17 tips on how to get pupillage

Barristers and pupils from 5 Essex Court, Blackstone Chambers, Church Court Chambers and Devereux Chambers gathered to give their advice on how to get pupillage to Kaplan Law School BPTC students. Here’s what we learned…

On applications:

Seb Purnell, Devereux Chambers: You don’t have to go and do 15 mini-pupillages – five or six is quite enough. Sample an area of law and move on.

Georgina Wolfe, 5 Essex Court: Apply to a spectrum of sets: some that you think are too good for you, some that you think aren’t good enough – you will find your level.

Colin Witcher, Church Court Chambers: Look at the bottom members of the set on its website – do they sound similar to you? If not, don’t let this totally deflate you if it’s a place you love – but be realistic.

Shaen Catherwood, Devereux Chambers: Think about what you’re going to put in your application to make us put you in the ’yes’ pile, not the ‘no’ pile. Know your audience, like in advocacy – putting yourself in our shoes is half the battle.

Wolfe: The Bar Council Fair Recruitment Guide is invaluable. It allows you to see the other side of the process and contains a pro forma recruitment form – barristers are very busy and if somebody gives them a pro forma form, the chances are they will use it.

Jeremy Johnson QC, 5 Essex Court: Your applications need to posess the same qualities as written advocacy – pithy, persuasive and concise.

Catherwood: There is a lot of space on application forms. It is rope to hang yourself with. You do not need to fill the whole space: use every word wisely.

Anne Heller, Church Court Chambers: Check your spelling and grammar. Get others to check it. Mistakes stand out like a sore thumb and we actually give minus points for them.

Catherwood: Check your spelling. Around five per cent of our applicants spell Devereux incorrectly.

Heller: Do not take the zany approach. It won’t do you any favours – we are still a traditional profession.

Wolfe: Don’t reference TV shows. Once you’re The Times’ Lawyer of the Week you can say what you want. Until then, don’t say that you’re inspired by Rumpole of the Bailey.

At interview

Heller: Your interview panel bothers to get into a suit on a Saturday morning for your interview – make sure you do too.

Catherwood: Don’t panic when faced with a problem question. Show your working, like you used to in maths – talk through the various stages of argument and take your time. If the interview panel challenge you and it’s clear your argument is wrong, then change your mind. It is what you would have to do in court. Do not stubbornly stick to your point if your argument is not tenable, only do so if both sides can be argued.

Wolfe: Do not be obsequious and tell the panel that they know so much more about a matter than you do – it’s embarrassing.

Catherwood: Don’t be afraid of repeating things from your form at interview. Do not just recite it but, equally, do not assume that everyone on the panel will have read it closely and recently.

Heller: No X Factor sob stories – it doesn’t impress.

Catherwood: Almost always, if you have several interviews, there will be some that go badly. It is a two-way process and there needs to be chemistry. It is not just about your performance but about the chambers – and you do not want to go somewhere where you will be unhappy.

For more advice on how to get pupillage, check out our other articles on the topic.