As you will have already heard countless times, pursuing a career at the Bar is often ruthless, competitive and exceptionally difficult. It has been recently estimated that only roughly 1/3 of BPTC graduates go on to acquire pupillage, and a surprising majority of these must go through the tribulations of a ‘third-six’ in order to gain tenancy at a Chambers. However, if this doesn’t put you off, and you are still determined to succeed as a barrister, this guide will provide you with some suggestions of how to bolster your CV during your undergraduate studies in anticipation of gaining that coveted BPTC place and pupillage.
Please do note that this guide is not an exhaustive list of suggestions and that there are many other opportunities that will aid your applications for pupillage.
It goes without saying that mini-pupillages are absolutely essential on your CV ahead of pursuing the BPTC or pupillage. ‘Minis’ allow undergraduate and postgraduate students to gain work experience (usually a week, although they can be shorter) within a specific chambers. You will most likely find yourself attending court and conferences with the members of chambers and may also have the opportunity to read through and work on live case files in some capacity. Minis are great for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they allow you to get to know a certain chambers, so if you really like a specific set, then definitely attempt to get a mini there to see what it is like. Secondly, you will be exposed to advocacy on a daily basis, which helps you to develop your own public speaking abilities. Thirdly and potentially most importantly, you will tend to find the barristers you shadow will speak candidly to you about the Bar, their work and often what they think of the judge and other advocates in the courtroom – it is surprising how much help an informal chat can be!
Another excellent addition to your legal CV. For those of you who are unsure of what this is, marshalling involves shadowing a judge/judges in court. It is much like a mini-pupillage, except you are shadowing the judge, as opposed to a barrister. This experience can be invaluable in broadening your knowledge of legal proceedings, as well as consolidating your own advocacy skills. You are usually sat up on the bench next to the judge so you will see the courtroom from an entirely different perspective. This unique ‘birds-eye’ view allows you to soak everything up from an entirely objective point of view, meaning you will often learn more from this perspective as compared to your experience of one-side of a trial which you gain from mini-pupillages. Also, the opportunity to speak to judges in their chambers is exceptionally helpful, as they can provide you with advice from their own (often very esteemed) careers and experiences. Marshalling is definitely not an opportunity to miss out on.
- Pro Bono Work:
Pro bono work can really make a difference on your CV. In a pupillage interview recently, out of the numerous questions, I was asked, at least 70% of the interview focused on the pro bono work I had undertaken. This is because pro bono work allows you to really get to grips with the practicalities of the law, and helps you to understand how the law really works (and often struggles to work). It also affords you the chance to give back to your local community, by playing your part in helping laypeople to understand and use the law to uphold their rights. Aside from the core experiences of minis and marshalling, I would suggest that pro bono is a near-necessity on any student’s CV who is aspiring to the Bar. It really helps you stand out from the crowd.
- Society Committees:
Society Committees at your University are also a great way to get involved in legal activities and have fun at the same time! Last academic year I took on the role of Junior Master of Moots at my University’s Bar Society. Committee positions can be very impressive on a CV because they demonstrate a real commitment to a career at the Bar, whilst allowing you to further engage with relevant professionals and learn new skills. For instance, my role entailed organising and judging moots, which required very different skills to mooting itself. I felt that I learned more about good advocacy when judging others than when I was mooting myself, something which I only realised as a result of my committee position.
- Mooting and Negotiation Competitions:
This is another necessity for your CV. Competing in mooting and/or negotiation competitions is a very important part of aspiring to the Bar. As one barrister on a pupillage committee once explained to me, “if an applicant doesn’t have mooting on their CV, then how can we know that they would be a persuasive advocate in the courtroom?”. I think this clarifies the importance of mooting and negotiating early in your legal training. The more you do now, the less you have to do on the BPTC, which is stressful enough without having to heap unnecessary pressure on yourself by competing in lots of different competitions simply because you did not do this beforehand.
- StreetLaw and Outreach Programmes:
During my own time at University, I completed StreetLaw classes across the UK. StreetLaw essentially involves creating and presenting a classroom exercise to school pupils about a specific topic of the law. It will usually consist of a presentation and classroom exercise which allows the pupils to have a go at debating the laws which you will have taught them in the presentation. I personally consider StreetLaw to come a close second to my pro bono work in the list of my most rewarding experiences at University. Not only does it help you practice yet more public speaking, it also allows you to pick an area of law you are passionate about, and allow that passion to inspire the younger generation. Again, this has been a favourite topic of interviewers in my experience, and a great way for me to show my enthusiasm for the law.
- Editing/Publishing Academic Articles:
It can be very difficult to get academic awards unless you are consistently scoring the highest in your year of undergraduate study. On this basis, joining an editorial board, or writing an academic article that is selected for publication is another avenue for those seeking academic awards for the CV. Having been an editor of the University’s Law Review this year, I have found that dealing with the complex issues within legal articles as an editor has helped my ability to understand the law quickly and efficiently. I have also had the chance to read numerous academic articles in depth and comment upon them. This has given me a better understanding of written advocacy, and how to make a point persuasive without being overbearing, an important quality for a career at the Bar. For those who have limited time outside of their undergraduate degree, this is a great addition to the CV.
- Non-Legal Work Experience:
Finally, non-legal work experience is a very important element of any pupillage application. I have worked as an estate agent part-time for a lengthy period, and this has aided my pupillage applications because I am dealing with a wide variety of people in a professional capacity. My work has also taught me to adhere to strict time limits. I believe that non-legal work experience is so valued because it gives you the chance to experience the world outside of the Bar. When you are in court attempting to relate to both a client, as well as an esteemed judge, or potentially the 12 members of the general public that make up the jury, I believe that the skills learnt in non-legal work can really aid your abilities to be a persuasive and relatable advocate.
I hope this short article has helped to point you in the right direction for bolstering your CV ahead of your BPTC and pupillage applications. I must stress again that this is not an exhaustive list, as there are many other activities that can look excellent on a CV, such as non-legal achievements and sporting accolades. If you have any further questions, then please do feel free to send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best of luck,