MIDDLE TEMPLE YOUNG BARRISTERS’ ASSOCIATION
Pupillage Application Event
25 January 2018
VENUE: Taskers, Middle Temple TIME: 18:30
CHAIR: Michael Polak, MTYBA Vice-President
PANELLISTS: Juliette Levy (Cerulean Chambers); Rosie Bayley (3 Temple Gardens); Colin Witcher (Church Court Chambers); Adam Speker (5 Raymond Buildings); Karen Reid (36 Bedford Row/The 36 Group).
This event was subject to Chatham House Rules.
1. What is the application procedures at your Chambers?
36 Group: on Pupillage Gateway – offering 3 specialist pupillages (1) family; (2) criminal; and (3) civil.
5RB: Pupillage Gateway. Not taking applications this year. We ask a specialist media law question in addition.
Church Court: non-Gateway but the form is almost identical with an additional essay question.
3TG: on Pupillage Gateway – no set form questions this year. 3TG have a question to identify an area of law reform. This should relate to the practice area of the Set and give something that piques interest and can be discussed further at interview.
Cerulean Chambers: not taking pupils at the moment. JL was previously at Selborne which is not on gateway and always looks to recruit pupils who are potential tenants.
2. Top Tips: what to do on your form
Actually answer the question. For example, Why would you be good barrister? Not “I enjoy public speaking” - you need to say why you be good at it. Look to see if using word of question in your answer.
Keep your marker in mind. BSB doesn’t allow subjective marking. Chambers are not just deciding which questions to ask but also how to award marks. Make it easy for them to attribute marks. For example, if asked for a time you have shown skill in advocacy: (1) have you failed to answer question? 0 points. (2) Answered question but unimpressive? 1 mark. (3) met my expectations? 2 marks. (4) exceeded my expectations? 3 marks. Always give examples of specific situations.
Be persuasive. The form is written advocacy. Persuade them to interview you. Be personal, specific and interesting. Do not use stock phrases that anyone could use. Must be more than “I believe in justice” – must show how and why.
Stand out. Make your point succinctly, try to use headings. Distill your own experiences and demonstrate how those equate to characteristics of a barrister. Really think about your experience and use to demonstrate skill. For example, if worked on a bar at uni – you must use this to show how that will aid your practice.
Get lots of people to read the form for you. A barrister in area of law you are applying. Someone very good at English language. Someone who absolutely nothing to do with law – a bullshit buzzer. Someone who will rip it to shreds.
3. Top tips: what not to do on your form
Mitigating circumstances. Don’t use mitigating circumstances unless you really need to. For example, if you got a first class degree, you do not need to mitigate a B in an A-Level. Most things are not mitigating and part of being a barrister is to be resilient. Make sure genuinely mitigating – losing a parent night before final exams certainly is, but breaking up with your boyfriend is not.
Critically judge a Chamber’s practice area. When identifying areas of practice, do not say you want to work in an area that only 2 members of chambers do. Look on the website and ask people who know the Set. Be clear what the Set really does, and what you are likely to do as a pupil and junior tenant.
Do not lie or exaggerate. Blow your own trumpet, but if you lie you will get caught out at interview.
Focus on recent achievements. Try to keep your evidence to the past 3- 4 years, unless a key previous career or alike. Don’t need to include everything. For example, if you have won a moot, that is far more important that having spoken in your Year 9 assembly. Also, if reapplying, make sure you update with new evidence. Be selective and allow reader to see the wood for the trees.
Proof read. Spelling, punctuation and especially Chambers’ name. If in doubt, don’t use Chambers name at all, just say “the Chambers”. Don’t use a thesaurus just to use long words, they will look out of place and likely won’t make sense.
4. Top tips: how to answer “why do you want to be a barrister?”
Be personal. I would want to see explanation that is personal and specific to the candidate, and tied to their experience.
Be honest. There is an honest reason, you did not just decide to become a barrister without justifying it. There is a reason, you made a choice and not lightly. Think back to all the times you had to justify the route to yourself. Write it down now every time you find yourself rationalising, then put that in the form. Don’t say what you think we want to hear.
Be practical & realistic. How an appreciation of how difficult this job is, and that want to do it despite of that. Don’t labour the point, but make it clear you recognise the job is 5-10% glamour and the rest is hard work. Coping with failure. Please do not say as you can see from my academic career, relish intellectual challenge. We will assume from academic that not an idiot, need something honest and thought through.
5. What do you think of applicants giving very structured answers, using with bullet points, headings and bold?
Love it. Make it easy for the marker. Signposting is useful “I have three reasons:…”. Use punchy and sharp language. You have to be succinct in practice. Don’t feel you have to fill the word limit if you can answer the question properly in less.
6. Why do some Chambers publish their objective marking scheme but others don’t?
It is at Chambers discretion whether to publish. Guess would be that most Chambers will use similar scheme. There is no mystery to it and it is to protect applicants from prejudice.
7. Where is the line between standing out and going too far?
Think carefully about the experience you have that someone else might not. Humour is incredibly risky and often fails. If hesitate about including something and think “I am not sure” then don’t do it – you must have complete confidence in the form. Pupillage is not a job interview – you are a prospective business partner, provides a wide scope for personality but don’t cross the line, keep within reasonable framework.
8. What about answering the hobbies and recreational activities question?
With regard to hobbies there is less danger with crossing the line. Think about how you would answer this question on a first date (only for this question!). Say just enough to show off but be on your guard. Don’t put much, if any, professional/mooting in this box. Some chambers are going to stop looking at this answer because it may be a class indicator, so don’t put important professional achievements here just in case. Don’t forget the need to write this answer as well as others. This is often the question answered with least care.
9. How do you show genuine interest in a specialist practice area? Mini-pupillage, work experience, articles, academic pieces. Chambers will be looking at actual demonstration of interest.
10. How to select personal referees
Pick someone who looks impressive on paper. Most Chambers don’t speak to referees until after offered pupillage. Use someone who really knows you well.
11. How much to talk about previous career?
Have a reason for everything you write on the form. If transferable, put it in. Make sure you have a coherent reason for changing career so don’t look like not going to stay the course at the Bar. Fine to rely on this more than once where relevant, but do not rely wholly on it. Some markers expect a higher level of maturity in your application where you are a career-changer than a recent graduate.
12. How do you feel about people applying again to the same Set?
Forms should be anonymised for sifting but markers might recognise content. Don’t be put off reapplying. Check that it is not a set that doesn’t re-interview – they are expected to publish that. Make sure you have added to your CV since the last application.
13. How should you approach your application if your experiences are from a mixture of areas of law? Explain it. Can turn to advantage by explaining what learnt from it and why chosen a certain direction. Don’t look like you are hedging your bets. Can make it look like you have thought carefully about your route. If made a choice try to do more in that area to emphasise it.