Advice on Getting A Pupillage
Getting a pupillage is going to be very tricky. The single most important thing you can do is make sure your academics are great.
It’s not impossible to get a pupillage with average academics but it will be much harder. There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of success though.
Deciding that you want to be a barrister from an early age is going to be a massive advantage. You can put in the effort and make sure you achieve the grades you need. Getting work experience nice and early looks great too.
But what if your academics are only good or above average? What can you do increase your chances of a pupillage? Let’s look at some things you can do to boost the other areas of your application.
The first challenge is actually getting through the initial application stage; lots of relevant work experience is essential for this. Firstly, and arguable most importantly, you should try and obtain at least one mini pupillage. This is seen as very important by the Bar Council; on their site they state:
You are strongly advised to do at least one mini-pupillage before making pupillage applications and you should try to do more than one.
So you can see the importance they place on a mini-pupillage. It makes sense really. How else will you know that you will actually enjoy, and be good at being a barrister? Simply being good at law academically won’t be enough. You should aim to get other sorts of work experience too.
Marshalling is another great piece of experience. Marshalling involves shadowing a judge for a week. During this time you will be able to observe the cases the judge is assigned and discuss them afterwards, along with the performance and actions of the barristers.
Since advocacy is a big part of any barristers role, you should see if there is any relevant work experience you can get which involves public speaking. For example have a look at do-it.org which has a massive list of volunteer opportunities. A quick look at current vacancies displayed a role which required the volunteer to “accompany refugees to appointments and advocate on their behalf”.
This would be perfect work experience for a prospective human rights barrister.
Remember to also make the most of the university mooting or debate club. Not mentioning anything about it in an application would actually look strange – not bothering to take part in these societies won’t paint a picture of a good candidate.
The rest of your application gives you huge scope for creativity. Think of this as a chance to persuade the pupillage committee. Show them that you’re a brilliant candidate and don’t think of this stage as just a formality no matter how good your experience and academics.
Give logical reasons and evidence for your answers – use premises and conclusions. Don’t just state you’re good at public speaking! Imagine you’re making a submission to a judge (which you may actually be doing!)
The application will also be used for further questions at the interview stage, so mentioning experiences or skills that you can actually talk about is essential. You don’t want to be asked “Tell us about your time at X” if all you did is make cups of tea. You should also try and look behind the meaning of a certain question. A good question to ask yourself is “Why is this question included? Which qualities are they looking for?”.
Thinking of the application from the pupillage committee’s point of view will allow you to give focused and relevant answers. Give them what they’re looking for.
Of course we don’t need to mention that you must get the basics right. Spelling mistakes, unstructured answers and legal inaccuracies are unacceptable. Get as many people as you can to review your application. You should write and perfect your application over weeks not days.
There is some relevant advice about continuous improvement on our training contract section which could be useful.
Should I do a masters?
Can a masters help in your pupillage? Yes, but if your academics are poor then it’s unlikely that a masters course will make a difference. However it may make your application stand out if your academics are good but not excellent. If you genuinely believe that you’re a good candidate then it is a real option.
However this is a further financial strain which many candidates won’t be able to take. Just think – what if you still don’t get a pupillage? Hopefully the money won’t be wasted because you’ll get a legal career for which the masters comes in useful. The best reason to do a masters is to forget about your pupillage application for a second and just do it so you can become a real expert in your chosen area of law.
If you get through to the interview stage you’re doing great. This stage needs careful planning too. Although it’s not possible to anticipate every single questing you will be asked, try and at least know the main ones. And read over your application before you go. Know it off by heart! Obviously you need to get the basics right too – dress well, be polite, and be on time.
Since you’ve got this far you should be pretty good at thinking on your feet by now. Just relax and believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get your pupillage from your first interview, as long as you know where you went wrong and improve for next time. Address the weak area and your chances of success will significantly improve.