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Some words of wisdom for pupillage seekers

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By The Careers Team on

Beverley Dawes, head of the Bar Practice Course at ULaw, offers her advice on selecting chambers, writing applications, and interviews

Having started out as a barrister at Leeds’ KBW Chambers, Beverley Dawes made the move to legal education a few years into her career and hasn’t looked back since.

Now head of the Bar Practice Course of The University of Law, Dawes sat down with Legal Cheek Careers ahead of her appearance at tomorrow’s virtual student event, to discuss her career, challenges at the junior bar, and how to make the most of this year’s pupillage application season.

1. Can you tell me a bit about your career journey so far?

I completed a combined honours LLB at Keele University in Law with Criminology before studying the Bar Vocational Course full-time in Leeds. Prior to starting pupillage, I worked for 2 years as a caseworker at the Legal Services Commission (now the Legal Aid Agency). I undertook a mixed common law pupillage at KBW Chambers in Leeds and thereafter practiced as a tenant in chambers. I joined ULaw as a tutor in 2016, then becoming the programme lead for the BPTC at our Leeds campus. In 2022 I was appointed as the national head of BPC (the Bar Practice Course) at ULaw.

2. What was the biggest challenge you faced starting out at the bar?

Managing several practice areas during a mixed common law pupillage, covering several circuits and cities each week, was a challenge in my early career at the bar. However, I was grateful for the exposure to different practice areas, which enabled me to develop my advocacy, conference and written skills. In time, I was able to carve out a specialist practice in industrial disease work, allowing me to focus on my interest in personal injury work.

3. What prompted your move from the bar into education?

The transition from the bar to the bar course was a natural one for me. While at the Bar, I had an interest in legal education and I regularly spoke at universities to students and aspiring barristers about how to qualify. I also mentored bar students. I had always had an interest in helping students achieve their goal of becoming a barrister. I also regularly delivered training and seminars at the bar, so teaching was another skill I was already interested in. I was excited to bring my experience and knowledge from the bar into the classroom at ULaw and help students on their route to the bar.

Find out about studying the BPC at ULaw

4. Can you tell me about your role as head of the BPC?

My role as Head of the BPC at ULaw involves managing the design, delivery, regulation and assessment of the Bar Course across our eight BPC campuses at ULaw. We offer a full-time and part-time BPC at ULaw. My role is varied, including student recruitment, assessment design, course materials design, course structure planning and more. I work closely with our BPC programme director and the BPC programme leads across our campuses to ensure the smooth running of the course.

5. How should students choose which chambers to apply for, and what is your advice on starting this process?

Research is very important. I advise students to carefully research the chambers they are interested in applying to: attend open days or pupillage events, apply for a mini-pupillage, conduct research online etc. When researching and applying, think about where you want to practice in the country, what practice area(s) you want to do, whether you want to be in a small or larger chambers etc. Do not just apply anywhere-and-everywhere. The mantra “quality over quantity” applies to pupillage applications. Aim to submit considered, quality applications. These take time. Do not over-commit to too many applications as the quality of your applications is likely to drop.

6. What’s one thing that students should absolutely avoid doing in their applications?

Making cliché statements or being unrealistic about the nature of a career at the bar. Avoid saying things like you want to fight for justice or change the law. Understand the realities of the job. You are an advocate, not a policy maker. The best applications are those which are mature, considered, assured, informed, realistic, self-aware, and well-researched. Don’t appear desperate or put the chambers (or barristers in general) on a pedestal. Demonstrate your understanding of the role of a barrister through your application.

7. What’s your top tip for interview nerves?

Be self-aware, confident and assured. Ignore the competition and focus on yourself. Try to think less about how much you want the pupillage or chambers and, instead, shift your mindset to thinking more about how to demonstrate during your interview that the chambers should choose you. Remember that excitement is often confused with fear. Do not fear or worry about your interview; look forward to it. See it as a good opportunity to meet chambers and show your skills, knowledge and experience.

8. Lastly, what is one piece of careers advice you think all students should hear?

Do not be deterred by rejections and setbacks. Statistically, it is more common for applicants to secure pupillage in their second, third or fourth year of applying than in their first. Feedback is invaluable. If you are unsuccessful following your interview, ask for feedback. Learn from the feedback. Do not submit the same application the following year; look to improve and fill any CV gaps, develop your skills, gain more interview skills, obtain more work experience etc. Self-reflection, self-awareness and self-analysis are vital. Take a mature approach to the application process and come back stronger the next year.

Find out about studying the BPC at ULaw

Beverley Dawes will be speaking at ‘Pupillage application masterclass — with Gatehouse, Henderson, Landmark, Radcliffe Chambers and ULaw’, a virtual event taking place tomorrow (24 January). Apply for one of the final places to attend.

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