Crown Chambers


One month in – Rebecca Wilkinson

In line with my duty to act with honesty and integrity [CD3], I must admit at the time of writing I am in fact six weeks into my pupillage at Crown Chambers. As often happens at the bar, time has run away with me and I therefore am writing this retrospectively. I hope in this short entry to give future pupils an insight into the work of a first six pupil as well as an account of the experience of being part of a chambers.

The work of a first six pupil:

Throughout my first six weeks, I have shadowed my supervisor and other barristers in Public Law Children Proceedings. I have witnessed an array of circumstances that can lead to a Local Authority becoming involved in a child’s life, from forms of abuse through to medical treatment. I have drafted case management orders, consent orders and case summaries. I have taken notes of evidence and prepared attendance notes. I have prepared various schedules and chronologies. I have drafted cross-examinations and analysed evidence. It is only when looking back that I realise quite how busy the last six weeks have been. Pupillage is effectively the process of habitually learning the trade. At first, the thought of drafting a legal document or preparing a schedule seems daunting. But eventually you become more comfortable and confident in your abilities, until you realise you have effectively conducted the work of a barrister without knowing. Take heed; you may still feel a slight sense of terror when submitting work you have completed for others; that comes naturally with the self-doubting qualities many of us possess and in the pressure cooker world of pupillage. It is simply that that dread gets smaller over time as your familiarity with the task increases.

Lessons learnt:

I must say that I have that strange feeling in one sense that I have been at Chambers all my life, but in another, that I have blinked and six weeks have passed. I’m afraid the cliches are true; pupillage really is a whirlwind. This leads to my first piece of advice:

Time is valuable:

Pupillage is such an intense learning curve that it is necessary to make sure your time is used wisely. For example, observe and note the way your supervisor interacts with solicitors; if you wish to be instructed by them in the future it is essential you are able to build and maintain a relationship with them. Take five minutes after a conference not only to perfect your note of what was said, but to note how it was said or how a discussion played out. Take the time to update your pupillage diary regularly, that way you are able to reflect upon what you have seen in a particular week and what you have learnt from this. If you heard a particularly effective piece cross-examination that day, look back at your notes of evidence and write down why it was so effective, any methods you may be able to deploy yourself, or any interesting phrases used. Your future second-six self will thank you.

If you don’t know, ask:

Take this from someone who, during her first week of pupillage, spent half an hour trying to figure out what the ‘AM’ I was due to attend the following day was; it is simply best to ask if you don’t know. The very purpose of a pupillage is for you to learn from others and to prepare you for your own career at the bar. It is up to you how much use you make of the very short year you are given to learn from others. That is not to say it is necessary to badger your supervisor with every single question you have; one aspect of being a barrister is the ability to conduct independent research and this should be utilised first. It is to say, for example, that if you are unsure why a decision was taken or why a method was employed, ask. It will only serve to better prepare you when you are faced with such choices in the future.

Don’t become too disheartened

As briefly mentioned earlier, I think there is a tendency for those at the bar to be extremely self-critical. A certain level of this is healthy, as it can lead to you reviewing and improving upon yourself. However, it is too easy to become bogged down in your own self-doubt. The process of pupillage applications is renowned for ‘knocking the wind’ out of applicants’ sails and leaving them doubting their own abilities. But starting pupillage, it helps to remember that your education has essentially taken place in a vacuum. Yes you may have rehearsed advocacy in a mock court room with mock witnesses, but this is very different to the formal setting of a real court room. Likewise, you may have memorised the White Book from cover to cover during the BPTC (now BTC), but how those rules play out in practise is another thing entirely. The vocational stage of becoming a barrister cannot prepare you for every eventuality you will meet in practise; nothing can. It is therefore inevitable that you will not start pupillage knowing everything and that you will, on occasion, get things wrong. It is important not to dwell on these occasions but instead take a note of what you got wrong and how you would approach something differently in the future. Likewise, use any feedback, positive or negative, to your advantage. Your supervisor is there to guide you towards becoming a competent barrister and an inevitable part of that is pointing out weaknesses. In any event, it is best this happens during pupillage as opposed to practice.

Life in Chambers

I am in the slightly peculiar position in that I have worked completely remotely since the beginning of my pupillage. I therefore have not had the opportunity to meet members of chambers in person. However, this has not meant I have felt any less part of Chambers. Chambers are a strange breed in that every member works for themselves and manages their own practice. And yet I have found each member, whether senior or junior, will not hesitate to give you their time, advice and support if and when it is needed. In other words, it is easy to forget each member is working completely for themselves; it feels more like a collaboration. This element of Chambers life has not been affected by Covid-19 and I would go so far as to say, quite the opposite has occurred. Having to communicate virtually means it is often easier for everyone to be in the same place at the same time for a catch up, whether that be pupils alone, pupils and juniors, or pupils and supervisors. Your peers and seniors at chambers are the best source of support; use them.

Rebecca Wilkinson – Pupil 


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