23 May 2013
Devereux Chambers pupil Georgia Hicks has learnt that you’ve got to remain resilient, support your client, and not show quite how disappointed you are.
Chambers: Devereux Chambers
Position: 12 month Pupil
Degree: English Language and Literature
University: University of Oxford
Where did you study the GDL and/or the BPTC? City University London
Hobbies: Cycling, running, tennis, theatre, watching QPR lose
When and why did you decide to train as a barrister? I decided to train as a barrister after trying a few different paths. After university I spent some time working in the theatre and in charities but wanted something more intellectually challenging. I’ve always enjoyed performing and public speaking and I thought the combination of academia and performance might suit me.
Why did you choose Employment law? I was drawn to Employment law because of the volume of advocacy involved, especially at the junior end. Young practitioners have the chance to conduct cross-examination, give closing submissions and often handle a case from beginning to end. I am also interested in the commercial aspects of chambers’ work but getting on your feet and leading your own cases from an early age in the Employment Tribunals is an invaluable experience.
What has been the highlight of your pupillage so far? There are too many to mention. Watching my first supervisor win an unwinnable case in Cecilia Hitchen v London Borough Haringey was a master class in advocacy. In my second seat I’ve been part of some heated tactical commercial battles, usually surrounding interim injunctions, and learnt the vital importance of procedure in civil disputes. Shadowing Rob Weir QC in Swift v Secretary of State for Justice, was exciting opportunity to persuade the Court of Appeal to forge new inroads into the field of human rights.
It sounds odd but Devereux’s assessment process has been a highlight. We have six written assessments and two advocacy assessments, set by different members of chambers on the core practice areas. The person setting the paper will choose an interesting case that they have done themselves. It’s a unique chance to get your teeth into a real legal problem and receive some constructive feedback. The advocacy assessments are judged by a panel, consisting of two members of chambers and one former member of chambers, currently sitting as a judge. It’s set around a realistic (tight) timeframe and the adrenaline really gets you going. The feedback and attention to detail is immeasurably useful and unheard of outside pupillage.
What does your typical day involve? There is no typical day. If I am helping a barrister with an approaching trial or hearing then I might be conducting research into useful cases, drawing up chronologies, preparing my own draft of cross-examination notes or closing submissions. If the dispute is a commercial one then I could be sitting in on conferences, discussing tactics for settlement with my supervisor. Often I will be asked to write an advice on a case my supervisor is working on so that we can discuss our views and how we got to them. Sometimes other members of chambers have a research point they need help with and so will ask you to prepare a note. This can lead you down all kinds of paths as often they will not know the answer themselves; what initially looked like a straightforward matter can lead to an 18 page note. There is a healthy mix of shadowing and supporting, alongside producing your own work.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? There are two aspects which strike me as the most enjoyable. The first is being in court. Whether it is cross-examination, closing submissions, an appeal or interim application, nothing can equal the excitement of thinking on your feet and responding to the other side, the witness, the judge. The second is coming across an interesting point of law, either unchartered or unclear. Grappling with problems and coming to a view is the most stimulating and rewarding use of time I can imagine.
What are the worst aspects of your job? Not getting the result you had hoped for your client can be hard. I have not experienced it yet but I have seen the most capable barristers go through this. It must be disheartening and frustrating, especially if you think it was not the right outcome or you have been treated harshly by the judge. I have learnt that you’ve got to remain resilient, support your client, and not show quite how disappointed you are.
What’s the biggest misconception of the legal profession? Firstly, that it is full of privileged, entitled rich kids, following in the footsteps of their fathers. I have been struck by the number of principled, hard-working people from all walks of life, drawn to the profession for a variety of reasons.
Secondly, that lawyers put earning money above their client’s needs. With the cuts to legal aid, there has been a lot of comment in the press about spiralling legal costs, especially in divorce proceedings. In my experience, lawyers act with integrity and in the best interests of their clients. Barristers often warn against litigation and regret when the wrong cases find themselves in court.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law? If you have a passion for it, pursue it. Do not get put off by the competition or any knock-backs you have had. The bar is saturated with excellent candidates and you will experience rejection, I do not know anyone who hasn’t. Much of applying for pupillage is practice and experience: there is no such thing as innate legal ability. Keep reading cases, keep watching barristers in court, keep competing in moots, keep volunteering and getting whatever experience you can. Most of all, keep going.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career? From my experience, there is a tendency amongst student applicants to be too academic. It is an academic profession but it is still a profession: there is a client, who is paying money and wants practical advice. The aim is to get the best possible result for them. I initially approached writing an advice as if I were writing an essay. Working for your client forces you to be clever and creative in a different way – and it gets results.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a pupillage? Having only done the graduate diploma in law (GDL), I felt that I was at a disadvantage to those applicants who had studied law for three years, sometimes more. It affected my confidence and probably inhibited me at interview. Now I try to look at my English degree as providing positives. You have the rest of your life to become expert in law and your first degree will give you unique skills. It is also apparent that the law you apply in practice is very different from would have been discussed in tutorials.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates? Academic ability is a pre-requisite. Apart from that, I have noticed three key things. Firstly, successful applicants need to be able to present an oral argument. People seem to forget that an interview is a performance, it is not a discussion. I think that interviewers want to see your ability to grapple with legal problems and think on your feet. Secondly, it is helpful if candidates are able to demonstrate commitment to something in their life, whether it be volunteer work, sport, mooting. The Bar is a demanding profession and requires stamina. The chambers need to be confident that you will work hard for them, maintain their reputation, and bring in good work. Thirdly, candidates need to be positive and have faith in themselves. Interviewers have to be able to picture you with clients; they need to be confident in your ability. If you aren’t, it’s very difficult for them to be.