Interviews · No Pupillage · Qualities Required

Just Missing Out

dilbertFirstly, a hello to new readers. Thanks to WordPress’s monitoring tools (not quite CCTV in everyone else’s computer, but close) I can tell that some of the older posts are getting a lot of attention. Presumably, therefore, a new generation is gearing up for a shot at the grand prize. I wish you all luck and I hope you all have a plan B – obtaining pupillage is not getting any easier.

To make this clear, and to try and address the particular issue, I quote below from a comment sent by ‘Bedroom Barrister’, who I can be reasonably sure is a bloke.

I completed the BVC in 08, and since then have had 7 interviews. I missed out on my 1st choice chambers (provincial) on a vote of 2-1, and was placed on the reserve list for another chambers in London.

I do, I believe, tick all the ‘barrister candidates must have’ boxes: I have 2x scholarships, a masters, ran my own company, undertook several minis, taught Westlaw for Sweet & Maxwell for 2 years, and had a career as a rugby player before coming to law earlier than originally planned through injury (I am 28)

My first choice chambers have re-interviewed me and turned me down for a second time. what I would like to know is, what the chuff can I do to go one step further and obtain an offer?

The one thing I have lacked to date is real advocacy experience, so I put myself through FRU as an employment rep and took up a position as a county court advocate (solicitor’s agent) to gain experience (although this is relatively recent).

I am, I believe, a friendly chap, I get on well with most, and I have a genuine, not rehearsed, interest in law and current affairs.

Friends tell me ‘if you’re good enough to get interviews you’re good enough to get pupillage’ but I am truly concerned that this isn’t the case. My entire life has gone on hold while I send out applications, my poor girlfriend has to put up with my cloudy moods, and I find myself for the first time not knowing what to do!

Any thoughts would be gratefully received!

You are right – you tick the boxes. What seems apparent from this is that so, too, do a great many people. Ticking the boxes is no longer sufficient in itself.

Tempting though it is to suggest that it is the name that is causing the problem (try Courtroom Barrister), it seems to me that what you actually lack is feedback. Because you don’t say much about your interviews I am assuming they went reasonably well. If your panel was divided 2-1 then it was clearly close. The question is what swung it the other way. This could be nothing, it could be a question of whether the other person was more likeable or more ‘deserving’ or cleverer than you. It could be that the potential pupil master saw more in them (I have taken part in discussions which included all the above). The problem is that I don’t know and nor do you.

So, the advice is to get on the phone and ask. It may be that you are simply unlucky – that is certainly a possibility. But it may be that there is something about your interview performance which is counting against you and which you could deal with if only you knew about it. That is what feedback is all about. Even if your chosen Set doesn’t promise feedback I would ask. They can only say no but having been interviewed twice they must have seen something they liked and they should be willing to help.

The comments on the posts below dealing with Chambers’ approaches to pupillage show that lack of feedback is a bugbear. I don’t think we are very good at it as a profession: too many people are told something like, ‘You were very good but not quite as good as the person we took on’. That is roughly equivalent to the fortune teller saying, ‘You will travel widely and meet a stranger’ – well durr.

Because we are not very good at it, you must be. Ask specific questions: ‘What was the difference between my CV and the person who got pupillage?’. ‘What was it in the interview that made the difference?’  ‘Could you please tell me the 3 criteria on which I scored lowest?’ ‘Did I score the lowest/highest of anyone interviewed in any criterion? If so, please could you tell me which one?’ ‘Did you identify anything lacking in my CV of interview which, had I displayed it, would have made the difference?’ In other words – push.

The only other advice about the process I can give is, if you try again, to identify a banker set. You are clearly good enough to get a pupillage. Almost everyone interviewed is good enough and those who get to the last 2 or 3 certainly are. There is no doubt that there is an element of luck involved. So chose a set a level below where you really want to go. It’s easier to move once you’re a few years call and, who knows, you may like it there.

Ok – the agony uncle bit is done. Next up is an issue about how to survive the start of tenancy (also a fairly frequently asked question). That will tie in nicely to the remaining posts in ‘Tenancy and How to Get It’ which I am aware I left unfinished. It should also help non-pupils gain some understanding of what barristers actually look for which may help in mini-pupillages. All of which will come in the next couple of months.

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5 thoughts on “Just Missing Out

  1. I think Plan Bs should be strongly emphasized. My impression has always been that there are more applicants who are more than capable of being good barristers than there ae places. This doesn’t mean you can’t focus on all the many things you can try to improve to raise your chances of securing pupillage. But that process can’t be endlessly repeated, if only because eventually we all need a source of income.

    If you go into the whole process fully aware of the odds of success, that doesn’t entail being defeatist. But it should encourage people to at least contemplate what they would do if things don’t work out (even if that’s nothing more than being honest about how many years you’re prepared to re-apply). And from a purely pragmatic point of view, there are plenty of pressures involved in trying to become a barrister; there’s no need to add the belief that life as a non-barristr would be a living hell as another.

    Research in psychology suggests that our jobs have far less impact on our happiness than we think. It’s easy to feel that if you fail to make it as a barrister, life will be miserable. But that’s just not true.

  2. Dear Simon,

    I read your advice about feedback with interest. I have also been unsuccessful in my applications this year despite getting to several final round interviews. I am becoming increasingly frustrated at chambers’ refusal to give feedback, as without it it is difficult to know what went wrong or where I can improve.

    One chambers I contacted wrote to me explaining that they were unable to provide feedback because of the large number of applications that they receive. I understand that chambers cannot provide feedback on every application, but I do not believe that it is unreasonable to expect feedback from a single round interview where the number of candidates interviewed was small. I have considered expressing my feelings to the chambers concerned but doubt whether this will make any differnece, given their very firm position on feedback. I am also conscious that I am unlikely to do myself any favours with this and possibly other chambers.

    My comments are not intended as a rant, and I would like to note that a number of other chambers have been much more helpful. I am not sure what I hope to achieve by airing my views here, but feel that if these issues are raised, there is more chance of them being addressed.

  3. Hello Simon,

    I’m still here, and, 9 interviews down the line… still looking. I have actually, from the word go, requested feedback. Trouble is, chambers either don’t give it, or when they do, it’s not very good. Just for the record, and this is not intended to be offensive, one of the chambers I interviewed at was yours. I did indeed ask for feedback, only to receive a letter in the post (more than most chambers, granted), regurgitating the words in my rejection letter, and offering absolutely nothing I could use. I now have added advocacy experience, courtroom experience (RCJ court of appeal (criminal) reporting, and FRU experience. I hope this will be my year…

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