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How to research practice areas

How to research practice areas

Blessing Mukosha Park

20/03/2020

When applying for pupillage it is necessary to know which areas of law you want to focus your applications on. Each chambers has different core practice areas that their barristers take instructions in. Although once inside a chambers, your practice can take a number of different directions, it is still necessary to be aware of your principal target areas. 

In this blog post I identify the different ways that you can research different practice areas and be sure of which one(s) you want to focus on for your applications.

Chambers websites 

This is an obvious one. Head to the website of your chosen chambers and look at the different practice areas available. You can read a synopsis of these areas and the kind of work the barristers have completed in the field. This will help you start to understand the nature of the work, typical subject matter and how long they spend working on an individual case. It is a good entry-level view into an area of work. 

Comparing how different chambers talk about the same areas can highlight subtle differences. For example, chambers A and B may both say that they practice in property law; however, Chambers A might focus on high-value commercial property transactions, while Chambers B does a significant amount of social housing work.

Identifying these differences between areas is important, as it will help you to navigate the broad and generalised labels given to different practice areas and understand where you’d like to focus your work.

Law reports 

This is my favourite way to get my head around an area of law. While I was drafting my most recent round of pupillage applications, I would get a big cup of tea and a lot of snacks, and read through lots of reported cases in different areas. I would note down the chambers the barristers appearing in the cases were from and take a good snapshot of which chambers dominated certain areas.

The cases themselves were really helpful to read in full. I understood the subject matter in much more depth and could better see the core skills that barristers working in that area had to have. It stripped away the glamour and made the reality of competing that type of work sink in.

For example, you might be set on family law but after reading harrowing cases involving severe domestic violence or child abduction, find that you do not have the stomach for the work. There’s nothing wrong with that because everyone is different, but it does help you to know what you’d be in for as a pupil well in advance of submitting an application.

Legal directories 

For those that are not familiar, there are many different legal directories that rank chambers and individual barristers. These are helpful tools to support your research of practice areas because they show the different skills barristers working in these areas are praised for.

Admittedly, they do expose the barrister profession’s diversity issues: the barristers dominating the top levels of the rankings in many areas are overwhelmingly male and white. Nonetheless, this can be a useful exercise to see what makes the barristers working in the areas you’re interested in the best in the eyes of their professional clients (ie, the solicitors who instruct them). 

If you can see the barristers are praised for skills and attributes you know you possess, this could help you to decide whether a particular area of law is suited to you. 

Practice area associations and organisations 

In most cases different areas of law have a group, organisation or association which represents the lawyers working in that area. This can also be a good source to identify which practice area is right for you, as many of these organisations will have some sort of newsletter or circular that’s available online. These will cover some of the main issues, concerns and news for lawyers working in that area, which will highlight the reality for barristers working in a particular area of law and the different challenges that they face. 

In addition, it will show you the Bretts of work and the different types of people completing certain types of work. If you are worried about diversity in a particular area then you can also research this using these resources.

Good luck researching!

Good luck with researching your different practice areas. Once you know which areas of law you want to focus on, your pupillage applications will be much less daunting.