Pupillage Applications -Interviews Tips (By Sarah Lacey & Laura Duff)

Published on 21/01/2022

Congratulations, you have made it through the paper round, and you are preparing for your first or second round interviews. 

It is important to begin by saying that not all chambers adopt the same strategy, but from our own experience of securing pupillage, we have provided you with our insights and tips into the interview process.

General tips: 

  1. Be yourself, there is not one set mould for a barrister. Pretending to be someone else will not work long-term and you have to remember that the people interviewing you read people for a living.
  2. Prepare but be flexible. There is no guarantee that you will be presented with a similar advocacy exercise to those you’ve seen other chambers use or that you’ll be asked the questions you were expecting.
  3. It is important to remain up to date with what is happening in the legal world, specifically areas that are of interest to you and the chambers where you are applying. It is not uncommon to be asked to talk about a recent legal decision that’s interested you or to be asked to discuss a new and important point of law.
  4. Chambers is a family. Recognise that they need to see your personality and whether you would be the right fit for them whilst remaining professional.
  5. Be polite to everyone. This shouldn’t need stating but remember that everyone you work with in chambers is important from the cleaners to the QCs. If you arrive a little early for your interview and spend time chatting to the clerks, the interview panel may well ask them what they thought of you. Make sure you leave everyone you meet with a good impression.

The First Round:

  1. First things first, before you go in make sure you have re-read your CV/application. You should know this inside and out, you can be questioned on anything you have put in there.
  2. This first round is commonly used to see whether or not you would be a good fit for chambers. Being a good advocate is important, but chambers also needs to know that you will get along with everyone. You will spend a lot of time with members of chambers (your supervisors in particular) and hopefully, they will become some of your greatest allies.
  3. There are a whole host of things that you might be asked at this stage. We came across a range from balloon debate style questions to things like ‘why should we pick you?’ and ‘what song are you playing after a difficult day in court?’ Don’t be put off by the slightly stranger questions, often there is no right answer and your interviewers are just looking to see how you react to curve balls. Take a breath and make sure you can justify what you say. 
  4. Don’t forget to highlight the things that make you stand out. All chambers get hundreds of applications each year so the fact that you’ve made it through to the interview is a good sign, but you still have work to do. This is your chance to show your interviewers why they should take you over anyone else. 

The Second Round:

  1. This round typically consists of an exercise designed to test your advocacy skills as well as discussion of your written exercise if you were given one. Be prepared to undertake a range of advocacy exercises. Bail applications, pleas in mitigation and bad character applications are common examples, but it could be anything so again, don’t be thrown if you get given something you weren’t expecting. Chambers need to see how you work under pressure so the most important thing here is not to panic. 
  2. Usually you will be given some time to prepare the advocacy exercise on arrival before you go into your interview. You will not be able to read through everything as thoroughly as you’d like so use tabs to easily navigate through the bundle. Make concise notes on what is important and on the things to which you may need to refer. If you need time during the exercise to find something in the papers, don’t be afraid to ask for a minute. 
  3. If you have completed a written exercise for chambers, then this might be when you go through it. Before you get into the interview, re-read what you’ve done and try to identify what you think the weak points are and how you might deal with those when asked. You should also make sure you are able to justify any decisions you have made. 
  4. Following all of this, your interviewers will probably still have some questions for you. As always make sure you have re-read your CV/application and have answers to questions like ‘why do you want to join our chambers?’ and ‘how do you envisage your practice taking shape?’

All that remains to be said is try (we know it’s hard) to keep a cool head and ultimately to enjoy yourself. Don’t forget that all of your interviewers are just people and at some point, or another they all sat where you are now. The pupillage application process is not an easy one so remember, not to be too hard on yourself and good luck!