Mini pupillages are two to five days spent shadowing a barrister. They are a great opportunity to discover what goes on first hand in court and in chambers. This article aims to demystify some of the preconceptions and misconceptions many students have about mini pupillages.
Myth: A mini-pupillage guarantees you a pupillage…
Unfortunately, a mini-pupillage does not automatically entitle you to a pupillage. Some chambers do place more weight on their mini-pupillages and ask that you visit their chambers before applying for a pupillage, others don’t mind whether you have undertaken one with them or not.
Some mini-pupillages are assessed and if you are dreaming of a pupillage with that particular chambers, then it makes sense to throw yourself into the placement. Work hard and they will remember you. Whether your mini-pupillage is assessed or not, engage, ask questions (where appropriate!) and be someone they remember for all the right reasons. You never know, it might pay off when it comes to pupillage applications.
Misconception: A mini-pupillage means spending an entire week in court…
So many people think that a mini-pupillage means sitting in court listening to trials for hours on end. Sometimes that is the case, but very often there is an awful lot of waiting around. Depending on the nature of the trial and the work schedule of the barrister, you may get a lot out of these quiet times; equally you could be left sitting around.
Never dismiss the chance to sit in on a client meeting or spend some time in chambers – after all, you’ll want to experience every aspect of a barrister’s working life.
You may even be asked to go through a bundle or draft some documents. It’s about taking every experience and squeezing as much as you can out of it. You never know how beneficial these skills and experiences could be.
Preconception: Every mini-pupillage is exciting/informative all the time…
Many of the mini-pupillages you undertake, whether two, three or five days long, will be amazing, career defining and spur you on to pursue a career as a barrister. Don’t be disappointed though if you encounter one which isn’t so good.
This could be for a number of reasons; you have ended up with a barrister who is not very good at having someone with him/her, schedules have changed and cases have been moved or cancelled. It could be that that week is a particularly mundane week or it could be that that particular set of chambers is not for you.
Try and take something away from it. Even if you do not have the most enthusiastic mini-pupillage master still be inquisitive, but not a burden. Cases change hourly. The chambers might have had an amazing case they were going to let you sit on, but if it gets rescheduled then they have to juggle things around.
Allowing you into their bubble for a number of days is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. It can be a strain on resources and often means they need to try and find time to explain lots of things to you. My handy tip: take a law book with you so you can read if necessary during quiet periods and not look bored!
Misconception: Lots of mini-pupillages make you stand out…
There is this notion going around that having 25 mini-pupillages will guarantee you a pupillage. Unfortunately it can have quite the opposite effect. Lots of experience in different areas can create the impression you are unsure what area you want to go into.
Do not put anything on your CV or application which will hinder it. If you have done 25 mini pupillages that’s brilliant, but maybe consider only putting down the ones most relevant to that particular chambers.
It may be worth putting one or two down if you can use them to draw inferences such as “I did not like my time at a family only set because I prefer the diversity of mixed chambers. They give me the opportunity to develop my skills in criminal law, my main focus, but also the ability to venture into other areas as I grow in confidence.”
Myth: You don’t need to do anything on a mini-pupillage…
A mini-pupillage may involve a lot of waiting around, but that does not mean you won’t have anything to do. If you are in court, befriend the usher and try to be engaged, as the barrister is more likely to speak with you. Ask to see documents or bundles, make notes during the trial/meeting, ask questions when you can, and look like you actually want to be there. When you are asked questions, don’t shy away; they won’t expect you to know the answer all the time. Be confident, pro-active and try to pick up as many tips as you can during your mini-pupillage.
Most of all, enjoy the experience. Remember that this is in effect, “a day in the life of the career you are aspiring to be”. There are good days and bad days, busy and slightly calmer days. That is how law is, and it certainly will not be any different when you are practising.