Top tips for dealing with pupillage interviews!

07 Sep 2021

So, you’ve spent hours and hours perfecting your pupillage application forms and your reward at the end of it all is a 20-minute grilling. How do you prove yourself in such a short window?

  1. Be prepared for the unexpected: This is included in the top tips from the Secret Barrister. It is just not possible to anticipate every question or every argument that may be put to you. Do whatever it takes to get in the right frame of mind. I liked to be busy in the run up to an interviews so I didn’t dwell on things. Others like to clear their diaries. Whatever works for you!
  2. Prepare for the expected: Have an answer for the classic opening questions like ‘why do you want to be a barrister?’ and ‘why are you interested in commercial law?’. If your answer to either is ‘because I like money’, think of a better one. And, as criminal barrister Joanna Hardy recommends, make sure you know where the interview is and get there early.
  3. Slowness and silence are golden: As Katy Thorne QC, of Doughty Street Chambers told the Guardian recently, slowing things down will give you more thinking time and make sure your answer, when it comes, will be heard and remembered. You shouldn’t be afraid of a short silence while you gather your thoughts. It happens all the time in court and it can be very impressive if you have the confidence to do it.
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice: I didn’t take up the opportunity of mock interviews when I was applying for pupillage and I think it showed. It’s much better to make your mistakes before you get into the room (or onto the Zoom call). Mock interviews are recommended by various pupillage teams and offered by the Inns of Court.
  5. Show some personality: Barristers are people too (well, some of them). They like to see a candidate with something beyond the standard excellent academic results and extra-curricular activities. Even if you don’t have something quirky on your CV, the ‘what’s your favourite biscuit?’ genre of questions provides an opportunity. While these are rarely decisive of who gets an offer, an answer that shows a bit of humour and humanity might get you through the first round in a tight contest.
  6. Walk (and talk) like a barrister: The whole purpose of the interview exercise is to test if you have the potential to stand up in court and present an argument. Your answers should have a logical structure that explains why you are right. Once you have chosen a ‘side’ don’t abandon it easily. In general, structured answers and responding well when challenged as the key features of stronger answers to legal problems.
  7. You don’t have to ask a question: There is always that moment at the end where you have the opportunity to put the panel on the spot with something tricky like: how often will I be in court in my Second Six? Unless you really have a great question, it’s better not to ask it. If the answer is on the Chambers’ website, it is definitely better not to ask it.
  8. Don’t let the barristers get you down: If you do enough interviews, you will make a mistake. You will say something stupid or trip over your words. You will come across a rude interviewer (some barristers can think rather a lot of themselves). Accept it will happen and look forward to the next one. As Joanna Hardy, and Taylor Swift, put it. ‘shake it off’.

This article first appeared in Counsel magazine’s Bar Student Supplement.


Adam Smith-Roberts

Call: 2019


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