Professionals waiting to be interviewed for this guide pupillage interviews

Lawyer 2B attended City University’s event on how to get through pupillage interviews. Here are our carefully selected words of wisdom from the assembled panel.

Interview peparation

Sarah Branson, Coram Chambers: “If we notice what you’re wearing you’ve probably got it wrong. If you don’t know how to dress at interview how can we trust your professional judgement?”

Michael Edmonds, 4 Breams Buildings: “Know what’s on your application form backwards. Barristers won’t remember your face – they interview hundreds of people in a weekend. So link yourself to your form.”

Catriona Hodge, 5 Essex Court: “Make sure your notes are legible for your problem question preparation. Every year someone makes eight pages of scrawled notes which they then can’t read and they keeping losing their thread. One page of clear bullet points is probably going to help you more.”

Branson: “Feel free to use the resources you are given. We put pencils and paper there for a reason.”

Hodge: “Look at your old notes to prepare for problem questions. Bar Professional Training Course students – brush up on your law. Dig out the notes from your degree or Graduate Diploma in Law, and re-familiarise yourself with contract and tort and the other modules.”

Predictable questions that come up in pupillage interview

Morayo Fagborun Bennett, Hardwicke Chambers: “Choose topics you know something about, not ones you think will impress us or that you think we want to hear because of our chambers’ areas of practice.”

Hodge: “Why this chambers? and/or Why this area of law? are almost guaranteed questions. Don’t sound robotic, but make sure you have a really good idea of what’s motivating you.”

Stephen Lue, Garden Court Chambers: “Make a list of all the questions you are asked in interviews – we aren’t that creative and the same ones will start to crop up again.”

Branson: “And ask your fellow students who have already interviewed at similar chambers what they were asked: the same questions tend to do the rounds.”

Joseph Sullivan, 2 Temple Gardens: “Another common question is ’Name an achievement you are proud of.’ 80 per cent of people say ‘my dissertation’. It gets boring, especially when compared to the person who said ‘I’m most proud of extracting a team of 15 soldiers from Helmand Province in my helicopter’.”

Lue: “If you are hoping to do legal aid funded work be prepared to answer questions on how you will make your practice sustainable. Will you supplement it with an area of private practice? Do you already have links with solicitors who will give you private work? Ask chambers that have historically been legal aid-focused about what their survival strategy is.”

Problem questions

Hodge: “Treat problem questions like exam questions – the more structured and logical they are the better they will be rewarded.”

Sullivan: “When answering problem questions, know the facts! Don’t get bogged down in arguing the law. One of the first questions you will be asked is ‘So, what’s this case all about?’”

Sullivan: “We try to pick the most opaque area of law we can find for problem questions, so no one has an advantage. We are trying to find out if you can analyse a problem from first principles – the most important thing for you to do is identify the issues in play. The right answer is secondary.”

Tricky questions

Lue: “Interviewers do throw out odd questions – like ’If you were a packet of crisps what would you be?’ Have an answer. You may think it’s an insulting question after all you’ve been through to get in the room, but we want to see how you deal giving off-the-cuff answers.”

Hodge: “For ethical questions, have a working knowledge of the BSB’s ethical requirements. Err on the side of caution – it’s preferable to looking like a sharp operator!”

Lue: “Another potential question is ’What are your weaknesses?’ Have a prepped answer ready. Not being able to identify any weaknesses will make you look arrogant – and that you don’t know yourself. But also have an explanation about how you compensate for your weaknesses.”

Lue: “We might ask what you would be doing if you weren’t applying for pupillage and money is no object. The purpose of this question is that it allows you to demonstrate what would motivate you if you had carte blanche in life.”

Lue: “When asked about your non-law hobbies: don’t say mooting! Pretend you are interested in something other than law.”

Lue: “When I was applying for pupillage some years ago, I always seemed to get asked who my MP was. Stay up to date with current affairs and be aware of your surroundings.”

Keeping calm

Fagborun Bennett: “You will be nervous and we expect you to be nervous. But if you’ve reached interview it means we were madly impressed by your application form and are hoping to meet the intelligent, articulate person behind it.”

Edmonds: “Calmness is essential. You need to walk in serene, or at least with the pretence of serenity. That what it’s like in court – barristers have to appear serence but, as the saying goes, beneath the surface the duck’s legs are paddling furiously!”

Lue: “If you find your mouth drying up, take a deep breath and ask for some water.”

Branson: “If you have a complete brain freeze on a point, it’s not fatal. One impressive candidate had a simple way out: she asked ‘Can I come back to that?’, made a note of it, then at the end did indeed come back to the point and answered it.”

Other tips

Lue: “Getting the right answer but sounding super-nervous is often not as good as getting the answer half right but sounding confident. You need to engender confidence as a barrister.”

Hodge: “When you are challenged on a point, it’s a judgement call on whether to stand your ground. There might be room for doubt, but don’t assume that if you are questioned you’ve got something wrong.”

Sullivan: “However, if you are challenged, don’t refuse to roll back from your point even if it’s clear it’s indefensible.”

Lue: “Don’t be afraid to take a moment to think before answering questions – silences will seem longer in your head than in real time.”

Lue: “If you are given a set amount of time to answer a problem question, it’s a good idea to give your conclusions first. We often do this in court when a judge is over-listed: they want us to get to the point.”

Fagborun Bennett: “Listen out for clues. During the interview you might get asked ‘Have you considered so-and-so?’ Pause for a second and think about it – it might be that we’re trying to throw you a lifeline. We’re usually not trying to trip you up.”

Lue: “Whatever is on your CV, don’t be embarrassed by it – even if you are a little bit. A 2:2, a poor university, whatever – being a barrister is about selling your position and we want to see if you can sell your CV.”

And finally

Lue: “If you have made it to interview, you are good enough. There just may be some honing of your interview technique needed.”

Hodge: “If your first interview is a disaster, don’t worry. There is a learning curve.”

Edmonds: “You will get absolutely slaughtered. Don’t worry. The worst interview I ever had was the one that got me tenancy.”

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