Tips for tackling your Pupillage Applications



So it’s that wonderful time of year again – Pupillage Application time. I hope that you have already started to choose where you will be applying. Choose wisely! Here are a few tips that helped me to complete successful applications last year.

Choosing where to apply

1 – Be picky

This goes against the usual phrase “beggars can’t be choosers” but it will benefit you in the long run. Yes, we are all “desperate” to gain pupillage, however, there are limited places and you also have limited chances (at least on the gateway). Therefore, using your chances wisely and strategically, rather than throwing yourself at any and every opportunity out there, is a smart move.

Make a list of your top sets, then go back and prioritise them. Whilst working through the list consider:

  1. What is their application process? If they expected me to submit an application, a novel and jump through a hoop to even be considered for interview, I decided they were off the list or put them closer to the bottom. It is fair for them to have a tough application process as it is very competitive, however, the applications are time consuming and it is not worth spending valuable time on a ridiculously complicated process for a set you are not too bothered about joining.
  2. Look at the pros and cons of the set. Does it cover all of your areas of interest? Is it a reputable set? What is their training and support like? Will you fit in? Will you have to relocate somewhere you really don’t want to live?
  3. Do you like the look of them? Some websites are not as appealing as others and you can get a feel for the set from their website, paying particular attention to its tone and structure. (I interviewed at a set last year whose website had been “under construction” for four months. So when they asked me what I knew about them I knew very little. This was the final straw for me considering they had been late. It was a 9am interview on a foggy morning and I had driven 3 hours to get there! After that I decided that I was not yet so desperate to go to such a set.

Complete your favourite applications first, down to your least favourite. That way, if you run out of time you have at least covered your favourite sets. This leads to my next point.

2 – Quality over Quantity

My first proper attempt at applications was my first year after the BPTC. My aim was to get as many done as possible. I think that I completed around 60+ applications and received a few first-round interviews. A year later (and much wiser in this pupillage application game), I decided that I would focus on quality and simply do as many to the best of my ability as I could. I started only applying to sets that I had a genuine interest in and that covered my areas of law. It helped.

A well written, focused application will be more valuable than five half-hearted applications. By focusing on quality you will avoid certain school-boy errors and spelling mistakes. Remember that chambers read hundreds of applications over a short period of time, if yours is too generic or riddled with spelling mistakes, it’s likely to be tossed to the unsuccessful pile.

What to write in the applications

3 – Be specific

I’ve always had a passion for criminal law and an interest in family. Last year I made a conscious decision to follow my passion. When applying to each set, your application really must match their areas of work.  Sure, you can copy and paste bits from one application to the next. However, just because the sets do similar work doesn’t mean that they are the same. Some criminal sets may lean more heavily toward business crime, or may undertake solely defence work. Thus mentioning the fact that you would like to prosecute the “criminals” out there, especially in murder and rape cases won’t really impress them. However, if you note that they were involved in an international case or have connections to courts in other jurisdictions which you may have visited, that will show a specific link to that set and your interest in their areas.

Be specific to the law set – many are ‘leading’ sets in their areas, in fact, most claim to be . . . but are they really? What cases have they done that have made big news? What awards do they have that others don’t? Show them that you have researched and care about their set and haven’t just copied and pasted the same blurb for the past four applications. Remember you have a limited word count so keep it specific to them, your areas of interest and to you.

4 – Sell yourself, not “the perfect pupil”

We all have an idea of what the “perfect pupil” looks like and what their application should show. If you don’t, just look at the most recent pupils on a few chambers’ websites. Remember though that there is a huge element of subjectivity. What makes you stand out to one set, may be common place to the members at another. You need to show them who you really are, what are you beyond a law student who loves the law, volunteering and reading.

Brainstorm you – what makes you unique – what can you bring to the table? It is quite cringe-worthy talking so much about yourself, though I know some don’t mind. Think back to your experiences and how you can effectively bring them into your application. Can you play the accordion? Make sure you spin it to show your dedication and interest in less common musical instruments.

Also consider what things you can relate to with members at the set. Do they have many French speakers, or a connection to Mozambique?  If you can speak a certain language or have in lived in said countries, it may help to mention it. Again it shows that you are interesting, that you would fit into the set and that you know something specific about them.

At all times just remember. These are barristers have literally read hundreds and thousands of applications. There’s only so many things you can say about their set, the areas of law as they’ve likely heard most of them before. However, they don’t know you. How can you stand out? What can you say that will make them remember you and want to invite you to interview?

5 –  Name drop

I never thought I’d do this, but I had been advised time and again to name drop. So if you met (and I mean actually met and spoke to, even for a second) a barrister/pupil/clerk from the particular set that you are applying to then mention it. I’m not suggesting stating that you spotted Amal Clooney crossing the road, however, if you observed her in court and can mention the specific case then it’s worth mentioning it when applying to her set. If you got the chance to speak or get introduced to her, even better. Believe me – they will ask!

Good luck this season and remember that it’s a process that hundreds successfully pass each year, make sure it includes you.

11 April 2016

Ruth Reid

Starting Pupillage this autumn


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