Whether you’re looking to start your first six or considering a third, applying for pupillage can be an overwhelming experience. With the Bar Standards Board (BSB) requiring that pupillages are advertised only on the central pupillage website for two weeks, and applications allowed for up to 12 sets, it’s easy to make mistakes in the application process. Below are six tips to bear in mind when completing what should be, with luck, a successful pupillage application.
Kaplan Law School recently hosted a “Pupillage Application Question Time”. A key factor repeatedly mentioned was that the people reading your applications are not recruiters; they are barristers who have volunteered their free time to be on the chambers pupillage committee. Their having finished a day of preparation for court, your application is unlikely to be the first they have read that day, nor the last. They will appreciate a concise and succinct application. As Sam Wallace of New Court Chambers said, “the word limit is a limit not a goal!”
Completing 12 applications may not be an enjoyable process, and regurgitating your grades, achievements and extra-curriculars may begin to feel repetitive. But it’s important that this isn’t reflected in your application. Shaen Catherwood of Devereux Chambers advises that applications are “an exercise in written advocacy” and that they should be treated not “as a chore but as a vital step towards your career at the Bar”. Ensuring that your application flows well by using expressive and imaginative language, you can utilise your application to demonstrate your articulate and persuasive abilities.
Blogger Legal Beagle emphasises that it is important to “make clear that your decision to be a barrister is an informed one” and to “show that you have a realistic expectation of what pupillage will be like”. You can begin to do this by illustrating what you have already learnt whilst on mini-pupillage. Furthermore, you can use this as an opportunity to show why you have chosen a particular set. If you’re interested in clinical negligence, chambers specialises in it and it’s an area that their junior barristers practise in, say so! Correspondingly, if you’re unsure what you want to practise, it’s OK to say you’ve chosen chambers for the breadth of their practice areas.
Martin Soorjoo, a Partner at Judicial Appointment Training and a veteran with over ten years’ service on his chambers pupillage committee, has highlighted the risk of PARF: Pupillage Application Reviewer’s Fatigue. With applicants required to provide “similar information in a standardised format”, a symptom of PARF is the “growing belief that all applications are the same”. Soorjoo suggests that you can counter (or perhaps cure) this by presenting a unique selling point (USP) to differentiate yourself. A USP should capture or regain the reviewer’s interest. Which unique or distinctive aspect you choose to highlight is up to you. However, it may be preferable to choose something non-law related and it’s important to choose your USP carefully as you want your application to convey that you’re “interesting with some unique strengths and experiences, as opposed to someone with a bizarre personality”.
As with any application, accuracy, punctuation and grammar are of the utmost importance. Proofread your application and, if possible, have someone else read over it too. Watch out for little mistakes. Ensure that your contact details are correct and that you have addressed the application to the right contact in chambers. Make sure you apply as a chambers has requested: online, by email or with an application form. “We ask for a handwritten covering letter”, barrister Legal Beagle blogs, “but every year about 25% of the letters we get are typed”. With hundreds of applications to sift through, small mistakes can easily land yours in the “No” pile.
Don’t assume the worst. Not hearing back from chambers for a week or even a month doesn’t necessarily translate as rejection. It may be weeks before your application is considered and longer before final decisions are made. Be patient. If you’re anxious to know the status of your application, resist the urge to phone the clerks and ask, wait at least a month and then enquire in writing.
Good luck! And if you have any tips to add or experiences to report, please post them in the comments below.