6 September 2012
Monckton Chambers’ most recent tenant Elizabeth Kelsey advises students to beware pigeon-holing
Name: Elizabeth Kelsey
Chambers: Monckton Chambers
Position: Pupil [now tenant - ed)
Degree: BCL; BA Jurisprudence; MSci Physics.
University: Oxford (Keble College and Harris Manchester College); Imperial College London
Where did you study the GDL and/or the BVC? BPP (the BVC)
Hobbies: Riding; running; travelling.
When and why did you decide to train as a barrister? Fairly early in my law degree. Advocacy instinctively appealed to me, and some early mooting experience confirmed it was something I very much enjoyed. From there, the more I learnt about life at the self-employed Bar, the more I felt it was the right choice for me.
Why did you choose public law, EU law and competiton law? I am lucky in that my pupillage has not been limited to a single area of law. A common feature of much of the work, however, is the fundamental question of the role of the state, be it in a regulatory context or in relation to more traditional public law issues. This is something I find conceptually interesting and which often raises challenging intellectual issues.
What has been the highlight of your pupillage so far? It’s impossible to pick a particular case, but the undoubted highlight during pupillage was seeing my work be of use to my supervisors. Pupillage is a learning experience but, in my chambers at least, you are always given an opportunity to contribute. It is very rewarding when that opportunity comes to fruition.
What does your typical day involve? The core of a typical day is either research or drafting, depending on what stage I have reached with a given case. This will often be broken up with attending conferences with my supervisor, and informal discussions with other members working on the case. Most days I have one major task to address, and various smaller issues cropping up from time to time.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Each stage of case is enjoyable in a different way: from getting to grips with the facts and issues, which often means exploring new points of law, to narrowing the argument, developing written submissions, and fully advocating a given position. Through all of that, you will almost certainly be working with or alongside highly intelligent, interesting and friendly people.
What are the worst aspects of your job? As a pupil, the awareness that your time in chambers is always building towards the tenancy decision. The vagaries of pupillage aside, probably accepting that there are always hard cases and that you won’t always get the outcome you want, or think is right.
What’s the biggest misconception of the legal profession? I think a fairly common misconception is the idea that lawyers are all of one ‘type’ or another: a commerical specialist, a personal injury lawyer, a human rights barrister. While categorisation is possible to an extent, the work in practice is more varied than this suggests. For me, that variety is one of the things which makes life at the Bar so rewarding and interesting.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law? Try to get as much experiece as you can of different legal careers, and be honest with yourself about your suitability and chances of success. That said, if you are certain a particular path is right for you, do not be too put off by the inevitable and continual warnings you will doubtless receive as to the difficulties of succeeding. While they may be true, it is important to remember that success is possible; if you are certain something is right for you, go for it.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career? I think pigeon-holing yourself too early is an easy trap to fall into. It is very hard to say, during your law degree or GDL, what area of law you will find most enjoyable in practice or will be most suited to, but the pressure to form definitive views about these things starts early. It can be hard to keep an open mind, or to change tack if you find your experiences leading you to an unexpected conclusion.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a pupillage? Probably getting to grips with the peculiarities of the legal profession, which can seem impenetrable from an outside perspective. Its certainly no longer true that you need to have inside contacts or know the right people to succeed, but it helps if you can find someone - a tutor, mentor, or whoever - to give you inside insight.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates? Successful candidates differ vastly, but the one attribute I would say is common to all is determination. Training for the Bar is a long and competitive process, and it is inevitable that at some point along the way you will face challenges. To make it through that process you have to be determined to succeed.