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Improve your chances of pupillage

Improve your chances of pupillage with advice from practising barristers

The barristers at the TARGETjobs Law National Pupillage Fair talks programme 2014 all made one thing clear. You don’t need to be an Oxbridge graduate born with a copy of The Spectator in your hand and a family link to high society, but you do need skills. Take their advice.
If you still need to make up your mind about the Bar, it’s important to know just what you’re getting yourself into before applying.

Are you tough enough and mature enough for the criminal bar? Or are you worried about how to show a set that you are destined to be a great pupil? What do you do if you’re more bookworm than courtroom shark? Below, practising barristers from all walks of life offer their advice on how best to approach everything from making your decision to presenting yourself at a pupillage interview. They go on to explode some of the most commonly held myths about areas of practice.

Click any of the links here to jump to an area of practice that you’re interested in. However, it's always worth exploring outside your comfort zone in case you miss any informational hidden gems about pupillage applications and more.

Personal injury law| commercial law| public law| environmental/planning law| criminal law| employment law| family law| BPTC and funding

Personal injury law

Aiming to dispel personal injury’s reputation for false ‘no win no fee/blame and claim’ adverts, Yvette Genn of Cloisters and Justin Leslie of 42 Bedford Row discuss the forensic mindset needed for personal injury law and explain how the experience gained in this area of practice is useful no matter where you want to end up.

If you’re looking for talking points on a pupillage application or in an interview, watch the video to see why the Jackson Reforms, the Mitchell case, and European and human rights law are making a difference to personal injury law. A forensic mind is key, as well as a willingness to question high level experts on a field you may know nothing about.

Good for: pupillage applications | senior v. junior Bar | starting out

Commercial law

Boost your knowledge of this area of practice as four commercial barristers each give their own experiences of what the commercial bar involves. Anthony Jones of 4 New Square and Tom Richards of Blackstone Chambers lay out the workings of insurance, professional negligence and contracts as well as how commercial law disputes can arise from the activities of musicians and footballers. 

If you went to a state school, then hopefully the video will break any misconceptions you might have. Lucy Garrett of Keating Chambers says that if you’ve got the ability to face up to the intellectual challenge of the commercial bar and have a stellar legal ability to go with it you’ll go far. Thomas Cordrey of Devereux tells how you can still be an advocate and work in commercial law and explains his role in the diversity committees at the Bar.

Good for: Oxbridge and non-Oxbridge students | commercial bar knowledge | personality traits needed

Public law

Get an understanding of how the state and its organs interact with the public and what the role of the law is in this relationship. At the same time, find out from Harry Adamson, Blackstone Chambers’ joint most junior tenant, how to draw on your own skills to impress in a pupillage application and interview.

Take lessons from the senior end of the Bar too as Jeremy Johnson QC of 5 Essex Court explains how he ‘accidentally fell into’ this area of practice, made the decision on which chambers to apply to and honed his skills and areas of practice.

If you still need to make up your mind about the Bar, it’s important to know just what you’re getting yourself into before applying, adds 11KBW’s Paul Greatorex. He offers tips on mixing practice areas and deciding beforehand whether you want to work for claimants or the state.

Good for: making up your mind | pupillage applications | area of practice awareness

Environmental/planning law

Learn about a more specialised area of law, the options to get into it and just how well paid it can be. Richard Turney of Landmark Chambers speaks on how your academic skills will be needed to tackle this area of hard, pure law, but how showing flexibility is important too. He adds that a willingness to travel and wear wellies to work can be a boon too.

Jack Connah, Francis Taylor Building’s junior tenant, suggests that you can take the time to make your mind up about going to the Bar. He goes on to share details of his academic career path and outlines in detail what he went through during pupillage. Jack advises that advocacy skills are still important and if you want to ease your nerves for the first court visit it's best to get some pro bono or Free Representation Unit (FRU) experience.

Good for: learning about pupillage | niche area of law | advocacy nerves

Criminal law

Advocacy experience is the single most important thing that you need to show in any application, according to criminal barristers Stephen Vullo of 2 Bedford Row and Di Middleton of Garden Court Chambers. Both acknowledge that these are tough times for young people at the criminal bar, but also offer suggestions on how to proceed. Stephen Vullo offers tips on making yourself a better advocate and preparing for hard work and posits that those who arrive later in life to the profession may have an advantage.

Di Middleton suggests alternatives if you can’t obtain a mini-pupillage right away and gives the audience an eloquent reality check about what they can experience at the criminal bar. She explains what is glamorous, what is little known and why it is important to go to a magistrates’ court.

Good for: extensive pupillage application advice | mature students | reality check

Employment law

Employment law is one of the few areas of practice where you can actually get on your feet and put your advocacy skills to the test even before you reach the Bar, say three employment barristers with a diverse mix of practices. Jonathan Dixey offers some candid insights into what pupils get at 5 Essex Court, what they look for in prospective pupils and why employment law is enjoyable.

Cloisters barrister Anna Beale offers encouragement to anyone thinking about having a family alongside a career as a barrister. She explains that the employment bar can be more obliging when it comes to family commitments and suggests that this area can offer both a technical legal challenge as well as a chance to interact with different people.

A junior tenant at Devereux, Kate Balmer, shares her first experiences at the Bar and speaks about some of the more amusing and glamorous points of the employment bar, as well as how to make up your mind if you want to choose this area of practice.

Good for: early experience | deciding on an area of practice | law in and out of court

Family law

If you haven’t made up your mind to go to the Bar and are thinking about family law, this talk will help you to understand some of the pressures of the profession and explore whether you are a good fit. Very recent 1 King’s Bench Walk tenant Thomas Dance shares some of his thoughts on extracurricular activities and why you should include them in a pupillage application and makes the point that while pupillage is hard to get, the job is a lot of fun. Anushka Chakravarty of 42 Bedford Row talks about the need to be boastful on pupillage applications, even if it doesn’t come naturally, and Harry Nosworthy of 4 Paper Buildings speaks on the mental toughness candidates need and the type of people you will come across in family law.

Malek Wan Daud of Garden Court Chambers offers a more experienced perspective on the Bar, explaining the allure of the profession and why you’ll need to be prepared to hump papers around. He warns that you'll need to be the sort of person able to cope with dropping all your social engagements at very short notice.

Good for: senior v. junior | making up your mind | personality traits needed

The BTPC and funding your career at the Bar

Find out everything you need to know about money, courses and applications going forward at the Bar. Mason Bloom and Peter Grossmark from Silver Levene chartered certified accountants explain everything from the scholarships offered by each Inn of Court to how you can manage your tax commitments from the start of the BPTC through to your career at the Bar.

The decisions you need to make for the BPTC and pupillage are very similar, says The City Law School’s Marcus Soanes, who suggests that you need to list hard factual achievements when filling in applications and have strong sense of which area you wish to practice in. Ishan Kolhatkar of BPP Law School defends those with marginally nerdy personalities, explains what the courses on the BPTC involve and why advocacy is fun and suggests that pro bono work doesn’t have to be a tedious chore.

If you’re worrying about the assessments for the BPTC, Jacqueline Cheltenham from The University of Law outlines what the assessments entail and some of the pitfalls to watch out for, as well as talking about technology on the course and recording your own advocacy practice.

Good for: money troubles | BPTC students | overcoming future fears