Updated: Nov 21, 2019
"The Bar is an eminently competitive world in which the hours can be punishing and the work arduous, but the mix of high-octane excitement, advocacy opportunity and prestige is unique." - Chambers Student UK
We had the pleasure of chatting with Finn Hill - a final year Law student and Hi-R Mentor - about his work experience at the Bar. Here are his insights and tips for students considering a career as a Barrister.
How many mini-pupillages* have you done so far?
*Mini-pupillages are the internship equivalent at the Bar.
2 - Francis Taylor Building and 5 King's Bench Walk
How many pending?
2 Bedford Row, commencing 7th Jan 2019
Which sectors of law were your mini-pupillages in?
FTB is a public law set which focuses on planning and environmental issues, while 5KBW and 2BR are general crime sets. As many chambers have a wide breadth of experience, they will usually make an effort to tailor what you see during the mini-pupillage to your application. In the FTB application I mentioned that I was looking to experience some environmental law in practice, and the mini-pupillage involved exposure to a diverse range of environmental law practice. For 5KBW I mentioned a particular barrister whose work I found intriguing and the clerks made an effort to enable me to meet her, though she was working out of city.
What makes you want to go down the bar route as opposed to the solicitor route?
I was originally attracted to the independence of life at the bar - to the prospect of being self-employed. I believe that everyone is fundamentally accountable to themselves, and I believe that as a barrister your effort is most clearly and directly reflected in career progression. My understanding is that self-employment is possible as a solicitor (equity partner), but would take a long time/is unlikely. I also have enjoyed the theatrics of working at the bar and eccentricity of many of the barristers, and therefore believe I would enjoy the work-social life more.
I am also more attracted to the nature of the work as a barrister. I like thinking about courts as a peculiar kind of battlefield, where the two sides clash ultimately with the purpose of making society a slightly more habitable place. As a barrister you get to be in the thick of it, and from my experience volunteering at legal charities I expect it would be a very satisfying and rewarding career to undertake.
How did you choose the chambers you applied to?
Primarily by practice area interest. Before I started at LSE I had wanted to specialise in crime, and so I have always expected that I would be applying for chambers that do criminal work. I think it is a common sentiment amongst barristers that 'the bar takes you where it wants to take you' (probably because of the difficulty of obtaining pupillage), so I am trying to keep an open mind. I applied to FTB because I was studying environmental law at the time and was intrigued about how the issues were handled in practice, and am looking to apply to the family sets in my next wave of applications because I am enjoying family law this year.
During my time at 5KBW, the QC I was shadowing and I were discussing divorce law and she remarked: 'it's good work if you can get it'. This gave me some perspective about the practicalities of life at the bar (e.g. you could do primarily criminal law and be open to take family work). So I guess for me it's about what kinds of work I want to be able to take and gaining exposure to chambers that have expertise in that area to discuss in my application. The band/tier of the set doesn't make much of a difference to me, there aren't many barristers and I think it's about getting as much exposure as possible.
What was the hardest part of the mini-pupillage application process? And your favourite part?
I find that tailoring the covering letter to the chambers is probably both the hardest and my favourite part. Researching the previous work of the chambers gets me excited both about the prospect of attending a mini there, and about the prospect of a life at the bar. Hardest part because I think it's the most important/delicate part as it's very likely that the person assessing the application will take great pride in their chambers and so will want to see applicants demonstrate that they share that passion to some degree.
What kind of tasks have you been set as a mini-pupil?
The majority of it has been shadowing a barrister as they work, following them around and asking questions. I have made sure to ask the barrister if there was anything I could help with, and as a result I have assisted with researching recent legislation and Environment Agency policy for a public inquiry, and taken notes on opposing counsels arguments.
What has been your most memorable experience so far during a mini-pupillage?
The most memorable bits of the mini-pupillages will usually involve confidential information, though I think it's fine to share this anecdote. During a trial I was observing, (a lot of) paper evidence was being presented to a jury on computer screens visible to those in the jury box. The case involved several parties, so there were a lot of barristers sitting. When the court ordered a break for the jury, a juror complained about the quality of the image on their screens. The image on the barristers' screens was fine, and the court erupted in discussions about the ramifications for the trial, with barristers climbing into the jury box to try and compare the screen quality of the court monitors on their benches to those on the jury's. Some weren't convinced it was any different. Eventually the court contacted their electrician to come and save the day. I found this memorable as I think it gave all the barristers an appreciated release from the tension of the trial, allowing everyone to have a bit of a laugh.
What top three tips would you give students looking to follow in your footsteps and pursue a career as a barrister?
1. Take notes during mini-pupillage as I've read that chambers ask about them in detail during pupillage interviews.
2. Ask questions during mini-pupillage. It seems that competent and successful people delight in opening doors for other competent people that they believe have a real desire to become successful, and asking smart, thought through questions is a good way to demonstrate that you are such a person. Always ask for contact info when you part.
3. Make sure to study smart to try and get a first class degree. A weak degree will make it incredibly difficult to obtain pupillage due to the amount of competition. If you're keeping on top of your studies then you will be more confident when making mini-pupillage applications.
Feel free to get in touch if you'd like to hear more about Finn's experience!
Finn's Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/finn-k-hill-98a302131/