So, your written application was successful. Well done! You have now been invited for interview. A daunting prospect. Another challenge – but also a great opportunity.

First thing to remember: you will be appearing before a panel, in chambers, on merit. Your application was read by one – or more likely several members of chambers and you have been selected to move onto the next stage in the recruitment process. That fact alone should provide a confidence boost. You have been deemed a strong enough candidate for serious consideration as a pupil barrister. Let that enhance your self-belief – because self-belief is a key part of what you will want to demonstrate at your forthcoming interview. What will chambers be looking for? What does the interview process look like? How can you prepare yourself most effectively?

Academic excellence can be taken for granted. Without a ‘1st’ or a 2:1, you probably would not have made it onto the shortlist. Intellectual capacity is essential – but so is applying that ability in practice, in the courtroom, on your feet. How do you present and respond to interventions? How might you relate to prospective clients and others involved in the legal process – both inside and outside the courtroom? The panel will be thinking about how well you will be able to do the job of barrister. They may be looking beyond pupillage towards the possibility of a tenancy in due course; your likely contribution to their chambers – not so much ‘fitting in’ – but more in terms of your ability to relate to clients (lay and legal), to attract and deliver work. How likely are you to build and continue a successful practice in your chosen field of law. Evidence of these qualities is what chambers will be looking for in your interview.

Twenty to 40 minutes is the range for typical interviews. They involve a mix of problems to analyse and answer; debate questions on topical law-related issues; and advocacy exercises. Notice of questions and exercises – anything from minutes to days. Use the time well. You are not being tested on the state or level of your legal knowledge. The panel want you to demonstrate your ability to analyse the question/problem. They will be testing your level of skill in presenting your arguments and how you deal with interruptions – because that is what happens in real-life legal practice. Listening skills are key. Self-belief will help you to conduct yourself confidently and to deliver your best. Don’t feel that you have to answer every question instantly. Short pauses are acceptable and expected if you are going to think and respond appropriately to the precise point raised. On occasion you might even need a longer pause. Don’t worry about silence. If you are not sure you have fully grasped the question, then summarise it to make sure you’ve not missed anything – especially important in the context of an advocacy exercise.

Thorough preparation is vital for every element of the interview process – and never more so than with advocacy exercises. Make maximum use of preparation time allowed, to master your brief to the best of your ability. Prepare and structure your submissions carefully. Keep your cool. Aim for a measured and thoughtful style of delivery. Whatever instructions you have been given, show that you have read them properly and stick to what’s on the page. You need to demonstrate persuasive fluency with the information provided. Don’t be tempted to go beyond the facts. Do be practical and to the point. Better to keep those points short than to enter into greater detail – unless asked to do so. Try to anticipate interventions and objections which may surface. Perfect and immediate responses are not expected or necessary – but showing that you have considered legitimate points and questions likely to be raised will be very helpful to your cause.

What else can you do to prepare for your interview, apart from practising analysis of legal problems, preparing presentational notes, even debating recent or prospective changes to the law with a friend – perhaps someone already in practice – with recording and playback? See how you look and sound. First – and probably last as well – you should critically review your written application which has served you well, thus far. Standard questions probing why you want to be a barrister, what areas of law interest you most, and how did you come to choose the particular set of chambers are useful warm-ups, to which you should certainly be able to respond clearly and thoughtfully. But you may be interrogated about anything on your application form.

Re-familiarise yourself with every aspect of what you wrote weeks earlier. At that time you will also have combed through the website of the chambers you are now appearing before. Check that website again. What developments may have taken place in the intervening period? Any new cases or news items featured? Awards and appointments? And of course, take full advantage of everything under the ‘Pupillage’ heading. Just as the Judicial Appointments Commission publishes ‘evaluation and feedback reports’ on previous judicial selection exercises, some chambers produce reports on the previous year’s pupillage selection process, from start to finish. This may include invaluable information about the pupillage panel’s thought processes. The sort of questions they ask and candidates’ answers which impress. What successful candidates did or said. Thorough preparation is frequently emphasised, as in comments like: ‘best performing candidates had clearly done their homework’. After all, ‘doing your homework’ is such a key factor in courtroom successful performance, that it would be surprising if the pupillage panel were not to place great emphasis on this selection criterion.

In reviewing your application form, don’t confine yourself to a re-read. Consider printing it out; making notes in the margins, wielding your highlighter pen. If you were doing your form again or if you were permitted an increased wordcount, what would you add? What might you therefore expand on at interview, given half a chance? Do you have additional examples of activities which support demonstration of your compliance with the competencies chambers are looking for in the best pupillage candidates and prospective tenants? Thinking this through will not only help you to answer anticipated questions but will also put you in a better position to respond to the unexpected – which will happen! Do try and get some ‘mock interview’ practice in advance of the real thing. Universities, Inns of Court, legal societies, well informed friends or legal practitioners – there is no shortage of people and organisations who will want to support you.

What about your questions to the panel? You are almost certainly going to be given that opportunity. You don’t have to take it. That is unlikely to be held against you. Avoid asking questions, the answers to which are well trailed on chambers’ website – that shows a lack of research, ‘homework’. But the chance to ask a question might also give you an opportunity to slip in something which you had hoped might be covered, but was not. Perhaps a key point about you which they might have missed. And remember, pupillage recruitment is not a one-way street. The pupillage committee are assessing your potential as a barrister – but you are also assessing them as representatives of your potential future colleagues. And that particular set may not be the only one you are appearing before. With that in mind, after your interview, go the nearest coffee shop and write down all the Qs & As you can remember. Think about how you could improve your answers to similar questions next time, just in case you don’t get an offer – and you will already be better prepared for your next shot! 

‘How to get pupillage: part one – the application’ by Paul Secher can be viewed here.
See also Counsel’s Bar Student Guide which is also packed with invaluable insider knowledge – from how to excel at interview to protecting your wellbeing while on the pupillage rollercoaster.