Towards the end of our other blog post about ‘tips on securing a pupillage,’ we touched lightly on interviewing for pupillages. We said if you followed the tips in that post, you will most likely receive an invitation from the fortunate chambers you had been applying to, for you to come in for an interview. We also said that most times chambers hold their interviews in rounds – with two rounds being the most that chambers hold, and that chambers usually begin to hold interviews for pupillages in February and April. Before you head out to your interview – if you have gotten an invitation – you should know that the fact that the chambers is holding two rounds of interviews [if that is the case] before making an offer of pupillage means that there are three filter-points. The first filter is which applicants will be selected for a first-round interview based on their application form. The second filter is which first-round interviewees will be selected for a second-round interview. The final filter is which second-round interviewees will be offered pupillage or placed on the reserve list. Let’s assume that your Chambers goes through the abovementioned route – other chambers might require you to do a mini-pupillage as part of your assessment for a pupillage – and you have been invited for a first-round interview that means you have cleared the highest hurdle because less than 15% of applicants are invited for first-round interviews. Yes, you deserve that pat on the back. Now let’s make sure that pat is done again!
This post will offer tips and advice as to what to expect in the first round of pupillage interviews. It is very competitive to get a pupillage and therefore, you must find a way to stand out, particularly in this stage, the first-round interviews.
First Round Interview – Round 1 Fight
Round 1 fight! Just imagine the first round of your pupillage interview as a boxing fight. In a boxing match, good fighters use the first round to feel out their opponents. But before they get to the first round great fighters have however already prepared and researched their opponents and developed a plan for the fight. In the same way, you should adopt a boxer’s approach in your first round of interviews by doing the following
Step 1: Practice
At your first-round interviews, you may find yourself being interviewed by a panel of between two to six members of the chambers, it will mostly be junior barristers. First-round interviews may last anywhere between 15 – 30 minutes and are usually known as the shorter of the two rounds. You’ll find that doing mock interviews will be very helpful for your preparation for the main thing when it comes around. Your mock interview will be particularly useful for the problem question section of interviews common to civil/commercial sets. You should practise your answers to basic questions which you may encounter, such as ‘Why do you want to be a member of this chambers?’, ‘What will you do if you don’t get a pupillage?’, ‘Why do you want to become a barrister?’, ‘What other careers have you considered and why?’, ‘What is the most important characteristic for a barrister to possess?’ and ‘What will you find is the most difficult aspect of pupillage?’. While practising you should not forget to incorporate relaxation into your regime. The interview cycle for pupillages can be very taxing, especially if you have other things making a demand for your time. So it is very wise that you have your downtime for optimal results.
Step 2 Study Your Application.
The only thing the panel interviewing you on that day will most likely know about you is what you put down on your application form. So expect to be asked or in some circumstances, grilled about the Pupillage Gateway application or CV and covering letter [if you have submitted to a firm that does not use the Gateway] that you submitted early on in your interview. Accordingly, many of the pupillage interview questions will be based on what you have written. So I’ll advise you to read through your application meticulously because that’s going to be the basis of all the questions that you will be asked. Since your pupillage application form is going to form the basis of the questions you’ll be asked, it’s good practice to not put anything whether weird or normal that you know you will not be able to defend if you are tested on it on that day. As a matter of fact, after the introductions, a Chambers will usually ask you about your application or CV. Do not be one of those interviewees that turn up and give the impression that they have not read their application or worse still someone may have prepared their application for them. You are trying to get something so scarce that it makes fuel scarcity look like child’s play; thus if you’re not familiar with your application, forget getting a pupillage through that interview. Another good thing when reading your application is to ask yourself ‘if you were an interviewer what would you ask the interviewee in 15 minutes.
Research the Chambers and its practice areas
It never looks good when you’ve been invited for an interview and it shows that you know nothing about the chambers or its practice areas, or worse still you keep mixing the chambers interviewing you with that one you had a crush on but ditched you. Please make sure that you’ve researched the Chambers thoroughly and its areas before the D-day. Be familiar with the areas of law that the set practises, and rehearse your case for how its work ties in with your interests and skills. Not only does it show you’re diligent, but it’ll also help you to be able to back up what you say about your interest in their practice areas with evidence from your work experience, academic achievements or extracurricular activities.
Respond & Attend Your Interview
You have received an offer, the worst thing you can do is to fail to respond to the invite or worse still to forget to attend the interview. Your interview invite will most likely offer a range of interview times and slots, and the interview may most likely take place during the weekend. This is because barristers are self-employed, and as a result, are generally unable to find suitable time during the week to conduct pupillage interviews. When you get the aforementioned invite you are best placed to know what slot will be perfect for you. Furthermore, if you are not based in London and your interview is in London, I’ll advise that you travel to London at least a day prior; then you use that extra day to get familiar with the route you’ll use in visiting the chambers, better still try visiting the chambers before your interview date.
What you’ve read above has to do with what you will do before the D-day. So what happens when the day comes around, what do you do? I have no clue so I’ll just wish you good luck! Hahaha just joking! It’s going to vary by chambers but below are two different structures usually encountered by pupillage aspirants during the first round (we have produced this section with the help of materials found on the Inner Temple’s website)
Competency-based questions: these are questions structured around you; these interview questions are questions that require you to provide real-life examples as the basis of your answers. By using these questions, the panel aims to understand how you have used specific skills in your previous experience and how you approach problems, tasks and challenges. They are also called behavioural or situational questions. Some chambers publish the list of questions they may be asking you on their website so that applicants can assess their prospects and complete their form and interview preparation with the benefit of knowing how they will be assessed. Examples of such questions:
- What newspapers do you read? Why?
- What do you do in your spare time? What do your hobbies say about you?
- Describe yourself in five words.
- What is your biggest weakness?
- Describe a time when you acted on your initiative.
- How do you react to criticism?
- When have you used advocacy skills to persuade someone of something?
- Tell us about a time you showed integrity.
- Why do you want to be a barrister?
- What would you like your practice to be like in ten years?
Here you are asked law-related questions
- About the time you had to apply a complex area of law? To explain the said area of law to the panel.
- If you could change any law, what would it be and why?
- Give an example of a recent legal decision you have disagreed with and explain your reasoning for your point of view.
- What do you think is the future of the Bar?
- What are the greatest challenges currently facing the profession?
While the above tips and list are by no means exhaustive; you should expect questions and different structures from every possible angle. There have been chambers’ interviews where the first round of interviews felt like it was you were having a conversation with your friends. Other Chambers might decide to fill the time with a ten-minute presentation and follow-up questions on one of the five topics sent to candidates 30 minutes before the interview, followed by a few other questions. Whatever happens, if you feel stumped when a question has been thrown at you, give yourself a few seconds break and ask them to repeat the question, this will help you calm yourself and formulate an answer while they are asking the question again.
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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