We spoke to a BPTC graduate who featured in a new interview project
Wannabe barristers may have noticed a new project doing the rounds on Facebook and YouTube featuring three University of Law Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) students being grilled by senior members of chambers’ pupillage committees.
‘Pupillage Interviews Uncovered’ (embedded below) stars Shanthi Sivakumaran (pictured), who has a pupillage at Lamb Building, Rebecca Keating, a future pupil at Pump Court, 1 King’s Bench Walk pupil-to-be Max Turnell, and Colm Kelly, future pupil at Devereux.
The trio face James Counsel, head of pupillage at Outer Temple, and Ed Connell, the chair of 5 St Andrews Hill’s pupillage committee, in interview-style conditions.
Questions include ‘Why do you want to be a barrister?’, ‘What is a recent moral dilemma you have faced?’ and a task to argue against a point of principle that the students personally support.
Legal Cheek Careers caught up with Sivakumaran to hear more about the experience and listen to her tips about how to land a coveted pupillage.
Legal Cheek Careers: You were brave to do ‘Pupillage Interviews Uncovered’! How did it compare to an actual pupillage interview?
Shanthi Sivakumaran: In some ways it was more nerve-racking because you knew it was going to be made public! But I wanted to do it because I thought it would be good for others to see it. When I started preparing for pupillage interviews before the BPTC I didn’t know what to expect. So I thought something like this would be really helpful.
What can students learn from watching successful pupillage applicants going through the interview process?
Sivakumaran: Aside from the wider benefits of demystifying the process, there is actually a lot that you can do to prepare for interviews, with some questions coming up frequently. For example, I had previously been asked to argue against a view that I personally held — and it is actually something that I used to practice. I prepared with my long-suffering brother who would come up with a topic and I would then present an argument for one side for two minutes before arguing the other side. This preparation made me feel more confident in presenting arguments attractively and in thinking on my feet.
Some questions, however, just come up without you being prepared at all. In ‘Pupillage Interviews Uncovered’, the question about a recent moral dilemma I had faced was completely unexpected, and I was lucky that a previous situation just popped into my head. But then I was conscious as I was telling the story not to give away too much information to the barristers, as I was talking about a real situation which obviously demanded confidentiality.
How many pupillage interviews did you have?
Sivakumaran: About seven. Of those, I got to two final rounds, had one assessed mini-pupillage, and received two offers — one of which, from Lamb Building, I accepted last summer. Then having done a three-month internship at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, I began my pupillage last month.
The year before I started the BPTC I also went through the pupillage application process but only got one interview. As you progress you learn a lot about how to present yourself on a form and at interviews. ULaw’s careers service was amazing in this respect. I agreed to do the video pupillage interview partly because they have been so good! My Inn, Inner Temple, also offered some excellent support, such as advocacy days and mentoring.
What changed about your approach?
Sivakumaran: I learned how to present myself in applications much better. Previously I suppose I had played down some aspects of the different experiences I’d had in my previous career working in international development policy. I had it in my mind that chambers were looking for more standard CVs. But by talking to barristers during my BPTC year, through work experience and the societies I was part of, I started to have more confidence in being myself and that began to come through.
I’d say it’s important to be able to say quite clearly why you want to become a barrister. For me, as someone not that naturally comfortable talking about myself, it was useful to think about how I had gone from my law degree in Leeds to a masters at SOAS and then worked in development before actually deciding I wanted to do the bar — and then present that at interview. When I did that I was able to explain convincingly why I wanted to practice in asylum and immigration law.
Do you have any other golden tips for aspiring barristers?
Sivakumaran: It is important not to become over stressed during interviews. I did badly in interviews which I was really nervous about and it was self-defeating. Actually one of the best tips I ever got was a really simple one from an Inner Temple workshop about “breathing deeply through your stomach”. It sounds weird, but it works for me. Also, don’t panic yourself by doing last-minute research just before an interview!
Applications are open for ULaw’s 2016 BPTC. You can apply here.
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