Finding inspiration: what to do if you did not get pupillage this time. Barrister Jack Meek offers some advice and suggestions in a guest blog for the Bar Council.
Inspiration takes many forms. Family, friends, lush green fields and the cognac colours of a honeyed horizon. Personally, I am always drawn back to the arts. Whenever my aspirations need reignited, I seek for some wondrous turn of phrase in a lyric, line or rumination. Often, the simple ones work best. Take this refrain, oft repeated by Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo on their movie podcast: “Everything will be alright in the end; and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.”
Occasionally, the oxymoronic will do the job. I’m thinking, for example, of Chris Pine’s Edgin in the recent film, ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves’: “We must never stop failing, because the minute we do, we’ve failed.” Sometimes, though, going back to well-worn classics better serves your purposes when you need that reminder to keep fighting for your goals. Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” This then, together with what follows, is for the benefit of those who have been unsuccessful in obtaining pupillage in this year’s cycle. Do not let your inspiration fade. Take it from someone who has been through this process more than many (six years, dozens of applications, every type of interview, one offer) and consider the following five-step process.
1. Dust yourself down
Rejections will come. It’s rubbish. You can be having an otherwise perfectly lovely day. Then you get an email that informs you that unfortunately and with regret on this occasion, you have not been successful. The standard of applications was extremely high; you did well to make it this far. At first, you take comfort from the faux sincerity. Ah well, that’s fair. I knew what the competition was like. At least they had the decency to let me down softly. Then the emails come thick and fast; and your emotions threaten to overwhelm you.
I don’t have any secret tricks on how to deal with rejection. It isn’t fun and it does lead you to question your talents. All I can suggest is that you surround yourself with good people, be reassured that it is not personal and have faith in your ability.
Buster Keaton wrote: “Like a lot of men the world considers modest and humble I had unshakeable confidence in my talent and ability to hold the place that I had staked out for myself.” Dust yourself down. Be inspired by Buster.
Carry out a personal audit. Analyse what you think went wrong, what you think you could have done better. The Bar is a profession that involves never-ending learning. So, what did you learn about the process? How do you think you can improve next time? Did you apply to the places that were right for you? Ask for feedback, even if it is not forthcoming. If you are met with short shrift, do not burn bridges. Say thank you and move on.
Remember that you are always in salesperson mode in your interactions. I encourage my mentees to think of themselves as their own clients. Just as you would when representing others, you need to put the best case forward on your own behalf. That involves evaluating what are your strengths and weaknesses. Where there are shortcomings, take action to remedy them.
Maya Angelou reflected: “I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.” Reflect. Be inspired by Maya.
3. Seek out more experience to fill the gaps
There is always room for improvement. The best way to demonstrate that you are worthy of that elusive pupillage is to show that you have the necessary skills for and understanding of the Bar, so if you are lacking in certain key areas, seek out the antidotes. There is no substitute for working hard and building up good, relevant experience.
Look out for and take opportunities. To borrow from my own exploits, I debated, mooted and wrote; I undertook a few mini-pupillages and worked as a paralegal in the City, a trainee in Strasbourg and an assistant editor at a legal knowledge company. I earned a Master’s degree and passed the New York Bar. There is no right or wrong way of doing things, but do not give yourself cause to regret that road not taken.
Paulo Coelho instructed: “Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” Seek out more experience to fill the gaps. Be inspired by Paulo.
4. Try again
One of the first lessons we learn in childhood is to pick ourselves back up when we fall. It is no less important at the Bar than it was when toddling around in infancy. If dusting yourself down, reflecting and plugging experience gaps do not work the first time, do it all again. Ask questions. Seek out a mentor. Perhaps direct your attentions elsewhere or broaden your parameters. Maybe the reason it has not been working to date is because your heart hasn’t been in a particular area of law; or you are not being true to your motivations. It is never too late to course correct.
Of course, if you are focused on one particular outcome, keep going. I have to believe that perseverance pays off because it did for me. When, as a fresh-faced Bar student, I first heard about the Government Legal Department at a Lincoln’s Inn event, it sounded like exactly the kind of work that I wanted to do, marrying my interests in the law’s interaction with politics.
At the moment, we are recruiting and applications for the GLD Legal Trainee Scheme for both pupillages and training contracts close on 17 May 2023.
I finally succeeded in securing my desired outcome and there is no reason why you, dear reader, cannot do the same if you stick at it. Billie Jean King put it nicely: “Champions keep playing until they get it right.” Try again. Be inspired by Billie Jean.
And so, I shall. Be inspired. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Never stop failing. It will be alright in the end.
Jack Meek is a barrister at the Government Legal Department, currently based in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He has been a Bar Council Social Mobility Advocate since 2021.