If you have hopes of practising as a barrister in the UK, among other things you must partake in a pupillage before you can practise. Simply put, you can’t practise as a barrister until completing the final stage—the pupillage. The pupillage is practical work experience or work-based (usually 12 months) training period for those aiming to qualify as barristers, usually spent in a barristers’ chambers (sets) learning under an experienced barrister (a pupil might be supervised by one or more barristers). After one year, the supervising barrister can recommend that the pupil is ready to work as a barrister. This recommendation then provides the pupil with the ammunition to successfully apply for Authorisation to Practise. Authorisation to Practise is the process by which barristers in England and Wales make several regulatory declarations and pay the Practising Certificate Fee to renew their practising certificates. It is well known that getting a pupillage is very competitive.
How to successfully engage with the process of applying for a pupillage to give you a better chance of landing a pupillage is what will be discussed in this post.
Prepare and submit your applications
In England and Wales a large number of Authorised Education and Training Organisations – this is the long way of saying chambers – use the Bar Council’s online Pupillage Gateway system www.pupillagegateway.com as their primary method of receiving applications from candidates. The Gateway opens up to applicants throughout January and the start of February. However, preparation for applications can begin as early as November as this is often when vacancies are posted. Conversely, some chambers that are not members of the gateway will take applications directly. However, their applications and deadlines will vary, and you will have to check each website for these. Non-Gateway chambers’ application forms and CVs will have their formal structures and rules to abide by just as legal papers do. And your ability to follow that structure will help make your application easier to read. Whether you’re writing a CV or filling in an empty and dateless pupillage application form there are rules to abide by.
Nevertheless, all pupillage vacancies at both types of chambers are listed on the Pupillage Gateway system, so wherever you plan to apply, you should start by checking the Pupillage Gateway. You can apply for up to 20 chambers on the Gateway but as many non-member chambers as you like. When preparing and submitting your applications regardless of the chambers make sure that you spend quality time on each application. When you feel you have prepared an excellent application, do not hit the send button yet. Get at least a person preferably someone with experience in the legal profession to proofread your application. If you employ this method chances are that any errors that you may have overlooked will be unearthed. You might even get more polished pointers as to what to include in your application.
When applying for pupillages whether it’s those listed on the Pupillage Gateway or non-listed ones make sure that your application is tailored to that individual chambers; make sure that you back up all your answers with strong evidence; that you display your commitment to the barrister route; display your vast work experience, and include everything possible that you can think of that will make your application positively different – grades, languages, interests and so on. Regarding academics, in the Law Society Annual Statistics Report of 2019, the Law Society found out that students graduating with degrees in law from universities in England and Wales continued to rise in 2019 to 16,499 and an incredible 72.8% graduated with a first or upper second degree. Thus every other candidate will have a good degree and a respectable academic background. So if this is so, what does it mean for you, if you are on target for a lower grade than 2:1? You need to pull up your breeches and work harder for a better grade. We have said it before and we will say it again – in the law business a great deal of weight is placed on academics. The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate what makes you different to convince a pupillage committee swarmed with application forms to award you that Holy Grail called a pupillage. Chambers like to see that their applicants have participated in experiences that are beneficial to them.
My Experience, Your Experience
In your application you will be asked to fill in your work experience – this is where you will earn your pupillage. If you have participated in mini-pupillages or unpaid legal work experience put them here. Some Chambers require you to complete at least one mini-pupillage before applying for a pupillage; others might view participation in more mini-pupillages as the way to go. For those who are not aware, a mini-pupillage is a short work experience placement shadowing a barrister. It’s very useful as it helps show that you want to be committed to the Bar. When you have filled in that you have participated in mini-pupillages, you are showing the recruitment team that you have drive and commitment. But be careful about how you list your minis because some chambers might not give extra marks for lots of minis and a long list will neither be persuasive nor helpful to your quest. You shouldn’t identify the names of barristers you have done minis with. Try to be succinct. Tell them what you learned.
While certain chambers will always love mini-pupillages or pro bono experience to be at the top of their list of requirements, it does not in any way mean that you should ignore part-time jobs, internships, paid work in other legal or non-legal employment and other experiences you have taken part in. Keeping a regular working schedule, interacting with people and the decision making that occurs in almost any job are all useful in showing a chambers that you can look after yourself and that you’ll keep working to bring in the chambers’ fees as well. It shows drive, and commitment and you can work with a team. The trick to making these sorts of experiences shine forth is by telling them as succinctly as possible what you do/did in those roles, what you have learned and how you can learn more and try to relate the role to the qualities needed for a barrister. For example, a job in a bar gives people skills, teaching children shows patience and ability to impart information. Don’t forget to include that you have participated in mooting, debating, motivational talks, public speaking, and lecturing as they also show your commitment and drive. Include roles where you have been given a position of responsibility, such as being captain of your football team and helping out with the Sunday school of your local church. Essentially what I’m trying to tell you through this post is there are a wide plethora of skills that are useful to a barrister, and you should not dismiss any of them that you have acquired.
Why Do You Want to be a Barrister
‘Why do you wish to become a barrister?’ is one of the key questions on the application form and you will have to share convincing answers to get a shot at your goal. On application forms not listed on the Gateway, this question may appear Why do you think you will be a good barrister? The goal of this question is to determine if you have good judgment, character, drive and commitment. You and you alone are being asked this question; you and you alone are being asked what you think makes a good barrister and why you think you can make it as one. So quoting your lecturers will do you no good. Instead to answer this question well give specific reasons, characteristics, and examples. Use sound evidence to show that the skills you have acquired in your journey so far match up with what a barrister does, your opinion without evidence matters not. In light of this, it will be very good if you draw from your experiences – whether it’s law-related or not – and relate your reasons for wanting to become a barrister to those actual events or actions in your life. If you have participated in minis and vacation schemes then you can apply the compare and contrast method. This is when you convince or show them that by participating in both pathways’ taster experiences you’re sure that the barrister route is the way to go. Applying for a pupillage and showing that you have done the mini and vacation schemes gives you evidence to back up why you chose the Bar over other options. You should not make up events for you will most likely be found out.
The application forms for both Gateway chambers and non-Gateway chambers are extensive and usually cover every aspect that they believe will give them an idea as to who is applying to them. Among other questions you will answer questions about the chambers and its practice areas – this is where chambers filter the non-serious from the serious applicants. To be regarded as serious makes that chambers feel special among other things by specifically writing about their areas of practice that drew you to them. You won’t also go wrong if in talking about the chambers, you can display that you know everything about them from their ethos, cases, their social nights and culture. To make sure you have a good chance of success in your applications do not make schoolboy errors like copying and pasting or re-using the same application for each chamber.
Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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