Top Tips for a Career at the (Criminal) Bar

Start extra-curricular work as early as possible

If you think you want to be a barrister, great grades alone will not cut it. What gets people pupillage is demonstrating a commitment to the profession and to your area of law. Practically, I appreciate that mini-pupillages and unpaid internships are expensive and time consuming, so don’t try to cram them all into your last 1-2 years of study. I did my first mini-pupillage as a first year undergraduate in History and Politics. Being young, and non-law, I was rejected A LOT, but it was worth keep sending the applications off because, once someone gives you a shot, you can use that to springboard into more opportunities. As soon as you think you might want to be a barrister, start racking up your work experience, your volunteering, your mooting etc because when it comes to pupillage apps, especially in crime we want to see that you care about this are of law and that you have properly done your research about pursuing it.

Advocacy is your best friend

In crime perhaps more than in any other area of law, you need to be able to demonstrate that you are a fantastic oral advocate because this is literally your main job. You can be the biggest Brainiac in the world but, if you can’t speak eloquently in public, you are in the wrong game. For me, my experience of the Sussex Criminal Advocacy Competition was invaluable training for a life conducting trials. I know many people say the same of mooting. Entering these competitions is a great way to improve your skills and demonstrate to chambers that you are capable of speaking for a living.

Join an Inn of Court

The inns are like your family (or your Hogwarts House) throughout your career at the Bar. They provide training, support, a social life and, most importantly SCHOLARSHIPS! These are a great endorsement of your potential for a career at the bar because someone has financially backed you to succeed. Scholarships are also so important if, like me, you don’t come from a particularly wealthy background because studying for the bar is cripplingly expensive. Research your inn because the way in which they assess scholarship applications are different, the societies and events they put on and the way in which they conduct their pupillage and new practitioner courses do vary. Your inn is for life so, make sure you pick the one that is right for you.

Apply for pupillage early

I applied in my GDL year for the first time, I didn’t wait until BPTC and it was the right call. You get 5 years to apply after being called to the Bar, so, anything before that time is a free shot. I did not think I was nearly ready and, while I wasn’t eventually successful that year, I got to practice answering the pupillage application questions (which are surprisingly hard) and got some interviews to work from. By the time I applied the following year, I had a baseline to work from and my application was being amended and tidied up, not starting from scratch when I already had so many other things (like Bar exams) to think about.

Make ‘barrister friends’

I still have friends who are now in the profession that I met in Sussex and on the BPTC, and I need them. Everyone portrays the bar as this cut-throat competitive profession and, to some extent it is, but you need friends that understand that more than anything. This job is wonderful and unique but a nightmare in its own way. My bar-friends have got me through exams, applications, stressful cases. They have read my forms and shared their experiences when I am stuck on an issue in a case. They even helped me get extenuating circumstances during a family emergency that happened during my Bar exams. I cannot overstate the importance of friends in this job. You learn from them. They keep you sane.

I also asked a friend who has been in charge of pupillage recruitment in his chambers for a couple of bonus tips and, he said the following:

1 – Don’t keep asking to connect on LinkedIn with barristers you haven’t met… they’ll ignore you.

2 – Don’t compare yourself to others. You must have the belief that as you grow, you’ll grow into a good barrister. You’re not the finished article yet. Once you have a degree in law, you’ve studied the same stuff as everyone else. Don’t let yourself feel inferior or assume that you’re not good enough. Someone on the barrister side of the table might think otherwise.


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