A few years ago, at a chambers meeting, when I was not properly paying attention, I found myself voted in as the new ‘mini-pupillage officer’. Since, I’ve had applications that say CVs can be provided on request, one line cover letters and many more horrors.
So to give you all an idea of how to impress in your application and on your mini-pupillage, here are some tips from me to you:
Mini-pupillage application preparation:
Check the chambers’ website! It may sound simple, but you’d be surprised how many do not do this. In most cases, the website will give you details about mini-pupillages.
In particular, you will need to know when they offer them (some do set weeks for groups of applicants, others offer mini-pupillages all year round), at what stage they offer them (e.g. they might only offer them to certain university year groups or to those on the BPTC), how to apply (they may have a set form or ask specifically for letter or email) and, finally, who to apply to.
It looks like you have made very little effort if you don’t get the name of the barrister or clerk who is in charge of the applications.
If this information is not on the website, then call the Clerk to Chambers. Do not do this when they will be most busy (8 -10am and after 3pm!), but a polite enquiry can often open doors.
The mini-pupillage application…
CVs must be up to date and two pages or less. Covering letters need to include what stage you’re at, why you have applied to the particular chambers, and when you are available for the placement if they don’t have specific chambers dates.
Applicants tend to make the worst mistakes when providing their reasons why they have chosen that chambers.
You would be surprised how often I get applications saying the person has a particular interest in health & safety law or medical negligence when my chambers only does crime and a small amount of family and personal injury!
Remember if you put the standard “you have a great reputation”, you may get asked at interview!
Good reasons for choosing chambers are: interest in their line of work; you are undecided about which area of law you want to specialise in and they cover most of them; you’ve previously been on a placement at a local solicitors and heard about the chambers; you want to experience a large/small set; you saw a member of chambers in court recently etc.
It needs to be specific to each chamber and show you’ve done your research.
Lastly, check for spelling mistakes as these may lead to instant rejection!
It can often take a few weeks for someone to look at your application and consider it. If you haven’t heard anything in six weeks or so, then politely enquire by email or a letter.
If you’re lucky enough to get a mini-pupillage, don’t blow your chances once you are there. Remember that the barristers are probably storing information for when it comes to actual pupillage applications. While you are there, you will also come into contact with barristers from other chambers and instructing solicitors who will all notice if you are a ‘shining star’.
How to dress and behave on a mini-pupillage
Make sure you are punctual and bring your own notebook. Wear a suit at all times. Don’t turn up with too much jewellery or make up on. As much as I love my make-up, big earrings and nail polish, it is frowned upon in Court. So stud earrings, clear polish no colours, light make up, skirts over knee with tights and keep your hair neat and off your face.
Also, make sure your mobile is on silent. Barristers will expect your full attention even if they seem distracted.
Ask questions, but do this when you’re alone with the barrister or on a break. It’s not easy to answer questions in court. If they are talking to opposing Counsel about the case, they will not want to be interrupted.
Make notes about the cases you see including the type of hearing, the barristers involved, their style, what impressed you and matters which you didn’t understand so you can ask about them later. If you don’t ask questions later on, the barrister will think you’ve not been listening because there will always be something you don’t understand or will want to know more about.
Specific court etiquette
One important matter which you need to research and adhere to is court etiquette. There are many rules in court but perhaps the most important when you’re on mini-pupillage are: one, do not walk in front of the defendant when he or she is being addressed in any way and, two, do not talk when someone is being arraigned (indictment read and plea put in) or sentenced.
These rules can easily be broken (I see barristers do it too) but the Judge may well shout at you and the barrister you’re with will not be impressed.
Make sure that you thank the barristers you have been following and the clerks and staff. Also, sending in a short thank you card or letter afterwards is always impressive and helps you be remembered. We display ours in the clerks’ room for everyone to see!