A day in the life of a pupil: My first six

During my First Six, I spent time in the Criminal and Civil teams. My pupil supervisor is Paul Kirtley, one of the foremost civil practitioners on the North Eastern circuit. I have one pupil supervisor, but due to the ‘Open Door Policy’ at Exchange Chambers, I have been assigned to other supervisors within these practice groups for shorter periods and benefited from the breadth and depth of work opportunities in Chambers.  I have been supervised by silks as well as junior tenants, which has enabled me to see a broad spectrum of work and given me an insight into the sorts of work I might be doing myself. With over 160 barristers across three locations I was encouraged to work with different practitioners in all three cities, which is a great way to meet as many members of Chambers as possible.

During my first three months I did predominantly personal injury work. I drafted statements of case, opinions and skeleton arguments and undertook legal research in matters on which my supervisor was then currently instructed. To begin with, it seemed to take forever before I felt that I could hand in a piece of work that I was happy with. Have I identified all the relevant facts? Have I identified the relevant legal issues and researched them thoroughly enough? Have I applied the relevant law to the relevant facts and reached the appropriate conclusion? And all the time, I have to bear in mind that the Client wants a solution, not an essay on legal theory.

After each piece of work my supervisor reviewed it and provided formal feedback and guidance. It’s not as daunting as it sounds and I am pleased to say that the comments and notes decreased as time progressed. This was an incredibly constructive and helpful process and I noticed the improvements immediately.

I also shadowed my supervisor at conferences and was actively involved in the preparation for the conference session. To observe how my supervisor conducted the conference with the lay client and the professional client was a very valuable learning experience.

During my second three months I spent time with criminal practitioners. I drafted defence statements, case summaries and various applications. I also noted the points that I would make in an opening speech, in cross-examination and in closing submissions. Doing criminal work is a very different experience and brings new challenges. I saw cases in the Court of Appeal, the High Court and the Crown Court and observed conferences with Clients in Chambers as well as in the cells. I was in court every single day and was advised to get used to wearing a wig and gown by putting them on each time I went to Court.

A common law pupillage involves very early starts and very late finishes but you are constantly learning something new and developing your own style. It also involves lots of travel although, it has to be said; I traveled to some slightly unusual places. I went to the Isle of Man for three mediations and to Glasgow to discuss the legal consequences of Devolution and The Smith Commission.

Exchange Chambers has a reputation for excellence across a breadth of practice areas and consistently ranks highly in the legal directories, however; aside from the great intellectual minds, Exchange Chambers boasts accomplished musicians, sportspeople and vehicle enthusiasts (there seem to be a lot). This diversity of characters and practices in Chambers ensures that you will feel very welcome here. Great efforts are made by all members of Chambers to make you feel part of the group at formal and informal events. Exchange Chambers provides an excellent and supportive atmosphere in which you are encouraged from the start to develop your own practice and grow as a barrister.

It sounds trite but it is so important when applying to consider whether you think you will feel at home in the Chambers that you are applying to. If you find a set where you feel you belong, you are more likely to thrive. If you get on with the members of Chambers, you will have a greater prospect of being taken on. All applicants should seriously ask themselves ‘Will I be happy here?’ Exchange Chambers offers mini-pupillages but also runs a Pupillage Forum each year. This is a fantastic opportunity for applicants to experience the atmosphere in Chambers and find out about the pupillage application process, life at Exchange Chambers and the Bar in general. The Pupillage Forum was held in February. Head of Chambers, Bill Braithwaite QC, and Chambers Director, Tom Handley, opened the forum with a discussion about the realities of life at the Bar, what it takes to be a barrister, and what it will take to succeed in years to come with the technological and other changes that are impacting life at the Bar. This was followed by an interactive advocacy session hosted by Will Waldron QC, Chair of the Northern Circuit Advocacy Training. The advocacy session is compulsory for all pupils on Circuit and, on this occasion, was an opportunity for prospective applicants to participate in the discussion and analysis of a fictional case. Over lunch, the prospective applicants were given the opportunity to speak with other members of Chambers, both senior and junior, who had offered their time to give advice.  In the afternoon, Cath Howells gave a talk about the application process, followed by a question and answer session with current pupils and junior tenants. As far as I know, very few other Chambers offer this, however; the Forum provides prospective applicants with an invaluable and very different insight into the application process as well as giving them a snapshot of what it is really like to be a part of Exchange Chambers.

If you apply and are offered an interview, that is an enormous achievement. Chambers’ interview procedures vary dramatically. For many, pupillage interviews are some of the most gruelling you will ever face. The first-round interview was a panel interview conducted by three members of Chambers, which lasted approximately 30 minutes. The interview involved a mixture of experience-based questions and a discussion of a pre-circulated topic. After the interview, there was the opportunity to meet with the current pupils. The second round interview process lasted a full day. It consisted of three panel interviews conducted by between three and five members of Chambers, an advocacy exercise (for which materials were provided a day in advance), and an unseen written exercise. It sounds unpleasant, but the interviewers immediately reassured me. The first thing I was told was: “Try to relax. We are not going to try and trip you up. We want to see your best”. Again, over lunch, the interviewees had the chance to speak with current members and get a flavour of what it would be like to be in Exchange Chambers. Seven months into my pupillage, I know that I made the right decision.

By Alex Williams – Exchange Chambers


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