Pupillage applications are not easy. Period. Every word must be chosen carefully and most importantly there is usually a word limit, which makes this task somewhat harder. There is no strict right or wrong way in our experience, but we are hoping we can help make this process a little easier. After all, your application is your first piece of written advocacy.

1. Research chambers

Your application should never be generic. Research the chambers to which you are applying. This includes the areas of law they cover, the members who cover these areas, the clerking team, the most recent notable cases, and any other information that shows you know who you are applying to. This is not only to help you get pupillage, but most importantly, researching the chambers will make you question whether it’s a place you can see yourself during and beyond pupillage. This research will also help you later during interviews – sets want to see that you understand what they do. It is also important because a lack of research can be a wasted application, eg if you apply to a set because you say you want to do areas of law which they do not actually do much of, or if you apply to a set which only does defendant work, but you want to do claimant work.

2. Apply your skills to real life scenarios

The truth is that if you have made it this far, you probably have quite a few skills. You may have good communication skills; you can work in a team and you can problem solve. However, listing skills you may have does you no favours. It is demonstrating how you have used the skills that will be of most importance. There is a saying – ‘Show, don’t tell.’ Recall real life scenarios to demonstrate your skills. Keep to the point. What was the skill? How did you use it? How will that help you at the Bar? Remember, you are not storytelling, but providing very small snippets of your life where your skills have helped you achieve something, be that a small work task, or a goal in life. Also, no skill is too small. If you are learning to play a sport, learning another language, if you are volunteering – talk about it, but always bring it back to how this can help you at the Bar.  

Think about your skills expansively. While there are some skills that you have which probably seem obvious, such as legal research and advocacy, think also about the skills needed for the practicality of life at the Bar. It is important to show that you understand the reality of practice, and this is especially true whether you are applying to the self-employed or employed Bar – day to day life could look quite different. Think about the skills that your particular practice areas might need, including soft skills. Will you be likely to work with vulnerable individuals, for example? Will you probably be taking on cases at short notice, such as an overnight first appearance in the magistrates’ courts? If you’re not sure, try and talk to someone who is a current or recent pupil in that area of law and ask them what their day-to-day practice looks like.

3. Ask for feedback

Speak to people who have succeeded in the application process previously. Find out what worked for them and what didn’t and use their experience to finesse your application. The collegiality of the Bar cannot be overstated; keep an eye out on Twitter or LinkedIn because there are always members of the Bar willing to give up their free time to provide feedback. Use the Inns. They are there to provide you with resources aimed at helping you succeed. Every year they will host a free workshop session where you can have your CV or application scrutinised by a member of the bar. This can be a priceless opportunity to get some really detailed feedback before you send off your application. Have someone you trust, a friend or family member, to take a look over your final application to check for typos.

4. Remember that your application is a piece of written advocacy

Your written application is the first interaction between you and the pupillage committee. Make a good first impression. This is your opportunity to show the panel your qualities as a written advocate. Be concise. Avoid clichés. Provide evidence in support of your answers. Once you have finished your form, go back over it, and ask yourself whether you have actually answered the questions being asked of you in the application – be self-critical and leave plenty of time to review.

Proofread, proofread, and then proofread once more. There are no excuses for poor spelling and grammar. Read your application out loud to yourself. This almost always results in picking up something you didn’t notice when you read it in your head previously. A concise and well-reasoned written application will endear you to a pupillage panel because it shows that you can be focused and persuasive – vital skills needed to succeed at the Bar.

Word counts are a maximum, not necessarily a goal; if you can convey everything you want to say in 150 words, don’t try to pad it out with waffle. One approach is to look at what you’ve written and ask if every word is adding something to the sentence; if it isn’t, remove it. If you do this, you can often shave words off of your answers, which will in turn allow you to add another impactful sentence. This is true for all parts of the form, not just the questions about why you want to be a barrister. Apply it to the sections on past employment and experience (legal or otherwise), outside interests, and mitigating circumstances – if you overlook those sections, you are missing an opportunity to demonstrate your written advocacy skills. Use every box on the application form wisely.

5. Make sure that you are selling yourself to the best of your ability

Many people initially find it hard to promote themselves in the way that you need to in a written application. You have to be your own advocate, which means highlighting your strengths, successes, and achievements, which isn’t something that necessarily comes easily. However, this is really important – if you undersell your achievements and experiences, you are only doing yourself a disservice. A pupillage committee cannot read between the lines and infer your strengths and successes; you have to draw their attention to them.

This point also applies to extenuating circumstances; while it is up to you whether you wish to disclose them, if you choose not to disclose them then the pupillage committee cannot view your achievements in context. For example, if you had mitigating circumstances during your studies, then your educational achievements may be even more meaningful viewed in that context.

If you have a good friend who knows you well and knows the pupillage application process, try swapping forms and giving each other feedback on whether you are doing yourself justice.