I would like to repeat the exercise this year, both because it provided people with an opportunity to say what they think, and because it measures what has changed (if anything). I am interested in acknowledgements, arrangements for interviews, interviews, application forms, rejection letters and general behaviour (last year a lot of people were upset by failures to respond which are simply rude).
Can I suggest a minimum expectation below and then – below that – a more than minimum expectation which should, in my view, be the minimum.
- An Application Form which allows you to differentiate yourself from the crowd insofar as you are able to do so.
- If applicable, a reasonably prompt acknowledgement, which arrives within the time stated.
- Arrangements for interview which are flexible enough to accommodate one alteration.
- A process which sets you at your ease and gives clear clues as to what is demanded from you by way of manners, dress (formal unless specified otherwise) and timing.
- An interview in which you feel you are given an adequate opportunity to convey your personality and ability to the panel (even if you didn’t actually do it).
- A rejection/acceptance/invitation to second interview which arrives when they said it would.
- A rejection/invitation to second interview which explains why you didn’t make it in terms which allow you – on a good day – to feel that it was not the same one sent to everyone and which avoids unhelpful platitudes such as, ‘The field was very strong this year and we took someone else. Bad luck.” As a rough test, if the letter could be written today, it’s unacceptable.
- If feedback is offered, a personal conversation of no more than 10 minutes – or 2 emails – which actually address why you didn’t get it and leaves you with good ideas for future changes. I do not think feedback ought to be offered as of right: it is incredibly time consuming and no one pays the Chambers to give it to you. But if it is offered, it ought to be real.
You will note that eccentricity (the interview with the Smarties on the table is a classic), brusque questioning, strict time limits, brief letters and failure to acknowledge your application are all ok on their face – even the last. The yardstick I have adopted is that expectations are properly generated and managed. If a set isn’t going to acknowledge the applications of those not called for interview that’s fine: but it must say so and must give a date by which, if you haven’t heard, the answer is no.
Now to the things I would like to see. If anyone experiences any of these, please tell me:
- Information about what qualities are required. I don’t mean the usual ‘bright applicants’. I mean a specified class of degree (not as a ‘normal’ thing), specific subjects, particular extra-curricular experience (such as a mini-pupillage at the Set) and anything else which prevents you wasting an application.
- Information about what the set are looking to see demonstrated in the application form and in interview. When I apply to be a Recorder or a QC I am told what it takes to get the appointment. I must display ‘competence’ in particular areas and I am encouraged to give specific examples to demonstrate it. There is no reason why pupillage interviews shouldn’t be the same.
- Information about the subjects that will be covered. Insofar as possible, the interview should test what the job tests. Therefore, the questions should not ordinarily be given away because responding to questions is part of the job. However, most barristers don’t go into Court to deal with a professional negligence case and then get asked about parents who refuse blood transfusions. The interview doesn’t much replicate the Court experience if that’s what happens.
- A tour of Chambers which can be very brief provided it takes in how to find someone if you are lost, and the location of the lavatory.
- Feedback which tells me what I lacked, as a result of which I didn’t meet the competencies, and/or why I wasn’t taken on because of what successful candidates demonstrated which I did not.
Let me know and feel free to quote me. I am bound to say that I don’t think Chambers will necessarily take the slightest notice, but you should feel entitled to back up your request for minimally decent treatment. Anyone brave enough, when asked if they have any questions for the Chambers, to ask why they are not adopting best practice as set out above, will win a gold star for courage and should report back immediately. Do NOT do so unless you believe you are not irrevocably compromising your chances. This is not a crusade, it is an attempt to make things better. It does not require martyrs but if you are given the opportunity and can take advantage of it, then go ahead.