I first applied for Pupillage whilst on the Bar Course in 2017. This year, I applied again for the fourth time. I am well aware of the dangers and pitfalls, heartbreak and hard work involved.
It cannot be overstated just how valuable the Mock Interview Scheme is; I could not recommend it more. I am all too aware how difficult it is to maintain the required level of confidence as the inevitable rejections come in. Doing a mock interview is vital to regaining that confidence, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and harnessing feedback to spur you on.
Pupillage interviews are like pancakes – the first is always the worst. The first pancake is always a ‘tester’, to make sure that the heat is right, that you have the right amount of oil in your pan, and your batter is the right consistency. You need to remind yourself how to get into the right headspace and to feel (or at least act) confident. Many chambers do not offer feedback after first round interviews, so the opportunity to sit and discuss your performance immediately is very valuable.
You can only apply for a mock interview once you have been offered a pupillage interview, so I treated it as though it was the real thing and prepared accordingly. The barrister who interviewed me stayed in touch following my mock interview, offering support and advice regarding second round interviews, the Covid-19 situation at the Bar, and what to do over the coming months to prepare for 2021 applications if I am not successful this year.
I would recommend all applicants take advantage of this scheme and the support offered by the Inn, whether you are in London or further away – one silver lining of lockdown is that nobody can tell you they cannot conduct electronic interviews!
The Mock Interview Scheme was invaluable for me because of my unusual background. I was pursuing my doctorate at the Royal College of Music some years after qualifying as a solicitor before moving into artificial intelligence. This meant that I was not part of any community with others applying for pupillage and could not benefit from the cross-pollination of knowledge within a network of peers going through the same process.
I focused my applications on intellectual property sets and did all the usual homework, looking at rankings and trying to learn about individual barristers. But what might intellectual property pupillage interviews be like? And further down the line, what are the realities of being an intellectual property barrister? I had no one to ask.
I stumbled upon the Mock Interview Scheme through the Inn’s website and applied, expecting a response a few weeks later. It was a pleasant surprise to receive a call from the Education Department that very same day. Within hours, they had found an intellectual property Silk in a top set willing to meet me for a mock interview the next working day.
He had clearly read my application in detail, and he quickly discerned weaknesses within a few questions. For example, I would say that there are three reasons for something, and then fail to articulate my response as three clear points. I asked about the kind of problem questions I might expect applying to an intellectual property set and he put short practice ones to me on the spot, as well as suggesting how first and second round interviews might differ.
Finally, I asked my questions about intellectual property practice. He not only gave information from a practitioner’s viewpoint but put this in the context of my unusual background. He led me to resources where I could follow legal developments relevant to my interests.
The real interviewing process was tough. I encountered both unexpected failures and successes. As I progressed through to the second rounds, this mock interview conversation prepared me for the rollercoaster ride.
Later, he sent me an article about artificial intelligence he knew would interest me and I was very touched by the thought. The Mock Interview Scheme not only led to an incredibly helpful conversation but reminded me that the Bar is a profession of humanity as well as intelligence.
It has been a decade since, with Middle Temple’s help, I obtained pupillage at a top tier set. The year before I had not been offered a single interview from 15 applications. Then I was awarded a scholarship, I competed in the Rosamund Smith Moot, and was allocated a sponsor; all provided for by the Inn. Now, when I am asked whether I can assist other Middle Templars who are looking for pupillage – by providing a mock interview – there can only be one answer.
Obtaining pupillage remains the single biggest barrier to entering the Bar. In 2020/21, there were expected to be 435 pupillages offered. This was before the Covid-19 lockdown which will reduce the number of chambers offering this opportunity. For these 435 places there will be approximately 3,000 applicants. This will consist of successful students from 1,624 people who began studying the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) in 2018/19, in addition to former graduates from the BPTC who have been unsuccessful in gaining pupillage in previous years. Using the conservative approximation of 3,000 applicants the statistical chance of obtaining pupillage is one in seven (14.5%); getting pupillage is tough.
Through the Inn, I help by providing mock pupillage interviews either in person or over the phone. The commitment is minimal (approximately 30-45 minutes of my time) because chambers interviews are generally very short (15-20 minutes long). While different chambers will take various approaches to their interview style, the Bar Standards Board training on interviews means that most will consist of a similar structure.
I begin each mock interview with an advocacy exercise, normally a topical item in the news which has contra points of view. The candidate has a short time to prepare (five to ten minutes) after which they will give a short presentation (normally no more than two minutes). Once the presentation is complete, I either test the candidate’s submissions or ask them to present the alternative position. I can then provide feedback.
Feedback is another resource that Middle Temple has provided to me, for free, over the years. Whether it was my original advocacy training as a new practitioner, or more recently as part of the Training the Trainers course, the Inn has repeatedly taught the Hampel method for feedback (Headnote; Playback; Reason; Remedy; Demonstration; Replay). There is no requirement that feedback is delivered in this way, and another mock interviewer may simply wish to have an informal chat at the end.
There is always something of interest within the interviewee’s application or CV to focus on next. Mock interview candidates will be applying to sets practising in the same area as the interviewer; albeit not at the interviewer’s chambers. The candidate will have been offered an interview, which means the application will be strong. Advocacy is at the forefront of my practice and I like to explore the candidate’s passion and enthusiasm for this area. It may be that other areas of practice value different skills or knowledge. Regardless, the candidate’s application will have a point-of- interest otherwise they would not have been offered an interview.
Finally, I will present the candidate with an ethical dilemma. This is where mock interviews generate the greatest value. Ethical questions will rarely have a ‘right answer’, and the purpose is often to test how a candidate responds rather than
to assess the answer they provide. Whatever position the candidate takes, I will adopt the opposite and will seek to undermine their submission. Candidates may feel under pressure, get flustered or flip- flop but this simply does not matter because a mock interview is practice. The purpose of the mock is to prepare the candidates so that when they are in the real thing, they can be calm and poised.
Mock interviews really help. Whether you are a new tenant or a silk, we have all benefitted from being part of Middle Temple, and I feel a great satisfaction from contributing back in this small way.Sam Thomas, 2 Bedford Row