Mini pupillages: what are they and how do you get one (or more?)?

Posted by VickiTipton on 5 December 2012

What is a mini pupillage?

Mini pupillages are typically a one week work experience, and are a must have if you are considering a career at the Bar. It’s often recommended to have at least 3 or 4 on your CV in different areas of practise before applying to the BPTC and for pupillage. This will give you a true insight into how criminal practise differs to commercial for example, and will undoubtedly help you decide on your area of interest. Minis also give you an idea of what a barrister does on a day to day basis, the sorts of challenges they face, the people they work with, and importantly the types of skills and attributes they have which make them successful in their work.

Holly Thomas, a 3rd year Law student at Queen Mary, University of London (UoL) found that she “was paired with different barristers during the week which presented a new opportunity every day to ask the questions I wanted answering and to compare the answers I was given. My mini-pupillage gave me a chance to explore new areas of law I previously had not thought about before, such as family, however it also allowed me to see a wide range of criminal law.”

Which Chambers to apply to?

It’s important to start researching chambers which you are interested in as soon as possible, in order to ensure you know their application period and mini pupillage dates.

Think about practise areas: Phil Mutton, a Law student at Queen Mary, UoL, had enjoyed criminal, public and EU Law modules during his 1st and 2nd year, so he decided to look in the 2012 Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook for chambers that specialised in these areas. He then went on to each set’s website to check they offered minis, and their deadlines.

If you are from outside of London, remember to think about chambers in circuits closer to your home. It can be cheaper (minis are unpaid) and easier to find outside of London too.

How to apply?

Applications go straight to Chambers. Follow their instructions to the letter. Typically you will need to send a CV and covering letter, but some chambers also use application forms. Phil Mutton at Queen Mary, UoL, believes he was successful in obtaining a mini pupillage at a London chambers because of the approach he took “I carefully tailored my letter and CV to each individual chambers, rather than sending a more generic letter to all of them and simply amending names and addresses”.

Robert Shaw, Barrister at 25 Bedford Row, is responsible for shortlisting applications for minis at his chambers. He has this advice when it comes to making an application:

  • Barristers like format, so make sure your CV is well presented and looks “clean” (think about alignment and headings here). Don’t go over 2 pages.
  • Use a decent, professional font. Don’t use different fonts and sizes without consistency.
  • Structure: start with Education, then Legal Experience. The latter can include other minis, solicitor work experience etc. This section should definitely include mooting or debating. You should then go on to mention other work experience, extra curricular activities/positions of responsibility and interests.
  • Don’t list all your responsibilities for a part time job. Do describe what skills you have developed which chambers would be interested in, for e.g., dealing with clients/customers, or problem solving.
  • Remember to include 2 references or state references available upon request.
  • Covering letters: use a traditional letter format.
  • Covering letters should explain why you are interested in the Bar/doing a mini pupillage, why you’re applying to this chamber (don’t copy and past or quote from their website, or refer to the fact you have looked at the website). This is also the place to refer to any weaknesses in your CV (for e.g. if you have genuine reasons for not getting the grades you expected). Avoid saying things like “esteemed chambers”.
  • Often CVs and covering letters are sent by e-mail. Don’t write the covering letter into your e-mail. Attach both the CV and letter as separate documents (in word or pdf format), with a short note in the e-mail explaining that you are applying for a mini pupillage, and your application is enclosed. Keep this professional.

What to do (and not to do!) on a mini pupillage?

Once you have a mini lined up, it’s really important to take a moment to think about what you want to get from it. Think about questions you’d really like to know, and prepare some questions.

“I found the approach of the barristers I shadowed to be very accessible. If you show enthusiasm and take a conscientious approach, many barristers are then willing to share their own experiences and provide advice. I made the most of my time by discussing the cases prior to going into court. I also met and discussed with barristers as to what inspired them to practise, how they prepared for a career at the bar, what the day to day life of a barrister was etc. “ Phil Mutton, QM, UoL.

Robert Shaw also recommends that students on minis, make sure they do the following to get the most out of their week:

  1. Dress smartly – first impressions count
  2. Take notes – note who you are following and any remarks about the chamber, their approach and their work. If you apply to them later for pupillage, it will help avoid embarrassment when you are asked “Who did you follow on your mini pupillage here?”.
  3. Ask questions – but consider what you ask, and when most is appropriate to do so. Never interrupt to ask a question, or offer an opinion, during a client meeting or in court.
  4. Avoid checking your phone regularly – it looks like you’re disinterested.

Is there anything I should do afterwards?

Yes! Always remember to send a note thanking the people you met for their time and help. Thank someone specifically if a piece of advice has really helped your thinking, or take action. Don’t let time pass quickly before doing this. If you want to contact someone 2 years after you have met them – they are unlikely to remember you.

Take some time to reflect on what you saw and did, and make a record of it. This will help you to answer questions like “Why do you want to become a barrister?”, or “Why have you applied to us?”.

Good Luck (and remember to visit your Careers team if you would like help reviewing your CV, covering letter, or application!).

Topics: CVs and applications, law, work experience

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