Ayisha Robertson, a pupil at Pump Court Chambers, studied the GDL and BPTC part-time at The University of Law. A career changer with a young family, Ayisha shares some great tips for applying to the Bar.
Be strategic about who you apply to. I started off with a spreadsheet and listed all of the sets I wanted to apply to. Then I listed the Heads of Chambers and the different areas of law they practiced, their key cases, barristers I’d met from those sets and what I’d gained from those experiences. Then I ranked them in the order of how they matched my character and aspirations. From that, I had a realistic idea of which of my applications might succeed.
You submit a paper application, and then if that’s successful you have an interview. It’s really important to treat your paper application like a skeleton argument. It’s a piece of advocacy in itself. You have to be precise, pointed and direct. Pick your best points and sell yourself, because that determines whether you get through to the next stage.
ULaw’s careers department is outstanding. They took my general CV and turned it into a tightly honed legal CV. My tutors helped me to practice bail applications and plea mitigations as I knew I’d have to do them in interviews. Ask your friends to proof-read your written applications, including non-law friends. There’s a life outside of your application and that’s as important to include as your legal experience. Ultimately, Chambers want to know that you’re someone they can work with and who fits their identity.
Know your set. Who’s the Head of Chambers? What are their key focuses, and what cases are they proud of? Have a sense of the identity of Chambers and tailor your application to that set specifically.
Consider what attributes you have as an advocate that you want Chambers to know about. I applied to common law and criminal sets. They look for someone robust who has the strength of their convictions, can think on their feet, has attention to detail, who enjoys working through papers and who enjoys picking apart legal problems. If I’d have gone into commercial law, I would have highlighted different qualities.
Being self-aware is very important. Know your strengths and weaknesses and what you want to bring to your interview. I knew I wanted to spend time in family law. I have kids and I was concerned that I would become emotionally overinvolved in my cases. I highlighted this interviews and said that I would need to develop a professional working attitude to emotive situations. Look at your weaknesses and tell the panel how you’ll overcome them.
In first interviews, you’ll talk through your CV, and some sets will also ask you to tackle a legal problem. You won’t always know that in advance. In one of my first-stage interviews I was given a legal problem and given 15 minutes to prepare it. Chambers want to see your potential as an advocate – can you think on your feet or will you crumble under pressure? Prepare by keeping abreast of legal arguments and current affairs so that you can go into interview with a repertoire of arguments that you can apply to any topic. Don’t be phased if you’re given a problem in an area of law you don’t know; it’s all about showing how you approach a problem.
In second interviews, you’ll do an advocacy exercise – perhaps a plea mitigation or a bail application. I prepared by having a structure in mind with a strong opening and ending, and then I tailored this to the facts I was given. Because I had a direction, I went in with a degree of confidence. This is what barristers do in practice. They know the structure of their applications and then they slot the facts in, often on the hoof.
Give the panel as much tailored information as you can to give yourself the best opportunity. Don’t restrict yourself to academic achievements. Be an individual, be human. The skills you have outside of your legal and professional training are just as important as your qualifications.
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