Top ten tips to get your law CV noticed by chambers
Many chambers use the Pupillage Gateway system for applications, but you’ll still need a law CV when applying for mini-pupillages and work experience. We’ve picked the top CV tips from our ‘five minutes with’ interviewees to give you a hand with a Bar-focused CV.
Reading up on the chambers you apply to will also help you tailor which experiences you include on your CV and will help when writing your covering letter
Remember that a professional CV needs to adhere to a certain format. Use the handy checklist below to get the basics in order.
- plain A4-sized paper
- two pages or less
- simple, easy-to-read font
- accompanied by a covering letter
Tip one: structure sensibly
To get started with your CV, it can help to write down all of the qualities that a chambers is looking for and try to match them with skills you have gained in each piece of your experience.
‘Applicants need to set out their educational achievements (including grades) and work experience in reverse chronological order,’ says Georgina Wolfe, barrister and pupillage committee member at 5 Essex Court. ‘They should differentiate between legal and non-legal work experience. They need to include their mini-pupillages, mooting, debating, marshalling and voluntary work – it is amazing how many candidates say “Oh yes, I have done that” but it is not on their CV. Pupillage committees are not mind readers!’
Tip two: don’t rush your CV and covering letter
The TARGETjobs Law website becomes very busy with people looking for last-minute advice the day before the applications close for pupillages. Getting your application in well before the closing date not only takes some of the pressure off and gives you more time to plan, but it also looks professional to recruiters who may take heed of a 3.00 am submission on deadline day.
‘Application time often coincides with exams and people may put it low on their list of priorities, but this is your only chance to show chambers your written advocacy and how you can construct a persuasive document,’ adds Georgina. ‘Writing style is very important – obviously substance is important, but if somebody has brilliant content and appears to have rushed their application, they’ll get marked down.’
Tip three: use your mini-pupillages wisely
Mini-pupillages in different areas of law are useful to demonstrate that you have really thought about where you want to practise, but that doesn’t mean that chambers will necessarily find all of them relevant to your application. Consider prioritising your mini-pupillages and presenting them accordingly.
‘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,’ says Rosemary Budden, barrister and pupillage committee member at Queen Elizabeth Building. ‘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.’
Tip four: don’t discount that important non-legal work experience
You may wish to start listing your experience with your mini-pupillages and placements in law, but it’s important not to forget that non-legal jobs can also be useful.
‘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,’ adds Rosemary. ‘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.’
Think about the qualities you need to be a barrister. Dealing with customer complaints can show how good you are with people. A job with any autonomy may require organisational skills. Working late in preparation for the next day can demonstrate a commitment and professionalism that is valuable in law. You don’t need to write an essay for each non-law job you’ve worked, but summarising a couple of the key skills should be enough to give chambers an idea.
Tip five: use the STAR technique to show your experience
‘Explain your non-academic experience – any employment, voluntary work or projects you’ve been involved in that relate to what we do,’ says Amy Rogers, barrister and pupillage committee member at 11KBW. ‘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.”’
Whether you’re presenting a piece of legal work experience or writing about your time volunteering for a local organisation, it helps to walk yourself and the recruiter through the value of the experience and the resulting measurable outcomes. One of the easiest ways to do this is to write out the example using the STAR (situation, task, action, response) method. You can find more information on using the STAR method in TARGETjobs guide to competency questions. This handy way to present your experience can also be used for interviews.
Tip six: look at the benchmarks for CVs
‘When you’re deciding which chambers to apply to, look online at the CVs of their junior tenants and find out two things: firstly, whether your CV measures up to theirs and whether it’s realistic for you to apply to that chambers,’ suggests Georgina. ‘Secondly, use it to get ideas for what kinds of experience you should get to make yourself an ideal candidate for that set.’
Try not to fixate on which university each barrister attended, but rather look at past work experience and professional background to see if you’ve done enough to make it in this competitive profession.
Tip seven: tailor your experience to the chambers
Mini-pupillages are obviously a good way to show a commitment to a chambers or a particular area of law, but reading up on the chambers you apply to will also help you tailor which experiences you include on your CV and will help when writing your covering letter. Don’t say how much you appreciate the work that chambers already does, but rather try to demonstrate how your own past experience and ethos matches with that of the set you’re applying to.
‘Don’t cut and paste, and don’t use proforma covering letters. Our process is not a difficult one; it requires a CV and a covering letter,’ explains Stephanie Hall, junior tenant at Francis Taylor Building. ‘Spend some time reading about us and our areas. If someone has no idea about our chambers or about planning law and hasn’t tried to find out, it shines through.’
Tip eight: show some personality
Don’t rule out hobbies. You may not see the direct relationship, but the motivation and process behind them could be appealing to a chambers. Stamp collecting is one example with hidden potential. You may not see why you would want to mention it to a chambers, but if you’ve been pouring over tiny details or negotiating prices for rare pieces from a supplier in Germany you could be the perfect fit for a commercial or financial area of law.
‘You need to have something interesting to say or show. That could be involvement in relevant activities, such as volunteering at law centres, mooting, essay competitions, or teaching. But it could also include activities that are outside the legal profession but might nevertheless indicate somebody is likely to be motivated, interesting and talented,’ says Shaen Catherwood, barrister and head of pupillage at Devereux chambers. ‘We’re looking for evidence that the person has committed very hard to something in their lives and that they are likely to commit to something else, namely a career at the Bar. Academic qualifications are not enough given that we get so many good applicants.’
Tip nine: don’t back yourself into a corner
‘Only write about topics that you actually know about. Don’t mention cases just because you think they’ll get you through the process – if you don’t know the details it will show when you’re asked at interview,’ says Lucy Garrett, barrister and pupillage committee member at Keating Chambers.
This particular point can apply to both CVs and covering letters. Don’t claim expertise in cases that you may have had little practical involvement in. If you have one day of experience with a law firm or chambers you may have seen some of a case, but try to focus more on the skills and experience you gained during that day, rather than trying to imply a level of legal knowledge that may not be there.
Tip ten: check for silly errors
Every year (possibly for the reasons outlined in tip two) candidates fall prey to the same errors that will see their applications and CVs marked down.
‘It sounds trite, but please check your applications for silly errors. We still get mini-pupillage applications addressed to the wrong chambers or from people telling us how much they want to be a chancery barrister,’ says Stephanie Hall of Francis Taylor Building (a public and environmental set).
Get a family member or a friend to proofread all CVs, covering letters and applications before you send them out. Tell them to watch out for some of the most common mistakes, such as the mixing up of practice and practise. Tell your proofreader which chambers you are applying to and which area(s) of law they specialise in, just in case you’ve typed the wrong name.
For more technical advice on crafting the perfect CV for your Bar career, check out the links in the box below. You can also see one student law CV with TARGETjobs graduate law CV sample.