OLPAS · Routes to the Bar

Filling In the Form

"We ned to do something about excessive admin...I want you to fill out one of these forms every time you think you're doing some."

Inspired by @MTStudents‘ event last night, for the first time in ages I want to write about pupillage and how to get it.

For those who missed it, the ‘speed dating’ event allowed you up to 8 visits to barristers, each lasting 10 minutes. Each visit allowed you to ask anything you wanted. That has the distinct advantage that no one barrister need unduly influence any one applicant – a real help to those of us who occasionally wonder if we are pushing our prejudices too hard.

Most of my guinea pigs (you know who you are and thank you) wanted help filling in the Pupillage Gateway form, particularly the dreaded Section 8. This allows you:

  1. 150 words to say why you want to be a barrister.
  2. 200 words about areas of practice
  3. 200 words about your choice of chambers
  4. 200 words about why you will make a good barrister (not a morals question)
  5. 200 words about experiences and skills

We can argue about the questions (and don’t get me started), but there they are. Proprietary forms don’t seem that much better.

I acknowledge that each Chambers should by now be publishing a competency framework to help you fill in the application. If Barristers are allowed that when they apply to sit, then why aren’t we offering it to pupils? Essex Court comes near, although the website lacks the ways you can demonstrate what they want. Brick Court better still. But most Chambers are still confining themselves to vague statements of what they expect. Amazingly, this includes things like “intellectual ability”, “commitment to the Bar”, and “passion for justice”.

No shit Sherlock.

Anyhoo, there is some general advice I can offer.

First, you are trying to show 3 things. One: I know what your job is, because I’ve done the research. Two: I can do your job and these are the ways I have shown the necessary qualities already. Three: I am a nice person and happy to take one for the team.

That requires a level of abstraction. You need to ask what – for example – commercial law requires. Walk yourself through what barristers do in a commercial case (if you don’t know then do a mini). Then, don’t think about drafting pleadings – you can’t do that. Think about what qualities are necessary to draft pleadings.  Intellect is fairly obvious. Tenacity. Attention to detail. And so forth. Then you can ask yourself where, in your life to date, you have demonstrated those qualities. In doing so you will have thought logically about what the job is and what you can offer to demonstrate that you can do it.

Secondly, it may help to divide your thoughts into 2 columns – “driver” and “result”. That allows you to distinguish between why you want to do something and what that drive results in. Given that you are being asked at least 2 such questions (1 and 3 above), it is important to know what your motivation is.

Thirdly, be your own most rigorous editor. That really shows – it means you don’t repeat yourself, it means you express yourself concisely and it means you don’t repeat yourself.

Fourthly, take the time required. I have just completed a selection exercise that required me to write 2000 odd words in total. It took me over 7 hours.

Fifthly, make sure your CV tells the reader what they need to know about you. Ask yourself what questions will be asked. If you are a late entrant, what did you do in the meantime? I would, personally, compile my CV to answer those questions in the order in which they are likely to arise for you. I would not, personally, worry about formatting or font.

Sixthly, don’t be crass. This should be caught in the editing but if you have talked about ‘ordinary people’ you’re dropping a clanger (and I add that my guinea pig had already spotted that for themselves – well done). You have to be able to criticise yourself. Equally, don’t say that the BPTC has shown you that advocacy is your strength. It hasn’t. Because the BPTC course is not fit for purpose and no one believes you learn anything of use from it (providers please feel free to comment).

Finally, proofread and proofread again.

I still think question 4 is odd, but it essentially means that you can answer question 1 in 550 words and divide the result. However, for question 1 please do not say, “because I’m good at arguing”, or “because I have a passion for justice”. Such unevidenced statements are  no help to you or anyone else, and being good at arguing isn’t a help anyway. I have, previously, answered this question in a post. I provided the 150 word answer in a comment. But that was in 2008 – a lifetime for most of the readers I am now aiming at – so it is reproduced below:

Even though the lack of security is risky, I like working for myself, being at the sharp end and being judged on how well I do paperwork and advocacy, rather than politics. That gives me control over my maximally flexible and varied life, which is always interesting. I enjoy the camaraderie of my colleagues and the strategic and tactical challenge of coming up against them. When I represent those who need it, rather than judging them when that isn’t my job, I feel that what I do is genuinely of use to society. Despite rumours to the contrary, I can’t do this in any other profession and, what’s more, there is the possibility of a career change at 50.
I don’t do it for the money, the moral glamour or so that I am perceived as important.

Good luck.

PS: Anyone spot the deliberate mistake? Proofread – remember.

2 thoughts on “Filling In the Form

  1. Excellent post. I would just say, however, that as far as proofreading goes – ASK SOMEONE ELSE TO CHECK IT. Regardless of how adept a writer you are, or how good your spelling is, nobody should proofread their own work, because if you know what you intended to write, the brain fills in what it expects to see. I’ve been proofreading and editing copy from highly-intelligent and educated legal professionals for a decade, and the number of howlers that come up would stagger you.

  2. Thanks. I agree with that but quite often it is difficult to find people to proof read for you. It sometimes helps to leave it for a day or so and come back with fresh eyes.

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