Five minutes with... Rosemary Budden, barrister and pupillage committee member at Queen Elizabeth Building (QEB)
Don’t be apologetic for your non-legal work experience, advises Rosemary Budden. Most extracurricular activities will provide you with impressive skills relevant to a career at the Bar.
Doing an interview is like doing a conference with a client: you need to command confidence and respect.
We’re looking for intellectual ability, enthusiasm for and experience of our areas of law, interpersonal skills, the ability to work with people from all sorts of backgrounds, a capacity for hard work and the ability to juggle different tasks at the same time. As a barrister, juggling different cases and keeping clients and solicitors happy at the same time is a large part of the role. We understand that candidates won’t have done that, but if you have been captain of the rugby team, or been involved in student politics, or held down a part-time job at the same time as achieving a 2.1 at university, that shows you can do more than just go to university and come out with a degree.
What really stands out on a pupillage application?
There is not one specific thing that stands out – it’s the style and the advocacy with which the application is written. Your pupillage application is your first piece of advocacy to us and we want to be drawn into it, to find it persuasive and to be convinced by your argument that you are certainly worth an interview and are a strong candidate for pupillage.
Sometimes our strongest applications come from candidates who have the confidence to say less rather than more and who summarise collectively their mini-pupillages rather than tell us about each one individually. One idea is to tell us about your most relevant mini-pupillages (ie the ones relating to our practice) in more detail and then summarise the others.
What would stand out on an application for the wrong reasons?
It stands out for the wrong reasons when someone is apologetic for their experience or their lack of experience rather than looking for the strength in it. Some people are apologetic that they worked in a fast-food restaurant while they were studying and therefore didn’t have time to get involved in other activities, but working in a fast-food restaurant requires all sorts of skills: working in a team, managing your time, and communicating with people who might have different attitudes to you. Working those shifts while at university shows real strength.
Mini-pupillages in the relevant area of practice are impressive. We’re also impressed by people who have gone out of their way to get experience of the skill sets that we need – for example, those who have done work for the Free Representation Unit, the National Centre for Domestic Violence or any other pro bono charities. That shows commitment and enthusiasm.
Do you run assessed or unassessed mini-pupillages?
Our mini-pupillages are informally assessed. We run around 40 per year. Mini-pupils usually shadow five different barristers throughout the week and hopefully get to witness five different cases.
We keep an informal record of the mini-pupil: we make notes on how committed they seem, whether they ask interesting questions at appropriate times, and whether they’ve shown an enthusiasm for our kind of work. If they then apply for pupillage we view this report alongside their pupillage application form. By no means is it a prerequisite to have done a mini-pupillage with us before applying, but if you have done one then we take your performance throughout the week into account.
How can a mini-pupil demonstrate that they have the potential to be a barrister?
They should show good judgement when it comes to relations with solicitors, clients, other members of chambers and clerks. Don’t be silent, but don’t be too in-your-face either. It’s unlikely you will have experienced much family law practice before doing your mini-pupillage but, nevertheless, when accompanying a barrister to court, you should be able to grasp what the argument before the court is and should be able to ask one or two relevant questions about it afterwards.
We have one interview that is 30 minutes long. Four members of the pupillage committee, usually including our head of pupillage, will conduct the interviews. We ask candidates to arrive 20 minutes beforehand and we give them a legal problem to read through, which they then discuss with us as part of the interview. There are no right or wrong answers and sometimes we write our own statute so that it’s something candidates won’t have any prior knowledge of. We are interested in how you analyse the issue and how you can argue persuasively, rather than whether or not you can get to a particular answer. You also need the ability to take on board the comments of the panel and perhaps rethink what you’re saying if it becomes clear that you may be incorrect.
What happens for the rest of the interview?
We ask questions about the candidate’s CV – questions that don’t require any particular knowledge but that try to ascertain your skill set and your enthusiasm for working at the Bar. Re-read your application before you come to interview; if you’ve mentioned that you are interested in a certain case or that you wrote your dissertation on a particular thing, be prepared to talk about it because that’s the sort of thing we pick up on.
How can a candidate demonstrate their potential as an advocate in the interview?
Doing an interview is like doing a conference with a client: you need to command confidence and respect. From the moment you walk into the interview, we need to feel inspired by you, impressed by you and at ease with you. We want to see your personality, and we really enjoy interviewing our strongest candidates.