The longest day: waiting for pupillage offers

Waiting on pupillage offers can be tough. One bar hopeful put pen to paper to save her nails.

It’s one minute past midnight on Monday 1 August. Today’s the day that will make or break the careers of this year’s clutch of aspiring ­barristers. Today we’ll find out whether we have what it takes to make it at the bar, and today I will find out whether 26 ­applications, 14 rejections, 12 first interviews and seven final rounds were enough. Here we go…

09.30
My first response of the day: a straight rejection. No surprise there – in fact, with this set, the surprise was getting to the final round in the first place.

The first interview was a rigorous assessment day with a bunch of other applicants, all of whom were terrifyingly intelligent. There was a lot of talk about the other sets where people had interviewed, and I’m not ashamed to say I was intimidated by how many big names were flying around.

Although I made it to the final round I was grilled on a complex problem for an hour and a half – this was easily one of the most ­ambitious sets on my list. I’m disappointed, but I knew it was always going to be a long shot.

11.00
I’ve heard nothing more from any of my chosen chambers and I’m getting fidgety. Reports have been filtering in that some ­people have heard from everywhere by now, although it seems to be mostly criminal sets that are deciding this early in the day. I realise that I have nothing but rejection to my name so far. It hits me that the day might actually end this way. All the chambers may say no and after all this I could be back in ­pupillage portal hell next April. I know that waiting on six more responses puts me in a good position, but then again, the other day I heard a horror story about a girl who was first reserve at five chambers and got none of them. Oh no, I’m going to be that girl.

waiting offer pupillage

12.30
Phone call number two – a firm offer. I’m ecstatic, but I knew if anyone was going to offer me anything it would be this chambers. Not that I would ever have guessed that at the first interview. It was the first one I’d done all year, off the back of a horrendously bad application letter done at the last minute.

I turned up to find a Graduate Diploma in Law-style problem question thrust into my hand, outlining six potential claimants, each with multiple causes of action, and asking me to advise everyone.

I switched to full panic mode, not helped by the fact that one of the girls in the prep room with me was a) a precocious, frizzy-haired know-it-all, and b) intent on telling her companion that anyone who had attended my law school was incompetent. I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t let this go and felt compelled to point out that I was clearly not incompetent as we were at the same interview.

Conversation became distinctly stilted after that.

When I was called in I managed to save the day by nattering on for so long about the CV-based questions that there were only two minutes left for the problem question. By the time the second interview came around I’d relaxed into my stride. They grilled me on a rather sweeping statement I’d made in my application letter; I stood my ground, we had a chat about what I like to do at the weekends… and that was that.

12.45
Text from my boyfriend. He’s waiting on one chambers and has heard nothing. Convinced rejection is imminent, he’s spent the morning sat stock still in his flat, staring at the phone with his heart racing. At least I’m at work.

14.30
Brring… “Hello, I’m ringing to tell you that we haven’t offered pupillage.

“Er, right, thanks.” I force a smile but I’m gutted. This is one of two chambers I really wanted. I wonder why on earth they’re bothering to tell me this – it’s obviously going to be a sore point. Surely it’s like telling Napoleon he’s a bit short.

“But you are our first reserve, so we’ll ring you as soon as anything changes.”

“Okay, great, thanks for letting me know.”

I put the phone down and am not sure what to think. I suppose first reserve is better than nothing. But how long will I have to wait before the first choice makes up their mind?

15.00
Response number four – an email telling me I’m on a reserve list. It doesn’t disclose where in the pecking order I am, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be near the bottom.

Although the first round was a walk in the park, the second was a horrific advocacy exercise that I just couldn’t get to grips with. Every sentence I uttered was interrupted by a panel member pointing out that I was talking rubbish, and at least two were emphatically shaking their heads from start to finish. Sacrificial doesn’t quite cover it.

15.20
Suddenly the phone won’t stop ringing.

“Hi, we’re ringing to offer you pupillage.”

“Er, what?”

“Yes. We were very impressed, you were our best candidate.”

“Really?”

I struggle to hide my surprise with this one. The interview had taken place on a Saturday, right after the last day of term. The night before I drank too much tequila and lost my boyfriend for three hours, only to find him passed out on a bench on Tottenham Court Road. I attended the interview with bags under my eyes and a serious hangover, then proceeded to get thelegal problem wrong.

“Jeez,” I feel like saying, “if I was your best candidate, you’ve got problems.” Instead I thank them for their interest and tell them I’ll think about it.

16.45

Phone call from abovementioned boyfriend, who simply yells down the phone: “I’VE GOT ­PUPILLAGE!”
17.10

Getting off the Tube from work I receive a voicemail from the second of the two ­chambers I really want, giving no clue as to my fate, but simply asking me to call back. When I do I’m greeted with a familiar line.

“Hello. I just want to tell you we’re not ­offering you pupillage.”

“Oh, right (sigh). Thanks.”

“But you are our first reserve.”

Put in perspective this is a fairly good result. The first interview at this set had been another shocker. I was given 15 minutes to prep a problem question that covered promissory estoppel, resulting trusts and whose interest binds a property buyer. I spent most of the time grinding my teeth and wondering if it was acceptable to simply admit defeat and leap out of the window.

I managed to fight back the urge, but in the interview part of me wished I hadn’t. I was fooled by a trick question about needing to have suffered a detriment to raise a defence of promissory estoppel, and walked out kicking myself and expecting a ’thanks but no thanks’ letter in the post.

The letter didn’t come; instead I found myself back in the same chair a few weeks later, bonding with the pupillage secretary over a particularly weird and esoteric thing I’d scribbled one sentence about in my ­application letter. Evidently it worked. Sort of.

20.00
A call from the chambers that rang me at 14.30, saying their first choice has dropped out and the offer is open to me should I want it. I’m speechless, thrilled, ecstatic. Then I put the phone down and think, “Oh lord, now I have to start making decisions”.

Tuesday
Today I decide to put other reserve candidates out of their misery and reject the two sets where I was first choice. I call the first, but the pupillage secretary isn’t there, so I leave a voicemail rejecting the offer and managing to sound fantastically socially awkward in the process. I tell myself I’ve done them a favour – after all, once they listen to that they’re going to think they’ve had a lucky escape.

But I bottle out of making any more rejection calls. Instead I send the second chambers a polite email, which I spend about an hour composing, but it sounds much better.

The thing that strikes me is how odd it is to turn down something I’ve worked so hard to get, especially when I haven’t accepted anything yet. A tiny bit of me can’t help wondering if the other two will now ring me up and go “Ha ha sucker, we’re not going to offer you anything”, and I’ll be back to square one.

There’s still one set I haven’t heard from, although if I’m honest I’m expecting rejection. They only had one round and it involved spending an hour prepping a complex problem in which they obviously wanted some pretty decent answers, as they provided the practitioners’ textbook.

They gave me a fair grilling at the interview, asking questions not only about the law, but also about ethics and about the practicalities of pursuing certain courses of action. I felt I held my own and it went okay, but the bottom line was that I had to be better than 34 other people. Even so, I figure it’s worth finding out, so I ring them. They say they haven’t made up their minds yet, but within 20 minutes my pupillage portal status changes to ’rejected’. Another one bites the dust.

Wednesday

The call from reserve chambers number two doesn’t come until 4pm, but it’s good news – their first choice has gone elsewhere so they’re now officially offering me pupillage. So I’m left having to choose between the two sets that have been my favourites from the start. I know it’s a privileged position to be in, but it’s also a tough one. I ask a few barrister friends for their opinions, do a bit more research and sit down for a strong whisky and a think.

Thursday

I’ve come to a decision. First the rejection. It’s easier than anticipated, and they congratulate me, then remind me that I will have made the second reserve very happy.

Now for the call I never thought I’d make. Four days after the first offers, four months after the application deadlines, two years since I decided to sack off my job and become a lawyer, I’m saying the sentence I never in a million years thought I’d say: “Hello, I would love to accept your offer to come and be a pupil with you.”

“That’s great,” comes the reply. “See you in September.”