Steps to support success in pupillage

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Skills and strategies to succeed in pupillage and beyond, by Systemic Coach Zita Tulyahikayo and NLP Master Practitioner James Pereira QC


Well done on achieving pupillage! You will soon be embarking on a year of developing and putting to practical use the skills you have acquired at Bar school. But to really succeed you need another skill set. How you communicate and empathise with others, how you manage your time and balance competing commitments and values, how well you learn and deal with disappointments, your ability to be resilient and resourceful: these will all play a significant part in how you fare during pupillage and tenancy. These wider skills, essential to your success, are not taught in lecture rooms, even though they are more important to your success than your ability in law. Below we identify some of the wider skills that you will need to support you to be your best during pupillage and beyond: our Seven Steps to Support Success.

Step 1: Be yourself, believe in yourself

A positive mindset is the foremost attribute of all successful people. You have been selected from a vast number of highly qualified candidates because you stood out. You stood out because there is something peculiar and special about you. Unique talents are highly prized at the Bar: the profession is full of individuals who pride themselves on their individuality. So trust in yourself: it is your unique qualities that got you to where you are now. Let them shine. You have earned the right to be where you are. This is your time.

Step 2: Know the rules

Work smarter by understanding the rules that will operate around you and that you operate within. Know the criteria your performance will be assessed upon, how they are judged, when and by whom. Use this to inform a strategy to support you to tenancy. Observe and become aware of the unspoken rules and loyalties within chambers and other systems within which you operate: your relationship with other barristers, with clerks, clients, court staff, and so on. Rules and loyalties bind groups together, and your ability to observe or respect rules will engender a sense that you can be trusted, welcomed and belong. This is an essential pre-requisite to your acceptance within chambers in the longer term.

Step 3: Build rapport

Rapport exists when you have harmonious, respectful and understanding relationships with others. It creates a framework for healthy and effective communication with those around you. Invest time and effort to build healthy relationships with pupil supervisors, other members of chambers, fellow pupils, clerks and chambers staff. These skills are an essential part of building and maintaining a stable client base so your practice can thrive. Put simply, getting on well with others is a key skill and an essential attribute of a successful barrister.

Step 4: Maintain a growth mindset

Pupillage is the start of your practical training to become a barrister: you are there to learn. The science of neuroplasticity tells us that our brains are capable of continuous evolution during our lifetimes; they are agile and designed for adaptation, not fixed. So you need to maintain a mindset that will support learning. You are not expected to be the finished product at the start of pupillage, nor at the end: the truth is that all barristers who are any good at what they do, including the most accomplished Silks, are still learning. None of them are perfect and they all have room for improvement. Forget perfectionism – at best it will hold you back, at worst it will crush you. Instead, just do your best. See challenges as opportunities to learn. Understand that our greatest opportunities for learning come from our mistakes and from observing others. Keep a journal and jot down notes for yourself on what you have done well, and what you could do differently next time. Journaling is a very effective way of crystallising your thoughts and developing a learning mentality. It is also a useful way to ‘unload’ an experience from your mind and body so that you can acknowledge, learn and move on, rather than deny, avoid and get stuck.

Step 5: Manage yourself effectively

You perform your best when you feel your best. But understand that your self-management is largely your own responsibility and pupillage is likely to be your first test of how able you are to keep yourself well in the work environment of the Bar. Research shows that your personal life, in particular relationships with others, is key to happiness and wellbeing. So keep up outside interests, friendships and social ties during pupillage and beyond, they will support you through the pressure of the job. Cultivate healthy and supportive habits: make sure that you get adequate sleep each night, take regular exercise, avoid alcohol as a stress reliever and stay hydrated. These are all well-established and well-proven strategies to maintaining yourself in a good and healthy condition, physically and mentally.

Step 6: Focus on the desired outcome

You need to focus on your destination before you plan a journey. Solution-based strategies start by identifying the desired outcome that you want to achieve. Build a big, strong, bright and clear picture of your success at the end of pupillage. Keep it in your mind. Remind yourself of it as often as you like, but particularly when you feel under pressure or at a low. Focusing on your goal will help maintain your focus during your journey. It will also ensure that your subconscious resources guide you towards success.

Step 7: Be resourceful

Successful barristers may look like self-sufficient lone rangers but in reality everyone needs to call upon resources to perform well and stay well. A resource is anything that supports you in moving towards a desired outcome. Stay open-minded and self-aware so that you can identify and call upon the resources that you will need to support you during pupillage. Think outside the box and do not confine your search to what is available to you within your chambers. Share lessons and experiences with other pupils and junior tenants from other sets. Most Inns have a mentoring system – call upon your mentor to give you advice and support during pupillage. If you need specific training in a particular area – IT skills, vocal performance, time management, whatever it may be – seek it out. The same goes for your mental wellbeing. Pupillage, work and the Bar can be stressful at times, and thankfully the profession has now woken up to the needs of its members. The Bar Council and Inns have resources for those who need support with their wellbeing, and charities such as LawCare provide confidential advice for those in need. Every barrister has a story to tell about the stresses of practice. The stigma of mental health needs is now giving way to the recognition that a successful and sustainable profession must support its members from the bottom upwards. Seek support if you need it.

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James Pereira QC

James Pereira QC is a practising barrister at FTB Chambers, a professional coach and NLP Master Practitioner, and a member of the International Coaching Federation. He coaches individuals and organisations from a range of business sectors, and is a co-founder of The Libra Partnership which provides coaching and training for barristers (www.thelibrapartnership.com). He co-writes a regular wellbeing and career column Loving Legal Life in The Lawyer online, and is a contributing author to the book Lawyer Health and Wellbeing (Ark, 2020), explaining how coaching enhances lawyer performance.

Zita Wa - Tulyahikayo

Zita Wa - Tulyahikayo FRSA is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, holds ICF accredited training in Systemic Coaching and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She has an international client base and over 12 years in practice. She sees members of the legal profession and other professions for coaching in personal and professional development. Zita co-writes Loving Legal Life, a wellbeing and career column for The Lawyer online. Zita co-founded The Libra Partnership which provides coaching and training for barristers: www.thelibrapartnership.com