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Mark Harries KC is a barrister at Serjeants’ Inn Chambers who specialises in business and financial crime, professional discipline and regulatory work. Mark is also an advocacy trainer at Lincoln's Inn, a mentor for The Pupillage Foundation Scheme and The Social Mobility Foundation, as well as a member of the Advisory Panel for Inside Justice, a charity investigating miscarriages of justice.


The Pupillage Gateway portal

All Authorised Education and Training Organisations (AETOs) advertise their vacancies on the Pupillage Gateway, whether they invite applications, or not. Begin setting up your Pupillage Gateway account before advertisements are published. As soon as you have set up your account, you can start the process by uploading information relating to your academic and work experience history and referees which will then be auto-populated across all the applications you make. You can start reflecting upon, drafting, researching, and then re-drafting your answers to the bespoke questions posed by different chambers well before the deadline.

Some chambers will send out first-round interview invitations before February, but others may prefer to invite you just before Easter. It’s never too early to revise topical legal issues just in case you’re called in at short notice.

Be warned: failure to accept an offer made to you within the designated time frame will result in chambers being able to start working down its list and offering your pupillage to someone else.

The application process

The new sample application form, which is available online now, is complete with a ‘top tip’ before some sections with more useful guidance notes alongside. You will want a shortlist of your target chambers as soon as possible, especially if your time to work on these applications is likely to be compromised by other commitments. Wherever you hope to join, pupillage is highly sought-after. It is essential, therefore, that you make sure that the way you express yourself goes that extra mile.

Employment and work experience history

Legal employment and work experience: AETOs look for commitment to, and interest in, the law and more specifically our area of work and for someone to demonstrate that they are receptive to the learning process that is pupillage. You need to concentrate not on just what you did, but why and how the experience has helped you develop better skills to become a barrister. Alternatively, you should explain what influenced your choice to come to the independent self-employed Bar rather than the employed Bar; or why you rejected the opportunity to become a higher court advocate (HCA); or why you have turned your mind to a particular area of practice.

Non-legal employment and work experience: Chambers only need to hear about the experience that is relevant to a career at the Bar, or that might explain a temporal gap somewhere in the form, or that demonstrates a particularly key skill or personality trait. With a little imagination, most of your previous experiences can provide you with some sort of invaluable benefit that will help you as a barrister.

Education history

You either have great academics, or you don’t. Qualifications will inevitably form a substantial part of the selection process and marks are often awarded for A-level performance as well as your degree.

Additional skills, hobbies, and interests

Something in this section needs to be eye-catching, to show you are a well-rounded person.

Bespoke questions

Why do you wish to become a barrister?

Make this about you and make it interesting rather than just telling the reader what a barrister does and how that’s very attractive. We know that. That’s why we’re doing it. Can you identify a defining moment? That moment when you heard destiny calling. 

What areas of practice are you interested in and why?

If your 20 chosen chambers are broadly practising the same type of work, try to avoid listing three or four other areas of law in addition to the type principally undertaken.

Give reasons for your choice of chambers.

You need to say why the chambers has this stellar reputation. What high-profile work have their members been involved in that you would give your right arm to be doing? How you have formed the conclusion that pupillage training is good? Why do those facts make this particular chambers the place to be? Avoid generic answers.  

The six qualities I believe an application form needs to demonstrate:
  1. Ability
  2. Commitment
  3. Accuracy
  4. Charisma (or style, or personality)
  5. Hard work
  6. Judgment

Lastly, be aware and be prepared!