No Pupillage · Qualities Required

A Pause for Thought

A number of people have asked me whether their failure to get an offer is as a result of their CV being inadequate. Almost always the answer is that it is substantively fine. But it is appallingly presented. What I said above about application forms applies in spades to CVs. Get some help if necessary. What almost every experienced barrister knows and almost every new barrister can’t bring themselves to admit is that, for a large proportion of the time (big secret coming) it isn’t very difficult. There, I’ve said it. But it does require good judgment – you are persuading people to do things, after all. And it is not unreasonable to assess your judgment when you send us things like a CV.

If it is not working out for you it may be because being a barrister is not for you. I know people who I believe will make brilliant barristers, who have tried 3 or 4 times to get a pupillage and have only been successful on the last occasion. And that is because previously they have either come up against future High Court Judges, or because the panel got it wrong (which happens). However, most people who are turned down have either set their sights too high in terms of the Chambers they want to join, or are just not going to cut it. I know this is harsh (or way harsh if you are in your first year) but it is also true.

I believe that to be a good barrister requires a degree of emotional intelligence, maturity and judgement. Some people take longer to acquire those qualities than others; some people never acquire them. Now may not be the right time for you. There are plenty of people who have been solictors first (what does that say about the emotional intelligence etc of solicitors? Not a lot – it’s a bigger profession and there are roles which can keep you away from human contact entirely, if you exlude from the definition of ‘human’ the partners, as most solicitors do).

This is not meant to be patronising: you are going into a profession which is self-employed. You need robust health. You need to accept that no work = no money. You need the self-confidence to go on after losing 8 on the trot (something that happened to a pupil of mine after their first case). And, ultimately you need to succeed – especially if you are planning on having any dependants. So, there may come a time when ‘I am dedicated to being a barrister’ becomes ‘I was dedicated to being a barrister but ultimately decided it was better that I did something else’. There is no disgrace in changing your mind.

Next: the government is commited to you not being wealthy. That is fine – the consequences for the public will be the subject of a further post because it is unclear that this is actually a bad idea – except for barristers obviously. But you must understand it. If you are going to do publicly funded work the effect of the legal aid regulations is that your income will be restricted. To go through the glass ceiling will involve doing private work. If you are going to do private work then the sky is still the limit – just remember that for every Apollo rocket there are thousands of hang-gliders…

If you fail don’t whinge. It may not be your fault but it is unlikely to be anybody else’s. Sometimes the luck of the draw is not with you. Fine, you have a legal qualification which is useful. You have a brain, friends and (I hope) your health. The world doesn’t owe you a living. Get on with it (this is also useful advice for clients who have just been sent to prison).

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