Five minutes with… Amy Rogers, barrister and pupillage panel member at 11KBW
Amy Rogers talks about the extracurricular experience she likes to see in an application and how aspiring barristers can shine in the case study exercise at pupillage interviews.
It’s the applicants that really understand what we do and want to be a part of it that stand out.
What stands out for the right reasons on a pupillage or mini-pupillage application?
We really notice the way that applications are written. Some people treat it as an advocacy task – they’ve read everything about our chambers, they’ve read our criteria and they manage to explain very simply and in a well written form how they meet those criteria. Many people submit generic applications, but it’s the ones who look as if they really understand what we do and want to be a part of it that stand out.
How can someone show that they meet the criteria you’re looking for?
Often it will be through explaining your non-academic experience: any employment, voluntary work or projects you’ve been involved in that relate to what we do. It sounds simple but it makes such a difference if you take us step by step through your experience and say: ‘This is what I’ve done with my time and this is why it all matters’.
What kind of extracurricular experience can future applicants do to show that they understand 11KBW’s practice areas?
Two of our principal practice areas are employment and public law and there are plenty of opportunities in both areas of law. You can work for the Free Representation Unit (FRU) or for university law centres and there are lots of other pro bono opportunities. It’s worth saying, though, that we value all kinds of experience people do outside of their academic life – some people may choose to focus on advocacy, mooting and debating and those skills are useful across the board.
We have no expectations in terms of how much legal experience candidates should have. Some people coming through the conversion course won’t have much legal experience but might have a wealth of life skills and other experience, while somebody just finishing their law degree might have a lot of legal insight but not much else. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and we will look at each package of experience and skills as it comes.
Does your set run assessed or unassessed mini-pupillages?
We run assessed mini-pupillages and unless they have a good reason for not doing it, we would expect candidates to have come to us for a mini-pupillage before applying for a pupillage. We think it’s one of the best and fairest ways to judge candidates who, on paper, have very similar academic records and plenty of experience. Mini-pupils do a problem exercise and we have the advantage of seeing their work first hand; we can double mark it and make sure we are rigorous in comparing each candidate. It is also a chance for candidates to come and meet us and find out whether they want to work for us.
How can those who have missed out an assessed mini-pupillage at 11KBW still impress?
It is very important that candidates do a mini-pupillage with us. If you get to the point of wanting to apply and haven’t done one then you need to get in contact with us. We can then either make arrangements for you to do something at the last minute, or at the very least we are able to take into account why you haven’t been able to do one up until this point – employment, family commitments or similar situations. We need to know what your position is.
How is a candidate assessed during the mini-pupillage?
We set a written exercise – usually a written advice about a particular set of papers – and then we double mark that advice against the same criteria we use to recruit pupils. We then have an oral session at the end of the mini-pupillage where we ask the mini-pupils about their work and give them an opportunity to argue a point with us, which is an opportunity to show off advocacy skills. We give them constructive feedback. We take all of this into account and compare candidates with each other on that basis.
What is the pupillage interview process at 11KBW?
We usually interview 10–15 candidates every year. There is one interview and it lasts around 45 minutes. We change the process slightly every year so it’s never the same, but generally when candidates arrive we invite them to look at a case study based on a particular case that we have sent to them before the interview. Last year, we had a mock conference in the interview in which candidates had to advise clients. We then ask a bit about the case that was sent to them so that we can test their intellectual rigour and how they can analyse it and describe it to us. We then ask a series of questions about why they want to come to us, why they are interested in law and other questions about their background and experience.
What are you looking for from the legal scenario – for example, the mock conference – faced by candidates in the interview?
We are looking for candidates who can get to grips with a legal problem, who can think clearly, analyse clearly and can get to the bottom of an issue. We’re also looking for people who can communicate well, get the information they need from clients and explain difficult issues in a way that is relevant to the client and not too academic.
It may be quite difficult to practise for this exercise – those who are on the Bar course will have some experience and we will distinguish between these candidates and those who have not yet had their training.
Tell us more about the case study exercise. Can you give us an example of past case studies you’ve used?
A couple of years ago we used a case study about trade union strike action and the particular approach that the Court of Appeal had taken in a specific case. We asked candidates to compare the approaches taken by different members of the court and to explain whether they thought the court had reached the right result; and we asked them about particular points in the argument to test how they thought through the issues and whether they could identify logical points about the way the case had progressed.
Will the panel challenge the candidate on their points and ask them questions?
Yes, we will! We give candidates a reasonably hard time, not least because you get a reasonably hard time in court and we want to see how well people can stand up to robust questioning. The best advice I can give is that if you feel confident of the answers you’re giving then hold your ground. You are being tested rather than told that your answer is wrong. If halfway through the questioning you realise that something has changed your view or you need to adjust what you were saying then react to that. Hold your ground when you are sure of it, but give way if you feel you need to.
What do you think would surprise our readers about 11KBW?
People are always surprised by the variety of work we do. Although our core practice areas are employment and public law, in between that spectrum we do a whole lot of commercial, procurement, education and information work, for example. Many people who apply to us haven’t quite realised or understood the range of work we do.