bar. Take that chance to speak to as many people as possible.

Basically, just make the most of the opportunities that are closest to you!

(0)(0)
Anon

I have no family law experience but I want to work in a common law set, do you think this could hamper my chances?

Also (quite general question) how do you really make your application stand out and sound different from everyone else’s?

(0)(0)
Clare Anslow

It isn’t necessary to have experience in family law if you want to work in a common law set. But what is essential is that you can explain why you want to work at that set, and why you are interested in a particular area of law.

I think the key to standing out is to say something they won’t have read before – the barristers reviewing your application will probably be reading 20 others – everyone has good grades, went to a good uni, has lots of worthy experience – so what can you say to make yours sound a little different? In my application I mentioned I was an amateur chocolatier and it was the first thing I was asked about in my interview – it doesn’t have to be something amazing, just something that is interesting.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Chance of getting a pupillage coming from a non-Russell group university (Lincoln) but on track for a first?

(2)(2)
Louis Zvesper

Honestly? I think it is hard – though different at different sets. Some sets will look more at grade, some more at university. The difficulty is that you will be competing against people from top universities with firsts – it may be worth considering doing something (either a masters or work) that makes your application stand out in comparison to those. Also worth researching your sets – if every junior tenant for the last ten years has a first from Oxbridge, it may be tricky – on the other hand if it’s a bit more varied you may have a better chance.

(9)(0)
Louis Zvesper

As a third six pupil, I would say hard…

It does depend on the set to some extent, but it is definitely difficult. Harder than getting pupillage, I would say. Do remember though that getting tenancy (while the ultimate goal for most) is not the only purpose of pupillage – there is a lot to learn, and plenty of people who don’t get taken on find that they haven’t clicked with their set during pupillage. You may get the opportunity to move somewhere you fit in better or that interests you more. There are also plenty of opportunities out there, at the Bar or not, if you don’t get taken on following pupillage.

(4)(1)
Anon

What advice do you have for interviews? What would you prep beforehand and would you have any ‘go to’ answers already structured in your mind for awkward questions? If so, what kind of go to questions did you have structured in advance?

(0)(0)
Clare Anslow

You should always have thought about the common questions – why do you want to be a barrister; what areas of law are you interested in; why this chambers. When you answer these questions make sure it does not sound rehearsed, but it would show poor preparation if you hadn’t thought about them in advance.

However there are always going to be questions that are designed to catch you off guard. Chambers are looking at how you deal with an unexpected question – they want to know how your mind works. I was once asked what my favourite colours was – they clearly didn’t care about the answer, but wanted to know how I justified that position (it’s blue).

(3)(0)
Alex Aldridge

Question submitted in advance by email

I am a newly qualified commercial litigation solicitor and I had some private litigation experience during my training contract seats. I quite enjoyed it, especially seeing how Counsel often thought and worked.

I would like to transfer to the Bar as I feel that would better serve the skill set I developed at university (in mooting among other things) and beyond.

What approach does Hardwicke take to qualified solicitors that want to transfer to the Bar?

(0)(0)
Simon Kerry

Well, given that one of our Heads of Chambers (PJ Kirby QC) is an ex-solicitor himself, I’d say our attitude is pretty positive!

In all seriousness, we have people from a whole range of backgrounds. I myself am an ex-accountant, we have loads of ex-solicitors, some who came straight from bar school, some who’ve transferred from other careers entirely… Basically there’s no ‘template’ for Hardwicke membership – if you have the capability to be a great barrister, there will be a place for you regardless of background.

(4)(0)
Anon

Do you think it’s possible to get a good pupillage with a 2:1 from a Non – Russel group uni?

(0)(1)
Anon

Sorry just to add to that, had a VC on the bar course as well :/

(0)(0)
Simon Kerry

I’d say think about your application as a whole. Academics (and I’d echo what Louis said above about universities etc) are an important part, but they aren’t everything. Maybe you’ve got some great results in mooting/advocacy competitions? Maybe you’ve done some really fantastic extra-curricular activity? Maybe you have a different type of work experience that’s going to help you in your career? If you don’t have those things, think about how you could get them.

Ultimately, you’re going to have to persuade someone that you can be a great advocate, so consider what evidence you need to prove that. Then go and get it!

(2)(0)
Anonymous

For my non-gateway applications, I always include a £20 note in each application, but have had no success so far in getting an interview. Should I up this to £50?

(44)(1)
Anon

What tips do you have for saying to a particular set why you want to join them? I always find my answers are too general

(0)(0)
Anon

How do you apply for a second or third six, if you’re unsuccessful in gaining tenancy after pupillage?

(0)(0)
Louis Zvesper

Pupillage consists of two 6 month periods – one non-practising certificate and one practising. If you don’t get taken on after that you can apply for a third six at a different set. These are advertised on chambers’ websites and here: http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/careers/third-six-vacancies/

Your supervisors will also usually help you as much as they can.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

When did you get Pupillage? After how many tries, and at what stage in your educational / professional career?

(0)(0)
Clare Anslow

I was called in 2011, but took a couple of years out before applying for pupillage. I then applied in 2013 and 2014 before being successful in 2015. I worked throughout the period from Call to pupillage and the extra legal (and world) experience really helped me when it came to my applications. I would say as long as your applications are getting better every year and you are learning from your mistakes, you should keep on trying.

(0)(2)
Anonymous

Would you recommend doing a masters before or after the BPTC (or doing something other than a masters entirely)? And how would you compare LLM at Cambridge from one at Harvard?

(0)(0)
Simon Kerry

I wouldn’t have thought it matters a great deal, whatever is going to work for you personally. I did a masters before the BPTC, a very good friend of mine did hers afterwards; both of us got pupillage in the end.

In terms of doing something else entirely, that probably comes down to what the rest of your application looks like. If your academic record is a bit patchy, and you want to try and bolster it a bit, a masters is probably the right choice. If you’ve got outstanding academic credentials already, a year doing something practical that gives you some advocacy experience (e.g. acting as a solicitors’ agent) might be better.

Re Cambridge v Harvard LLM – clearly both are excellent courses, but you’ll probably have to speak to those who have done them for a better insight! In terms of reputation and ‘CV points’, I’d think they were both pretty equal, along with the BCL at Oxford.

(3)(0)
Anon

How hard is it to get a second six when you’ve done a pupillage specialised in only one area of law?

(0)(0)
Louis Zvesper

I’m assuming you mean third six? There are usually transferable skills between areas, though you may have some explaining to do if you want to make a drastic change from say tax to crime – that said, you may have some very good reasons for such a change! And that may be something to talk about in applications/interviews.

(0)(0)
Louis Zvesper

About 15 (counting 1st and 2nd round interviews as one ‘interview’). I think this is the same for Clare and Simon too.

(0)(0)
Louis Zvesper

PS – it may be obvious to say, but I found the more interviews I did the better I felt they went. Like most things there is a skill to it!

(3)(0)
Anonymous

Do you have any advice for answering the question: “why do you want to work at this chambers in particular?” (aside from practice areas)

(0)(0)
Louis Zvesper

It’s a difficult question. I usually focused on practice area. Try to be honest too – it is easier. If you are interested in the set because they have a good record of taking pupils as tenants, you can say so – same goes for size of pupillage award, size of set, approach to CSR, whether they are very traditional or modern – really anything you have found out about them that strikes your interest, so long as it’s accurate.

It is also worth thinking about what they might be interested in; it is your opportunity to show that you know what the set does, that you’ve done your research, and that you’ve had a proper think about how that relates to you!

(0)(0)
Gateway Gaz

Why do you believe you will make a good barrister? (200 words)

(10)(1)
Anonymous

Do you think it is worth changing my name so I appear to be from a social group more favoured by the bar? I have already stopped wearing big hoopy earrings to interviews after feedback from a couple of sets of chambers during mini pupillage that I looked chavvy.

(4)(3)
Clare Anslow

The pupillage committee is looking for your potential to be a good barrister – no-one cares about your name or ‘social group.’

(0)(10)
Anonymous

During an interview I was told I didn’t have the right moral compass to be a barrister. I don’t understand what that means (I was on remand at the time but didn’t get done in the end as one of the witnesses didn’t turn up, natch).

(4)(3)
Alex Aldridge

Question submitted in advance by email

What was the most difficult or bizarre question you were asked at any interview and how did you respond ?

(0)(0)
Clare Anslow

As mentioned earlier I was once asked what my favourite colour was. It threw me as it was such a simple question. Of course, when I answered blue, they asked me to give more details (light, dark, navy) and then asked about 5 follow up questions to make me justify why I liked blue. It ended up in a long discussion on gender stereotypes for children (girls = pink, boys = blue). It definitely wasn’t the route I was expecting when I answered!

(9)(0)
Anonymous

I am struggling to get interviews, even though my applications are strong – I have good academics, good life experience and good breeding. What I am doing wrong?

(3)(1)
Anonymous

You use language like “good breeding” and come across as an arrogant tosser

(20)(1)
Simon Kerry

It’s always worth taking a look at the CVs of the junior tenants at the sets you are applying to. Do you fit the profile of candidate that they seem to be looking for? Part of that is academics, but it can be anything – some like lots of mooting or advocacy experience, some like people who have come from a second career background to give them a different perspective. The acid test is: can you see yourself on their website? If not, the chances are that you aren’t what they are looking for.

As for ‘good breeding’ – if that’s a serious comment, I’d echo what Clare’s already said: no chambers worth applying to (certainly not Hardwicke) will be interested in your family background, only how good a barrister you can be.

(2)(1)
Anonymous

Out of interest, which Chambers are not worth applying to then?

(3)(0)
Anon

How would you say a job interview differs to a pupillage interview?

(0)(0)
Louis Zvesper

It depends on the job! It is a kind of job interview after all. Most job interviews you are trying to demonstrate that you would be good at the job and would fit in – while also seeing what you think of the organisation – it’s just the same with a pupillage interview.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

What extra curricular activities, part time jobs etc. did you do throughout your studies to make you really stand out? I’ve taken on an awful lot and its impacting my mental health but I feel like I need to keep everything up if I want to stand a chance!

(0)(0)
Simon Kerry

The first thing I’d say is – don’t sacrifice your health for the sake of getting pupillage! Your ultimate goal should be to be happy, not to be a barrister at any cost, and if you try and take on too much you’re going to end up being less successful that if you take it a bit easier.

Myself, I found the best balance was to do something law-related (mooting competitions) and something totally outside law (singing in choirs, playing piano) to get away from work a bit. It can easily get overwhelming if you try and take on too much, and I found from experience that that combination really worked for me.

(3)(0)
Louis Zvesper

I think I’ve mostly dealt with above, but it is not easy (I suppose I would say that!) – in some ways it is easier than pupillage interviews because you have a lot more experience – in other ways it is harder because more is expected of you.

(0)(0)

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