Jamie Jenkins St Johns Buildings.jpg


Aspiring barristers are being invited to pupillage interviews – what’s the best way to prepare? In the first of a two-part blog series, Jamie Jenkins – an employment, discrimination and education barrister at St John's Buildings who regularly tweets advice on pupillage – provides his top tips to help you get ready for interview.


There is a certain irony to the fact that if you do well enough in those gruelling weeks of drafting, checking, and amending your pupillage applications, your reward is an entirely different type of stress of being invited to a pupillage interview. The good news (in a way, at least) is that most of the preparation for pupillage interviews, in terms of developing relevant skills and knowledge, has already been done in the years that candidates have spent pursuing this career path.

Pupillage interviews are not exams, and whilst there may be certain points that interviewers are looking for in certain questions or exercises, there are usually no ‘right’ answers, and where there are it’s often possible to impress even when advancing the ‘wrong’ answer.

Instead, pupillage interviews are more about showing sets who you are, what your potential is and whether you would be a good fit for each other. You can’t fundamentally change who you are as a candidate in a few weeks, but there are still some things that you can do in order to prepare for pupillage interviews.

1. Think about competency-based questions: Pupillage interviews very often involve answering competency-based questions, such as “Give us an example of a time when you have had to assimilate a large amount of information quickly”. So it’s a good idea to Google examples of those, and practise answering them. That is not to come up with perfect answers to them, but to get you thinking about relevant examples from your own experience that you may be able to use, and to get in the right mindset to answer them. Using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) approach is highly recommended for competency-based questions.

2. Research current legal issues: Look up recent legal issues, as well as some long-standing classics, such as social media regulation and euthanasia, and practise talking about them or advocating for a particular position. Just discussing them with friends and family is a great way to do that, and gets you in the right frame of mind to discuss them in interview. Going through recent episodes of the Law In Action podcast can remind you of more recent issues, but having knowledge of these issues from just keeping up with current events gives a big advantage. For example, last year my set asked a question about the Colston Four, and only about half of interviewees knew of that case without being prompted.

3. Look up cases, but don't overdo it: If you are being interviewed for a specialist pupillage, there is no harm in reminding yourself of recent significant cases or developments in that area, but generally speaking I don’t recommend revising the law before a pupillage interview. There is just too much of it, and for advocacy exercises you’ll likely be given everything that you need.

4. Do mock interviews: If you have the opportunity of doing a mock interview with a barrister, you should take that opportunity. But even if you don’t, finding a friend or family member who can ask you questions, or discussing legal issues with colleagues or friends who know about them, can really help to get you into the right frame of mind to talk about those issues in interview. It’s a good warm up.

5. Plan your outfit to be comfortable and confident: You will not be marked on your appearance. Be smart but be comfortable. If you have a suit that makes you feel like Harvey Specter, wear that. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to wear your hair in several different styles, go with the one that fills you with the most confidence.

6. Plan your route to get there early: Make sure you know where you are going for the interview and how you are getting there. Then plan to get there at least half an hour early, but preferably more. You’re going to be nervous anyway, but it’s much better being nervous waiting in a coffee shop or walking around nearby than making it with seconds to spare. If you are going to be late or need any help on the day, do ring ahead and let us know. We are human and will do what we can to help. You also won’t be marked down for being late, but you will be a nervous wreck if you are late and likely won’t perform to your best ability, so do everything you can to be early.   

Follow Jamie on Twitter for more pupillage-related advice and tips.

Read part two: Pupillage interviews: slow down, listen, and be yourself