Written by Serena Varatharajah, Pupil Barrister at 1 High Pavement Barristers.
It took me 3 years to obtain Pupillage. I was an average candidate with a 2.1 in my LLB, VC in my BPTC. I had a huge amount of work experience having worked in various jobs since I was16 years old. This included legal work and pro bono legal experience. The Bar course cost £25,000 and if that were not pressure enough, it has an expiry of 5years if Pupillage is not landed within that time. From this aspect alone a career at the Bar is not something to be taken lightly.
In addition to juggling applications, interviews, constant rejection alongside a full-time job, during this period my father passed away very suddenly, and the country faced a national lockdown. Interviews became remote which I found demoralising because an important skill for an advocate is to have a presence, and that is very difficult to establish via a camera.
Each year it became more difficult to ask people for help. I found it embarrassing, annoying and I really did not want to burden anyone else by asking for their support. However, the year I finally obtained Pupillage I had decided to ask for help from colleagues, family, friends, even a barrister I met on Twitter gave me a mock interview with feedback during his lunch break. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people I had asked. The variety of perspectives I encountered was vital to my success.
What I did that made the difference:
▪ I utilised every zoom meeting at work, to practice conveying a strong presence and positive body language through the camera.
▪ Prepared for/against tables for every topical issue in the news and legal reform questions, and practised using them to create structured arguments within a short time limit. I connected with barristers in my chosen areas on Twitter to stay alive to current topics of interest/controversy.
▪ Reviewed the gateway applications for chambers I did not apply to and made a note of every question they asked. The majority of these questions were topical or competency-based and if they were relevant to one set, I found that they were relevant to other chambers at interview.
▪ Practised talking about myself and answering non-legal interview questions (every question is an opportunity to showcase your advocacy skills),such as: tell us about yourself, what is your favourite movie, book etc. This was especially valuable because in interviews I often became overwhelmed with nerves, which meant I could have easily forgotten my own name.
▪ Of course, it is important not to prepare stock answers to fit into questions, because there is the risk that you may not answer the actual question. However, I found it was useful to have my most important examples rehearsed in a structured way(demonstrating key competencies) and made an extra effort to ensure I mentioned it at some point during the interview.
▪ I found preparing a few questions to ask at the end of the interview, was an easy way to demonstrate an interest in that specific chambers. Each chambers had a different approach to questions though, so it was important to gauge it (one even asked me to interview them, so it was important to have a few interesting questions ready).
▪ Complied a set of frequent questions and answers that overlapped. For example, different variations of the question “what is the greatest challenge you have faced so far?” arose frequently. My answer always related a personal legal experience I had with a company that had issued a large claim against my mother. They instructed a reputable firm of solicitors and a barrister, which she could not afford to match. We spent days preparing a robust and well-researched argument and were ultimately successful. This was difficult because of the personal involvement, the power dynamic, and the lack of experience, whilst also working long hours in a demanding job. This example therefore also gave me an effective answer to the question of “why do you want to be a barrister?”, as it gave me a compelling story to tell about the fulfilment element of the career.
It is difficult and frustrating to persevere with applications, interviews and the constant “you were great but someone else was just that bit better”. However, the Bar is about grit and determination, and everyone has a different journey. My journey has shaped me into the person I am today, and I do not believe I have wasted any time. I worked as part of an amazing legal team where I gained valuable experience, learned invaluable skills, advocated in court, built confidence, and witnessed some outstanding advocacy, which enabled me to hit the ground running now I have started my Pupillage.