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Archive for the ‘pupillage’ Category

When I started this blog last month, I said that I wanted to try to do what I can to help those BVC students out there who are looking for a family law pupillage but are, alas, still without one. As someone who has only recently obtained one myself, I can’t possibly speak with any sense of authority on the matter, but I can certainly tell you a few things I did to get my CV noticed.  Below are just a few suggestions. I will add to this post when and if anything else comes to mind!

1. Work Experience

Seems obvious, I know, but family law mini pupillages are absolutely essential for the CV. They will also help you to decide which area of family work appeals to you the most. I know they are unpaid and you have to fund your way into central London everyday, but you really must try to do as many of these as possible. The more sets of chambers who know you, the less you will be just a name written at the top of an application form. If a chambers can put a face to your name, then you’ve greatly increased your chance of getting an interview for pupillage. Try to get mini-pupillages at chambers that do different types of work (e.g. care proceedings, contact, money work, domestic violence). Also, make sure you take a pen and pad with you- not only will this make you look the part, but you can also write down exactly what you saw at court and what barrister you were shadowing. If you do end up getting an interview with that same set of chambers, they may well ask you what kind of work you saw and who you were with. They might also ask you what you thought about what you saw.

2. Be in the know

Another cliched point, but a true one. Make sure you keep up to date with current affairs, and always be ready to FORM AN OPINION on something. Last summer, many interviews asked candidates what they thought should be done about MPs expenses. The more articles you read, the easier it will be to form an opinion. This is NOT something that should just be done a few weeks before your pupillage interview. Being ‘in the know’ about current affairs takes a long time. So if you’ve never got into the habit of reading a decent newspaper, START NOW, not in June! The same thing goes for developments at the Bar and in family law. Blogs such as Family Lore were hugely useful to me when I was preparing for pupillage interview, as they point you to the big cases and will tend to give you someone else’s opinion at the same time (thereby helping you to form an opinion of your own!). I bought myself a lever arch file and created different sections for different topics (e.g. one for Care proceedings, one for Ancillary Relief etc etc). A few times a week, I printed off all the articles and blogs I found useful and filed them away- this will give you a solid basis for being ‘in the know’ about all things family law. You will be amazed how much more confident this will make you.

3. Join the FLBA

Joining the Family Law Bar Association will not only mean you get their quarterly magazines (packed full with updates and big reported cases). It will also look excellent on your CV. Yes, you do have to pay to join. But it’s a small price to pay if you do get that pupillage. The FLBA also run regular events and lectures, which can refresh your brain on the law and also get your face seen by the right people!

4. Thinking outside the box

I hate to say this, but mini-pupillages are not enough on their own! Think of it this way- every candidate applying to chambers for pupillage will have done at least a few mini-pupillages. It’s a fairly standard thing to have on your CV as a student barrister, so you need to think outside the box and add something else on there which will really make you stand out. For example, I got in touch with Families Need Fathers, a family welfare charity which supports non-resident parents. There are hundreds of charities like this around the country. Don’t ask them for work experience. You need to phrase it in a way which makes it sound like you want to give up some of your time to help them. I rang up FNF and asked if they needed another pair of hands in the office, to which they obviously replied Yes, seeing as I wasn’t asking to be paid. Even if you only offer them one afternoon a week for 2 or 3 months, it is certainly something which will make your CV stand out. For the more competitive of you, and for those who are really willing to make a financial sacrifice in order to obtain pupillage, you could also try to get work experience abroad. I booked myself flights and accomodation in New York, and then contacted about 100 family law attorneys in the New York area. They all received the same email- a short paragraph about how I was training to become a barrister in London and how I wanted to see how family law was practised in another jurisdiction. About half of them got back to me offering me a day or so at court- a make-shift American mini-pupillage! I also spent a day with a domestic violence charity in New York. Don’t forget, most charities will be grateful of you giving up your time. Not only was my New York trip great fun, but it gave the chambers something obvious to ask me about at interview.

5. Outdoor clerking

Do a search on Google for your local family law solicitors and give them a call. Tell them you are (soon to be) Called to the Bar and are interested in a career at the Family Bar and, more importantly, offer to go to court for them. If you’re lucky, they will offer to pay you. But, even if they don’t, many solicitors will be willing to let you clerk for them on a regular basis, albeit unpaid. It’s a win-win situation. You get experience will clients at court and get to see more family work, and they get an extra pair of hands to help out. If they like you and you turn out to be reliable, the solicitors may well give you some paid work and may even instruct you once you are in practice (yes, even at this pre-pupillage stage, it’s worth thinking about the future!). They may well be willing to act as one of your referees on your application form, and -let’s face it- that will look much better than having your uni lecturer on there!

N.B. I am fully aware that alot of these suggestions involved either paying out money or working unpaid but, as they say, you’ve got to speculate to accumulate! If pupillage is something that you really, truly want, then financial sacrifice is unfortunately something you might have to put up with for a few years. The upside is that, as most of the things I have suggested are unpaid work, you can choose when to do them, meaning that you could have a part-time job at the same time. Maybe try working in a cafe- good pupils make good tea and coffee!!!

I should also say that this is only my own experience. I only obtained pupillage on my third year of trying, and I got to the point where I was willing to do as much unpaid work as possible if it meant that I got where I wanted to be.

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And so it begins…

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Picture the scene. A young law graduate, eager to make his mark on the big wide world, standing amongst his fellow students at Middle Temple awaiting the start of his Call ceremony. “Congratulations”, the student officer lady says, “from now on, you can all call yourselves Barristers”. What she kindly forgot to mention was the minor detail of securing a pupillage. For those of you who haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, a pupillage is a one year training contract for young barristers, where they shadow more experienced barristers, learn the ropes of advocacy and negotiation…and make lots of cups of tea. These pupillage-thingies are pretty hard to come by. In fact, one of the first things I was told at Bar school was how difficult it would be to get one. Nowadays, a pupillage seems harder to find than an MP without a second home (!!).

As I stood there in Middle Temple hall, wigged and gowned, surrounded by over 200 fellow student barristers, it suddenly occurred to me how difficult this Pupillage Quest was going to be. I wondered how many other people were looking for an opportunity at the same chambers as myself. To what extent would they go? How did their CV’s compare to my own? Little did I know back then that it would take me a good 2 years more until I found that Holy Grail of pupillage.

In the run-up to my pupillage interviews, I left no stone unturned. I read every newspaper article I possibly could. I perused every family case that came before the higher courts. But more than anything else, I kept up-to-date with the family law blogs. Before this year, I had no idea how useful blogging could be. Not that they knew it at the time, but I was (and continue to be) totally indebted to John Bolch (Family Lore blog), and Lucy Reed (Pink Tape) for their brilliant family law blogs, without which I would not have been able to keep so up-to-date with the law. They both had, I believe, a huge role to play in me obtaining pupillage- so thank you!

So here I am. 24 years old, just under 1 year until I start my pupillage. I thought it was about time I gave something back to the world of family law blogging. The Wigless blog will be my little critique on the most recent developments in the wild and wacky world of family law. I also want to try to help anyone out there who still seeks a pupillage in family law. My perspective is of someone who has only just recovered from 2 years ‘in the wilderness’ trying to find a pupillage. There is currently no body or organisation specifically designed to help student barristers in this situation, and I want to do all I can to help.

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