Is a masters necessary for top commercial barrister sets?Watch
Whilst I’m not banking my chances on the top commercial sets (I’m never one to underestimate the competition and I’m equally unsure if I even want to become a barrister), I would definitely like to see what I should be prepared to do to give my application a fighting chance should I choose to try for the bar. Assuming I got a first (which I know is a big assumption, but it seems like a big plus at this level) at undergrad from Cambridge, would I be in a fair position?
My interest is in civil, not commercial, however my experience is that a Masters is not necessary, but it can be helpful. If you refer to mark schemes for paper sift of pupillage applications, each qualification can be worth a certain number of points (for example one set marks out of 5: first at undergrad (3), Distinction at LLM (1), Outstanding at BPTC (1)). So, it helps - but it is not 'necessary'.
Securing pupillage is difficult for even the best of candidates, so every box you can tick at paper sift is absolutely worth it in my opinion. Moreover, LLMs may also strengthen your oral and written advocacy skills, helping out at interview stages.
(1) IMHO, Chambers are not very interested in non-legal Masters - it doesn't materially add to your application. You don't get extra marks for it per se. This is an overstatement, but a rule of thumb is that for the top commercial sets only the BCL (and, to a much lesser extent, Cambridge LLM) is considered an exceptional further academic legal qualification in the UK, especially if you already have a Cambridge undergrad. I imagine I will receive some grief for saying that but it is borne out by the profiles of many recent tenants. Otherwise, LLMs are a very expensive way of adding not a huge amount to your CV; for the c.£25k many LLMs will cost, you could add a large amount of other experience to your CV by funding your volunteering or non-paid internship.
(2) Advocacy experience > further education. If you can get involved in debating/mooting, you can make yourself stand out on application forms as somebody with more experience than others. Lots of people come to the GDL/BPTC with Oxbridge firsts and expect this to float them through into first round interviews; the cruel fact is that that is no longer (if it ever was) enough, and advocacy can really set you apart.
(3) Try to get a University prize. Academics are the core interest of chambers; any way you can make yourself stand out academically is a ++++, and the easiest way for Chambers to see you do this is to come top 10 in your year and/or get a University prize.
(4) Don't doomscroll. Looking at top chambers' recent tenants is informative, but correlation =/= causation. The people I know at the top chambers with big CVs didn't get pupillage because they have big CVs; they got pupillage because the same attributes which led them to have excellent CVs (hard work, lateral thinking, deep analytical skills) also came out in the pupillage process.
Ultimately, you can prove your interest through other ways - if you don't want to do a masters I don't think you HAVE to do one by any means. Some people will even go so far as to say they don't like people with masters' degrees because it feels unecessary, but that's why you literally can't please everyone, and why we have recruitment training.