Through the eyes of its current Pupil Barristers
The Pupillage window opens once again. Ben, Louise, and Mahdev, our current pupils, give you a peek into what pupillage at KBW Chambers looks like.
Journey to the Bar
I graduated with a degree in Politics and Philosophy and spent the next year and a half in sales and fundraising roles. Uninspired, I took a job as a court usher on a whim. This was my first exposure to the legal sector. I felt an immediate draw to the tempo and diversity of court work, and within a couple of months, I had resolved to pursue a career at the Bar.
I completed the GDL and then the Bar Course. Being concerned that I did not have enough relevant legal experience I threw myself into as many of the law school’s extracurriculars as possible. This included mooting, plea in mitigation competitions, and legal advice clinic work. I was happy to discover that my previous work experience and time observing barristers in court had prepared me well for mooting. I was also able to draw on examples of being persuasive in my sales and fundraising roles when it came to answering scholarship and pupillage application questions.
After the Bar course I worked for Citizens Advice, where I worked on new areas of law such as benefits, housing, and employment. I also honed my conferencing and written advocacy skills during this time and would recommend this role as an alternative to a paralegalling.
If like me you had no idea you wanted to be a barrister until relatively late in the day, don’t be discouraged. There is no “correct” path to pupillage. Selection panels are also attracted to the skills and experiences candidates can draw on from outside the legal sector.
I decided to pursue a career change after being involved in an accident and making a personal injury claim. Through my personal experience, I found that law could provide me with an interesting and intellectually challenging career. Having been self-employed for six years previously, coming to the Bar was a logical choice.
When I decided to study law, I needed to re-sit my A-Levels so I set to it. I taught myself the content from textbooks to get the grades I needed to get into university and boost my confidence. I had no previous experience in law. My background involved working as a charity project manager across East Africa and also working in various roles across industries including equestrian events, publishing and business consultancy.
What I hope my story shows is that you can come to the Bar from any background and every experience can be framed in a positive light.
As an international student from Malaysia, the idea of practising at the Bar of England and Wales remained an elusive one. You rarely hear stories of those from other countries securing pupillage. The few who I came across went to Oxford or Cambridge. I did not. But something changed when I was on the Bar course. I really enjoyed the advocacy training, networking with barristers and found practice at the Bar attractive through the mini-pupillages I undertook. I decided to take the plunge, despite the discouraging statistics.
In my first year of applying, I solely focused on securing one first round interview. I secured three. This gave me the confidence to try again. I returned home to Malaysia in 2020 due to COVID but the silver lining was that I gained work experience in the UK remotely. I interned at the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights and later worked with the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute virtually. Here, I honed my research skills and written advocacy. I then joined Leeds Free Legal Representation as one of its first caseworkers in January 2021. I was immediately tasked with working with clients, liaising with the Employment Tribunal and opposing solicitors as well as drafting applications and pleadings. I had the opportunity to conduct preliminary hearings, negotiate settlements and later represented a client in a final hearing against a barrister. These experiences, taken together, helped me mature into a candidate ready to make a competitive application for pupillage.
My journey to the Bar was coloured with a lot of uncertainty and the lack of precedent in the form of other barristers with a similar background. I thought, “so what?” and so should you.
The Application Process
The application process for pupillage at KBW consists of completing the Pupillage Gateway application form followed by two rounds of interviews. Our top tips for approaching the process are as follows:
1. This is written advocacy in action – show good judgment by drawing on relevant experiences to demonstrate the qualities a barrister is likely to possess. Show self-awareness by reflecting on lessons you have gained from experiences and ensuring you do not exaggerate your achievements.
2. Seek feedback from a selection of people – someone with legal experience will scrutinise whether you are effectively demonstrating the key competencies. Get someone with no legal experience to also read your application. You are on the right track if they understand clearly what you are putting forward.
3. Do not forget the basics! – Keep in mind the common errors e.g. ‘Practice vs Practise,’ do not overload your application with unnecessary adjectives and keep it concise.
1. Structure, structure, structure! Tell the selection panel you have 3 points to make. This will focus your mind when thinking of the answer. It also prevents you from rambling on.
2. Do not be afraid to ask for time to think about a question. Once you are ready, set out your thought process behind the answer. Your working out is often far more insightful to a selection panel than the answer itself.
3. You are most likely nervous 10 minutes before the interview. Figure out ahead of time how you will keep calm. Talking to other candidates usually does the trick!
First Six in Chambers
For the first half of my first six, I observed my supervisor in family court care proceedings, civil claims against the police, police misconduct hearings, and other police based work such as closure orders. Alongside this I have prepared pleadings and advices on evidence for my supervisor and other members of Chambers. I have also seen an inquest and assisted in a training session for police misconduct independent panel members. The second half of my first six has been focused on criminal law. I have seen a variety of Crown Court work with barristers at every level of call.
I spent the first 2.5 months shadowing my pupil supervisor and other members of Chambers in the criminal courts. During this time I was able to observe a fully contested rape trial, client conferences, sentences and general case management. I was also allocated a civil supervisor and a family supervisor. I spent the subsequent 2.5 months working with my civil supervisor on personal injury and industrial disease claims, I also observed some of Chamber’s police work and inquests. During this time, I further observed the work overseen and recommended by my family supervisor, which included contested private law and public law hearings. I was also able to spend time with and observe the interplay between a led family junior and leading Kings’ Counsel from Chambers. The final month of first six will be spent observing the type of work I am likely to do in my second six, which will include prosecuting sessions in the Magistrates’ Court.
I started my first six in the criminal courts. Who do you speak to if you are prosecuting? Where do you meet a client? What happens if a case cracks? How does sentencing work? How does jury advocacy work? What type of applications do I make? That was the focus of my first month. I then spent a few weeks exploring the same in family courts. I am now in my civil stint where I have so far drafted pre-action letters, pleadings, and submissions. Alongside this, my pupil supervisor and I constantly review how my pupillage is going such that I may step out from time to time to gain experience in other practice areas. For example, I recently spent a day in the Immigration Tribunal with a former member of Chambers who now sits as a Judge. At each stage, I have been encouraged to take time to develop an understanding of the work and I have received detailed feedback for work I have done.
Coming into pupillage, there is a natural desire to ‘prove’ yourself to members of Chambers. The barristers at KBW are quick to remind us that they believe in our potential. Pupillage is a learning process. We are encouraged to be patient with ourselves at this early stage in our career and to spend time learning from others. This might take the form of training with different members of Chambers, or by asking questions and hearing stories in a more informal, social setting. There is also an active Wellbeing Committee which organises events for Chambers in which pupils are encouraged to participate, including a monthly Chambers-wide pub quiz trip. So, will you help us win the next quiz?
Virtual Open Evening
If you would like to meet several of the Barristers at KBW and obtain further information about the application and interview process, please register for the upcoming virtual open evening on Thursday 19th January 2023 at 06:00pm. You can register by clicking on the following link: https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_7WH_KM3IQRyQcXHF9yOlrg