Top Tips for Pupillage Applications 2024
Pupillage application season is upon us once again! We understand how stressful this can be for applicants and have drawn up some top tips to help you along the way.
1. Make a plan
In excess of 500 pupillages were available in 2023, a similar number to the previous year. At Atlantic alone we are inviting applications for four pupillages in this round of applications (1 Family, 1 Chancery and 2 Civil). That is a huge number of potential positions to apply for. You should make a clear plan at the outset of the application process, narrow down those chambers that you are most passionate about and prioritise those applications. The key is to set aside sufficient time to do the job.
To narrow down your applications, consider which geographical area you wish to work and live in; which area of law you wish to practice in; and always check both the format and deadline for each application as some may fall outside of the Pupillage Gateway process. Atlantic Chambers use a simple covering letter and CV for pupillage applications. But don’t let that simplicity fool you, it takes time to craft a good covering letter and CV. As Blaise Pascal famously declared “I apologize for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one”.
2. Do your research
Your pupillage application is a piece of advocacy; treat it as such. The real art of advocacy lies in the preparation. Therefore, you must start at the beginning and do your research. Visit Chambers’ websites, research in legal directories (Legal 500/Chambers and Partners), and where possible undertake a mini-pupillage to gain a better understanding of the Chambers you are applying to and how you will fit in. Initially, the purpose of this research is just to answer the most basic question: do you really want to apply to this chambers? Once you make this decision, however, the time you spent has not been wasted as a well-researched application will usually stand out. We can usually tell when the decision to apply to Chambers is an informed choice.
3. Evidence your research
Having spent time researching Chambers, now the challenge is to evidence that research in your application in a way that does not seem forced. We appreciate that you are usually applying to multiple chambers at the same time and you would happily accept a pupillage at any one of them but the trick is: you still have to make us feel special.
This may seem facile and flippant, but remember it is a big commitment on both sides and chambers need to be confident that it will work out for the long term. So every chambers wants to know why you want to practice at their set; why they are the one for you. This is your opportunity to evidence your understanding of the Chambers, the work they undertake and to persuade them that you will thrive there.
4. Use your own voice
In your application, we want to hear from you; the real you. We do not want you to write or speak ‘how you think a barrister should sound’. You are unlikely to impress us with ‘management speak’, clichés or dense vocabulary. It is the quality of your thoughts, the clarity of your arguments and the content of your character that should shine through. This often requires an inner confidence but remember you are good enough to do this job. So just be honest, be authentic, and be sincere.
5. Be persuasive
As a piece of written advocacy, this is your opportunity to demonstrate your ability to be persuasive and concise. Your answers should be short and focussed. Where possible any statements you make about your skills or experience should be supported by evidence and examples. The golden rule is ‘show, don’t tell’. Awards and achievements are an easy way to demonstrate competence but it is what you learnt from each experience that is important and there are no limits to the evidence you can rely upon in support of your argument. It does not matter what cards you were dealt in life, it only matters how you play them.
Make your points, evidence your case, and explain why we should pick you as the best pupillage candidate. We want to see how well you can advocate for yourself!
6. Celebrate all your experience
Frankly, the vast majority of applicants each year have a similar education and career history. They have all undertaken law degrees or conversion courses, signed up for the Bar Course, done some legal work or work experience, and are now applying for a coveted pupillage place. Don’t get lost in the crowd.
Each and every candidate has something unique. Something that can help them stand out. Find your unique selling point, embrace it and tell us why that makes you a better candidate. This does not have to be related to the law or legal sector; you may have had an interesting job, or spent time overseas, or it may be something as simple as an interesting hobby. We would like to understand you as a person beyond the generic application form: your character, your traits and your values. Over time, these are the qualities that will endure and ultimately determine your success at the Bar.
7. Check your application!
Always check your application before submitting. Make sure that any spelling or typographical errors are corrected, it may be helpful to have someone else cast an eye over your application to check for this. This is the most basic step that cannot be taken for granted.
But the harder task is to make sure that your covering letter or answers are structured and coherent. Consider every paragraph, every sentence and even every word and ask yourself what does it convey? What am I trying to achieve? Does it do justice to the point I am trying to make? You may never be happy with your answer to those questions but at the very least you should understand the point you are trying to make. Don’t ramble.
8. Quality not quantity
This may be controversial but sometimes less is more. It can be very tempting to submit a large number of applications in the hope of securing at least one interview offer, however, this approach is often to the detriment of the quality of each application. Whatever you do, do not compromise on quality. If you do not have the time to perfect an application then, instead, consider proceeding with a smaller number of well-researched and detailed applications. Then at least each application will stand a much better chance of success.
Chambers can spot an application that is generic and has used copy and paste very easily, and those applications are unlikely to progress far. A proper pupillage application will take time to research, draft and submit. Applications should be tailored to that specific chambers and that specific pupillage.
9. Put things into perspective
Finally, always remember that failure is not fatal, success is not final, it is the courage to continue that counts. Not everyone will succeed in securing a pupillage, but it helps to be persistent. Use each round of applications as a learning process, a chance to understand why your application was not successful on that occasion and to use the following months to improve your knowledge and experience before trying again. There is no shame in applying to a chambers having been through the application process before. Your determination and resilience will always be respected. But there is no shame in moving on, the Bar is not for everyone.