I am a practising barrister on my Chambers' pupillage committee - AMA

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Crazy Jamie
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#1
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#1
There is already quite a lot of support on this forum for those aiming for pupillage; the main pupillage thread being the most prominent around this time of year. There are also quite a few barristers who drop into this forum now and again who reply to relevant threads. So it may be that things are already well covered and this thread isn't necessary, but I thought I'd make it anyway on the off chance that it proves useful to have questions about the actual application and interview process focused on one thread.

For context, I am a practising barrister around ten years call and, as the thread title says, I am on my Chambers' pupillage committee. That means that I sift applications, interview candidates who make it through that sift, and have a hand in choosing who will be offered pupillage. There is a lot of information on the internet already about this process, but if anyone has any questions about it (or for me generally as a practising barrister) then I will do my best to answer them. You can feel free to ask anything you want. I won't commit to answering everything, but if I choose not to answer a question I will explain why.

I will also say from the outset that I am happy for other practising barristers who come across this thread to answer questions before or instead of me. I know at least one or two are on pupillage committees themselves, so getting answers from more than one source should be useful.

In terms of other sources, do have a look at www.pupillageandhowtogetit.com. That contains a lot of information about the pupillage process, and indeed some of the content of that site has been taken from posts I have made on this forum. There are also a number of practising barristers on Reddit at r/uklaw if you want to ask questions there to get other views. As a final suggestion, you'll find no shortage of barristers on Twitter at this time of year offering individual tweets and threads with advice on the pupillage process, so it's worth having a scan through things on there as well.

If after having seen all of that you still have questions for me, fire away.
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gtty123
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Do you enjoy your job?
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Crazy Jamie
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(Original post by gtty123)
Do you enjoy your job?
I do. Like any job it has its difficult moments, and it is certainly a high pressure and high stress job, but I do enjoy it and find it to be very satisfying. I feel very lucky to be doing it and, for the moment at least, can't see myself doing anything else.
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gtty123
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(Original post by Crazy Jamie)
I do. Like any job it has its difficult moments, and it is certainly a high pressure and high stress job, but I do enjoy it and find it to be very satisfying. I feel very lucky to be doing it and, for the moment at least, can't see myself doing anything else.
That's interesting. Thanks for the insight.
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hopeful-lawyer
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How did you find the competition when you were applying? Did it ever become too stressful?
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hopeful-lawyer
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Are there any immediate factors when reading an application that would make you say no?
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Crazy Jamie
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(Original post by hopeful-lawyer)
How did you find the competition when you were applying? Did it ever become too stressful?
Clearly you never see the applications of the people you're competing against when you apply, nor do you see them in interview, so from that perspective it's difficult to get any real reading on the competition, and when you're getting rejections it's difficult to know how close you are to getting interviews. In terms of the process itself, it is stressful. Getting constant rejections is hard, especially when you may have no or a very limited experience of failing before that. The most difficult period for me was directly after the Bar Course, when I found myself for the first time out of education and with no job. I was living at the time with a friend who was about to start his pupillage (we're now in the same Chambers) and with my then girlfriend, who was doing a postgraduate course of her own. So I was the only one who was stuck in a rut. I made countless applications for jobs and pupillage, and aside from some limited volunteer work with PSU it took me just over 3 months to find actual paid legal work. Those 3 months were really very tough, and it was not at all easy to stay motivated in the face of constant rejection.

Once I had a relevant job (a paralegal role as it happened) things became easier because I was suddenly working towards something again. The experience of being in that role was helping me to develop my skills, and allowed me to get back into the momentum of essentially doing what I could over time to improve my application. I was still getting rejections during this time from pupillage applications, but that was easier to deal with because I was confident that I was gradually improving my application and my skills. Still by no means an easy process, but easier to cope with due to me having a job, which was also in a way becoming my plan B.

So I don't think it ever necessarily became too stressful per se, but it is a very hard process, and as well as ensuring that you are working constructively towards improving your skills and your application, it is also important to manage yourself personally. It doesn't mean you're not cut out to be a barrister if you're struggling with it from time to time from a stress or mental health perspective. It just means you're human and need to take some time to take care of yourself, which everyone needs to do from time to time.
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hopeful-lawyer
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(Original post by Crazy Jamie)
Clearly you never see the applications of the people you're competing against when you apply, nor do you see them in interview, so from that perspective it's difficult to get any real reading on the competition, and when you're getting rejections it's difficult to know how close you are to getting interviews. In terms of the process itself, it is stressful. Getting constant rejections is hard, especially when you may have no or a very limited experience of failing before that. The most difficult period for me was directly after the Bar Course, when I found myself for the first time out of education and with no job. I was living at the time with a friend who was about to start his pupillage (we're now in the same Chambers) and with my then girlfriend, who was doing a postgraduate course of her own. So I was the only one who was stuck in a rut. I made countless applications for jobs and pupillage, and aside from some limited volunteer work with PSU it took me just over 3 months to find actual paid legal work. Those 3 months were really very tough, and it was not at all easy to stay motivated in the face of constant rejection.

Once I had a relevant job (a paralegal role as it happened) things became easier because I was suddenly working towards something again. The experience of being in that role was helping me to develop my skills, and allowed me to get back into the momentum of essentially doing what I could over time to improve my application. I was still getting rejections during this time from pupillage applications, but that was easier to deal with because I was confident that I was gradually improving my application and my skills. Still by no means an easy process, but easier to cope with due to me having a job, which was also in a way becoming my plan B.

So I don't think it ever necessarily became too stressful per se, but it is a very hard process, and as well as ensuring that you are working constructively towards improving your skills and your application, it is also important to manage yourself personally. It doesn't mean you're not cut out to be a barrister if you're struggling with it from time to time from a stress or mental health perspective. It just means you're human and need to take some time to take care of yourself, which everyone needs to do from time to time.
Thank you for that detailed response! The entire process seems so long and emotionally exhausting, so it's useful hearing a first-hand experience. Did you find that your paralegal role allowed you to improve your application in a sense, by talking about the extra skills and experience?

Also, is there anything else you wish you had done during university? Law-related (work experience, studying, etc) or not! I'm a first-year, and I'd feel like I'm not doing enough of much (though I'm using lockdown as an excuse!).
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Crazy Jamie
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#9
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(Original post by hopeful-lawyer)
Are there any immediate factors when reading an application that would make you say no?
Missed this one when replying to your first post. There aren't any immediate factors that would make me say no, but that's because I'm applying scoring criteria, and I do that regardless of how strong or weak the application is. I also do that in the main after reading through the application rather than as I go (which the one exception of academics, which can obviously be done earlier) As it happens I know that you need a very high score to stand a realistic chance of securing an interview, and I can certainly gain the impression as I'm going through the application that it is likely or not to that I'll give it a high score, but I don't really know until the end. Factors like sub par academics and poorly written answers (in terms of grammar and spelling) can stick out quickly as things that can indicate that an application is likely to be weak, or at least not strong enough to secure an interview.
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Crazy Jamie
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(Original post by hopeful-lawyer)
Thank you for that detailed response! The entire process seems so long and emotionally exhausting, so it's useful hearing a first-hand experience. Did you find that your paralegal role allowed you to improve your application in a sense, by talking about the extra skills and experience?

Also, is there anything else you wish you had done during university? Law-related (work experience, studying, etc) or not! I'm a first-year, and I'd feel like I'm not doing enough of much (though I'm using lockdown as an excuse!).
The paralegal role did help, because for the first time I was dealing with actual claims. I wasn't doing any advocacy, but I was gaining experience of the process of litigation, which allowed me in turn to talk about that (whether in writing or in an interview) from a position of experience rather than as a hypothetical, which was really valuable. It allowed that experience to come through on my applications, which I know helps now from the perspective of someone who reads them rather than writes them.

At university I should have worked harder to get better grades. It hasn't stopped me getting pupillage and having a successful career in the end, but it did result in my application being weaker than it should have been. I knew I always had the potential to do this job and do it well, but a barrister on a pupillage committee can only gain that impression from reading your paper application, and mine didn't show that as well as it should have done. The only other thing is that I didn't really gain any public speaking experience at university, in the form of mooting, debating and so on. Again, it hasn't ended up mattering, but if I was to go back and do it again I would try to start that process of developing skills and experience sooner.
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Lawguy19
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Bit late to the party so not sure if you're still running this AMA but I'll give it a shot:

One thing I'd like to know is what can someone do to really make their application stand out? To preface this, I feel I have a decent but very standard pupillage application: represented my uni in national moots, worked as a paralegal for a bit (albeit in an unrelated area to that which I'm applying to), I'm a FRU volunteer, ect.

Whilst all these things do indeed sound great and are worthy achievements/experiences in their own rights, I feel most other applicants will have all these things too. In that regard, what sort of other experiences have you seen on applications that's allowed applicants to hit that yardstick in terms being invited to an interview when everyone and their dog has done a bit of mooting/FRU/Paralegal-ing/ect?
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Crazy Jamie
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(Original post by Lawguy19)
Bit late to the party so not sure if you're still running this AMA but I'll give it a shot:

One thing I'd like to know is what can someone do to really make their application stand out? To preface this, I feel I have a decent but very standard pupillage application: represented my uni in national moots, worked as a paralegal for a bit (albeit in an unrelated area to that which I'm applying to), I'm a FRU volunteer, ect.

Whilst all these things do indeed sound great and are worthy achievements/experiences in their own rights, I feel most other applicants will have all these things too. In that regard, what sort of other experiences have you seen on applications that's allowed applicants to hit that yardstick in terms being invited to an interview when everyone and their dog has done a bit of mooting/FRU/Paralegal-ing/ect?
I am. There didn't seem to be much demand for it but happy to help where I can.

This is one of, if not the most common question about pupillage applications, but it's the wrong question, for two reasons. First, if there was an answer to it everyone would do that thing and then it wouldn't make you stand out anymore. Over the years there have been new opportunities that have come along and initially they're not very well known, but eventually they are, and even then they're not some sort of silver bullet to getting an interview. And that's partly because of the second reason, which is the way applications are assessed.

Nowadays the vast majority of sets, if not all of them, will assess pupillage applications using a scoring matrix of some kind. They will ask barristers to score applications based on areas such as intellectual ability, advocacy experience, work ethic, understanding of the profession, and others besides. Each set will have different aspects they're scoring, and in different ways. Sets don't talk to each other about how they score applications. And even within individual sets, whilst efforts will be made to ensure that different barristers apply the scoring matrix consistently, there's always variations from individual to individual. So even every set had the same scoring matrix (which they don't), or you knew an individual scoring matrix (which you don't), you won't know how it's going to be applied by the barrister or barristers that sift your application.

So what can you do about that? Well, each set bases its scoring matrix on what it considers to be the best way to spot the best candidates. What that means will vary from set to set, but fundamentally the best candidate needs to be able to show they have the skills, experience, understanding and ability to become a pupil barrister, with potential to develop those skills through pupillage and tenancy. So don't see this as a quantitive assessment. Yes, you need to tick certain boxes, but beyond that see the assessment as qualitative. You've got a lot good individual elements on your application, but what have you learned from them? What skills have you developed? What do you understand now about the profession? Usually what stands out about applicants is not what they've done, but how they talk about those things, how they answer those questions about their skills and such, and the insight that comes across. Strong candidates are just that; strong candidates. They're candidates who can demonstrate on paper that they'll make good barristers, because they probably will make good barristers.

I know you wanted something more precise than that, but as I say, there's no magic answer. The pupillage application process, unless you're fortunate enough to get pupillage at the first time of asking, is a process where you will have to critically assess your own applications and skills, and work on improving them. I know it can be difficult to do that when there's limited opportunity for feedback at the application stage, but that is fundamentally what the process is. I look back on my early applications now, and they were not even close to good enough to get an interview. It was actually after I became a paralegal and then an in house advocate that I started to actually properly develop skills and understanding that I could then reflect in my application. That's when I got pupillage, and when you reach that stage you should also be able to naturally do better in interviews too, because instead of worrying about how to prepare or what the "right" answers might be, you can naturally deal with the questions that come at you because of the skills and experience you have. Again, it's not about having a silver bullet. It's just about actually being a good candidate who is actually demonstrably likely to make a good barrister.
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Lawguy19
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(Original post by Crazy Jamie)
I am. There didn't seem to be much demand for it but happy to help where I can.

This is one of, if not the most common question about pupillage applications, but it's the wrong question, for two reasons. First, if there was an answer to it everyone would do that thing and then it wouldn't make you stand out anymore. Over the years there have been new opportunities that have come along and initially they're not very well known, but eventually they are, and even then they're not some sort of silver bullet to getting an interview. And that's partly because of the second reason, which is the way applications are assessed.

Nowadays the vast majority of sets, if not all of them, will assess pupillage applications using a scoring matrix of some kind. They will ask barristers to score applications based on areas such as intellectual ability, advocacy experience, work ethic, understanding of the profession, and others besides. Each set will have different aspects they're scoring, and in different ways. Sets don't talk to each other about how they score applications. And even within individual sets, whilst efforts will be made to ensure that different barristers apply the scoring matrix consistently, there's always variations from individual to individual. So even every set had the same scoring matrix (which they don't), or you knew an individual scoring matrix (which you don't), you won't know how it's going to be applied by the barrister or barristers that sift your application.

So what can you do about that? Well, each set bases its scoring matrix on what it considers to be the best way to spot the best candidates. What that means will vary from set to set, but fundamentally the best candidate needs to be able to show they have the skills, experience, understanding and ability to become a pupil barrister, with potential to develop those skills through pupillage and tenancy. So don't see this as a quantitive assessment. Yes, you need to tick certain boxes, but beyond that see the assessment as qualitative. You've got a lot good individual elements on your application, but what have you learned from them? What skills have you developed? What do you understand now about the profession? Usually what stands out about applicants is not what they've done, but how they talk about those things, how they answer those questions about their skills and such, and the insight that comes across. Strong candidates are just that; strong candidates. They're candidates who can demonstrate on paper that they'll make good barristers, because they probably will make good barristers.

I know you wanted something more precise than that, but as I say, there's no magic answer. The pupillage application process, unless you're fortunate enough to get pupillage at the first time of asking, is a process where you will have to critically assess your own applications and skills, and work on improving them. I know it can be difficult to do that when there's limited opportunity for feedback at the application stage, but that is fundamentally what the process is. I look back on my early applications now, and they were not even close to good enough to get an interview. It was actually after I became a paralegal and then an in house advocate that I started to actually properly develop skills and understanding that I could then reflect in my application. That's when I got pupillage, and when you reach that stage you should also be able to naturally do better in interviews too, because instead of worrying about how to prepare or what the "right" answers might be, you can naturally deal with the questions that come at you because of the skills and experience you have. Again, it's not about having a silver bullet. It's just about actually being a good candidate who is actually demonstrably likely to make a good barrister.
Thanks for your reply. I did find it very insightful and appreciate the catch-22 issue with actually naming things that would make one stand out.

So I guess the way to think of it is that, once you've achieved most these things, the question of whether the application is successful turns to how well you can use those experiences to illustrate the various competencies required at the Bar.
Last edited by Lawguy19; 11 months ago
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Tsrromi100
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#14
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(Original post by Crazy Jamie)
There is already quite a lot of support on this forum for those aiming for pupillage; the main pupillage thread being the most prominent around this time of year. There are also quite a few barristers who drop into this forum now and again who reply to relevant threads. So it may be that things are already well covered and this thread isn't necessary, but I thought I'd make it anyway on the off chance that it proves useful to have questions about the actual application and interview process focused on one thread.

For context, I am a practising barrister around ten years call and, as the thread title says, I am on my Chambers' pupillage committee. That means that I sift applications, interview candidates who make it through that sift, and have a hand in choosing who will be offered pupillage. There is a lot of information on the internet already about this process, but if anyone has any questions about it (or for me generally as a practising barrister) then I will do my best to answer them. You can feel free to ask anything you want. I won't commit to answering everything, but if I choose not to answer a question I will explain why.

I will also say from the outset that I am happy for other practising barristers who come across this thread to answer questions before or instead of me. I know at least one or two are on pupillage committees themselves, so getting answers from more than one source should be useful.

In terms of other sources, do have a look at www.pupillageandhowtogetit.com. That contains a lot of information about the pupillage process, and indeed some of the content of that site has been taken from posts I have made on this forum. There are also a number of practising barristers on Reddit at r/uklaw if you want to ask questions there to get other views. As a final suggestion, you'll find no shortage of barristers on Twitter at this time of year offering individual tweets and threads with advice on the pupillage process, so it's worth having a scan through things on there as well.

If after having seen all of that you still have questions for me, fire away.
Are you worried about job security?
What is your ethnic background?
Were you privately educated?
What university did you attend?
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Crazy Jamie
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#15
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#15
(Original post by Lawguy19)
So I guess the way to go is that, once you've achieved most these things, the question of whether the application is successful turns to how well you can use those experiences to illustrate the various competencies required at the Bar.
That's basically it in a nutshell, yes. There are clearly exceptions to the notion that you'll have a good application if you are a good candidate. Every application cycle we will interview a number of candidates who look good on paper, but who are simply not very good in interview, and therefore turn out not to have the competencies that we thought they would. So it does happen that people get interviews without having the required skills, just as people who those skills won't get interviews if they can't demonstrate it on paper. But ultimately what you should be aiming for is both actually having those skills and being able to demonstrate them, because as I say, as important as getting interviews is, you also actually want to get a pupillage as well.
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Blayze
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(Original post by Tsrromi100)
Are you worried about job security?
What is your ethnic background?
Were you privately educated?
What university did you attend?
Since I think it's important to have others answer these sorts of questions too, I can answer this one too, bearing in mind I started in practice very recently.

1. Starting out, the lack of security is concerning. My understanding from other members is that after a while, you are perpetually busy, but that doesn't mean your fees are always being paid. Mine have been alright, but I've beek working on very big, led cases where you can bill a lot in a month, and therefore when that client settles your invoices, you're set. People say there are peaks and troughs, at the moment I'd say my balance is spiky; I tend to either have far too much, or absolutely nothing.
2. I'm mixed race (White British and Black African). In case it matters, I am also an albino, so I probably (just about) pass as white (or Jewish, depending on your views)
3. State School
4. London Russell Group
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Crazy Jamie
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#17
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#17
(Original post by Tsrromi100)
Are you worried about job security?
What is your ethnic background?
Were you privately educated?
What university did you attend?
Missed this. Might have posted it while I was posting my reply that came after it.

Ethnic background - White British
Privately Educated - Yes
University - Russell Group University

As for job security, no, I'm not worried about it. My Chambers is well organised and well run, and I've been in that perpetually busy phase that Blayze mentioned for quite some time. Though at the same time, even what Blayze describes is not job security per se, but cash flow. For me job security is tied to volume and reliability of work, and relatively few barristers have issues with that, albeit it can peak and trough, and it can take some time to get cash flow going when you start out. But even at the junior end of crime, which is the most often highlighted area when it comes to issues at the Bar in general, the problem is the actual remuneration, not the volume of work. I will caveat that by saying three things. First, areas of law do face other challenges from time to time, such personal injury with the Civil Liability Act, but law as an industry tends to be pretty good at adapting. Second, Covid is obviously causing a variety of issues at the moment. If the question was aimed at Covid then no, I still don't have concerns regarding it because of areas of practice have bounced back, at least in terms of the work that comes to me. But there are other areas, including crime, that haven't bounced back yet, so there are ongoing issues there. Third, there are some barristers who will worry about job security, either because of how their set is run, the financial position of their set, or other reasons relating to their practice. I have said before that all sets are run differently, some aren't run well, and some barristers aren't in good positions to sustain and grow a practice. But whilst no barrister is in the same position as any other as regards income, workload, general success and so on, and some barristers with the same experience and in the same practice area will earn very different amounts to each (they are, after all, self employed) it will again be a relatively small number that have true problems with job security generally speaking.
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marieAMSLNPRS
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#18
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#18
Hi, thanks for your insightful comments thus far. This may sound a bit odd but how did you know you were 'ready' for pupillage? From your experience in reviewing applications, do you find it comes across when applicants are less confident? If so, do you have any suggestions to overcome this? Also, I note that you mentioned going through a difficult time after your call (which I can relate to!). Would you consider a bumpy road to pupillage an obstacle, or is it too universal to mention in applications? And a final question if I may, what do you think is the best way to demonstrate interest in a particular Chambers? I've made lists of recent interesting cases, practice areas, the work of juniors and any recent news but it all seems so impersonal... Thanks in advance!
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Crazy Jamie
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#19
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#19
(Original post by marieAMSLNPRS)
Hi, thanks for your insightful comments thus far. This may sound a bit odd but how did you know you were 'ready' for pupillage?
The first thing to note is that I started applying for pupillage before I was ready for it, I just didn't know it at the time. As I've said before, when I look back on my early applications now they really were terrible, and it's no surprise that I didn't get anywhere with them. I ultimately knew when I was ready for pupillage because the questions I needed to answer, on paper but particularly in interview, just weren't difficult to answer anymore. Equally I had to do an advocacy exercise in the interview where I was offered pupillage, and it was a five minute closing speech based on a set of facts that we'd been given in advance. I ended up doing the closing speech with no notes, and in fact never made notes. I just read it a few times both in advance and before going in, and that was enough for me to do the speech. I was told once I'd started pupillage that I was the only one out of the 20 interviewees who did it with no notes, and that I came across as the candidate who was most ready to appear in court. But that made sense, because I had been an in house advocate for a while at that stage, so I had literally been doing the job. Not making or using notes wasn't a gimmick; I could easily do the exercise without notes because I had been doing much harder things like that in my day job for a while. That's why I place the emphasis on actually being a strong candidate rather than just ticking boxes or being able to give the impression that you have the relevant skills. In my case, as with many others, I was ready because I actually had those skills.
From your experience in reviewing applications, do you find it comes across when applicants are less confident? If so, do you have any suggestions to overcome this?
It's difficult to identify a lack of confidence on paper. The traits that would show a lack of confidence in person generally don't come across in writing. Unjustifiably high levels of confidence can come across on paper, but that's a different issue. Whilst I've referred above to being more comfortable in interviews due to having the skills and experience I needed, you at least don't get to show the confidence you may have from that on paper. On paper it's a more binary ability to show that you have and understand the skills and experience required to be a barrister. You can't bluff that by having confidence, and neither should it hamper your ability to show it if you have less confidence. Confidence is something that will usually come across in interview more than on paper.

Also, I note that you mentioned going through a difficult time after your call (which I can relate to!). Would you consider a bumpy road to pupillage an obstacle, or is it too universal to mention in applications?
If you mean an obstacle in the sense of mentioning it in applications as something you've overcome, there may be some scope to mention it, but it would be reasonably limited. Having the tenacity to keep progressing and to pull myself out of that difficult time post Bar course was something that benefited me in several ways, but it isn't something that I think I ever explicitly mentioned on applications or interview. As I say, it may be relevant (to show work ethic, for example), but it depends on the context of the question and the specific difficulties you had.

And a final question if I may, what do you think is the best way to demonstrate interest in a particular Chambers? I've made lists of recent interesting cases, practice areas, the work of juniors and any recent news but it all seems so impersonal... Thanks in advance!
All of the above; you're thinking along the right lines. If you've done a mini pupillage at that particular set that can give a much easier route into answering the question, but in the absence of that the factors you've mentioned are good ones. Just show us that you've actually spent some time thinking about why you want pupillage at our set specifically, beyond the obvious fact that you want pupillage wherever you can get it. [/quote]
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kingyii1997
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#20
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#20
Hi Jamie. How can I boost my pupillage applications without any mini-pupillages?
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