Applying yourself to the Pupillage Gateway
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All chambers must advertise their pupillage vacancies through the Pupillage Gateway. Read on as Leeds-based barrister Simon Myerson offers sage advice on filling in pupillage applications.
The Pupillage Gateway (which opened for submissions yesterday, 4 April 2016, and closes on 4 May 2016) allows candidates to browse pupillage adverts before submitting their applications. I thought it might help to go through the standard questions on the form. Most chambers do not say what they are looking for in anything like enough detail, so this is a way of assisting. It is, of course, only my view. Equally, these are not model answers. Rather they are pointers to what I would want to know.
At the outset I have three basic suggestions, which are so often ignored that I wonder whether anyone tells you to do these things. Firstly, ensure that everything you say is backed by a concrete example. Saying "I am a good researcher" is cheap and not terribly persuasive. Saying "When I was assisting X & Co to prepare a complicated submission to the district judge, I became adept at cross-referencing the case being cited to the relevant statute and then seeking support for our definition of the relevant term by using Stroud's Judicial Dictionary" is much better. If you don't know what Stroud's Judicial Dictionary is, then find out.
Second, check it for spelling and grammar. And learn basic grammar. A preposition isn't something you end a sentence with. Apostrophes have a definite place and are not the grammatical equivalent of confetti. Exclamation marks do not assist you to make a pretty average point really exciting!
Third, the use of long words and strained constructions do not indicate profundity of thought. Poetry is, "The moon, like a flower, in heaven's high bower, with silent delight, sits and smiles on the night". An application is, "You can see the moon very clearly tonight". My first sentence would be better - in terms of an application - if it read, "The Gateway is about to open and people are preparing to apply to chambers".
Why do you wish to become a barrister? (150 words)
- start with "I wish to become a barrister because". They know what the question is and you have 150 words;
- start with "Good question" either; or
- fill the space with clichés about how it's a wonderful job which allows you to assist the poor and disadvantaged. If that's your motivation, say something short and link it to your work at the Citizens Advice Bureau or similar.
- be restrained in your use of language; don't waste words on reinforcers like "extremely", "amazingly" or "hugely";
- talk about yourself and why you want to be a barrister;
- talk about the job and what appeals to you; and
- read this and the model answer in the comments section.
What areas of practice are you interested in and why? (200 words)
This is where you demonstrate what you know about the area in which you want to practise. The first issue is whether you want to specialise or not. If so, you must be able to say what it is about that area which attracts you, and why you think it suits you. "My commitment to family law was deepened by my experience working for Barnardos, and the knowledge gained via my subsequent qualification as a family mediator means I am sure that this is where I want to specialise". Then go on to give examples of what you know are solid family law issues, your experience in seeing them (eg, mini-pupillages, marshalling and court attendance) and why these things interest you. When dealing with that interest, you should work in your own ability.
If you are not specialising, the topic to address is the life that a mixed practice provides. "Although I accept that a mixed practice demands more legal research than might otherwise be the case, I am attracted by the emphasis on advocacy. My experience at the Free Representation Unit showed me how the crossover between different disciplines can assist a client. I represented someone in the Employment Tribunal who was dismissed for hitting a workmate. I was able to show that he acted in legitimate self-defence." Then go on to detail the type of issue that arises with a mixed practice and your own ability to research and assimilate.
Give reasons for your choice of chambers (200 words)
Please don't say, "Because you're the best". If you have been on a mini-pupillage this is your opportunity to show you picked up how the place ticked. You are talking about two things: the quality and breadth of work, and the atmosphere. Quality is the easy bit. Breadth is equally important - you won't be going to the Supreme Court just yet, so it helps to know that the junior tenant has a steady diet of decent work in Bog End Mags. Talk about the work in a way that shows that you understand what makes for ‘good work' at the Bar. In other words, good professional clients, who prepare the work properly, identifying the right legal and evidential points, for clients who are not promised the world.
Atmosphere is a way to flatter your reader but - yet again - it must be more than platitudes. "I really liked the way everyone got on" is pointless. "During my week in Chambers I was with Mr X when he was against Ms Y. The legal argument got a bit heated, which was unsurprising given that the judge had made it clear it was the only point she was interested in. I enjoyed the way that both counsel were able to convey their amazement that the other had the nerve to put their point. But it was afterwards, when we all went for a coffee that the atmosphere in chambers really struck me as different."
If you haven't been on a mini-pupillage then try and find a time you met someone from chambers and talked to them. Don't recite hearsay: "Everyone says you're really good and my friend Jeffrey had a brilliant time when he was with you". It will not help.
You can see, I hope, why mini-pupillages help. But you should be able to talk about the work anyway: a search of the website will be a good start. Then try entering the names of members of chambers in Baili. Then look up the solicitors who instructed chambers and say something complimentary: "Suited and Booted are known for their expertise in the law of markets and it is clear that they are strong supporters of a number of members of chambers, as the recent case in the Chancery Division makes clear."
You will note that in respect of every question you are doing the same thing. You are saying "I know what is required of a barrister, I know what it takes to produce that standard, I have researched the area, I know how the job works and I am confident that I can do it - and here are some examples to show you I'm not just saying that".
Why do you believe you will make a good barrister? (200 words)
More of the same - with examples. As a suggestion, you might say something like, "Having done mini-pupillages in five differing sets and taken the opportunity to ask every barrister and judge I have ever met the question, it seems to me that the qualities which make a good barrister are these…" Then set them out (see here) and say why they apply to you, with examples.
Please remember good health, integrity and luck. The last is a chance for you to say something amusing. If it doesn't make your friends laugh (not your mother - your mother will laugh at anything if it makes you happy), then play it straight.
Then, if you haven't done it already, identify the experience and skills which will help. Please don't use this as a place to repeat at length what has already been said. The poor sod reading your form has had enough. "I have already referred (not "alluded"; see what is said above about long words) to my experience in x, y and z and my skills as an a, b and c above. Obviously they help, but my experience is that endless repetition of them does not."
And please don't list a load of things which aren't really pertinent but you are desperate for the reader to know about. "My experience as head girl of a 2,500 pupil comprehensive school in the inner city taught me how to handle both the conflicting egos of those who believed they were important and people who regard academic ability as useless," might just cut it. "My experience as head girl taught me how to exercise authority," does not.
This paragraph is, however, the place to say something about academic results affected by illness or family disintegration - both more common than might be assumed if my postbag is anything to go by. Don't overplay it; pupillages are never, ever, given on the basis of a sympathy vote. But properly handled - and I am not going to be so crass as to venture a model answer - it can help.
Simon Myerson is a barrister at St Paul's Chambers in Leeds and is the author of the Pupillage and How to Get It blog. This article first appeared on the blog on 16 March 2011 and has since been amended to reflect changes to the pupillage application system.