Building experience

Ryan Anderson

My working path to pupillage was: Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) volunteer, then paralegal (pre-BPTC); an employment tribunal advocate (post-BPTC); then High Court judicial assistant (before starting pupillage).

The CAB was a stepping stone to paralegal work, as I found many roles required some prior experience. I worked for a high-street firm offering a varied civil law caseload, meaning I could gain experience in different practice areas. I built commercial awareness and experience of handling clients, liaising with counsel and seeing cases develop from pre-action stage to final hearing.

I finished the BPTC having been unsuccessful in one round of pupillage applications (approximately 13 applications). I felt I would benefit from day-to-day advocacy experience and more specialised knowledge in an area of law. My employment advocate role gave me both, and during two further rounds of applications I first obtained a number of (unsuccessful) reserve places, then several offers.

My BPTC advocacy training and employment module, plus my practical experience of litigation, set me up for the tribunal advocate role. The role itself was invaluable in terms of developing my skills and professional insight, as I was effectively doing the job of an employed barrister: advising paralegals on drafting pleadings, assessing merits, advising clients and conducting tribunal hearings. That had several key benefits:

  1. Experiencing life as a full-time advocate: an unpredictable diary, late nights, travel, and handling the responsibility and pressure of real-life advocacy.
  2. Advocacy experience: taking instructions, preparing, and dealing with unexpected problems as they arose before during and after hearings (including ethical dilemmas, hostile judges and opponents, and difficult clients!).
  3. Networking: building contacts from the paralegals and my opponents who I have since obtained work from as a pupil.

The confidence that I developed cannot be overstated: succeeding in that role made me sure I had the ability and temperament to do the same at the Bar. I also developed a more practical mindset in pupillage interviews as I drew from my own experiences when answering ethical problem questions, for example, and generally felt more comfortable due to my experience of the pressure – and stress – of advocacy.

I then worked as a High Court judicial assistant during the year between pupillage offer and commencement. I gained a taste of some of the work I would be doing in my first-six: research, analysis and summaries of evidence, and drafting orders. It also gave me exposure to senior court advocacy, invaluable insight into how the senior courts function, and familiarity with working alongside highly senior members of the legal profession. My experiences in the High Court have undoubtedly assisted me during pupillage, and I can see how valuable such experience would be to a pupillage applicant.

My advice: be proactive and always look for new opportunities to develop and expand your skillset and network (because with networking comes opportunities), both within your current role and outside of it. What do other candidates have that you do not, and how can you address that?

Becoming a better applicant

Harrison Denner

Between the BPTC and commencing pupillage at Henderson Chambers, I worked as a corporate paralegal at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, primarily dealing with M&A and private equity deals. I had not previously studied corporate law and had never considered working at a corporate law firm. The work I did while a paralegal was also a far cry from my current practice at Henderson Chambers and I did not gain any substantive knowledge that I now apply or that I used to my advantage during the pupillage application process.

Despite all of that, the experience was invaluable and I think it stood me in good stead during the pupillage application process. I had never previously had a job and so my time as a paralegal helped ensure that pupillage would not be my first experience of working life. It also enabled me to develop a huge range of ‘soft’ skills that are of direct relevance to my work as a barrister and that I did discuss during pupillage interviews and which I do think helped me in that application process. For example, the ability to work under pressure and to meet tight deadlines, the ability to work in teams of people, the ability to be organised when dealing with multiple tasks simultaneously and to understand their respective urgency. The night before one of my pupillage interviews, I had worked until 2am on a private equity deal. When asked at interview to discuss a time I worked under pressure, I was able to point to that as very recent evidence.

Although the nature of a paralegal’s work varies between firms, I can very straightforwardly say that I greatly enjoyed my experience and that I believe it was instrumental in helping me to become a more attractive pupillage applicant. 

Finetuning skills

Monica Young

During my time as a regulatory paralegal at Capsticks, I learnt a lot about legal drafting – specifically, the drafting of witness statements and court applications/documents. Part of my role involved reviewing cases and drafting High Court extension applications, which required forensic analysis of cases and a keen eye for detail. This ensured that anything which was being put before the court was legally, grammatically and technically sound. That forensic type of analysis and drafting is something which I believe will assist me during my forthcoming pupillage when I undertake drafting work for members of chambers or am required to prepare case summaries, skeleton arguments and draft orders for the court.

My current work as an in-house advocate at DAC Beachcroft has really, more than anything, started to finetune my practical advocacy skills. It has helped to build my confidence in making tricky or controversial submissions in court and has developed my ability to think quickly on my feet and respond competently to judicial intervention. I think this will give me a personal advantage when starting pupillage as I hope I will have a level of comfort appearing in court, which will allow me to focus on developing the more niche parts of my advocacy and submissions.

I have also very quickly learnt that avoiding court can be a large part of the role of an advocate or barrister. Court can be a very unpredictable place and sometimes it is best for your client to settle the matter beforehand, so as not to risk judgment against them. Having that type of insight and practical knowledge of when a case is suited to court will be a really critical asset in my career at the Bar; as I will be representing families and children, it will be particularly essential to exercise my professional judgment to determine what is in those potentially vulnerable clients’ best interests. 

A very good move

Caroline Baker

I worked as a paralegal in the crime department of a busy firm of solicitors in London. It turned out to be a very good move, because it gave me a lot of practical experience to support the theory you learn on the GDL and BPTC. Nothing you hear in the classroom fully prepares you for your first visit to a police station in the dead of night to meet a client wearing nothing but a blanket and barely able to communicate with you. I was able to do this because the firm sponsored me to become accredited as a Police Station Representative – a handy qualification to have.  

Other duties included instructing counsel and working with them closely through each stage of the proceedings, case preparation, taking instructions from clients and so on. I met a lot of solicitors and barristers and made other very useful contacts.  

The experience was useful in other ways too. It helped crystallise my thinking about the law as a career, and the criminal law in particular. I developed a good understanding of the realities of the work – good and bad – and had no illusions about the sort of career it would be: certainly not glamorous, but demanding, stimulating and exciting.

When it came to applying for pupillage, being able to speak from practical experience gives you confidence and credibility in what can be a daunting interview process. Not only was I able to speak with authority on the day-to-day realities of the job, I was also able better to convey my determination to become a criminal barrister.

The connections I built stood me in very good stead when I began to develop my own practice as a tenant.