Hundreds of aspiring barristers will be starting their pupillages this autumn. It’s incredibly exciting but can also be quite daunting.
To help new pupils navigate their way, incoming Leader of the Northern Circuit and criminal silk Jaime Hamilton KC has compiled a fantastic list of 30 top tips on his popular Twitter account ViewFromTheNorth (JHKC). We’ve pulled them all together in this blog, but make sure you follow Jaime for his tips, advice, and perspective throughout the year.
Here is part one: tips 1 to 10.
Tip 1: Pupillage is not an audition.
It is your opportunity to learn how to become a really good barrister. I know some chambers treat it like a 6/12-month interview (I wish they didn’t) but don’t go into it with that mindset. Focus on learning the skills that you need to become the best barrister you can (a lot of these tips are going to be about learning, some of them will be about the audition part as well).
The important thing is that your mindset is that you are there to learn and develop. If you focus on being the best barrister you can be, tenancy will follow for you, if not at that set then elsewhere. Pupillage is the defining point of your legal education, not your CV.
Tip 2: We learn by making mistakes.
And you are going to make a lot of them. Here is the thing. When your supervisor gives you back a piece of work and points out what is wrong, it is not a marked exam but a note from the director in a rehearsal. It is about how you can improve. The way to learn is to listen. The way to react is to improve. Don’t go down the route of excuse/explanation. Just take it on board.
Of course, you should ask questions around it but don’t feel the need to say, “but the cat died yesterday” or “I thought that but didn’t do it”. Feedback is very much a time to listen and learn.
Tip 3: You are not going to be a carbon copy of your supervisor.
You learn so much from your supervisor – I still hear myself say phrases in con that I know I picked up in pupillage – but advocacy and being a barrister is a personal skill.
You will eventually develop a style that is all of your own. Something that works brilliantly for one barrister will not suit the style or tone of another. Therefore, take the opportunity to observe and learn from everyone willing to give you the time (and most will).
Seek out opportunities to spend time with others from chambers, not so that you can impress them when it comes to the tenancy vote, but so that you can learn from a range of different approaches.
Tip 4: Pupillage lasts 12 months, not 6.
This may look like a statement of the obvious rather than a tip, but this is what I mean. Pupils in their second six often speak of things beginning to make more sense 4 to 6 weeks into being on their feet. When you have begun to work as a barrister, you begin to understand the practical application of some of the things you have learned and observed.
This is the tip part - take every opportunity in your second six to observe and learn, don’t think this stops at the end of your first six. When you are not in court or doing your own work and prep, switch straight back in to first six mode and go off to court with someone. This is valuable learning time because you will now see it with perspective of actually having done it. You are on the first steps of your own way of doing it so the example set by others will fall on fertile ground.
Tip 5: Whatever time you are due at court, in chambers or wherever you are due to be, catch the train, tram, tube or bus before the one you need to catch to be there in good time.
In short do everything you can not to be late. Things do go wrong but try to mitigate this by taking extra care to be on time. From a practical point of view, your supervisor or member of chambers you are with has things to do and will have told you a time for a reason.
We move to deal with some of the things to do with securing tenancy at the end of this and the realities of that. Before being concerned about impressing, don’t give a reason to be unimpressed.
It is also a good habit to get into. Your client doesn’t need to fret about where their barrister is. And your instructing solicitor will not be impressed by the client call that counsel is missing.
Tip 6: Establish with your supervisor your expected working practices.
What hours are you meant to be in chambers? What to do when your supervisor is not around.
Pupillage does occasionally seem like a game about which no one explains the rules. Knowing what is expected of you allows you to find your way through. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Tip 7: When with your supervisor talking to client/solicitor/opponent about the case think VERY VERY carefully before speaking. The default position is DON’T.
This is not some “pupils are Victorian children to be seen but not heard” thing. It is an important thing.
Firstly, you are there to watch and learn. You are not one of the players.
Secondly you may well think the person conducting the case has missed something. Or got something wrong. If they have, they won’t thank you for undermining them. More likely they have chosen not to say anything at this point. If you do think something has been missed, take the opportunity to mention it discreetly and tactfully when no one else is present. You can frame it as a question “why isn’t X relevant?” or “I thought we may have dealt with Y, is there a reason why not”?
The absolute golden rule is that you are not there to give the clients advice. Even if they ask you, do not do it. You are going to spend a lot of time in con just taking a note. And learning.
Tip 8: Show your working out.
I don’t mean in the gym… When you have a question, and you will have a lot of questions, don’t just ask someone else to give you the answer.
This is particularly relevant when working on something yourself. Frame the question in a way that shows you have thought about it or researched it. “I think the answer is X, am I on the right lines?” Or “I have looked at this textbook, is there anything else?”
This approach allows for wider discussion and also makes teaching easier. The person helping you understands where you are going wrong, if you are. It also allows you to show your progress and your skills.
Two caveats: Ask genuine questions, don’t just do it to “show off” what you have done. We see you. There are times when you will just ask a “please give me an answer question”. Just don’t do it all the time.
Tip 9: Try to avoid unforced errors.
An earlier tip was about learning from mistakes. The errors I refer to here are things like typos… As you start out developing your career a lot of it is about not giving solicitors a reason not to use you.
Yes, you get into a position where they want to use you because you are brilliant, but before that their first contact with you might be an attendance note. Don’t give them a reason to think you are sloppy. This also applies to the year-long interview aspect.
Most word processors have a function that will read a document out to you. Or you can get apps that will do it. Proofread your document as it is also being read to you by the machine. You will pick up mistakes in a way that proofreading alone doesn’t.
Tip 10: Keep a diary.
It used to be a requirement and it is really useful. Fill it in every day. What you did, where you went, who you were with and what you saw.
Then the important bit - what you learnt. As you near the end of first six, use it to work out what you need to see.