BECOMING A BARRISTER – YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Posted by Blog Editor in Law, 27.03.2015
A huge thank you to all of you who joined us for our live Google+ hangout on ‘Becoming a Barrister’. We tried to get through as many of your questions during the event as we could, however as there were so many that we missed that we missed quite a few.
We posed these outstanding questions to Ishan Kolhatkar, BPTC Lecturer and Barrister, who has provided the following responses:
Q: How did you reconcile having some trepidation about how you might specialise further down the road or about the bar itself with making a strong pupillage application?
Chambers want to know that you have some idea as to the sort of work you want to do but importantly, that you have some evidence for making that decision. A candidate who has done a couple of mini pupillage in their area of interest along perhaps with one in a different contrasting area (so that they can say why they want to do X as much as why they don’t want to do Y) is a more attractive prospect than someone who either has no idea or professes a burning desire to do shipping work without ever having seen any. If it helps, consider broad areas such as crime, family, general common law, commercial, public, negligence and see which suits you remembering that there are avenues within those and that a practice develops. I went to the bar wanting to purely do crime. I ended up doing mostly that but also branched out into professional discipline and civil VAT fraud. As a student I never envisaged finding myself in the tax tribunal let alone the chancery division of the High Court.
Q: Would Pro Bono work and internships, alongside the mini pupillages and grades increase your chances of a pupillage?
Yes. Chambers are looking for well qualified individuals because they want to know that intellectually you are up to the challenge of the bar. How good do the grades need to be? Well that depends on the type of set. As James and Chloe discussed during the event, some chambers are looking for raw intellect and will take the very best. Others are looking for a consistently good academic profile. Mini-pupillages and internships increase your chances because they help guide you towards the area of the bar that is right for you and with assessed mini-pupilllages they allow chambers to decide if you are their sort of pupil. Finally, the importance of pro-bono can’t be overstated. It can often afford you experiences that are unmatched until you get to the bar and at the top end allows you to appear in a real tribunal for a real client. That of course isn’t available to everyone but you need to start somewhere. See pro-bono as an opportunity to put the law into practice rather than being theoretical concepts. It will make you a better lawyer and therefore a better prospect for chambers.
Q: As a mature student am I likely to be better suited to the bar than trying to become a solicitor?
Chambers (and Solicitors firms) value experience and maturity. Ask yourself how the experiences (work and life) that you have had so far are evidence of how you would be a great Barrister in the area that interests you? Have you got bags of experience helping people in difficult situations for example? That would be an attractive prospect to chambers where the work demands close contact with vulnerable individuals
Q: Does having an LLM increases you chances for pupillage?
At some sets it seems almost a pre-requisite. The top end commercial/chancery sets look for raw intellect and an LLM from a top University seems mandatory. Outside of those sets it seems less important. Have a look at chambers in the areas of law that interest you. Most list the academic background of their members. Do they all have LLMs or is it just the odd person. That’s a useful guide.
Q: Anthony Cross Q.C., the head of the criminal bar, has recently predicted the end of the criminal bar, saying that the junior bar will “wither on the vine and die out”. Just this morning, the Court of appeal “shot down a judicial review of government plans to slash legal aid contracts for law firms.” What does all of this mean for an undergraduate like me? I’m 19 and I’d love a career at the criminal bar – but already I’m being shown it can’t be done. Help please? !
The criminal bar is undergoing great change. What it will look like in a few years time is a matter of great debate. Perhaps you are in a good position as hopefully by the time it comes to you applying for pupillage the criminal bar may be a little more settled. My advice? Keep one eye on the criminal bar but perhaps look at other areas that you might be interested in.
Q: How different is the commercial Bar compared with the criminal, say in advocacy for instance?
A criminal barrister spends most of their day in court and then prepares before and after. Life can be more unpredictable with cases of varying lengths in varying locations. A commercial barrister works just as hard but usually in chambers on papers. There is some courtroom advocacy but it is sporadic rather than being the norm. Crime and commercial are probably at either ends of the courtroom advocacy spectrum with everything else somewhere in between. It’s all hard work though!
Q: Due the nature of being self-employed, is there a level of flexibility in terms of hours as compared to a solicitor’s schedule? I.e. can you make your hours fit in around other commitments (I ask as a single mother to two very small children about to start my GDL in Sept).
That very much depends on the area of the bar you go to. If you are in court a lot then no, you very much have to fit your life around court sitting times. If you practice is mainly paper advocacy then you will enjoy a level of flexibility far greater than in a firm of solicitors where someone else decides your hours. My top tip is that being self-employed can give you great flexibility. It won’t however, make days any longer than 24 hours! You need tons of self-drive and motivation to make it work.
Q: At what stage in your law degree should you start applying for mini-pupillages?
As soon as chambers will take you. Check though as many won’t accept applications until you are in your 2nd/3rd year of a law degree or on the GDL. Plan carefully though. Try and see a range of work with perhaps 2-3 in the area you have a particular interest in.
Q: Can you do a mini pupillage without having done the BPTC?
Yes, see above.
Q: As a 33 year old retraining and undertaking BPTC this coming September, are there any specific difficulties that I should prepare myself for in both the training and my initial years?
For the BPTC: Find your contract and tort notes from your GDL/LLB and refresh your memory. The written skills courses focus on your written skills but require a good knowledge of contract and tort so that what you do write is legally accurate. Advocacy: get used to the sound of your own voice and watching recordings of yourself. If that prospect seems awful or cringeworthy, get it out of the way now. Start recording yourself speaking and watching it back. Finally, in your first advocacy class you will have to stand up and speak in a room with 3 people you have only just met. We aren’t expecting you to be the finished article on day 1, but as long as you can speak with some confidence you are well on your way to success.
In your early years: Be prepared to work long hours. If you are going to an area of the bar where there is lots of courtroom advocacy then prepare for hours on trains, hours of waiting around and hours of time by yourself. It may sound silly but you need to learn how to use that time productively and know when to perhaps take a minute to relax.
If you didn’t manage to catch our ‘Becoming a barrister’ event you can view it now on our Youtube channel and you can still ask us your questions via twitter @bpplawschool using #Becoming A Barrister