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 Two: tips 11 to 20.
Tip 11: “Frankie was always the life and soul at a party. Remember that time they danced on the tables and then did THAT impersonation of the Head of Chambers in pupillage? I wonder what happened to Frankie…” Don’t be Frankie.
It isn’t just about booze, but booze does play a big part of it. The Bar is quite a social profession. And we entertain professional clients. This is not the Student Union anymore. If you are the life and soul of the party, that probably is not going to go down well.
Think of yourself as an ambassador for yourself, your future career, and your chambers. Be sociable. Be engaging. But don’t dance on the tables…
Tip 12: Pupillage is not just about learning advocacy and the practical application of the law, it is about learning how to build a practice and run your business.
Make sure you pay attention to this side of being a barrister from the outset.
Tip 13: We know that you are going to be the best barrister you can be but that is not all it takes to be successful. Success depends on building relationships.
The main relationships you need to build are with your instructing solicitors. You need to build a professional, yet personal, relationship with the individuals that are going to be sending you work. Like all relationships, key to building them is communication.
[This is a tip in 3 halves…(yes, I know).]
Tip 14 [Or possibly Tip 13.2]: The relationships that you forge with solicitors are ALWAYS subsumed by your duty to the lay client and your duty to the court.
You will become friends with your solicitors, you will work with them on many, many cases. But I am afraid friendship, and a good source of work, has to be secondary to the interests of the client and your duties to the court. Always have that in mind.
The quickest way to lose all work is to lose your reputation and/or authorisation to practise. Forge good working relationships based on trust, sound advice and good service.
Tip 15 [13.3]: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
The reality is that not every interaction you have with a solicitor will lead to a regular supply of instructions. You should treat every new contact as a potential for establishing such a connection.
Be very wary of having one dominant source of work. In your early days a network of different sources of work is good. This allows you to develop your skills in a range of work. More importantly things can change, and you don’t want your source of work to dry up overnight. Variety is vital.
Tip 16: Communication is key to building repeat instructions.
Communication lies at the heart of everything. Got a new set of instructions? Read the case and then pick the phone up to your solicitor.
Been at court on a case? Promptly send an attendance note that concisely sets out what happened and the next steps.
Struggling to meet a deadline? Send an email to your solicitor explaining why and what you need to happen.
Communication irons out problems and is central to providing a good service. It also places you at the forefront of your instructing solicitor’s mind.
Tip 17: Whilst you will seek to emulate senior practitioners in many ways there is one you should avoid. Do not adopt the jaded air of the case-hardened veteran.
The senior practitioner can get away with the odd caustic comment about their case or express a cynical view about the legal world because their ability and reputation allows them to. You do not have that yet.
One of your attractive attributes should be your enthusiasm. Every case should be prepared. You should want to be the best you can be in every case. You should care about every case and every client. And importantly your instructing solicitor should know it.
It is not that senior people do not care or do not want to do their best. It is that which you should emulate. It is that which you should convey. Embrace the fact you are new and enthusiastic. Do not be something you are not.
Tip 18: How you conduct yourself with your opponent or their instructing solicitor can also be an important element in obtaining future work.
Always fight your corner but never be unpleasant or unprofessional. A solicitor on the other side may be impressed enough by your dogged determination and skill that they will instruct you so it is an opportunity, but they won’t if you have been difficult and made it personal.
Likewise, one of their colleagues one day might say “oh I have been offered that pupil from Quality Street Chambers” and the last thing you want is the review of a pulled face and a shake of the head.
One little caveat - never, ever set out to woo your opponent’s solicitor. Ever.
Tip 19: Clerks. Never think you are their boss or act like you are their boss.
You are not. Someone probably is their boss, but only in an employment sense.
Treat them as an equal in a symbiotic relationship. Treat them with courtesy and professionalism. And talk to them. Tell them what happened at court as soon as you have finished. Tell them if you think something has gone wrong.
A successful relationship with a clerk is based on mutual respect and communication. Neither of you should have that respect automatically but communication will quickly allow it to develop.
Tip 20: It is not your clerk’s fault.
I am not talking about how your career goes (you will hear a lot of barristers who blame a clerk for this as well and they are usually wrong too, but it’s not about that).
You are responsible for your professional conduct, including where you are meant to be and when. Even for pupils there is no excuse of “my clerk told me it would be ok”.
One of the most important parts of the communication with your clerk is your preparedness to say “no”. Either “no” to being cross-courted or “no” to a case which is beyond your experience/competence.
Use your pupil supervisor if this arises. Seek their guidance and, if you are not able to resolve it with the clerk, their assistance.