Pupillage Applications and Dealing with the Rejection
Anyone who has been thinking about applying for pupillage for more than 5 minutes knows how incredibly competitive it is. To give an idea of exactly how competitive it is – the latest report by the BSB shows that as of March 2020 approximately only 43% of students domiciled in the UK/EU who had enrolled on the BPTC between 2014/15 – 2018/19 had commenced pupillage. This means that for the overwhelming majority, facing rejection is a routine part of the route to the Bar. Sadly, the impact of Covid-19 has only seen these numbers increase with the number of pupillages offered in 2020 falling by 35%.
With the BSB shifting to a mandatory timetable for recruitment in November 2020 I know that we are in the midst of interview season. It is with this in mind that I wanted to share a little about my route to the Bar, and with the help of my fellow Crown pupils, give some tips/advice to hopefully encourage those finding themselves on the wrong end of the dreaded Pupillage Gateway notification emails.
I am not shy about the fact that I was applying for 5 years, from the final year of my undergraduate degree, until I secured pupillage 15 months after completing the BPTC. During this time, I made about 140 applications and went to around 40 interviews.
Having not secured pupillage, or a scholarship from the Inns of Court when I finished my degree, I chose to work rather than starting the BPTC straightaway. I was incredibly fortunate to get a job working in the University of Manchester School of Law Legal Advice Centre, a job which I absolutely loved as I was having regular interactions with clients. When my contract ended, I moved to a large firm in Manchester where I was a paralegal in the personal injury department. During my time there I applied for the BPTC/LLM and was privileged to be awarded a major scholarship from my provider.
After the BPTC I split my time between another law firm, where I was a Litigation Executive, and Quest Legal Advocates where I was conducting various civil hearings as a Solicitor’s Agent in county courts across the North-West. I remained in these jobs until I commenced pupillage with Crown Chambers in January 2021.
When I was applying, I was getting interviews, and although I felt like I was getting closer each year I could not get myself over the line. It was incredibly disheartening, and I lost count of the number of times that I found myself wanting to pack it in. But I cannot begin to say how glad I am that I did not. Not only because I am now 4 months into my pupillage in a set that feels like the perfect fit with incredible people, but also because I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the experiences I had in those years whilst I was applying will help make me a better barrister in the future.
What follows now is a list of the top tips my fellow Crown pupils, Jazmine, Rebecca, Sam, and Hannah, and I have learned about dealing with rejection on our journeys through the pupillage application process:
- Allow yourself time to be upset, but do not let that turn into wallowing in self-pity.
Yes, all you hear is ‘be resilient’ and ‘you need to be able to dust yourself off in this career.’ You do. But you also have to acknowledge that you worked extremely hard for an interview and you have received a ‘no’ from a set you admire. Be annoyed. Be frustrated. Watch Netflix and eat junk food. Then when you wake up the next day you can put it behind you and move on to the next thing.
- Get proactive.
Recognise that you were not successful and reflect on why. Make sure your focus is on how you are going to be better next time. Being proactive about your improvement/development as a prospective pupil is going to be one of the best ways of showing your commitment to pursuing a career at the Bar. The worst thing you can do is to let yourself become stagnant, especially if you are planning on re-applying to a set that has rejected you previously.
- Always, ALWAYS, ask for feedback after receiving a post-interview rejection.
Not all sets are going to give feedback, and the amount given might vary significantly between sets. However, it may turn out from that feedback it is something specific that has stopped you from progressing that can be easily corrected. If you do get detailed feedback, then make sure you act on it for next time.
- Make a list of the questions that you were asked as soon as possible after an interview.
Making an accurate list of questions asked and the answers you gave (as well as what you thought went well/could have been better) should, if possible, be one of the first things you do when you have come out of an interview. This point applies regardless of whether you think you have had a great interview or an absolute nightmare. If you receive a rejection, by having this list you may have more of an insight as to what went wrong. When you have another interview, similar questions are likely to come up, and this time you should be able to give a better answer.
- Keep copies of old applications/prep notes from interviews.
Having old applications/notes will be a great starting point to build from when preparing new applications. If they are from an application where you got through the paper sift it will perhaps give you a better idea of what works, and if you did not then it is an opportunity to reflect on where you went wrong.
- Do not forget to be yourself.
The temptation to try and be who you think pupillage panels want you to be may grow after receiving rejection. A lot of applicants will have similar credentials, but what can you put in your application to make yourself stand out? What makes your application yours?
Each stage of the process is your chance to make yourself stand out. If you are into Irish dancing, or you are a horse rider, or you play the flute – whatever it is that makes you, you…. make sure to use it. Yes, chambers are looking for exceptional candidates, but they are also looking for real human beings who have interests and hobbies and a personality outside of their professional life. Do not let rejection stop you from being your authentic self.
- Realise that you are worth more than “just anywhere offering pupillage”.
You are as just as entitled to be picky about which Chambers you apply to. It must be the right fit and if it is not, it will be you who ultimately suffers. It is likely a Chambers will be able to tell if you have used a scattergun approach, making it more likely you would receive a rejection and have wasted time and energy that could have been put into other applications. Ultimately, if your only response to the question “why us?” is “because you offer pupillage” it is probably not worth applying.
- Understand that interviews are a two-way street, and rejection is not necessarily a reflection on your abilities.
Sometimes rejections are lucky escapes. Chambers are not just looking for people who have the potential to do the job, but someone who will fit their ethos and mesh with the people that are already there. As an applicant you should be doing the same, it might be that you come out of an interview and think I do not want to undertake my pupillage here and that is ok.
- Know that you are not alone and do not become self-conscious about rejection.
The overwhelming majority of people that go on to get pupillage have been rejected numerous times during the process and everyone has at least one nightmare interview story. It is not the end of the world (as much as it might feel like it at the time). You should not feel self-conscious about people getting pupillage before you either. It does not mean that they were better, they might have just found the place that fit them before you have found yours. Ultimately, when you do make it no one is going to care how many times you applied.