“Been reading your blog for quite some months now. However, unless I’m mistaken, there is something of an omission from the listings – what should you be feeling if you fail to get a pupillage the first time around?
I’m in that boat. Having done the Oxbridge thing, I went to City and did ok-ish on the conversion course (high commendation with a few distinctions). I got quite a few second round interviews (7 to be precise) but got absolutely nothing apart from a few reserve places that did not materialise. I was, and still am, pretty distraught over the failure and really don’t know what to do. For the sake of frankness, I feel pretty much locked into the BVC (having paid the cash, thanks to the beautiful deadlines for finding out about pupillage) and feel like a very undesirable candidate.
At the risk of turning your blog into a psychologist’s couch, what should someone like me be thinking? Is the second attempt going to be a fruitless one? Is there going to be any sort of discrimination as a result of the first failure? Having not set the world alight in my conversion course, am I now a less valuable prospect? Should I not apply to the same Chambers, as the outcome will be inevitable? What should I be doing for the horrible intervening year after the BVC?”
I am not sure that I can tell you what you ought to be thinking. Surely that is a matter for you. Certainly, how you are feeling will have an effect on what you do. If you really are impossibly discouraged and despondent then it might be best to walk away. A second failure might be too much to take and your own peace of mind is more important than a job.
However, what I think you mainly mean is whether it is worth carrying on, given the matters you identify in your last paragraph. Do you only have one bite of the cherry? Well, back in the day (mine), not getting a pupillage was the end and you went on to something else. Plainly, this is no longer the case. There are large numbers of candidates and ever reducing numbers of pupillages. Some people get lucky second time – I know someone who got lucky the third. There is no reason to think that you are washed up as far as the bar is concerned, simply because you got interviews but no offers.
However, you do have to ask yourself whether the lack of offers is because of something you are doing. It may not be. It is perfectly conceivable that not yet being on the BVC, you lacked an edge that others had. You may not have done mini-pupillages, or researched the sets well enough, or missed out key points on the issues discussed at interview. Only you can say, but you need to be pretty rigorous with yourself about it. It clearly isn’t an academic issue given your qualifications: if it were there would have been no interviews. The grade achieved in the conversion course may be important for the magic circle sets, but it is irrelevant to anyone else. The real question for you is why you did not shine in interview.
This is an issue I used to force under my own pupils’ noses. If you lose a case, the temptation is to blame your client, your opponent, the witnesses and the Judge. It may all be true. But 99.9% of the time there is something which you could have done to make a difference. People who are going to be good barristers cannot afford to be frightened of the process of self-criticism which identifies what that is.
There is also a question of pride and where it fits into your perception of yourself. If the Chairman of the Committee (or the Judge) takes an instinctive and unreasonable dislike to you, what can you do to stop it happening again? I have encountered people who feel that the question itself dignifies the prejudice (as indeed it does) and therefore refuse to answer it. Such people are principled but tend not to make good barristers. When you do a case it isn’t about you – it’s about your client. If the Judge will only listen if you wear black and stripes, a plain white shirt and a collar starched like iron then the Judge is idiotic, but get out there and shop. Ditto in interviews – however much it wasn’t your fault, what can you do to change?
In reality of course there usually is something you can change and it usually needs changing. Unreasoning prejudice isn’t unknown in the legal profession but it’s a lot rarer than critics and disappointed applicants (not you) would like to make out. Equally, Judges do have irrational dislikes and they do, occasionally, try to hold people back. But I would say that for every ten barristers who attribute their lack of professional advancement to such causes, only one is right.
I know people at the Bar who have reasonable practices even though they are too fragile or self-obsessed to go through this process of asking what they did wrong. So one can’t say it is critical. But I think it is critical if you want to be really good. There is nothing more depressing than hearing a junior tenant seriously blaming someone other than themselves for a disappointing result (‘the Judge was just a bastard’ is different, providing that it’s clear they do not believe that this is the be all and end all) – save possibly when that person is another junior tenant or pupil.
My guess is that you will be able to identify things that could be better and make the necessary changes. My advice is to examine everything from your substantive answers to the way you dressed and ask whether you are satisifed. Your friends can usually answer the question, ‘what is it about me that would most turn you off’, although I would ensure that they knew you really needed an honest answer and that everyone was completely sober. If the process takes over an hour then the Bar may not be the right profession.
I don’t think you are damaged goods at all. I’m not sure I would reapply to the same sets, although without knowing which they were, it is impossible to say for sure. By and large, if they have rejected you then there is no particular reason to think they would feel differently next time round and the risk is that they feel the need to reach a consistent conclusion. Other sets do not need to know and probably won’t ask.
Update: Anna is a barrister in another set, who has interviewed for pupillage and says this:
We honestly don’t care whether people have applied to us previously. In fact, a couple of years ago, we took on a pupil who had lost out at the second round interview in the previous year’s OLPAS session. He is now a junior tenant. So if you’ve come quite a long way through the process at the Chambers of Your Dreams this year, but didn’t quite make it to pupillage, it is definitely worth checking how they view 2nd applications…
This seems to be worth knowing and I am happy to bow to superior knowledge.
If I were you and I got lucky second time around, then if I could afford it or could get a job to fund it, I would go away for a year. Any job you get to mark time is unlikely to be hugely enjoyable. I agree that the timing is unhappy and leads to this problem occurring with depressing frequency. If you need to work, then working as a paralegal is increasingly common and has the benefit of showing you how things work and introducing you to solicitors. Personally speaking, I wouldn’t be a candidate on The Apprentice.