Five minutes with... Rachel Young, barrister and pupillage panel member at Ropewalk Chambers
Rachel Young, barrister and pupillage panel member at Ropewalk Chambers, gives her insider advice on how to tackle pupillage interviews and the experience you'll need to impress on an application.
The panel will be looking at how the candidate arrives at an answer rather than whether it is legally correct.
In previous years – and I believe it will be the same in 2013 – candidates were invited to a first-round interview and asked to arrive 20 or 30 minutes beforehand. They were given a legal problem to prepare at that time and discuss in detail with the panel. In the interview, we would hope that you can identify all of the pertinent points in the problem – the best candidates go into a lot of detail and pick up the important points that may not be immediately obvious. The first interview lasts around 20 minutes.
For the second and final interview, each candidate is given a legal problem three days in advance. They have the opportunity to research the problem, which will be more difficult than in the first interview. The aim is to help us determine the extent to which you’ve researched the problem, whether you’ve identified the ethical, legal and factual issues, and how you would deal with it in court. It may well be that the questioning strays from the legal problem. The panel will be looking at how the candidate arrives at an answer rather than whether it is legally correct.
How can a candidate prepare for the second interview legal problem discussion?
The problem is usually a tort/contract problem and we would expect you to be able to address all of the legal issues. We expect you to be able to communicate effectively and then respond appropriately to the panel’s questions. The candidates who impress are those who come across confidently but not arrogantly, have researched the problem in detail, put their arguments across well and who do not necessarily bow to the arguments of the panel just because they are being challenged. If you stand up to the barrister with good reasons, that comes across well.
Will the panel give the candidate a tough time when asking questions about the legal problem?
In the second interview there will be more interaction between the candidates and the panel and they will be pushed harder. Panel members may challenge you on your answers and we want to see how well you stand up to that challenge. If someone is challenging your point but you still think it is correct, then stick by it – that is what you would be expected to do in court for your client.
What other questions will candidates face at interview?
Other questions will be related to your application and your background. For example, if you’ve said that you like cooking then we might ask you about that, or if you mention French literature we might ask you about a French book you've read recently.
We look for a variety of things: academic achievement, someone who can think creatively and has experience of public speaking and of the Bar itself. Judicial shadowing – going along to court and observing – is impressive. It’s also impressive when somebody has done both mini-pupillages and vacation schemes and, as a consequence of having the experience of both, is able to say exactly why they want to practise at the Bar. In terms of non-legal experience, any extracurricular activities that involve public speaking or speaking for others interests us. We look for well rounded candidates who we think we could get along with.
What stands out for the wrong reasons on an application?
Spelling and grammatical errors, such as using the wrong form of ‘practice/practise’, stand out for the wrong reasons as do applications that look as though they have been rushed and have not been checked before submission. It’s also a good idea to focus on your strengths rather than clog up your application by trying to include everything you’ve done.
How important is it for a candidate to know which areas of practice they are interested in before applying?
We are looking for someone who wants to specialise in the practice areas in which we specialise – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we would disregard them if they hadn’t done a mini-pupillage with us. We do have a wide civil practice so, for example, if somebody wanted to specialise in planning work, we would explain to them that they may eventually be able to specialise in that area after a few years of practice. If you haven’t done a mini-pupillage with us, perhaps you could do mini-pupillages in chambers that do similar work to us – that would demonstrate your interest in our areas of practice.
We run three-day mini-pupillages – the time is spent both in court and in chambers, with the mini-pupil shadowing a different barrister each day. It is assessed in the sense that the barristers fill out a feedback form on that mini-pupil and if the mini-pupil then applies for pupillage with us, we look back on that form. If you do well during a mini-pupillage then it will work in your favour during the pupillage application process – but it is not a requirement to do one before you apply.
How can someone impress throughout their mini-pupillage?
Mini-pupils will be assessed on a variety of things, including their knowledge of the law, presentation and interpersonal skills and, if asked to complete any, their paperwork. Mini-pupils may be allowed to view papers the day before attending court. If they can engage in conversation, consider the issues surrounding the case and identify the most relevant points – and the points that the opposing side will make – then that will work in their favour.