The importance of taking initiative when pursuing pupillage…

Career Progression
September 2022

Shanzé Shah is a pupil barrister at the Government Legal Department. She is passionate about making the Bar a more diverse and inclusive profession. Outside of law, she writes a food blog and loves being active in all forms. She enjoys weightlifting and is due to run her first marathon this year.

I pursued a law degree because I wanted to be a barrister, that was always the goal. When I first began involving myself in this world, I felt completely out of place however it only encouraged me further to make a place for myself at the Bar. 

At 14 I wrote to my local crown court asking if I could do my week of work experience with them. That is where my journey started. During my A levels I took part in the Bar mock trials and then during my LLB I tried to get involved in various activities, which I enjoyed and would help me grow. I always found it incredibly useful to have pupillage at the forefront of my thoughts, as it allowed me to keep in focus what it was, I was working towards.

My first piece of advice would be to get active, seek out opportunities and ask where you see none. That is how I ended up getting my first scholarship, during my first year of university I went to an event at the Inn’s where I found out about the Pegasus scholarship which gave two mini-pupillages to individuals from state schools. Getting these two mini pupillages is what spring boarded my applications for the ones which followed. Now of course there are several other such schemes, for example Bridging the Bar which provides an excellent platform for persons from BAME backgrounds to get scholarships and internships. 

During University, I was also heavily active in mooting, taking part in the yearly moot competition as well as those hosted by the Inn’s. I was also part of the debating team which helped build advocacy skills in a unique way. I continued this on to my LLM, where I was part of UCL’s Jessup team. Managing all of this was most definitely not easy as I was always balancing part-time jobs alongside my education. I am grateful to each of those jobs whether that was being a waitress or tutoring, as each provided me with applicable skills and experiences to take into a career at the Bar.

I think one of the most important things whilst applying for pupillage is thinking about how you stand out. For myself it was my international work experience. Over the years I have, all through scholarships, worked in India, Greece, Israel, China, Canada and studied in Germany as well. Each of these opportunities I sought out myself, there was no great advertisement or someone telling me about them. Initiative is important in the pursuit of pupillage. That is especially the case when you are a BAME woman and come from a background where no one has any idea of the career. For every scholarship or work experience application of mine that succeeded, several were rejected. Applying for pupillage requires resilience. Most of us do not get through the first time and it’s identifying the lessons to learn and trying again that’s important.

During this journey, another important event that gave me continued hope was getting the Queen Mother Scholarship from Middle Temple. Not only did it provide financial support, without which I could not have done the BPTC, but also encouragement that I was on the right path. I would highly suggest researching into each Inn, their scholarship assessment criterions and applying accordingly.

I found out I had got pupillage in November 2020. That year’s pupillage process fell within the first year of Covid, it wasn’t the easiest year, but I feel this process no matter what, is testing. Having myself recounted this journey, I would say the key is resilience, working with focus towards your end goal and knowing you can, and you will, make it.


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