You’ve spent countless hours tweaking your pupillage application. You’ve had the elation of being invited to interview followed by the panic of how you’re going to prepare. Now you’ve arrived at chambers and you calmly introduce yourself, trying not to show that you have so much adrenaline pumping through you that you doubt you’ll ever sleep again. So now you’re here, what do you do?
There is a near endless list of possible pupillage interview questions. Equally, there is a nearly as endless list of different advocacy exercises that you might be asked to do. You cannot prepare for them all individually, nor should you try to. But there are some general points to keep in mind that can help you navigate pupillage interviews.
1. Remember what is being tested: I have said it before and I will repeat it many more times. This is an interview. Not an exam. There usually isn’t a ‘right’ answer, but sometimes there is. Sometimes there will be a ‘better’ answer, or pitfalls to avoid. But it is not all in the answer. It’s about your ability to assimilate information, think on your feet, and how good an advocate you are whether you’re advancing the ‘right’ position or not (spoiler: often in court the argument you’re making will be the ‘wrong’ one). We’re know you’re not close to the finished article. Most of us aren’t either. We’re looking for potential as much as ability. Do not try to be perfect. You won’t be, and we don’t expect you to be.
2. For general interview questions, listen and then stop: The first thing you must do is listen to the question, and make sure you understand what it is asking. If you’re not sure what the question is, then ask for clarification. If it refers to a case you don’t now, for example, say you’re not familiar with it. Then pause and think about it. Longer. You always have more time than you think. Don’t rush yourself. Then answer.
3. For advocacy exercises, do not panic: You will generally be given everything you need. Initially the material will seem daunting, but do not panic. You have enough time. Start by reading through the material once without making notes to get a feel for the exercise. Then write down what you are doing. Just one line is fine. The write down the test that is being applied (or in something like a plea in mitigation, the relevant guidelines), along with each element as a bullet point. For each element, note which factual or legal issues you can use to support your position. You may have to address weaknesses. Ignore irrelevant details. Weaknesses are not always irrelevant. You now have a general structure. Don’t write your submissions out. You do not have time, and it will distract you. Knowing the test, the issues and the points you want to make is enough.
4. Slow down and take your time: Whether you’re now answering a competency based question or making submissions, slow your speech down. Slower than that. It needs to sound too slow to you in your head, because even then it will sound fine to everyone else. I’ve literally never known an applicant, barrister or advocate to speak too slowly. It’s really hard to do. Also, pause between sentences. Again, longer than that. A few seconds feels like an eternity to you, but it doesn’t to everyone else. This is important, because speaking slowly and pausing gives you time to think. I’ve lost count of the number of times in court I’ve come up with the next sentence during a pause after the previous one. If you speak too fast you’ll panic yourself and lose your thread.
5. When you are interrupted, do not panic: You may not be interrupted, but even if the interview panel are kind enough to let you finish what you are saying, there will be follow up questions, and they are designed to challenge you. The way you respond to that is exactly the same way you respond to interview questions. Listen to the question. Pause. Longer. Answer. Slowly. This is testing your ability to think on your feet. There may not be a right answer. Your position may be indefensible. That doesn’t matter. Sometimes it will be the whole point.
6. Be yourself: You’ve done advocacy before. You’re smart. You can do this. But even outside of those skills, we’re also looking for candidates who fit with us. It’s incredibly difficult to be genuinely relaxed in a pupillage interview, but do remember that we are all human. Sometimes the best interviews are ones that also descend into conversation rather than rigid questions and answers. It is not a bad thing to show us your personality.
Read part one: Prepping your pupillage interview: Six top tips
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