Like many thousands of law students all over the country, for the last couple of months, I have been trying to obtain a pupillage. ‘Pupillage’ is a word that is loaded with so many meanings, outcomes and emotions – gruelling interviews, offers, rejections, ‘fitting in’, intellectual ability, euphoria and disappointment.
Despite my more advanced years and the non-traditional path that led me to this point (I am in my thirties, working full time, and was always more ‘political’ than ‘legal’), I have thrown myself fully into seeking pupillage in an attempt to try and get through what is the most rigorous and bewildering recruitment process I have ever experienced.
The staff at The City Law School have dedicated hour upon hour to reviewing CVs to help create tailored application forms, running mock interviews, mock advocacy exercises and a day of lectures and advice on the bewildering process. The advice helped and I was delighted when I secured a number of interviews with Chambers. Of course, that’s when the real work starts!
You can guarantee there will be a legal problem to solve but I found myself wondering; what else makes up the pupillage interview we work so hard to get?
Convincing a panel of established Barristers to hire you requires preparation, so I signed up for a mock interview with City’s Pupillage Advice Service. As instructed, I arrived dressed for court - I was terrified! The questions came thick and fast: “What do you think of the concept of merit?”; “Which historical figure would you like to be featured in an exhibition in a London museum?”; What are you most proud of having achieved in your life?
This stage is about showing the interview panel who you are and why you would be a good fit, so it’s crucial to research the Chambers and their selection criteria. The mock interview made me think about the image I wanted to convey to people who would be meeting me for the first time. In my feedback, I was told that I had not smiled and needed to engage more with the panel. Food for thought.
We were told that at some stage during the interview you are likely to be presented with a proposition. To prepare we were given a mock advocacy exercise. For example, ‘Should prisoners have the right to vote’? or ‘Should drugs in sport be legalised?’ We were picked at random, one by one, to argue our point. Those who thought they had been let off the hook were then selected to cross examine the first speaker on the arguments they’d just made. It meant we had to stay alert at all times and think on our feet. We learnt quickly that there’s unlikely to be an easy answer but there will be an expectation that you stand your ground and back up your point with reasoned arguments and evidence.
We were told that this is a topic that is highly likely to come up in any pupillage interview. We could be asked a question about the ‘principle’ of something – for example, the ‘Cab Rank Rule’ – or we could be given a set of facts and asked to discuss whether we believed any ethical issues arose. To tackle either, we were advised to ‘contextualise’ the situation and demonstrate that we were aware of a wide range of angles. Rob discussed two scenarios with us. The first was what to do in the situation where we were a criminal barrister and were told we would receive the same fee for our client whether they pleaded guilty or not guilty. This led to a lively debate amongst the students as those of us interested in practising at the criminal Bar are fully aware of the Government’s current proposals to pay one fee whatever the plea or outcome of the case. My own reading of the Code of Conduct explicitly says that your client’s interests come first and that if your client has a defence then you must advise that client to plead ‘not guilty’.
This is a perhaps the most important ability skill a Barrister requires and one which you are required to display throughout the interview. However, you may also be asked about the processes involved when representing a client in court. The preparatory Criminal Advocacy Session began with how to make a decent bail application. The fundamental question to consider was whether there was a “substantial risk” of interference with a witness, failing to surrender or committing another offence. We learnt that structure in a bail application was crucial because you need to let the court know where you were going and why.
At the end of the day, I put on my new black suit and heels (I almost never wear heels) and trotted off to my first pupillage interview at a well-known criminal focused Chambers around the corner.
What were the exercises? To argue a proposition and to make a bail application!
Miranda Grell is studying the P/T BPTC at The City Law School, City University London