INTERVIEWS FOR PUPILLAGE AND TRAINING CONTRACTS: ADVICE FROM ACROSS THE PROFESSION
There was some controversy earlier this week when Legal Cheek reported on websites charging barrister hopefuls as much as £200 an hour for pupillage interview advice. Many of the lawyers on Twitter were fairly outraged by this practice and doubted whether it was effective. I asked people if they had advice to give which they would like to share. Here are the results thus far. We have contributions from those who have carried out interviews for many years and those who went through several years of interviews.
I think I may have done a thread before, but who knows where that is now. So, as someone who did 4 years of pupillage interviews before finally succeeding a few thoughts in the thread below:
1) Be yourself. Sounds trite, but bear with me. I spent a lot of time trying to be what I thought a barrister should be/thought the panel wanted to see. I didn’t let my personality & own self shine through. I did much better when I did.
2) Remember pupillage interviews are not like interviews for “normal” jobs. No HR, barristers not paid to be there. They’re looking to recruit someone they could be in Chambers with for the rest of their working lives. Be yourself, someone who’s a human, who they could work with
3) This applies also to applications. Everyone wants to do advocacy etc. Say something interesting. What REALLY made you want to be a barrister? Even if you think it’s embarrassing (e.g. watching a film/TV show). You’ll do far better if your answer isn’t boring & rings true.
4) Practical stuff: Leave LOADS of time to get there. Check trains for engineering works (particularly on weekends). You do not want to arrive hot & bothered. Get there early, reccy where the entrance is, then wait until it’s time.
4b) Remember Chambers might not be in the place that is it’s name (sometimes they’ve moved). Check what entrances are open – e.g.
@middletemple is only accesible via Tudor St on weekends.
5) Check what the format of the interview is. Is there are practical exercise? If so, do you need to prepare in advance? If on the day, what sort of thing? e.g. a law exercise (such as a bail app), or something more general (e.g. debate the merits of the death penalty)
6) Prepare for whatever it is. Always have kept abreast of the news – both general and legal – interviews often include discussion of current topics. Whether there is or isn’t an exercise, how long is the interview bit? How big is the panel?
7) If you know who your panel is, look them up (and ask who your panel is, they might not say, but worth asking). Also look up what high profile matters Chambers have been involved in recently. More generally, know, to the best you are able, what Chambers core work areas are.
8) If you’re applying to a specialist set, what are the current topics in that area? Be prepared to talk about them. If there’s a high profile recent case, read it. A Bill going through Parliament? Find out what’s happening. Criticism of the area in the news? Have a view.
9) The same with general law/lawyery stuff. Currently e.g. rule of law, role of judges, legal aid, human rights etc.
10) Re-read your application form carefully, with fresh eyes. What stands out to you? That may well be what they’ll ask you about. It may be something not particularly legal. e.g. I was asked about the Japanese class I took alongside my 4th undergrad. year.
11) Sometimes they ask Qs which will throw you. I don’t know if this is becoming less common. Sometimes this seems to just be to see how you will react under pressure. Don’t crumble. Often there is no “right” answer. Think about it, give a reasoned answer.
12) They will probably ask you at the end if you have any Qs. If you do have one, ask it, but make sure it’s not something you could’ve found out from the website. You do not have to have a question. In my experience “Do you have any Qs?” is not a trick question.
13) Speaking of which, generally speaking, I don’t think interview panels are generally out to trick you. They want to fairly assess the candidates in front of them and find the best pupils they can.
14) That said, as mentioned, barristers are not trained HR profs. Hopefully you won’t, but you might come out of an interview thinking it did not enable you to be at your best. Sometimes if an interview goes badly it is as much the fault of the interviewer as the interviewee.
15) Once it’s done, it’s done. If you have an interview that feels like it went badly: i) It might not have done, barristers will challenge those are are doing well to enable them to do even better; ii) Spend a little time reflecting on what you could’ve done better…
15b) iii) Then stop beating yourself up. If you had a bad day you had a bad day. Go have a lie down, a drink of your poison of choice, and let it go (no I’m not doing a Frozen gif).
16) If you don’t succeed this year, same as above with individual applications. Doing interviews will make you better at doing interviews. You’ll know what to expect, even if it felt a bit bruising. Come back better and stronger next time. That’s what barristers do. GOOD LUCK!
17) Oh, and as many have mentioned in response to what triggered this. -Take advantage of your Inn!
offer mock interviews, and I believe the other Inns do the same. Barristers offering their time for free to help you.
18) And take care of yourselves. This is a grueling process. We’ve all been through it. NONE of us would like to do it again. Breathe, take time for yourself, and if it starts to get you down remember this too shall pass.
The best advice I could give to anyone hunting pupillage anywhere is to read and digest
@Pupillages annual report – 5essexcourt.co.uk/images/uploads – it is not just for those looking to apply to us!
For potential trainees: tailor your covering letter to the firm; research their website; say what you can do for the firm, not what you want from the firm.
For aspiring solicitors (presumably similar): have a personality; highlight what makes you different; showcase genuine interest in the firm/set/work; talk about past achievements but also future aspirations; have short focussed answers; show some passion; be engaging; be likeable
I think the likeable comment is true. I am a sucker to those that I interview who I find that I like. Trouble is it’s very subjective and personal. I suppose showing some of yourself, your personality, might be the way to do it. It’s a cliche, but be yourself.
1. Show a snapshot of your real life and what you actually enjoy doing. Everyone has really good academics, have done multiple mini pupillages and enjoy ‘going to the cinema’ or ‘volunteering’. Far rather know what makes you a little bit different and a bit more interesting
2. Actually work our why our chambers is the best for you. Don’t just tell us what our website says. Don’t say you are really interested in crime when we don’t specialise in it. Be honest but try and explain why you would be a good fit. You’re going to have to work there everyday.
Oh, and despite what you might think, life at the bar is not a solo endeavour. Ever. Work out what you can do for chambers and what they can do for you. Be as certain as you can that, above all, you will enjoy the work, the people and the place.
I learnt that one the hard way!
I have sat on pupillage interview panels for 12 years. I would say (1) preparation. Re-read your application form, spend time on the chambers website, read any big recent cases in chambers area of work, prepare answers to obvious questions (why you want to be a barrister).
Look at chambers criteria (eg team player) and think of a good eg of when you showed that skill/characteristic. (2) control nerves as much as possible. Breathing exercises might help (3) project as much confidence as possible-do a free mock interview and avoid nervous ticks.
(4) be very early. Make sure you know how to get to chambers and leave lots of spare time (5) be nice to the receptionist
(6) answer the question you are being asked not the question you want to answer (7) if you haven’t read something or don’t understand the question tell us, don’t try to carry on regardless (8) don’t feel the need to ramble on & fill the silence-answer the q & wait for the next question.
Interviewing as a method of recruiting is pretty useless. You end up with lawyers who are pretty and useless. Confirmation bias will find objective reasons to justify hiring good looking candidates. At least get them to interview you which actually tests a relevant skill.
This may be true in other fields but (and I mean this in the nicest possible way and include myself) looking around the Bar it seems very, very unlikely that we have been selected on the basis of our looks
Colm Nugent 11 things not to do in a pupillage interview
Legal Cheek 12 tips on how to secure pupillage
Filling in the pupillage application form: 5 things you need to know.
Chambers Student Pupillage application tips
Chambers Student An aspiring barrister shares his tips on searching for pupillage
5 Essex Court 2019 Pupillage Selection Report
The Lawyer Practical Advice for completing pupillage application forms
Don’t (ever )forget Pupillage and How to Get It
(this has a specific section on interviews)