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Pupillage interview tips

The road to pupillage can be a relentless and arduous journey. Each one of us has spent many hours, and late nights, answering infinite iterations of “why do you want to be a barrister” before mustering the courage to press the ‘submit’ button. With the ominous silence that ensues, that instantaneous feeling of achievement (and relief) is all too often quickly forgotten. What follows is weeks of frantic refreshing of your inbox as you wait to see if you have been invited to a first-round interview.

It can take longer than expected and hoped, to obtain pupillage. It took me four years of applications and only a few interviews over that time. But once you receive the coveted golden ticket, it’s time to think about preparing for the first round.

The process at every set varies; some start with advocacy exercises, others with competency questions. Whichever it may be, the first round is your opportunity to get to know the set, and for them to get to know you. With that in mind, I have rounded up a few tips from members of chambers, across the board and pupillage panel, which I hope will be helpful:

"Prepare some standard competency-based answers."

We all know the interviews will have questions based around the key competencies for barristers: integrity, working under pressure, diversity, compassion, dealing with adversity, to name a few. It never hurts to have a pre-prepared answer to that type of question, not least of all because it helps you feel a bit more relaxed during the interview.

"Be informed"

Keep up to date with the legal news and research cases in the lead up to your interview. Chances are you will be asked for your opinion or understanding on a recent legal development. Where you get your news is important to. There are lots of great sources out there. For example, The Times reports cases and has ’The Brief’ newsletter; Inner Temple has its own ‘Current Awareness - Daily Digest’.

"Research chambers again."

If you have done a mini-pupillage with the chambers in the past it can help you speak with conviction about why you want to join them. Research the areas of practice and the practices of individual members, to show insight into life at the Bar.

"Stop, take a breath, and think before you answer a question."

Pausing before you answer a question gives you time to really think about the question and give your best response. It also shows that you are properly considering the question. It’s not a race, the quality of an answer is better than the speed of the response.

"Don't be afraid of silence"

When taking time to think your answer through, what may seem like an eternity to you is most likely not even noticed by a panel.

"Try to relax and enjoy the conversation."

Do no try to be someone else. Remember that a chambers is not looking for the finished article. A candidate who is honest about the where they are in their journey shows strength not weakness.

"Don’t sit on the fence."

There is never a right answer to a question. Some questions are designed to identify which side of the argument you are comfortable with, so that the panel can ask you to argue the opposite. When arguing for or against a point of view, the key will be how you present your side of the argument, rather than whether or not you are correct.

"It's ok not to know an answer."

You might be asked a question on a point of law you're unfamiliar with, or you might miss a point in an advocacy exercise. It's okay to admit that you don’t know the answer, but do try to work through the problem logically. Show the panel how you would react if you were faced with the problem in practice.

"Say what you think, not what you think we want to hear."

Within reason, obviously.

"What makes you stand out?"

Nearly everyone has good grades, has mooted, and gained various legal work experience. If you have an unusual interest or have done something a bit different, utilise it in the interview.

"Life experiences, rather than legal experiences, are often the most powerful stories you have to tell and sell."

Legal experience is great, and it helps in many ways, but don’t write off the rest of your life. We have all overcome challenges on our journey and gained achievements along the way. It is how you relate this experience to your future career and what it says about you to the panel that is key.

"Be confident."

Imposter Syndrome is never more prevalent than at interviews. You have been invited to interview because chambers were impressed by your application. You are there on merit, believe in yourself and hold your head up high!

"Be yourself!"

Too many of us worry about what chambers is looking for and what type of person they want. So much so that we try to reflect what we think that is during the interview process. In fact, what you think they are looking for is usually wrong. Chambers want individuals, not carbon copies and certainly not people pretending to be someone they are not. Individuality can get you a long way.

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