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Five top tips for making the most of your mini-pupillage

Barristers give advice on how to behave during your time in chambers and get the most from your legal work experience.
I needed to know what I might be letting myself in for. I came with foggy ideas of what to expect and no knowledge whatsoever of landlord and tenant law.

Once you’ve secured an offer of mini-pupillage, or work experience, from a barristers’ chambers, how do you set about making the most of it? We asked successful barristers to look back to their own experiences of mini-pupillage and give some inside views on how to create a good impression.

Mini-pupillage tip 1: Show enthusiasm for a career at the Bar during your mini-pupillage

You should remain enthusiastic regardless of the nature of the experience. James Segan, a tenant at Blackstone Chambers who undertook mini-pupillage at his set before being taken on as a pupil, says, ‘You may not find every court visit riveting (and the barrister you are shadowing probably agrees with you) but keenness makes a good impression.'

Mini-pupillage tip 2: Be professional during your work experience at the Bar

As regards your general behaviour, remember to act professionally at all times. Arrive on time, don’t leave without completing any work you’ve been asked to do, dress appropriately and be polite to everyone. Try to show enthusiasm for the experience and for any tasks you are given and – unless it really can’t be avoided – don’t take time off.

You may be invited to lunch or drinks, either just with your mini-pupillage supervisor or with other members of chambers too. It’s important for a barrister to be personable, articulate and good at establishing relationships, so don’t be tongue-tied, but don’t be overbearing either; demonstrate your intelligence and charm.

Even if you’ve decided by the end of the week that you don’t want to apply for pupillage at that set you’re still likely to get the most out of the experience if you adopt a positive attitude – and remember that the Bar is a small place, so you never know when your path may cross with that of someone from the set in question.

Mini-pupillage tip 3: Don't worry if you have limited legal knowledge

You will not be expected to be expert, but ideally, you should show your potential, and be willing to work hard and to learn. James did his mini-pupillage at the end of his law conversion course and found that he was on a steep learning curve, but his supervisors were extremely helpful.

Ruth Bala, a classics graduate and barrister at Gough Square Chambers, undertook mini-pupillage at a local government and housing set before starting her law conversion course. ‘I needed to know what I might be letting myself in for. I came with foggy ideas of what to expect and no knowledge whatsoever of landlord and tenant law.’

She spent a week shadowing a junior barrister. ‘On arrival I was presented with several colossal ring-binders on one case and was asked to draft some arguments. That was quite daunting but I dived in and saw that most could be skimmed over and the relevant parts quickly weeded out. Although I had never studied law, the junior barristers were keen to explain the underlying principles.’

Mini-pupillage tip 4: Ask questions, but at the right time

It’s crucial to make the most of your mini-pupillages and to create a good impression regardless of whether they are being officially ‘assessed’ or not. Take the opportunity to learn as much as you can about the set, its work and life as a barrister in general. Feel free to ask questions about the work you encounter but save them for appropriate times – not in front of solicitors or clients, in court, or when the barrister you are shadowing is clearly busy.

Ruth found that the atmosphere in chambers was friendly and helpful. ‘Even the senior members were eager to impart their wisdom and not nearly so stuffy as reputed. It is probably wise, however, to maintain a certain degree of formality and respect.’

Mini-pupillage tip 5: Take notes on your mini-pupillage

Ruth Paley, a criminal law barrister at 23 Essex Street, undertook a one-week mini-pupillage at a criminal law set. She recommends taking a notebook along and writing down what happens during court hearings and conferences. If you are offered pupillage interviews – whether at that set or elsewhere – you are very likely to be asked about the work you encountered on your mini-pupillages and it won’t go in your favour if you can’t remember.  ‘Note the judge, court, charge, legal points, style of advocacy and the result. This will be extremely useful when it comes to preparing for pupillage applications and interviews.’

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