It’s my favourite time of year. Pupillage application time. The portal closes on Thursday and I will be reading the first sift of applications. In fact I’ve already started because I know there will be 230 plus.
We regularly receive 235. It may be one or two higher or lower but not by much. Always struck me as odd that but there you have it: 235 x 10 pages or so.
I know what it means from your side of the chasm that has to be leapt to land in the mythical world of pupillage. I was there not long ago. Let me tell you what it’s like from my side:
Firstly, the mechanics of it. Yesterday I printed the only 27 applications made in good time. Yes, 27 as it stands but it will be 235 by Thursday. It’s the same every year. I used to get my hopes up when looking 24 hours before the deadline and seeing only 50 applications; now I know that you will all do it at the last minute and trust your future careers and lives to your PC, a server run somewhere by someone you’ve never met and a broadband connection that you know has failed in the past.
A few years ago the system would crash regularly. I went to London to sit on the Pupillage Portal Review Group to see if we could improve it. The hardware and software suppliers simply couldn’t believe the last minute flurry of activity each year. One year they told us that it would be bombproof the following year. Wrong. You pesky applicants still managed to crash it by gambling with your futures at 5 minutes to deadline.
At my most difficult I have malicious thoughts about binning all applications made within the last hour before deadline. Are we so unimportant to you? Would you book your holiday flights in the last hour before you wanted to be sure you could have a holiday? Are you going to run your practice within our Chambers in such a shambolic, last-minute way?
Printing those 27 applications came to 264 pages and took one of Chambers’ main printers out for 15 minutes or so. Cue justifiably grumpy senior member of Chambers waiting for his urgent material from the printer. Ironically that’s why I printed those 27 early. Last year I printed them all at once and it took out a printer and an office junior for ages. And the same senior member of Chambers waited for hours for his document by the time the printer had been reloaded repeatedly, de-jammed, rested, cooled, re-toned and pensioned off. 2,350 sheets of paper. That’s why they call it the stack.
Incidentally the real reason I went to London to help the Bar Council with the Portal Review Group was to cut the word limits. I campaigned hard to slice 150 words from here, 200 from there, erase that duplicate question. Saved something like 1900 words one year and some more the next. Net result? Saved myself reading approximately half a million words every year. Has it stopped us finding the best candidates? Nope. Just saved hours of my life.
The next logistical problem is how do we do it? Every set of chambers will have a different approach. We are of the view that one person needs to read all applications because how else do you compare and contrast? Ten different people reading a tenth each will result in unfairness. So I will read all 2,350 pages. Every word. A ring binder, I think, takes 3-400 pages so it’s probably 5-6 ring binders of lovely small print.
So what do we look for? I have found interviewing and viva voce examinations fascinating over the years. We don’t have to fail people. We don’t have to give them a hard time. They do it all by themselves. Candidates and applicants enter the room with a clean slate, the panel full of expectation. Either you leave us with the expectation and, as you leave the room, we say to each other “S/he fills me with hope. They could go a long way etc etc” or you snatch it away from us by saying and doing silly things that we didn’t want you to say and do.
And its just the same with written applications. You snatch away the reader’s hope all on your own.
Get used to it – Everyone has qualifications as good as yours. Many will be better. Got a first from Redbrick? Someone has a first from Oxbridge. Got a first from Oxbridge? So has this other guy.
You all have outstanding A levels. Without being drawn into the “A-levels have got easier since my day” row, they simply do not help us discriminate any more. (Not a rude word, discriminate, by the way. It’s unfair discrimination that is naughty.) If you all have the same A-levels what’s the point of it being on the form? You might as well tell us that you all have ears.
So how do you not snatch away our hope as we read your applications? In a written application…..drum roll….write well. Please.
Use apostrophes. Know what a comma is for. Spell the words in English rather than Gobbledegook.
Remember this: You want us to envisage you as tenants of our Chambers within a couple of years. Sending out written work to our solicitors with our Chambers name on it. And a shiny corner to make it look nice. If you think for one minute that we would allow that to happen when you don’t know where the apostrophe goes in Magistrates’ Court or don’t know the difference between practice and practise or counsel and council (I kid you not) then please reconsider.
The word “I” should always be capitalised. It’s not an optional extra. You are not texting your m8. Please learn how to spell fulfil. And liaise. And their. And there. And if you could know the difference between “would have” and “would of” that would be nice.
I HATE the word insight. I guarantee that almost every applicant will have had a valuable insight into this, a helpful insight into that, a rare insight of something else. It’s not your fault, its a very useful word. It’s just that everyone uses it to death.
Oh, and please don’t lie. We have got memories and we have had cases where someone’s qualifications seem a little better than remembered. A quick trawl through the computer reveals last year’s application and the changed A-level results are plain to see.
That’s probably enough ranting. How does the system work? After the first sift the top slice are handed to head of pupillage who goes through them all in as much detail. We then invite somewhere in the region of 12-15 people for first interview. Nice and easy. As I say there’s no need to give people a hard time, the best candidates just stand out all by themselves. The agreement between panellists is remarkable; we all see the same things in the best people. There’s always some debate about where the cut goes and on the exact scores that people generated but by and large there are no difficulties in reaching a consensus.
Second interview is a tougher gig. Unarguable propositions to be argued, that sort of thing. We try and have pretty much the same core panel each year for the second interviews as it allows us to compare and contrast not only within that year’s candidates but also with those from previous years. It’s great for putting apparent shortcomings into perspective. What might appear to be a negative doesn’t look so problematic when someone remembers so-and-so from two years ago who created a similar impression and look how well s/he turned out…
We work really hard at it. Most of you do so its only fair and, frankly, its our future. We want the very best people, not just good people. And we are known for keeping our pupils as tenants, even if further refinement is needed. So we have to get it right at this early stage.
At this stage in writing I’ve been through some 20 or so applications. Some are excellent. I have seen countless Magistrates’ Courts with no apostrophes or apostrophes in the wrong place. Say, 40?
I have seen council instead of counsel twice. Three out of 20 people think we’re on the Northern Circuit.
(Incidentally, if you’re going to do a cut and paste job please pay attention. One of my favourite gaffs was a few years ago now. Good application, very good in fact. Hovering above the yes pile until the very last word. “Trinity Chambers is where I want to be, I’ve always wanted to live and work in Wales.” A late snatch of hope that one.)
So what other cock-ups have I seen in the 20 or so applications from today? “Trinity Changers”. My name spelt wrong. It’s only 8 letters for heaven’s sake. Someone who is “clam” in a difficult situation. Someone who wrote only three words in telling us about their hobbies and interests and how they assist the application. Plenty of gibberish. At least 50 insights.
But also some very, very good writing. People with good qualifications who are clearly bright and paid attention to the application. You may know who you are. We think we know who you are. We look forward to meeting you soon.