Step-To- Step Guide To Obtaining Pupillage – By Amber Athill

Published on 29/03/2021

It’s that time of year again. Pupillage applications have been submitted and interviews have begun. How then can you better your chances of obtaining pupillage?

Or, perhaps this year wasn’t your year. Perhaps you are yet to apply for pupillage or are yet to have an interview. What can you do, whether it be this year or next year or the year after that?

Below, are just 10 things I think you should and could do to increase your chances of securing pupillage. It is not an exhaustive list but they are things that everyone can do, no matter what position they are in. Some may seem obvious or cliché but they work (in my opinion anyway!).

  1. Do your research

This one is easy and there is no excuse for not doing it. Study your Chambers. Know everything there is to know about a Chambers. Who is the Head of Chambers? Who are the clerks? What areas of law does the set specialise in? What work do the junior members of Chambers do? (After all, you are likely to be doing similar work to the junior tenants as a pupil and junior tenant, not the work of the QCs and the more senior members).

Do not simply take one person’s name and one recent case and think you know Chambers or why you are applying to Chambers. Know your set, do your research.

2.  Be realistic

Applications are long, they are tedious, they are draining. And they usually have to be made at the same time as you’re studying for your degree or BVC or you are working or caring for your family.

Do not waste your precious time. Do not just send out applications in bulk, hoping that statistics will do all the hard work and that you will secure at least 1 interview having made 12 applications.

Be realistic. Use your research. Compare your qualifications to the qualifications of the barristers in that set. Do they align? Do your experiences align with the Chambers’ practice areas? Are you likely to be interviewed by them? If the answers are no, do not spend all of your valuable time on that application and then send half-hearted, rushed, copy and pasted applications to the other sets. This might sound harsh but rejection after rejection can be soul-crushing and it might not be you. It might just be the sets that you are applying to…

Use your time wisely. If you have all the time in the world, be ambitious, draft 12 strong applications. But if you have limited time, again, please be realistic. Put the time in to the sets you consider you have the best chance at. 5 good, strong applications are better than 12 weak ones and you stand a much, much higher chance of being called for interview.

3.  Tailor your applications

As above, do not just send out application after application. Do not just copy and paste. Spend sufficient time on each and every application you make. Make sure that each application was worth making, worth sending and please, please, if you take nothing else from this list, tailor your applications. How does your background, your experience, your interests, make you want to join that Chambers? Why do you want to get pupillage at the set you are applying to?

4.  Really use your experiences

As you will have no doubt read elsewhere, to obtain an interview you need to evidence having relevant experience. Applications ask of you to set out such experience: your mini-pupillages, your court marshalling, your mooting experience, your time in a law firm, other life experience (whether it be travelling the world or working in a restaurant or bar). But do not simply just list such experiences, use them to your advantage.

How has each experience helped you come to an informed decision that you want to be a barrister, that you will be a good barrister and that you want to be a pupil at a particular Chambers? As I said, use your experiences not just to boast or to tell the reader or interviewer what you have done but use them to demonstrate how they have informed and firmed up your view.

And if you aren’t able to obtain every experience under the sun, be smart. Do what you can with what you’ve got. Sometimes, as a barrister, you will be given a case that seems unwinnable. You cannot just return it though. You have to use what you can and do what you can with what you’ve got. Do the same with your application. Sell yourself. Use your advocacy skills. Justify to the set why the experiences you have make you the ideal candidate for pupillage.

5.   On paper, in interview, stay focused

Keep your answers concise. Interviewers have many applications to read, keep them interested, keep them reading. Interviews are short, keep the panel engaged. Stay on topic, don’t go off on a tangent, don’t feel the need to drag out the answer or fill the time. Less can be more.

6.  Stay relevant/current

This one is standard of all interviews, pupillage or otherwise. Read the news, read law blogs, read law journals. Keep an eye on developments in the law in the areas of law Chambers specialise in. If you mention a topic you are interested in on your application form (for instance, what your dissertation was on), be expected to know about that topic, be prepared to answer questions on it. Follow leading barristers or barristers from the Chambers you are applying to on Twitter. See the discussion, read the discussion and know the discussion.

7.  Be prepared

Re-read your application and make sure that you know what it says. As above, make sure to be able to answer questions on any part of it. Then, in interview, prepare your answers – not obviously, not notably – but take a second before you answer and really think about what you want to say before you say it. Preparation makes for a more confident looking candidate and a more confident looking candidate (to me anyway!) appears a more able one.

8.  Advocacy, advocacy, advocacy

Use your advocacy skills in your written application, in interview, in everything you do. Show Chambers that you can really persuade people (whether that be a jury, a judge or the interviewing panel) – persuade the set that they want you, that they need you!

9.  Be yourself

People always ask how to stand out in interview. It is by showing personality, by being memorable. Robots are not memorable. Clones are not memorable. Answering how you think a barrister should answer is not memorable. Have a personality, show your personality and, if you are the right fit for Chambers, you will be remembered.

What is more, if you get pupillage and then become a tenant, you could be working with these people for the rest of your working life. If you are false in your application, in interview, it is going to be tough to keep up the act for a year of pupillage and for the rest of your career thereafter.

If a set does not pick you, when you’ve shown them some personality, then perhaps they are not the right set for you. This process also involves you interviewing Chambers. As I said, you may be in Chambers for years to come. You want to fit. You want to make sure it is the set for you.

10.  Persevere

It might not be this year that you obtain pupillage, it might not be next. But if you want to be a barrister and know that you will be a good barrister, persevere. Do not give up.

However, please do not just sit and simply do nothing for a year. Spend your time wisely. Start by re-reading your application and considering what is missing. You want to find the gaps in your application and fill them. You want to be able to tell Chambers what you have done in the year and what you have learnt so that you can convince them why you are now ready and why you are, a year on, the perfect candidate for pupillage.

Then re-read this list and make sure that your application is the best it can be. Good luck!!