This blog represents my views and opinions. They are not necessarily those of any other member of my Chambers, none of whom contribute to the blog, or assist me with it.


Now moved to http://pupillageandhowtogetit.wordpress.com/ for reasons of convenience and ease. Come and see.

Thursday 28 August 2008

Huge Announcement

This Blog is moving. The title above is a link.

Nothing else has changed. I just want somewhere where I can make this look cleaner and uncluttered and where I can make things just as I want them (which will be as soon as I have mastered CSS: i.e. a long time) - or at least a bit more as I wish. I will also get better stats, and you will hopefully find it easier to read and to find your way around. Comments are welcome.

I am not deleting this site yet, but I will be posting and commenting on the other site. Almost all your comments have migrated successfully. I will try and cut and paste the rest.

See you over on the other side...

Sunday 24 August 2008

Desolation Row

I have the permission of the author of the question below to post my answer:

Been reading your blog for quite some months now. However, unless I'm mistaken, there is something of an omission from the listings - what should you be feeling if you fail to get a pupillage the first time around?

I'm in that boat. Having done the Oxbridge thing, I went to City and did ok-ish on the conversion course (high commendation with a few distinctions). I got quite a few second round interviews (7 to be precise) but got absolutely nothing apart from a few reserve places that did not materialise. I was, and still am, pretty distraught over the failure and really don't know what to do. For the sake of frankness, I feel pretty much locked into the BVC (having paid the cash, thanks to the beautiful deadlines for finding out about pupillage) and feel like a very undesirable candidate.

At the risk of turning your blog into a psychologist's couch, what should someone like me be thinking? Is the second attempt going to be a fruitless one? Is there going to be any sort of discrimination as a result of the first failure? Having not set the world alight in my conversion course, am I now a less valuable prospect? Should I not apply to the same Chambers, as the outcome will be inevitable? What should I be doing for the horrible intervening year after the BVC?"

Good question.

I am not sure that I can tell you what you ought to be thinking. Surely that is a matter for you. Certainly, how you are feeling will have an effect on what you do. If you really are impossibly discouraged and despondent then it might be best to walk away. A second failure might be too much to take and your own peace of mind is more important than a job.

However, what I think you mainly mean is whether it is worth carrying on, given the matters you identify in your last paragraph. Do you only have one bite of the cherry? Well, back in the day (mine), not getting a pupillage was the end and you went on to something else. Plainly, this is no longer the case. There are large numbers of candidates and ever reducing numbers of pupillages. Some people get lucky second time - I know someone who got lucky the third. There is no reason to think that you are washed up as far as the bar is concerned, simply because you got interviews but no offers.

However, you do have to ask yourself whether the lack of offers is because of something you are doing. It may not be. It is perfectly conceivable that not yet being on the BVC, you lacked an edge that others had. You may not have done mini-pupillages, or researched the sets well enough, or missed out key points on the issues discussed at interview. Only you can say, but you need to be pretty rigorous with yourself about it. It clearly isn't an academic issue given your qualifications: if it were there would have been no interviews. The grade achieved in the conversion course may be important for the magic circle sets, but it is irrelevant to anyone else. The real question for you is why you did not shine in interview.

This is an issue I used to force under my own pupils' noses. If you lose a case, the temptation is to blame your client, your opponent, the witnesses and the Judge. It may all be true. But 99.9% of the time there is something which you could have done to make a difference. People who are going to be good barristers cannot afford to be frightened of the process of self-criticism which identifies what that is.

There is also a question of pride and where it fits into your perception of yourself. If the Chairman of the Committee (or the Judge) takes an instinctive and unreasonable dislike to you, what can you do to stop it happening again? I have encountered people who feel that the question itself dignifies the prejudice (as indeed it does) and therefore refuse to answer it. Such people are principled but tend not to make good barristers. When you do a case it isn't about you - it's about your client. If the Judge will only listen if you wear black and stripes, a plain white shirt and a collar starched like iron then the Judge is idiotic, but get out there and shop. Ditto in interviews - however much it wasn't your fault, what can you do to change?

In reality of course there usually
is something you can change and it usually needs changing. Unreasoning prejudice isn't unknown in the legal profession but it's a lot rarer than critics and disappointed applicants (not you) would like to make out. Equally, Judges do have irrational dislikes and they do, occasionally, try to hold people back. But I would say that for every ten barristers who attribute their lack of professional advancement to such causes, only one is right.

I know people at the Bar who have reasonable practices even though they are too fragile or self-obsessed to go through this process of asking what they did wrong. So one can't say it is critical. But I think it is critical if you want to be really good. There is nothing more depressing than hearing a junior tenant seriously blaming someone other than themselves for a disappointing result ('the Judge was just a bastard' is different, providing that it's clear they do not believe that this is the be all and end all) - save possibly when that person is another junior tenant or pupil.

My guess is that you will be able to identify things that could be better and make the necessary changes. My advice is to examine everything from your substantive answers to the way you dressed and ask whether you are satisifed. Your friends can usually answer the question, 'what is it about me that would most turn you off', although I would ensure that they knew you really needed an honest answer and that everyone was completely sober. If the process takes over an hour then the Bar may not be the right profession.

I don't think you are damaged goods at all. I'm not sure I would reapply to the same sets, although without knowing which they were, it is impossible to say for sure. By and large, if they have rejected you then there is no particular reason to think they would feel differently next time round and the risk is that they feel the need to reach a consistent conclusion. Other sets do not need to know and probably won't ask.

If I were you and I got lucky second time around, then if I could afford it or could get a job to fund it, I would go away for a year. Any job you get to mark time is unlikely to be hugely enjoyable. I agree that the timing is unhappy and leads to this problem occurring with depressing frequency. If you need to work, then working as a paralegal is increasingly common and has the benefit of showing you how things work and introducing you to solicitors. Personally speaking, I wouldn't be a candidate on The Apprentice.

Thursday 14 August 2008

The Chance of Success

Pupillages and tenancies are being hurled around like confetti for those lucky few - to whom we (all of us being nice enough to rejoice in the joys of others) extend our congratulations: and the Bar is drawing its feelers in for the unlucky many.

These are interesting times - as most of you know, this is an ancient Chinese curse. Numbers of pupillages are down - it looks to be by about 50 when non-Olpas Chambers are factored in. Thus, there may be 450+ pupillages on offer, but it won't be many more and could well be many less - perhaps as few as 410. This is a drop of about 140 in 3 years. Meanwhile, the Wood report suggests that there were about 3,700 applicants for the last year in which figures were available.

The difficulty is that existing practices have more of a voice than practices-to-be. Theoretically, everyone can agree that people not doing so well ought not to hold back brilliant and worthy new arrivals. It's dog eat dog and the weak go to the wall. In reality, it's hard to say that to your room-mate. So, when the pressure is on - as it is at present with criminal and family fees down and the credit-crunch starting to bite - it's easy to decide that the best course is to let the current junior tenant consolidate their practice for a year. Net result, as Mr Micawber would say, misery.

This means you have to even better and luckier than previously. It is important not to think that you can't do it, just because you didn't get a pupillage this year. As usual there will be brilliant people who got in, brilliant people who didn't get in (fewer, but still there), good people who got in and who didn't (roughly even numbers) and some appalling choices which Chambers will come to regret, but it seemed good at the time.

There will also be a lot of people whose expectations were hugely inflated and who, frankly, were never going to get a pupillage even from their Mother. These people form a large proportion of applicants for any Chambers that I have ever heard from. They have indifferent academic qualifications for no good reason, they have done nothing of particular interest, they are often not terribly good at expressing themselves in writing or orally and display the range of vocabulary of a gnat. They are always terribly enthusiastic. I am afraid that they are wasting their time.

I have been banging on about this for a while now but the Wood report agrees, so it can be said again. The point is important because there is a risk that the no-hopers drag down the standard of teaching and discussion at the BVC, and they definitely screw up the statistics. In reality I reckon the chance of pupillage is not - as it appears to be statistically - about 1 in 8. Rather it is about 1 in 5 and maybe 4. These are still not great odds but they are a damn sight better than might be the case at first blush.

Before you go to the BVC, put your ambition aside and take a long, hard look at your abilities. Have you got really good results? If not, why not? Can you name a single achievement - of any kind - that stands out? When you measure yourself against the person you think is bound to succeed are you up there with that person? If not, think hard. You are about to spend a lot of money and it may be without any prospect of return. Alternatively, find a barrister and ask them to tell you truthfully whether they can see you succeeding.

Then go to work on your English. Learn a word a day. Practice actually writing; learn where to put an apostrophe; eliminate exclamation marks. Express yourself as simply as possible consistent with what you wish to say - contrary to what seems to be the view of many, it is not impressive use of English to adopt an orotund and prolix manner of expression. Such methods tend to put you in the pompous and boring bracket of a discriminating reader.

I am not trying to discourage people unduly. But the BVC is becoming cluttered - and I use the word advisedly - with those who will not succeed, ever. For those who are not in the market for a UK pupillage that is not a problem. For everyone else it is and a bit of realism would not go amiss.

Thursday 26 June 2008


This blog is on its holidays until the end of July. Any silence will, I trust, be forgiven. Have a good month - hope the exam results and the interview results go your way. Please let me know how you did. More, all being well, in August.

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Decision Time

And the Trumpet waxed exceeding loud (Exodus 19:19 - look it up): the pupil called (I digress only slightly) and Chambers responded with a voice (ditto). And, hopefully, the voice says 'it's you'.

It's that time of year again. Having sweated through University, the BVC, OLPAS, interviews and pupillage there comes the moment when Chambers says either 'yes please' or 'who are you?' You are in the last 5 of The Apprentice except that there may not be a winner at all and you won't be starting on a six-figure salary.

How do you do your best to ensure that you become a tenant? There are a number of comments below suggesting that this is of some concern to some of you.

The bad news is that, if you haven't started by now, you are too late. The quest to move from pupillage to tenancy starts with OLPAS and where you apply. If you are in a provincial set and you have done your work diligently, got on with your pupillage supervisor and those other members of Chambers with whom you have come into contact, been punctual, pleasant to the clerk and polite to the staff, done research willingly and competently and are unlikely to mess up a return then you are probably in. It is as simple as that.

The issue is starkest for those in London sets with more pupils than tenancy vacancies. In such sets, the qualities set out above will only suffice to get you to the starting gate. In addition to the above you will have had to been well spoken of by all, preferably had a recommendation from solicitors and, most unfortunately in my view, have been 'better' than your competition.

What does 'better' mean in this context? I am afraid I have no idea. One would hope that no selection would be made on perceived academic ability alone. In most areas of law, the ability to get on with the client and persuade the Judge is at least as important as that. The same can be said about whether you are the right type of person. Getting on with professional colleagues is important, but decent sets of Chambers are not nowadays looking for clones. The same difficulty applies to support from the clerks' room. There may be assessed work within the pupillage which levels the playing field. There may or may not be a quota as to the number of pupils taken on. Ultimately, it seems to me, someone has to recommend you, that person has to overcome any resistance, whether based on your performance or on the competing claim of another pupil, and that person has to have sufficient belief in you and clout in Chambers to carry the day. Does that sound like a lottery?

Here is a list of things you can do:
  • Be punctual. Barristers work hard and most come into Chambers in 'roll up the shirt sleeves and get started' mode. Waiting for you will not be high on their agenda or the list of things they want to be patient about.
  • Work hard. You will often be asked to get something done. It needs to be done on time to the absolute best of your ability. That means giving yourself time to pause for thought. Closing the lid of the computer and thinking 'I've finished - now for the pub' is an error. The pub is probably an ok idea; it's the 'I've finished' that causes the problem. You have to learnt to think about what you have said. Give yourself time and try to consider the arguments against it, the assumptions that underlay it (which you should have expressly stated), the law upon which it is based, the evidence which must be adduced to back up the legal submission. That process is often helped by a night's sleep - which means you need your first draft finished early. And then you need to compare your best effort with your pupillage supervisor's actual work. If they are the same then either you are a genius, or (and I am afraid this is more likely) your supervisor is stressed, pressured and hasn't been careful enough. They sign it and they get sued/lose the solicitor - but it will be your fault. You should be ready for your work to get sent out whilst simultaneously praying that it is not.
  • Be personally kind. If the set at which you are requires you to knife the opposition you should leave. Baby Barista in The Times is very funny, but she is not a real pupil. The nature of the job means that practitioners are often stressed, always tired, pressured and have forgotten what free time is. Most try mightily to restrain themselves when the option is to vent (in the sense that Krakatoa erupting might be called venting). Most are also trying hard to do a job for the client, with whose case they frequently have sympathy and whom they frequently like. Pupils are not exempt from this and are frequently battling with the unfamiliar and the sense of inadequacy which losing a lot of cases before you have had a chance to win many can bring. Narking people, sarcastic glances, deliberate unpleasantness and so forth are obviously unhelpful to your cause. But you will actually make a good impression if you are capable of offering some support. Making a cup of coffee, knowing when to shut up, knowing when to offer help, knowing when not to say 'about my day off': all these things will establish you as someone who can judge a situation. Being kind is the best way to do it, because the only errors you will make will be those of the not sticking the knife in type.
  • Be professionally sensible and learn. You will do your own cases during pupillage. You will not sleep the night before; you may (as I did) throw up in the cubicle of the Court toilet immediately before your case is called on; you will believe you see a brilliant point which would have eluded the mind of anyone without a planet sized brain such as the one you now see that you possess, only to find it evaporating like a civil liberty out on the streets alone. In fact, it is the client who should be worrying, but they are safe in the knowledge that their solicitor had recommended you as certain to win the case, because the clerk said would be brilliant on the assurance of the pupillage supervisor who said you might be able to find the Court. Ignorance, for clients, is bliss. What you must do is learn. That means asking what you could have done better and what you should have done. Was the Judge a little worked up? Why? Never mind that you tell you client that the Judge is well known for hating all defendants/claimants/respondents/appellants/people with a surname beginning with Z. What could you have done to stop the Judge being a little worked up? Have you taken a lousy point? Have you spent 20 minutes establishing that a duty of care is owed to other road users, with copious quotations from Donaghue v Stevenson? Have you failed to agree with your opponent that the photographs were accurate, thus requiring her to call the photographer, the chemist who developed them and the camera manufacturer (to show that the lens on that particular batch was without flaw)? Have you missed the main point, whilst labouring the one which sounded so good when last night, over the second bottle, you explained to your significant other exactly how you were going to use it to skewer your opponent? We have all been there. But most of us have not wanted to stay.
  • Work, rest and play. In that order.
  • Honestly assess the points you are asked to work on. You may not agree with your pupillage supervisor. Don't disagree to make an impression and check carefully. But if you believe the answer is different, say so. Research the point and say where the original conclusion falls down. And then offer the right answer. Don't cringe and don't make excuses for someone with whom you disagree. And don't rub it in either.
  • Members of Chambers will generally be only too willing to help you with your work. But they are assisting you - not doing it for you.
  • Solicitors are the mummy bird delivering the worm to your open beak. Treat them accordingly. Don't keep them waiting. Don't treat them like idiots, servants, your best mate or the Lord of your Manor. This is a professional relationship. Remember names. If people tell you where they are going on holiday, ask if they had a good time when they get back. Be able to tell the difference between developing a relationship and begging. The aim is to get them to ring Chambers and sing your praises. Contrary to what you may believe, they will not do so if offered money (or it won't count if they do). Find out what they want from you (often, asking the question works wonderfully well) and then do it. Find out what they don't want from you (for example a phone call every time you find a new point - however superb) and don't do it.
  • Work out who carries clout in Chambers. There is always an engine room - usually juniors of between 10 and 15 years call - which brings in a vast amount of work. Meet those people; do things for them; try and get on; try and get to meet their solicitors. There is often a rain-maker - someone who brings in more clients than she can possibly need for herself. Do some work for her if you can. If you have rain-making ability, see if you can demonstrate it. The aim is not to crawl to these people - it is to showcase your talent. If you are any good they will form a favourable judgment without you needing to ask.
  • Be excited and passionate. A pose of world-weary cynicism does not suit you. Show that you do actually care about justice. Show that you enjoy legal research (if you do), or working up a cross-examination (if you do), or plotting the strategy that, 5 letters down the line, will mean the case settles in your client's favour (if you do). If none of this appeals then you may really be a world-weary cynic. Stop being a barrister and either get medical help or start living.
  • Enjoy yourself. You are your own boss, surviving on your own talents, beholden to no one (alright, not many people), doing the job you love, which has a real value to us all and will make you a comfortable living. You beat out all the other people to get this far. Even if you don't get tenancy here there are other places. And much better to have really tried than to have always thought 'if only'.
  • Be honest if asked to assess yourself. Say what you believe you have done well and why. Say what you believe you have not done as well as you could and why. Say what you believe you struggle about and why. If Chambers are any good they know this anyway. This is advocacy - you acknowledge your bad points and hammer home the good. You should never have to say 'I didn't try/work hard enough'. You should always be able to identify a remedial strategy. You are selling yourself so do it properly.
I hope that helps. When (if) interviewed do as below, but add in the things that you will - by now - know your interviewers want/need to hear.

Finally - be lucky. We all need it. Hope that - as PG Wodehouse had it- for you, fate is not, unseen in the background, quietly slipping the lead into the boxing glove. No one can make you lucky but you won't be lucky if you ever underestimate it - or ever rely on it.

Thursday 5 June 2008

More on Interviews

By popular request.

Jewellery: discreet please. Wedding rings are fine - if yours looks like it really belongs on Snoopy Dawg-Dawg then it may require some adjustment. Men's signet rings are fine - half the panel will be wearing them. Masonic rings are not such a good idea these days. Women's rings are fine too, providing that the stone is not the size of a small mountain. But do try not to be the lady on the white horse. Similarly, for women small and smart earrings are not a problem. Some people still think that pearls and diamonds are for evening wear only so I would steer away. The bright red fishing lure - original though it undoubtedly is - should be left at home. Earrings for men are still a huge risk. Necklaces are fine for women, but do try not to convey the impression that you would be at risk of being mugged on your way to court. Once you are a tenant you can be as bling as you like, but less is more at interview. If the panel can see a man's necklace, he is either not sensibly dressed or a time machine has transported everyone back to the 1970's.

Providing that your form was filled in honestly, I see no need to correct the grade you are likely to get. However, at interview you must not tell lies. Consequently, if asked, you must explain the change and be able to explain it. 'I stopped working because going on the lash was much more interesting' is not an acceptable explanation. There is also the tricky matter of an offer being conditional on a particular grade. I don't know if Chambers are doing this, but if so it might be sensible to volunteer that you may have slipped a couple of points. If they want you it is unlikely to matter.

Traditionally Chambers did not worry about the BVC grade. That seems, anecdotally, to be changing. If that is so then a Competent is unlikely to be good enough. The real issue is why that is your grade. A good explanation should be enough. The best advice I can give is to check Chambers own requirements. If they are not looking for a VC or higher then I would not worry about a Competent grade. Whether it is high or low is irrelevant, providing you didn't just scrape through by one or two points.

I agree that the more specialised the pupillage, the more depth to the legal knowledge required. The reason is simple enough: if you want to do patent work then it is presumed that you have bothered to find out quite a lot about it. How else can they distinguish you from the common or garden sociopath applying for such a pupillage?

If the Smarties were on the desk then I would tend to the view that those behind it were not smart.

One final thought. Do not try and make the panel laugh. The strategy is simply too high risk. By all means make a light hearted comment if the occasion arises, if it is appropriate and if it is in tune with the atmosphere. But jokes and comedy routines will not succeed unless you are Emo Phillips (and in some Chambers not even then). Barristers take pupillage selection terribly seriously and the best you will do is to achieve nothing.

Thursday 29 May 2008


Welcome back. A combination of idleness, lack of topics, computers tumbling like ninepins (although it is tenpin bowling - does anyone have an explanation?) and work have meant a long silence.

Anyhow, the OLPAS forms are in and, all over the jurisdiction, Chambers are sifting, applying their equality and diversity policies and fighting over who should be given 45 minutes to change their lives. A little like Britain's Got Talent, although without the premium phone lines or the belly dancing.

I could think of almost nothing to say about the OLPAS form. Bewilderingly, although we are now encouraged to take positive action in respect of under-represented groups, the OLPAS form contains no space for a candidate to say if, for example, they suffer from a disability.

However, insofar as the next step is concerned, I thought I might have something helpful to say. Statistically, most people who get one interview will be offered more than one - and a large number of applicants will not be offered an interview at all. The odds, therefore, significantly shorten at the interview stage. Moreover, this is the chance for a candidate to showcase themselves. I have already posted about this, but it was a long time ago. Regard what comes below as additional information.

First, dress: obviously you have the right to dress as you please. However, those interviewing you will probably be dressed for work. That means conservative colours - dark gray or dark blue are safest. Black can look a little mafiosi-like on men, but is fine for women. Brown is just about ok for women and is not ok for men. It also means toning down the look - wide striped shirts in bold colours are fine when you have pupillage. Blue, pink or white with a small pattern is best for interview. Ties should be discreet. Most barristers wear double cuffed shirts. If you are going to do so, please do not secure them with a lump of gold the size of a small country. Women are fine in trousers, but again the cut should be conservative. Skirts should be of a reasonable length. These are not rules. They are advice. Unless your interview is specifically informal dress - in which case the anxiety quotient will doubtless zoom skyward in the absence of guidance - you should dress formally. And clean your shoes - when formal shoes are dirty they are the first thing anyone notices. If you don't believe me then wear dirty formal shoes and ask your friends.

Second: punctuality. Be on time. Someone will be waiting to let you in because your interview is unlikely to be during working hours. That someone is likely to be a junior tenant. They may not be asked for their views, but if you kept them waiting 20 minutes they might just give them anyway. The panel will try to run to time, but they are allowed to be late. You are not.

Third: the handshake. I mention it because people have said they worry about it. I would ask the person with me before I was shown in. When I interviewed prospective pupils with 2 others handshakes were fine. I have also interviewed with 6 others and handshakes at the beginning and the end would have taken up half the alloted time and would have involved the participants in some bizarre choreography. It may be that handshakes are not expected. If no answer is forthcoming, I would wait for the people interviewing you to give a lead. In any event keep it short, firm and dry.

Fourth: the answers. The panel will have expected you to bone up on the key and topical issues. If you haven't then you better be able to write legal philosophy. Assuming you have, don't feel that disclosing your sources is a bad thing. Let the panel know what books you have read, what internet sites you have visited (obviously in pursuit of legal knowledge), what lectures you have attended. On the other hand, don't let your answer turn into a list. 'I was particularly persuaded with what X said in last year's Reith Lectures and as a result I bought Y's book on Z, which I think really sets out the issues, particularly A...' is about as much name dropping as you can hope to get away with. And make it appropriate - if the above is your answer to whether possession of photographs of people being assaulted is or should be a criminal offence you have missed the point of the question (please note: I am giving nothing away here. I have no idea of the questions to be asked by any set of Chambers, including my own).

There is also nothing wrong, particularly in 'problem' questions, with letting the panel see your reasoning. That is not the same as letting them see you change your mind there and back like a weather vane on speed whilst you scan the room looking for visual clues. We know you do this - the kindly nod might not be to assist you, but to assess whether you have the nerve to hold your own line. You are on your own and you are being asked to demonstrate that you can do a job where conclusions are often the subject of robust challenge.

Fifth: relax. I know this is hard and quite possibly impossible. But the panel are looking to get the best out of you. Chambers are genuinely interested in acquiring talent, developing it and keeping it. It may be that, if you are incapable of relaxing, the job may not be for you. But do try and think of the interview as a conversation between similarly informed parties. The best interviews test your intelligence, ability to think on your feet, judgment and ability to apply knowledge. We can't usually improve much on those. Your legal knowledge can be fixed during and after pupillage so, in most sets of Chambers, it merely needs to be in the ballpark (this may not be true for the magic circle sets). If you are expected to know as much law as someone of 7 years call then, although it will not be much comfort to you, it is the Chambers who have screwed up - not you.

Sixth: your questions. There is always a yawning gap whilst interviewees struggle painfully, and usually visually, to think of the question no one else has asked. Forget it. All possible questions have by now been asked, save the ones so asinine, so inappropriate or so peripheral as to not be worth asking. Ask yourself what you want to know and ask it of the panel. If there isn't anything then say something like 'No, thank you. I did a mini-pupillage here and pumped Ms X for information until her ears bled. I know this is where I want to come.'

Seventh: your exit. I think that, at this point, unless hands are offered, there is no need to shake everyone's hand again. You stand up. You look round. You say, 'thank you very much for the offer of an interview and for letting me say what I wanted to say.' You leave, usually accompanied. Do not say to your companion 'how do you think it went?' They will say 'fine', whether it did or not, and they will label you as (justifiably) nervous. Say goodbye - and go.

Eighth: your manners. I know this probably sounds patronising but do say please and thank you. If I do not have to tell you this, then you are not the person to whom I am speaking. Do open doors for others. Do not chew gum. Do not text when talking to other people, or when other people are with you - even when you are not directly involved in the conversation. These things are rude and you are not helping yourself if you do it. Speak clearly and look at the person asking you the questions. Smile - appropriately (grinning like a maniac when someone is saying 'are you really sure about that answer' is not recommended). If you can do it without being blindingly obvious try and mirror your interlocutor's body language - few things are more flattering and most people will not even realise you are doing it.

I hope that helps. Don't be frightened to fail. Providing you are not mad then say what you really think about the issues. Passion and showing that something matters help to distinguish you - people will make allowances for the fact they may disagree. And be positive - you have got this far. Your chances are reasonable. When Joanie Caucus was applying to law school, the kids she was looking after as a nursery nurse would sit with her and chant 'You Gotta Believe'. Well, you gotta. Good luck.

Sunday 9 March 2008

Mature Entrants

The question of whether a mature entrant has an equal chance of obtaining a pupillage has been a fairly frequently asked question, so I thought I would address it in a post.


That answer applies generally to the three main classes of people who ask it - those who have done a non-law first degree and worry about falling behind those who read law; those who have taken a number of years out and those who have actually had a different job first.

By and large Chambers are not terribly bothered about your previous history (although if it involves an extended stay at HM Pleasure then that generalisation may not apply to you). They are certainly not worried about a non-law degree and some specialist Bars (such as the Patent Bar) almost require it. However, the same guidelines apply to non-law degrees as to law degrees - the result has to be good and the University has to be good. Moreover, just as some sets are starting to look at your chosen options within a law degree, so it may assist you to stress the use to which your first degree can be put. If it is Management Studies and you are applying to common-law or commercial sets, this may be simple. If it is the Aromatherapy and Therapeutic Bodywork course offered by the University of Greenwich, then you may need to be little more inventive. Perhaps this course has taught you the aromatic preparation required to ensure that witnesses tell the truth?

If you have taken a number of years out, you will have to be prepared to say why. Needing to find your inner child or taking time to chill are not necessarily going to recommend you. Becoming an Olympic Bobsleigher might. Voluntary work, Student Union sabbaticals, sailing the world all seem not to damage prospects. The only point to which attention should be drawn is that these are supposed to be maturing experiences. So more may be expected of you.

Changing job is more difficult. There are people who simply had to go out and earn a living at a time when the Bar was a risk. Now, in a much improved financial position, they are returning to what they always wanted to do. There are also people who just wanted a change and, having been successful in one career, now desire success in another. Both categories have the capacity to obtain a pupillage, but it is normally necessary to show exactly why now is the time. Wide eyed enthusiasm is not as convincing a reason as it is in the recently qualified, because people who have already succeeded in something know that the world is not always an oyster, and even if it is, what's inside is often just sand.

The other reason why a job change can often be difficult is the category of applicant broadly defined by the following statement: "I was doing really well in human resources and had just been promoted to vice-deputy assistant in charge of cleaning staff. I thought, 'that's just the push I need' and everyone always said to me that I could talk the hind-leg off a donkey so when I told my boss that the promotion gave me the confidence I needed to be a barrister, she said she thought I'd be brilliant so I decided to go for it. I am the person you need to enthuse all your clients with the desire to get out there and win that case". I exaggerate, but you get the point. You do have to demonstrate why previous success means that you will succeed at the Bar.

Finally, professional advancement, although not terribly age-dependant, is an issue. You have to be at the Bar 10 years to take silk or to sit. In practice that is closer to 20. That means that, if you come to the Bar in your 30s you won't be sitting until your late 40s and silk may be unattainable because, at 50+, you may not feel like the risk. Normally, Chambers are unconcerned by these matters - but it may bother you.

As for applications, I would suggest asking the basic questions without frills (why be a barrister; why here; why now). When you've got the answers straight in your mind you can ask what your previous experience allows you to offer which others may not offer. But it is that way round. As the Bar has just discovered, being a successful TV Producer does not mean you will be a successful barrister. The Bar allows plenty of individual scope - but it is still about serving the public.

Friday 22 February 2008


I am sitting at my desk looking at a letter. The letter is from a young lady who appeared before me for sentence in January 2006. She had been dealing class A drugs. I imposed a suspended sentence with a Drug Treatment and Testing Order. That was on the lenient side of lenient, but what I had read suggested that it might work and she brought her Mum to court. I asked to hear from Mum, who seemed very sensible. I looked at the young lady. And, without being in the least bit confident about my own prescience, I took a deep breath...

The letter tells me that this young lady is now drug free. She has a job. She is buying a house. She has a daughter who is living with her. She thinks I saved her life, which I think is wrong - she saved her own life (there is little doubt that drugs would have killed her by now) by the actions she took. And the probation service saved her life.

I have never had a letter like that before and I was really very touched that this young lady had taken the trouble to write. The law affects peoples' lives. Sometimes it is nice to have proof that what you do makes a difference.

Blogger Aids

Ok, so the numbers have been whirring round rather faster than previously since I was reviewed by Law Careers.Net. I have had about 500 hits in 2 days, which is close to double the usual rate. I suppose I need them more than they need me - a salutary lesson for any barrister.

On the basis that there are new readers; welcome, enjoy reading the blog, feel free to comment freely, don't get offended and keep coming back.

Have a nice weekend and let your thoughts rest with Leeds United. The thought of a second season in the third division (now, in a fine example of grade inflation, known as League 1) is too much to bear.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Career Aids

My attention has been drawn to a competitor site to this one which attempts to provide career advice for aspiring barristers. Law Careers.Net provides a pretty comprehensive guide to the basics, complete with a message from the Chairman of the Bar - so it must be respectable.

I want to be honest about this: the way in which my attention was drawn to the site was by an email from them saying they were reviewing the blog and it might be nice if I sent a little puff the other way. Nothing like saying it like it is. That would have been the end of it, save that when I sent my usual response saying that I will only say what I really think, they replied 'ok', which distinguishes them from 99% of people making the same request (also why there are no ads on this site). I think that completes my Nolan disclosure.

The information provided is helpful, but uncritical. The BVC, for example, is covered but there is no hint that the course content and value is debated. I am sure that the providers would argue that this isn't their remit, and they do say that becoming a barrister is 'an expensive, high risk project'. The page entitled 'Bar Practice Areas' is helpful in terms of what to expect and what to do to make yourself an attractive candidate. It is, of course, far too London-centric with only 3 non-London barristers making an appearance (and one of them belongs to a London based set with a provincial annexe). But that is par for the course. The site is also linked to the BPP law school but doesn't seem to push it.

Their review of the legal blogging scene is interesting. I'm not sure I do permit my personal life to 'bleed' into the blog, although the image is striking. But one of the great things about a blog is that no one has to read it, so you can write what you want to write. When, ocassionally, some of the more conservatively minded of my acquaintances have expressed doubts about content and tone, I have rather taken the view that they can try their own approach and we can measure relative success. No one has yet done so, but the possibility is always there.

My own view is that demonstrating that barristers have a life outside the sub-fusc suit is probably useful as far as the public's view of the profession is concerned, and that mature, sensible people are capable of disregarding anything which jars on them if the information provided is helpful. To try and please everyone all of the time is dull, and would render the blog so anodyne that reading an Opinion on a bog-standard road traffic accident in which you were not involved would be preferrable. I hope that my pleasure in the job, my dedication to its basic principles and the reputation of the profession and the quite genuine desire to help those whose father was not (as mine was) in a position to assist is obvious to anyone who doesn't actually want to find fault for some bizarre purpose of their own. If not, then I'm not much of an advocate - in which case I shall wait for the deluge of Very High Cost Cases to come my way.

As far as Law Careers is concerned, the information seems to be reliable and the articles are decently written. You can, I think, use it with confidence. It is not, obviously, remotely as exciting and immediate as this site. That's enough plug for now.

Tuesday 12 February 2008


Geeklawyer wrote a post about Tony Blair. I think it was a little overstated and I don't agree with it, but that's the house style and it's a free country.

Unfortunately, some moronic Blair supporters disagree with that last proposition and have organised a denial of access to his site.

Vigilantism always makes me nauseous, largely because in my experience the self-righteousness that prompts it is about 1/2 micron thick. There are few things more unpleasant than a house burglar feeling all good about pouring his chamber pot over the head of a sex offender on the basis that 'he deserves it'. The burglar will, of course, be full of remorse for the distress that his actions have caused his victims. Or not.

Anyway can I urge you all to pay Geeklawyer a visit in his squat? Even those of you who don't read him. That way, it should be possible to convey to those who purport to promote free speech by denying it that hypocrisy doesn't work. They won't feel ashamed of themselves because self-righteousness inhibits that as well. But they will be angry which is lots of fun.