Welcome back. A combination of idleness, lack of topics, computers tumbling like ninepins (although it is tenpin bowling – does anyone have an explanation?) and work have meant a long silence.

Anyhow, the OLPAS forms are in and, all over the jurisdiction, Chambers are sifting, applying their equality and diversity policies and fighting over who should be given 45 minutes to change their lives. A little like Britain’s Got Talent, although without the premium phone lines or the belly dancing.

I could think of almost nothing to say about the OLPAS form. Bewilderingly, although we are now encouraged to take positive action in respect of under-represented groups, the OLPAS form contains no space for a candidate to say if, for example, they suffer from a disability.

However, insofar as the next step is concerned, I thought I might have something helpful to say. Statistically, most people who get one interview will be offered more than one – and a large number of applicants will not be offered an interview at all. The odds, therefore, significantly shorten at the interview stage. Moreover, this is the chance for a candidate to showcase themselves. I have already posted about this, but it was a long time ago. Regard what comes below as additional information.

First, dress: obviously you have the right to dress as you please. However, those interviewing you will probably be dressed for work. That means conservative colours – dark gray or dark blue are safest. Black can look a little mafiosi-like on men, but is fine for women. Brown is just about ok for women and is not ok for men. It also means toning down the look – wide striped shirts in bold colours are fine when you have pupillage. Blue, pink or white with a small pattern is best for interview. Ties should be discreet. Most barristers wear double cuffed shirts. If you are going to do so, please do not secure them with a lump of gold the size of a small country. Women are fine in trousers, but again the cut should be conservative. Skirts should be of a reasonable length. These are not rules. They are advice. Unless your interview is specifically informal dress – in which case the anxiety quotient will doubtless zoom skyward in the absence of guidance – you should dress formally. And clean your shoes – when formal shoes are dirty they are the first thing anyone notices. If you don’t believe me then wear dirty formal shoes and ask your friends.

Second: punctuality. Be on time. Someone will be waiting to let you in because your interview is unlikely to be during working hours. That someone is likely to be a junior tenant. They may not be asked for their views, but if you kept them waiting 20 minutes they might just give them anyway. The panel will try to run to time, but they are allowed to be late. You are not.

Third: the handshake. I mention it because people have said they worry about it. I would ask the person with me before I was shown in. When I interviewed prospective pupils with 2 others handshakes were fine. I have also interviewed with 6 others and handshakes at the beginning and the end would have taken up half the alloted time and would have involved the participants in some bizarre choreography. It may be that handshakes are not expected. If no answer is forthcoming, I would wait for the people interviewing you to give a lead. In any event keep it short, firm and dry.

Fourth: the answers. The panel will have expected you to bone up on the key and topical issues. If you haven’t then you better be able to write legal philosophy. Assuming you have, don’t feel that disclosing your sources is a bad thing. Let the panel know what books you have read, what internet sites you have visited (obviously in pursuit of legal knowledge), what lectures you have attended. On the other hand, don’t let your answer turn into a list. ‘I was particularly persuaded with what X said in last year’s Reith Lectures and as a result I bought Y’s book on Z, which I think really sets out the issues, particularly A…’ is about as much name dropping as you can hope to get away with. And make it appropriate – if the above is your answer to whether possession of photographs of people being assaulted is or should be a criminal offence you have missed the point of the question (please note: I am giving nothing away here. I have no idea of the questions to be asked by any set of Chambers, including my own).

There is also nothing wrong, particularly in ‘problem’ questions, with letting the panel see your reasoning. That is not the same as letting them see you change your mind there and back like a weather vane on speed whilst you scan the room looking for visual clues. We know you do this – the kindly nod might not be to assist you, but to assess whether you have the nerve to hold your own line. You are on your own and you are being asked to demonstrate that you can do a job where conclusions are often the subject of robust challenge.

Fifth: relax. I know this is hard and quite possibly impossible. But the panel are looking to get the best out of you. Chambers are genuinely interested in acquiring talent, developing it and keeping it. It may be that, if you are incapable of relaxing, the job may not be for you. But do try and think of the interview as a conversation between similarly informed parties. The best interviews test your intelligence, ability to think on your feet, judgment and ability to apply knowledge. We can’t usually improve much on those. Your legal knowledge can be fixed during and after pupillage so, in most sets of Chambers, it merely needs to be in the ballpark (this may not be true for the magic circle sets). If you are expected to know as much law as someone of 7 years call then, although it will not be much comfort to you, it is the Chambers who have screwed up – not you.

Sixth: your questions. There is always a yawning gap whilst interviewees struggle painfully, and usually visually, to think of the question no one else has asked. Forget it. All possible questions have by now been asked, save the ones so asinine, so inappropriate or so peripheral as to not be worth asking. Ask yourself what you want to know and ask it of the panel. If there isn’t anything then say something like ‘No, thank you. I did a mini-pupillage here and pumped Ms X for information until her ears bled. I know this is where I want to come.’

Seventh: your exit. I think that, at this point, unless hands are offered, there is no need to shake everyone’s hand again. You stand up. You look round. You say, ‘thank you very much for the offer of an interview and for letting me say what I wanted to say.’ You leave, usually accompanied. Do not say to your companion ‘how do you think it went?’ They will say ‘fine’, whether it did or not, and they will label you as (justifiably) nervous. Say goodbye – and go.

Eighth: your manners. I know this probably sounds patronising but do say please and thank you. If I do not have to tell you this, then you are not the person to whom I am speaking. Do open doors for others. Do not chew gum. Do not text when talking to other people, or when other people are with you – even when you are not directly involved in the conversation. These things are rude and you are not helping yourself if you do it. Speak clearly and look at the person asking you the questions. Smile – appropriately (grinning like a maniac when someone is saying ‘are you really sure about that answer’ is not recommended). If you can do it without being blindingly obvious try and mirror your interlocutor’s body language – few things are more flattering and most people will not even realise you are doing it.

I hope that helps. Don’t be frightened to fail. Providing you are not mad then say what you really think about the issues. Passion and showing that something matters help to distinguish you – people will make allowances for the fact they may disagree. And be positive – you have got this far. Your chances are reasonable. When Joanie Caucus was applying to law school, the kids she was looking after as a nursery nurse would sit with her and chant ‘You Gotta Believe’. Well, you gotta. Good luck.


15 thoughts on “Interviews

  1. Thanks Simon, this is a fabulous help at a frankly very stressful and uncertain time of year.
    I’m soo glad to see you back in the Ether once again – its been a long time!! 🙂

  2. You say that many people will not be offered an intrerview at all, and seem to suggest that people getting a number of interviews have a good chance. Having recently attended an interview, and picked up a couple more, I am concerned that there are a number of people who get plenty of interviews, but never the prize. I say this because the people in the waiting room with me were on interview 8 or 9 and had been to interview at the same chambers the year before. I know there will be some cases where the candidate fluffs it or works incredibly hard on technique in between, but if they didn;t want you last year, why will they want you this?

    What are other peoples thoughts and experiences with regrd to this?

  3. Hey,
    The careers guy at my law school said the average number of pupillage interviews before an offer was 15! However I have two friends who got an offer following their first interview and several friends who have had loads more, including 2 or 3 at the same chambers with no luck so far. I myself was third time lucky.

    Simon, I have really enjoyed reading your posts over the last year, and it is good to hear from you once again.

    NB Strangest interview question I ever heard (through a friend)…”If you were a fruit, what would you be and why?”!!!!!!!

  4. 50YOP – thank you. Nice to learn something new.

    My kids play the game with the fruit at their youth group. I make no comment on it as an interview question… I would be a peach – smooth on the outside, soft inside, great smell and a solid core with a bitter centre.

    Ok, you can be sick now.

  5. …. I think I’d be a Bannana – brightly coloured, curvaceous, sweet and a co-operative accompaniment to every other type of fruit!

  6. How about this one.

    A pal of mine attended an interview to find five smarties lined up on the desk in front of him (I failed to inquire whether the line up included blue smarties).

    At the end of the interview he was asked if he had any questions. His response was whether he could please ask why there were five smarties lined up on the desk – to which the interviewers response was no he couldn’t ask….

    Test of smartie resisting will power???

  7. Simon

    On the whole I agree with your comments, though I do dissent on one point with regard to legal knowledge.

    I don’t believe this is sufficiently tested in the interview process. I obtained a pupillage following an interview in which my knowledge was tested after many applications in which it was not.

    At the junior end of the Bar, depth of legal knowledge varies widely. It is not the be all and end all of the Bar, far from it. Yet, it is another relevant factor to throw in the mix.

    Some pupillages cover one or two areas of law, some are more generalised. I understand the view that pupillages should be generalised so as to enable the pupil to develop a wide range of skills, but the market offers both specialised and non specialised pupillages. It is not the applicants fault that is the market and therefore in a less generalised pupillage, legal knowledge is going to be an important distinguishing factor.

  8. Simon,

    I am some time away from applying for pupillage, which is why this resource is all the more useful for me- I will know what to expect and tailor my approach accordingly over the next phase of my academic career. Thanks for taking the time to do this, it is invaluable.


  9. Does it matter what grade you obtain on the BVC? I am taking the BVC at the moment and haven’t got pupillage. I am likely to obtain a high competent grade. Will this affect my ability to actually get pupillage?

    The other question to ask is about something on my form. at the time of submitting my application I was expected to get a VC but know I’m not. What should I say in relation to this? I don’t want to look underhand or as though I lied on my form.

  10. Thank you for such an informative and useful post!

    I have one question: what is your advice in relation to jewellery, for both male and female candidates?

  11. Dear Simon,

    I have an interview coming up for a scholarship with Middle Temple for the BPTC. This piece is obviously aimed at interviews with chambers but I have still found it useful. My query was what questions one should ask at the end of an Inn of Court interview? There are the procedural type questions such as when would I be notified either way, but I wondered if you could shed some light on some questions that would be good to ask at the Inn? Would there be any questions that they may be expecting?

    Thank you for any help you can give, I understand though if you are unable to help!

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