Pupillage season is almost upon us! It is the most daunting time as a law student. Personally, I found it a dreadful process (particularly as an older person who was not used to being told no!) so here are my reflections on the pupillage application process.

According to the 2022 BSB Pupillage Gateway Report, 450 to 600 barristers start pupillage every year. In 2022 486 pupillages were advertised. The BSB has estimated that on average there were 147 applicants for each opening, with 2782 applicants registered in total on the portal. 

Such reports are useful tools that can aid your research into pupillage. They provide information about ‘successful’ applicants, for example, whether they have scholarships, particular BPC or LLB grades, or work experience.

They also provide statistics about particular practice areas, something to consider when you are trying to find a place where you might belong.  You shouldn’t be limited by these statistics but you must consider them.  Are there things that you need to do to be able to improve your chances of success like obtaining a scholarship, for example?

Study Chambers’ websites during the pupillage application process

You will find useful information on chambers’ websites.

Look at the biographies and CVs of not only the barristers you aspire to be like but also of the ‘baby’ barristers who have just been recruited. Could you sit and discuss similar experiences with them such as where you studied, what you do in your free time, the initiatives you are involved in? If not, are you looking at chambers that are right for you?

During my first year of applications, I failed to consider these points and I failed to gain a single second-round interview, yet alone a pupillage offer. It is important to focus your attention on somewhere you can be you and where you can connect to others, as well as aspire to be like others. It was after such research that I decided to apply for Westgate Chambers. I felt I had much in common with the barristers there, especially as several were also career changers like myself.

Although Westgate advertised on the Pupillage Gateway, they provided an alternative application process as all providers should by offering application by covering letter and CV.

As a mature student, I liked this process; as a career changer, I felt it was important to explain my changes and how my experience would aid my new career. A CV and covering letter allowed me to cover issues that I needed to in a way which flowed rather than trying to convey important points through clunky boxes with word counts but this really comes down to personal preference.

A CV also allowed me to create a focus on the relevant points of my career whereas the application via the Gateway produced a lengthy document. Needless to say, my success via the CV format was much higher than my Pupillage Gateway applications. Five of the six first round interviews that I was offered were a result of submitting a CV and covering letter. With 14 applications made in total, six interviews meant I defied the odds for my age and other characteristics!

How do you write a good covering letter for a pupil position?

If you want to write a good covering letter, I recommend:

  • You research chambers thoroughly
  • You show that you know what practice areas they are involved with
  • You read cases by barristers at the chambers so you’re ready to talk about why those cases are of interest
  • You explain how your interest in law developed and how you know it is the right career for you by drawing on your mini-pupillage and volunteering/work experiences
  • You are ready to explain what you hope to bring and why you think you will fit into the chambers

How do you get through the second round of the pupillage application process?

I was so excited to learn that I was through to the second round at Westgate. I was particularly relieved that the second round involved writing an essay, an activity that could be planned around the exams I had at the time.

It also meant that I could show my interest in a chosen topic as well as demonstrate my writing skills. Whilst I don’t mind being asked to think about which dead celebrity I might like to have dinner with during a sifting first round interview (Maya Angelou, if you’re interested!), my impression of Westgate was that they meant business.  They wanted to know if I was really interested in their practice areas and the essay would show that.

My biggest difficulty was trying to stay within the word count but as all aspirational lawyers know, being concise is a key skill so I made sure I did.

The final round was an interview.

Mine was remote, which was handy as again, it was exam time.  I was thankful that Westgate allowed this. The practical approach to the pupillage recruitment process is a good indicator of the type of ethos that Westgate has- efficient, professional, collaborative, and supportive.

The latter particularly shone through in the interview. I felt, even under the stress of interview conditions, that everyone was willing me to succeed and I can confirm that that same feeling of support has continued into pupillage. You do not have to believe me however, you can find out for yourself by applying for one of the mini-pupillages currently on offer (there is information on Chambers’ website.)

Of course, the wait for offers day is dreadful.

The constant checking of the phone, emails and the Pupillage Gateway is a nervous consequence of the anticipation. When the phone call finally came, I bounced all around the kitchen … it was a yes!  And it was a yes at a Chambers I desperately wanted to be part of, in a practice area that I wanted to do and it has started the next wonderful step of my career, supported by the most amazing barristers and clerks.

To whomever is reading this and currently considering applying for pupillage, I wish you the best of luck but remember:

  1. Stay focused
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your friends, your Inns and your mentors
  3. Pursue those chambers with people and practices that interest you the most because pupillage is only the beginning of many years of work

Nicola Sully

Pupil, Westgate Chambers

Leave A Comment