This is not an easy career path; it is not for the faint-hearted, or for those without determination, resilience and a high intellect. The Criminal Bar is in a very tough situation, there are no pots of gold for work in public or family law either, so why do people embark on and stay with this career?
“For the joy of persuading the judge that you are right”
“For the feeling that comes from knowing that you have helped someone.”
“It is the only profession which drew together everything I wanted, intellectual challenge, independence, dynamism and diversity”
These are some of the comments made by practising barristers, their clear advice is that you will have to work out what it is that interests you and be able to persuade others of your grounds. The practice of a barrister involves advocacy, “the art of persuading, not the art of talking!” Can you persuade?
Taking a gamble
Becoming a barrister can be an expensive exercise and one of the problems is that it selects its future members on exit from their training. You have to be prepared to gamble on your own excellence by undertaking the compulsory education and training without knowing whether your subsequent applications will be successful, that takes a certain kind of individual and is part of the process of self-selection.
There is one way of getting an indication as to whether your application might be likely to be successful. If you are awarded one of the Bar scholarships, not only will this make study of the BPTC (and possibly also the GDL) much more manageable financially, but it will also give you an indication that you could be the kind of person the Bar is looking for. The selection process for these awards is very similar to the selection process for pupils and tenants.
Making your case
What can you do to try to build a story about yourself which might land you a pupillage? You will need to demonstrate that you are obsessive about work and you will do this by showing academic excellence, “A 2.2 is game over and increasingly if you have a 2.1 it will be difficult to get through the paper cut!” This advice is uncompromising but you will ignore it at your peril when you are seeking a career at the Bar. You will need “a rich and textured CV” and will have to have involved yourself in activity outside your degree while you have studied.
Mini pupillages show your enthusiasm and give you an opportunity to sample different aspects of practice, volunteering in areas of pro bona legal work such as in the Death Penalty Project or at the local CAB will give you different insights and mooting is an excellent way to start to demonstrate your prowess at advocacy. A bland CV or application form will not see you progressing through the application rounds, the nature of the Bar means that many barristers would admit to some personal idiosyncrasies, they are looking to recruit people they would like to work with, and will be considering whether they will enjoy spending a few nights with you if you have to travel with them to courts outside their normal area. They are unlikely to go for the candidate who looks boring!
So what advice is there for you if you have proved your academic success and built your portfolio of relevant experience?
- The first thing is not to make a single mistake when you come to putting your application for pupillage (or mini pupillage) together. One spelling or grammar mistake will see your application straight into the reject pile – beware the often less than helpful auto correct in Word and get somebody to proof read your application for you.
- Be prepared to spend a long time accessing resources, speaking to those who can help you and practising again and again for interview. Some more trenchant advice from the Bar, “If anyone thinks that they can wing an interview then there was a problem with the selection process, they should never have been called for that interview!”
- Get ready to demonstrate that determination, resilience, confidence, interest in detail, self-awareness and above all be a problem solver. No client needs a barrister who just tells them what the law is, they need someone who can provide solutions, prove that you can be that person!
*This blog was written following a day session for Careers Advisers at Lincoln’s Inn.