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Outside Help

September 7, 2010

Those of you who read this blog regularly might remember the little local difficulty we had with Oxbridge Training Contracts last year. I was recently contacted by a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. That reader wanted to take advantage of a commercial service offered by an organisation called Judicial Appointments Training. This is not cheating. It is preparation for interviews, offered on a one to one basis, with the aim of making you a more persuasive candidate. I said that I saw no reason why, if it was affordable to the reader, they ought not to avail themselves of it. The reader, in gratitude, offered to provide a report. Here it is. My thoughts are below.

Background

I completed the BVC a year ago and have since had 8 interviews, none of which progressed to second rounds.  I felt my interview technique was letting me down and the little feedback I received from chambers was not helpful in pin-pointing where I was going wrong.  I saw pupillage interview training being advertised by Judicial Appointments Training (JAT) and decided to give it a go.

Arranging a training session

Most of the information about pupillage interview training is available on the JAT website;

I called the company for further information and was put through to Martin Soorjoo, one of the two trainers.  He was really friendly and willing to answer the questions I had about the service he provides.

I arranged a training session over the phone and received an email a few hours later confirming the appointment and requesting that I send a copy of my Pupillage Portal application and the names of chambers I had upcoming interviews with.  This is so that the training session could be tailored to the type of sets I had applied to.

The service offered

The service offered for pupillage interview training is a one-on-one session, including a mock interview which is recorded, and feedback.  The sessions are either 60 minutes or 90 minutes long.

Price

Pupillage interview training is discounted by 33% for pupillage applicants.  The cost is:

-          £150       – 60 minute session

-          £225       - 90 minute session

Times

The training is available on weekdays up until 9pm, subject to availability.

Martin was very accommodating in arranging a convenient time, considering I work full time and was travelling.

Location

JAT is located in Clerkenwell, London.  The office is literally a three minute walk from Farringdon Tube Station, so it is easily accessible.

The training session

I was met by Martin on arrival and taken to a conference room.  The setting for the training session is similar to rooms used by chambers for interviews, so it felt real.

The session started with a discussion about me, my background and the interview experiences I have had so far.  The discussion then moved onto the strengths and weaknesses of my application and the types of things I could say about myself at interview to stand out.

I then had a mock interview that was videoed.  I had to leave the room and re-enter to make it as realistic as possible.  The interview itself was very tough and felt like the real thing.  It lasted about 30 minutes and covered different types of typical (and non-typical) interview questions, which were tailored to my application and preferred areas of law/practice.

After it was over, Martin gave a thorough de-brief on the whole interview, in terms of both technique and content of my answers.  Martin went through each question and rated each answer I gave.  Be prepared; the feedback given is frank!  However, it is also constructive and helped me realise where and how I was making mistakes.

Afterwards

After the session I had to dash to catch my train (my fault for not booking a later one!).  Martin sent me the DVD of my interview in the post a few days later, along with helpful documents about interview preparation techniques.

The continued support offered after the session is really good; I would not hesitate to email Martin with questions I have in future.  I think this says a lot about the level of service JAT provides its customers.

Conclusion

I found the experience incredibly useful.  The service provided is friendly and professional.  Martin was so helpful and puts you at ease.  He really works with you to make the most of the session.  In this respect, the training is very good value for money given that somebody with such experience of the Bar and pupillage interviews (he was on the pupillage committee at his chambers) is giving you one-on-one advice.

The advice given is practical and constructive.  It helped me realise the mistakes I have been making and how I can try to improve my performance for future interviews.  I also really liked that the mock-interview was tailored to sets I had interviews with; it is another example of how JAT work with you to improve your performance.

It’s not a quick-fix solution that is guaranteed to get you pupillage and those considering whether to try it should be realistic about what they want to achieve from the experience.  However, I noticed a considerable difference in the interview I had after the training and it has definitely helped me.

The price may seem steep, but if you can afford it and you’re serious about pupillage then it’s worth the money in my opinion.  If you’re like me then you’ve already thrown £10000 or more into BVC fees (and the rest) so £225 isn’t that much more in comparison.  Also, I don’t think that the service is overpriced at the rates charged; those running it are professional people with years of experience.  Also, it really is worth paying extra for the 90minute session as the time goes so quickly.

I know that my law school had a Careers Advisor who offered to do mock interviews, but I (foolishly) never took this up this opportunity.  Therefore, I can’t compare the service offered by JAT to any other providers of interview training.

Overall, I really can’t think of anything negative about JAT and would recommend the training to those struggling with pupillage interviews.

JAT (and I have agonised about putting up a link to their site because it is advertising them. But I reckoned most of you would look anyway) are not a sham outfit. The people running it are real barristers and there is no reason to doubt their experience or expertise. They are offering a service which is clearly wanted by sufficient people to make it a paying proposition. The prices are not, in this particular marketplace, unreasonable: it currently costs over £300 to get the same assistance with a Silk Application Form and that is without any help with the interview.  They are not over-promising on what they can deliver. I have absolutely no reason to doubt my informant’s judgement and I believe in my informant’s bona fides. The review is a real one. It might help.

I have two comments. Firstly, any barrister reading this whose Chambers does not publish, on its website, what it looks for in terms of qualities required, should now understand and be worried by the fact that people are paying to find out what they should be being told for free. It is time that the profession did something about this. Quite a lot of the know-how (by no means all) being provided by this organisation is stuff which Chambers could tell any applicant. Nor is it a big secret. Those who apply for Judicial appointment or Silk are told what qualities are required and how to demonstrate them. If it’s ok for the profession then it’s ok for applicants as well.

Secondly, I have no objection to people making a living by selling this sort of knowledge. However the BPTC providers should be paying for it. If they cannot provide it themselves then they ought to buy it in. To charge people £12,ooo and upwards and not to provide this sort of service is nothing sort of scandalous. I suggest that any applicant to any BPTC course, or any participant on a course, makes a formal request to their provider for such a service, as part of their fee. I repeat my suggestion that applicants ask for success figures in terms of pupillages achieved and that pressure is put on the providers to keep proper accurate figures. Pupillage is extremely difficult to obtain and quite a lot of you – if I may gently say so – are more optimistic than may be sensible. But you are entitled to have your prospects maximised for the money you are paying.

Now, of course, my informant had not taken advantage of their BPTC’s provider’s careers advice and it may be that, had they done so, they would not have needed to seek external help. But I have not been deluged with emails praising this aspect of the course. I would be interested in your views and your experiences. Are the providers sending you into interviews (and indeed into the Portal) full of confidence? Are they doing anything? Let me know.

Update: JAT are now linking to this post. They are not overdoing what was said about them, merely saying that there is a review. The rather restrained way they have dealt with what is a pretty favourable piece seems to me to suggest that they are a responsible and sensible outfit.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2010 11:07 pm

    Now, of course, my informant had not taken advantage of their BPTC’s provider’s careers advice and it may be that, had they done so, they would not have needed to seek external help.

    If you want to protect the gender of the report-writer (not sure why), you might wish to update that (and delete this comment).

    • September 7, 2010 11:10 pm

      Thanks Ed. I’ve amended the post and your comment if that’s ok with you. You should get the credit for a close read, even if I have obscured what you read. It’s simply an effort to protect privacy.

      • September 8, 2010 2:43 am

        Thanks. I shall immediately note on my CV that I spotted something on an interblag posting. Glory (and pupillage) will be mine!

  2. September 8, 2010 9:55 am

    I agree with Simon on both points, and especially the second. I assumed, incidentally, that the writer meant their undergraduate Law School, and not the place where they did the BPTC, when referring to the careers service. I could be wrong, though.

  3. September 8, 2010 11:06 am

    my 2 pennorth:

    as a professional trainer myself, i agree the rates are very fair (though still expensive);

    as an applicant who has gone through 2 years of pupillage interviews, my experience was that in year one i got only one final round from a number of first rounds; in the second year, i got final rounds from all but one interview. there is clearly a value in having experienced the process. as a trainer, i know that practising the process with an informed audience is almost as valuable. i had also thought more deeply about how chambers think and what they are looking for (NOT, i would stress, necessarily what they THINK they are looking for). training like this can help with all of that if you are good at analysing the process (and, given that most applicants are pretty on the ball, they should be up to it);

    my law school (bpp) gave no useful help while on the gdl. it felt, purely subjectively to me, to be geared towards training contracts. on the bvc i was given one mock interview by one of the staff who had experience of the area of chambers’ specialism. he put me through a good workout and gave useful feedback and suggestions for points to improve and further reading. when i had further interviews coming i requested another session and bpp said ‘you’ve had yer one’. i persuaded a friendly tutor to help me out with one more – this too was diligently performed and very helpful. the careers service was entirely useless.

    i believe this hugely important area is poorly addressed by the law schools in general (no evidence except anecdotes and my dissatisfaction with bpp) – if you are any good and prepared to do some work you can complete your bvc, mooting, minis etc. where you don’t necessarily have the resources to sort yourself out is precisely in writing cogent applications and giving powerful interviews. more is needed.

    is it something the inns could do more of? (just asking – no idea – and i know they offer some help) the key difference is that they are composed of practising barristers in a way the law schools are not so they are better placed to be right on top of the process.

  4. Beth permalink
    September 8, 2010 11:28 am

    I have used the services of my BVC provider for career skills. Caveat: I am a part time student who works full time. So the full range of services are not really available to me as the career centre is only open during office hours.

    My provider put on a special “careers day” for part time students on a Saturday just before the pupillage portal deadline. What “careers day” meant was that we could all sign up for a slot (around half an hour) for *either* a mock interview or a review of our CV/portal application. That was it. No talks. No option to have both a review and an interview.

    I opted for the review of my CV/application. It was conducted by a member of staff of the provider who spent several years practicing as a barrister. But her primary function is to teach courses, not careers advice.

    The review was helpful in pointing out a few areas where my drafting could be improved, but not worth the time and effort to get to the provider on a Saturday morning for a 30 minute chat (which included the time she spent reading my papers — there was no option to provide them in advance).

    One of my classmates (who doesn’t work) tried to get an appointment for a mock interview in early May only to be told all the slots had been booked up and he should check back in September — after this year’s round of interviewing. Not good enough.

    A much more useful event (which I hesitate to mention because it was crowded enough already) was the Association of Women Barristers’ pupillage advice clinic. At this free, evening event, there were practicing barristers willing and able to give one-to-one advice to aspirants about their CVs and portal application forms. The barristers were from a range of speciaisms (family, crime, commercial, “magic circle”, judges all represented). Their advice was specific (move this section over here, do or don’t mention a particular fact) and practical. The session is open to men as well as women, but only one bloke was brave enough to turn up.

    I highly recommend the AWB event. My BVC provider’s services not so much.

  5. 2ndtimelucky permalink
    September 8, 2010 11:39 am

    I didn’t get anything on the GDL (but it’s probably a bit early at that stage).

    I did my BVC at the CoL this year and they did offer a ‘pupillage interview workshop’ which was moderately helpful.

    Around 10 students, we took turns to have a mock interview with two CoL staff. We then got feedback from the staff and the students.

    The nature of it meant that an individual only got about 15 minutes grilling & feedback time.

    The feedback wasn’t bad, but clearly the JAT offering is way way better. I’d have thought that the providers could find a way to reallocate £150/£225 towards something like this if necessary.

    Our tutors at CoL were, by and large, excellent and some were happy to arrange ‘extras’ for us. So I could probably have arranged something had I wanted to.

    My experience is similar to simply wondered – a handful of interviews first time round, only one second round from them; this year I got the same amount roughly but got second rounds in all but one. Fortunately I ended up getting one pupillage offer from these.

    I think that, as long as you get interviews first time round, you will learn lots from the process and this is possibly the best training. Possibly.

    Of course, some of my friends on the BVC last year didn’t get a single interview, despite being (IMHO) strong candidates with v good advocacy skills.

    This suggests that providers need to offer some serious guidance on how to sell yourself on paper. I wasn’t aware of much of this going on at CoL although I might be wrong.

    (As a general point I’m glad I chose CoL, I thought the course was well taught and the atmosphere was v pleasant)

    • King Overdraft permalink
      October 11, 2010 6:54 pm

      I too did the BVC at the CoL in 09/10. I was less impressed than 2ndtimelucky!

      However, 50 or so pupillage applications and only 2 interviews told me that I was certainly doing something wrong in my approach to achieving pupillage, despite perfectly respectable results.

      So, on the basis of the review of JAT above I too weighed up that £225 plus vat was a drop in the ocean compared to what I’ve spent on the BVC and the year not earning, as I had been quite comfortably, I booked a 90 minute session with Martin to see what a professional opinion would tell me. I’m sat in a pub waiting for a train having just finished the training and I have to say that I agree with everything the first reviewer wrote.

      It was a thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly frank session and it was without question worth it. I have a ream of notes of points for improvement that I can’t at all argue with and yet for whatever reason couldn’t or just didn’t see before. I have a first round interview later this week and even if I don’t pull off the pupillage from it I know I will give a much stronger performance for having been shown the way.

      I can’t recommend JAT highly enough (except to anyone else with an interview at the same set as me!)

  6. September 8, 2010 7:10 pm

    I saw JAT pupillage advert in the Counsel magazine a couple of months ago, and I wondered what they were like…

    I did take advantage of the career advice at my BVC provider (we had a dedicated LPC/BVC careers guy), who offered mock interviews, amongst other things… He wasn’t too bad.

    Plus we had advocacy master-classes with local barristers, which was great. But then, why couldn’t they also do pupillage interview master classes or something?

  7. Anonymous permalink
    September 8, 2010 9:31 pm

    I have used the services of my BVC provider and I was also a part time student working full time. However, my BVC provider made available online information that might be useful in preparing for an interview, particularly a competency-based interview. This was invaluable and helped me to focus my preparation. My provider also took steps to collate information on what interviews at a given firm or set involved and attempted to keep this as up to date as possible. I didn’t use their mock interview sessions because I don’t feel that I have a problem with interviews as such, but in hindsight I would have used their advice on applications more, because it was at that stage I was struggling initially. Funnily enough, I did use their service to seek feedback on my BVC application form! The turnaround time was quick and the comments constructive (e.g., “give concrete examples here”).

  8. 1 in 8 permalink
    August 13, 2013 2:40 pm

    Having tried unsuccessfully to get a pupillage for several years, this time I decided to try JATC. £270 inc. VAT is a drop in the ocean compared to what the Bar has cost me so far, so I decided to go for it.

    I had a very informative 2 hour session with Martin, who was very friendly and helpful; we had a general discussion, then a recorded mock-interview (always painful to rewatch but useful), and my answer to each of Martin’s questions was then dissected.

    The experience not only helped me to highlight some of the things that I was doing wrong, but also gave me greater confidence which I carried into subsequent interviews. In the end I was offered pupillage, and I put a lot of that down to the guidance I got from Martin.

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