Chesca Lord’s Top Tips for pupillage applicants

Chesca Lord, Head of the Pupillage Committee at Cloisters, provides her top tips for pupillage applicants.

Application forms

1.Understand the brief. Check if your desired chambers provides information about what they are looking for in candidates and model your answers around that. We publish our mark scheme, which is available here. (there will be a slight change this year in that we are also incorporating RARE contextualised recruitment into our marks for academic achievement and disadvantage).

2. Provide evidence. Under our mark scheme, we look for evidence of excellence. Taking advocacy as an example, simply stating that you enjoy debating/mooting/public speaking would get you 1/5 available marks as it is only evidence of participation. We need to know how you have demonstrated excellent advocacy to hit 5/5 in that category. Examples of how you might evidence excellence include:

  • winning awards, prizes or cases;
  • being elected or selected as part of a competitive process;
  • surpassing defined targets;
  • published work;
  • successfully changing someone’s mind or overturning a decision;
  • repeat business;
  • achieving glowing appraisals or promotions.

3. Sell YOU. Read through your application form and for each sentence ask yourself: could anyone applying have written this? If so, it’s a waste of your word count. Tell us what you have done, not what you have seen others do. How fantastic Jane Bloggs QC was on your mini pupillage with her doesn’t tell us anything about why you are amazing and we should pick you. Nor do generic statements about the profession. If it feels awkward bigging yourself up, ask a supportive friend or relative to read your application to see if they think you have undersold yourself.

4. Be concise. Wherever you apply, your forms are likely to be marked by busy practitioners. Aim to make it easy for them to award you high marks by presenting that information clearly and concisely without waffle. The main culprit for waffle creeping in tends to be in the work experience part of the gateway form. It asks you to identify “Responsibilities test and achievements” – focus any narrative on those points and keep it brief (see above point 3 re: minis).

Written assessment

5. For the first time this year, we will be inviting all applicants to take a short written assessment, rather than using this as the second stage of our process. It will be a time and word limited problem question requiring no legal knowledge or preparation. It will test your ability to apply a fictional set of rules to a fictional set of facts. We award marks for:

  • Analysis, which includes your ability to reason and explain, consideration of arguments and insight into potential counter-arguments;
  • Organisation, which includes structure, coherence, adherence to word limit; and
  • Presentation, which includes clarity, persuasiveness, articulacy, eloquence, and absence of spelling or grammatical errors.

6. The questions are designed not to have any one right or wrong answer. Candidates who have performed well in the past have made a judgment call and supported their choice with clear and persuasive reasoning.

7. Treat the assessment the same way you would a remote exam or important work meeting, e.g. get your tech set up in good time and ensure you are in a distraction free environment, have been to the loo and have a glass of water/coffee to hand!

Interviews

8. Our final round interview involves a problem question involving our practice areas, which will be sent 2 weeks prior to the interviews. Preparation is key. Don’t panic if you read it and your immediate reaction is “WTF!?” That was mine 12 years ago. Not helped by the fact my kitten had fallen off a roof and my computer caught a virus the same day I received it! Your research skills must be good enough for you to have reached that stage, so have faith in them and work through the issues methodically. I recommend trying to find a reputable source that gives a high level overview of the relevant area to begin with, before drilling down into specific cases. Practice your arguments out loud.

9. We allow candidates to bring notes to the interview, so arrange these in such a way that will make you most comfortable. If your preferred way of preparing for advocacy is to write a script (personally I prefer using bullet points), make sure you have practiced it enough that it doesn’t just sound like you are reading from it. And be ready for us to ask questions that may drag you from it.  

10. If the interviews are in person (TBC for 2022), plan ahead. Interviews can be stressful enough without a last minute panic. Get your clothes out in good time and pack your smart shoes if, like me, you travel everywhere in trainers. Check your route the day before, then again at least an hour before you need to leave in case anything has changed. Aim to arrive early, there are plenty of coffee shops and beautiful Temple Gardens to occupy you.

11. If covid restrictions mean interviews are remote again, we will offer candidates a quick call on Teams before the interview if you want to check your tech set-up. Make sure you have a quiet, distraction free place with a strong internet connection and decent microphone.

12.The final part of our interviews feature an unseen question, which tests your ability to think on your feet. It’s ok to pause for a moment and scribble some thoughts before launching into your answer. Try and stay on top of topical issues around interview time.

Finally, a more general piece of advice that I was given while going through this process and which has remained relevant throughout my career at the bar: don’t let yourself be phased by the competition. Law school can feel daunting as sometimes everyone around you seems so clever and accomplished and confident. But you are not in control of how they perform. Just focus on doing the best job that you can do.

Good luck!