In this three-part series we’ve collated the fantastic top tips for pupillage as tweeted by the incoming Leader of the Northern Circuit and criminal silk, Jaime Hamilton KC.
Follow Jaime on his popular Twitter account ViewFromTheNorth (JHKC) for more tips and advice throughout the year.
Here is Part Three: tips 21 to 30.
Tip 21: Your contemporaries are a support network, not rivals.
It is so easy to view fellow pupils in chambers and around about you as some sort of Hunger Games opponent. You will succeed because you are good at what you do, not because you are better than someone else.
One of the best pieces of advice I received is that another barrister getting a good brief means that they are not available to do the case that comes to you.
Their success is your opportunity. What you really need are friends that you can turn to for advice and support. Nurture your peers, don’t set out to defeat them.
Tip 22: Don’t be the boastful pupil.
What do I mean by that? Don’t go around “bigging up” your cases each and every day in court. You will come across very poorly to your peers. And more senior people will see straight through it.
It is a confidence thing. It is to give the appearance of confidence and success. The best confidence is a quiet confidence.
Tip 23: There are no two ways about it; Pupillage is hard graft.
Pupils should be entitled to a four-week holiday period over the course of the 12-month pupillage. (The first half of this tip is, if your pupillage provider doesn’t do this, think about where your future lies)
The real point of this tip though is to make sure you take that holiday. You need it.
Do not think that you are going to get a massive pat on the back for working through. Most people will not notice. Pupillage is hard graft because the career is hard graft. You do not prepare yourself to cope with it by working yourself into the ground.
This is a lesson to carry on over into tenancy. Nobody gives you medals for working all hours, 365 days a year.
Tip 24: Try to time your holiday well.
Following on from yesterday’s advice to make sure you take your holiday, today is about when to take them. In first six, discuss with your supervisor. If at all possible, it makes sense to be off at the same time as them.
That isn’t a hard and fast rule. The emphasis is on “if possible”. Talk to them about it.
In second six, try to avoid peak times. Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you have children for example, you may want or need time off during the school holidays. These days August is a good time to pick up a different volume and quality of work in your second six. It can help the clerks to have you around.
Again, just think about it and talk to your supervisor. Take the holidays. Have a break. Just think about how to optimize your time.
Tip 25: Whilst the Bar is a vocation, advocacy a form of art, the job is also a business.
Start good financial habits early. I appreciate that the first years can be a struggle for some so this can be difficult.
- Put your money aside for tax and VAT.
- Try to start a pension as soon as you are able to.
- Get the policies in place that you need like income protection.
I repeat that you may not be able to do it straight away but investigate it. Find out how much it is going to cost. Then you can plan when you will have spare money to start.
Tip 26: Understand your fees.
Whatever discipline you practise in, learn how fees work, how you get paid, how much you get paid and when you get paid. Yes, chambers will have fees clerks etc to process and chase your income, but you are ultimately responsible for your business.
Take time in your pupillage to learn the mechanics and your way round the computer system. Keep track of your own fees and income from day one.
Tip 27: Impressions count.
In your second six you will meet an awful lot of your clients for the first time at court on the day of the hearing. This is important for them. It is important for them to have confidence in you from the outset.
This is where allowing yourself plenty of time to get to court is important. Try to make sure you are not running in, all flustered. I am not going to be prescriptive about how you dress but aim for smart and professional.
This must be smart and professional within the context of your background and financial ability. It goes without saying that you should be prepared but make sure you have things like people’s names and key facts absolutely on the tip of your tongue.
Do not pull papers out of your bag like you have just emptied the wastepaper bin on the table. The key is confident, prepared, and professional. Then let your skills shine through.
Tip 28: Be prepared.
This isn’t a Scouting tip. Or about reading your brief and working hard. This is about always being ready and available to go to court. You may be in one court in the morning with nothing else in the diary, but things change.
You may be able to solve a problem for a colleague, your clerks, or a solicitor by picking up something else that day. No matter what you are doing, where you are meant to be, always have everything with you that you could need.
Always have your wig and gown with you. Always have your laptop/iPad with you. Always make sure the clerks know where you are and what you are up to. When you have finished, ring in. And then don’t go AWOL.
Tip 29: If in doubt, ask.
Don’t know whether you should be doing a particular case? Talk to your supervisor. Worried about how you should approach something in chambers? Speak to the juniors for advice. At court and facing a bit of a sticky problem? Ask someone in the robing room. Want to know if your approach to a case is correct? Run it past someone. Not sure what the listing is tomorrow? Ask a clerk.
You are absolutely surrounded by people that can and will help. Don’t think it is some sign of weakness or incompetency to ask.
Tip 30: it is only just the beginning of learning how to be a barrister.
We have got to the end of the tips and, hopefully, you will get to the end of pupillage. When you do get to the end remember this – it is only just the beginning of learning how to be a barrister. You are no more the finished article than the first time you popped a wig on your head.
Two things flow from this:
1) Don’t swan round like you know it all, you will come a cropper.
2) Still take every chance to learn and improve.
The great thing is that you should be surrounded by people that will help you develop. Particularly your pupil supervisor.
I hope your experience of pupillage is as great as mine has been, from both sides of the fence. Only last week I met my retired pupil master (as they were then) for a drink. My three pupils are the thing I am most proud of in my career. And now I have two pupil grandkids too.
Bonus tip 31: Read Jaime’s 30 advocacy tips in 30 days
Jaime’s chambers Nine St John Street published Jaime’s tips on advocacy that he tweeted in 2021. You can download and read them all on the Nine St John Street website.