No Pupillage · This Blog

How Was It For You?

The discussion on the Guardian’s Careers Forum can be viewed here. I enjoyed myself and I was impressed with the other panelists – national newspapers have a certain pull.

There were a number of individual questions about particular cases. I think that, in order to answer those questions it is necessary to see a CV and to know which Chambers you have applied to. There were also quite a lot of questions about how to improve CVs, particularly advocacy experience. I am not sure how important that is felt to be – I will ask around.

There were not many questions – although some – on the Bar’s attitude to particular groups of people. Nor was there much discussion on how we approach interviews, scoring and feedback. I thought this was a shame personally, but I can understand that those who were online wanted answers to their own pressing issues rather than a wider discussion.

Derek Wood QC very kindly took the trouble to participate. Given that he is the author (or at least the coordinator) of the most recent official thinking on pupillage, the forum is worth a read for that reason alone.

Meanwhile, normal service will now continue on this site…

P.S. The picture should not be taken as an endorsement of smoking (note that the cigarette is unlit), which is bad for you and which you should give up – now.


13 thoughts on “How Was It For You?

  1. I wandered into and out of the Q and A all afternoon and found it very informative ,particularly as someone coming ( unbelievably) late to the profession.

    Thanks, Simon for trying to answer my questions. If you are keeping faith in any small ability I might have to catch the Golden Snitch, then so must I!

    1. I’d be more worried about the monkey having carnal knowledge of Elmo, who is a baby monster of three and a half years, and definitely too young for that sort of thing.

  2. Hmmm. There is a different way to tell your story though. You have a decent degree from a decent University, together with some academic further degrees, which are likely of very little use in practice or interest to Chambers. You feel this is wrong and that you should do better than people with better academic qualifications. Why?

    Moreover, you have substantial real world experience and plenty of mini-pupillages, so where did your failure to realise the risks you were taking come from? You are not allowed to offer to do a pupillage for free – as a perusal of your professional rules would make clear – yet you are willing to call out Chambers who do not reply to your improper offer.

    It is not the Bar’s fault that you embarked upon a course of action which relied upon your own overestimation of your prospects. Nor are you entitled to assume that the person heading a profession facing the challenges that the Bar is facing is obliged to prioritise your correspondence.

    I agree about the suppliers but your comment blames everyone except yourself and doesn’t even seem to envisage the possibility that you may just not be as good as other candidates. That hardly inspires confidence that you are a brilliant prospect being passed over by a combination of bias and blindness. The reality is that you have middling academics and not much else to differentiate you from thousands of other candidates. I am sorry about that, but you aren’t exactly a callow youth. All this information was available to you when you signed up.

  3. “with all the whinging that the Bar is doing about what a hard time it is having (personally for “we are having a hard time” I hear “we are not having as affluent a time as we would prefer”)

    You hear wrong. I am a junior tenant at a criminal set. “We are having a hard time” means “we are having a very hard time”.

    Personally, when I hear comments like that I feel moved to respond in a similar way to you and the interviewer.

    In any event, you have no doubt prevailed yourself of the opportunity to have many senior practitioners from your inn look over your application? The sponsor scheme is of invaluable help and the E + T department are always happy to assist.

    They may be able to give you some insight as to where you are going wrong. Good luck.

  4. I did the BVC in the provinces – I agree it isn’t as easy to get involved with the Inn, but they should be able to put you in touch with local practitioners in your chosen area who can assist.

    The value of having an objective eye look over your application is immeasurable.

  5. @DMW:

    You clearly find yourself in an unenviable position along with countless other applicants.

    As has been pointed out on numerous occasions the problem is simply that pupillage is a competitive business and unless you can make yourself stand out then unfortunately you will be frequently disappointed.

    I would be interested to know where you have been applying for pupillage. A quick glance at the qualifications/experience you listed suggests you do not fall anywhere near the category of no-hoper. Could it be that either your application form isn’t sufficiently good enough to get you out of the ‘maybe pile’ or that you are overreaching in the quality of set you are applying to? If the former is the issue then (as Lucy quite rightly suggested) get in touch with your Inn, if the latter is the issue then you need to be more focussed in your search. The ‘superstar’ sets have their pick of the ‘superstar’ candidates, if you are not a ‘superstar’ candidate then you need to be honest enough with yourself to re-evaluate your goals.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t give up. On paper, you look like a stronger candidate than I was. You just have to work hard, put in alot of research to where you apply and be smart.

    For the record I graduated from the BVC with a very competent in 2009, obtained a 2.1 LLB from a former poly, have spent the last 15 months working at a CAB (plus all the usual extra curriculars), applied for pupillage through the PP for the first time in April 2010, got 2 first round interviews (and 10 rejections), 2 final round interviews and will commence pupillage at a good provincial set in October 2011.

  6. dmw, i have never quite bought the ‘it’s terribly competitive’ line. well, at least not in the sense that you may just be kidding yourself and you aren’t up to it. as champagne socialist suggests, you look like you know what you’re doing.

    it’s not the competition per se. to be more precise, the difficulty is that apart from a few stars who will stand out on paper, there are many (so many) people who have what it takes to succeed – or at least a good enough cv and the ability to translate that into an application form that will produce an interview; lots even have the understanding of the interview process to turn that first round into a final.

    everyone has a 2:1 from somewhere ok, a VC, has mooted (though perhaps not moored), some pro bono, law centre, various extra-curricular, marshalling, tending to injured bunnies in lapland. that is the required baseline.

    so how do you, as a recruiter, distinguish?

    don’t waste too long thinking about it – you can’t distinguish, beyond a bit of gut instinct. fortunately you could get 70 perfectly respectable candidates for your 3 pupillage spots by digging a hole in lincoln’s inn fields and pulling out whatever fell in, including some things that have fallen out of trees, so the recruitment process doesn’t have to be much good. (that’s not to say that most chambers don’t spend a vast amount of time and effort trying to be as fair as possible)

    how do you stand out?

    again, don’t waste too long thinking – sorry, no idea. annoyingly for you, DMW, you already use the best scientific technique – play the numbers game. (tho you are doing it better than that, by actually checking you have a good fit with the set). the process inspires fatalism – you’ll either get pupillage or you won’t. you sound like one of the many people who will be quite capable (that’s no insult, the stars are few and far between and i certainly don’t class myself as any better than capable – in fact it’s what i aspire to.) i think they do like oxbridge, but you can’t do anything about that and lots of non-oxbridgies get pupillage too, so forget about it.

    as a fellow older applicant, i would advise you to work very hard not to look like you have any kind of attitude. i think pupillage committees are a bit scared of us old people and assume we will be stroppy and refuse to learn. (if they aren’t, why do they keep asking ‘those’ questions in interview?) how would you feel at 1o years call having to supervise a pupil older than you? yep. remember they are people, not demigods – they get scared that people won’t think they are cool, or nice or clever (even silks) and then it’s just much easier to take a safer bet on someone less challenging.

    and remember that most of the questions (‘why do you want to be a barrister?’, ‘why should we believe you are committed to the law?’) are just lazy and annoying. smile, be patient and make up something plausible so they don’t feel stupid for asking it. it’s probably what you’ll end up doing in court. if you make them feel better about a process i’m sure they hate as much as you, well you will have bonded, and that’s a start. us geriatrics should have developed a thicker skin!

    will this get you pupillage? – no idea. but if you don’t keep giving it a go, you’ll have significantly less chance of success. best of luck – really!

    1. I don’t think ageism is an issue, but maybe I am not reflecting the generality. I will ask around and see. Of my 6 pupils, 2 had already had significant careers elsewhere and I thought it added something to their application and their performance.

      As to the behaviour of some sets regarding pupillage, my views are clear and pretty well known. My attempt to get the topic started on the forum was a failure however.

      1. simon – i think ageism is a factor but i believe it to be indirect rather than direct. people interviewing go on smell as much as anything else (feel free to correct me from your experience – that at least was how i analysed my own unconscious prejudice when i was interviewing candidates). if there was something about the person that made me feel threatened, i would be less likely to employ them; if they somehow made me feel at ease, their chance was better. these could be entirely irrational. as i said, we’re all human. some of these factors could be very relevant to the job – after all we have to make lots of different people feel they can trust us if we are to do it well – or not. the ‘not’ would be those prejudices that adhere to us an individual or a class (and i regard ‘barrister’ as a particular class of its own), which may be less relevant to how the applicant might perform in the job. i don’t think it matters what these prejudices are; applicants are, after all, unlikely to be able to do anything about them. however, recognising them and catering to some of those tastes is what i would define as perhaps the key interview skill. and it’s a learned skill, so something people can and should work on if they wish to maximise their chances.

  7. Ageism, eh?! What about that epically fatal combination, Ageism and Disability?

    Just by way of a passing whine,I emailed the Bar Disability Unit two weeks ago; I got a half cocked and disinterested reply, a number of days later, and have heard nothing since.

    This makes me wonder if the Bars commitment to the putative disabled entrant to the profession is nothing more than trendy lip service.

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