I have been reflecting on when you might first seek a mini-pupillage and whether any one time is better than any other. This is prompted by judging a moot in which neither of the winners had yet done a mini-pupillage, although both were certain about going to the Bar.
Most Chambers draw a sharp distinction between students and school-children. Just check the number of websites which make it clear that work experience isn’t available. Most Chambers, as far as I can tell, draw no distinction between either law students and non-law students or University students and BVC students. Nor is much, if any, distinction made between first years and third years.
That means that Chambers have a basic expectation that the mini-pupil will be interested in the Bar and have some knowledge of the law. That is on a par with a barrister’s basic beliefs – namely that what they do is a) fascinating; and b) vital. You may not share this view…
In which case the best advice I can give is to chose a set for that first mini-pupillage (you know, the one where you’re just sussing out whether you can ever be old enough or farty enough to do the job) which you are likely never to want to go to again, even as the office junior. And also not to ask basic questions but to look it up instead. There are two really good books for this purpose – both I fear may be out of print but second hand bookshops should be able to help.
The first is Henry Cecil’s ‘Brief to Counsel’. This was written over 50 years ago and much of the detail is out of date. However, it is still outstanding for the tone which accurately reflects the way that barristers think (and should think in my view). Cecil – actually the pseudonym of HH Judge Leon – also wrote some amusingish legal novels. The second is Glanville-Williams ‘Learning the Law’ which is an easily assimilated basic introduction to legal concepts. If you do not find it fairly easy and you are over 19 then think again about the law.
Those two books should stop you making a complete fool of yourself and may even give you that veneer of knowledge that makes you an attractive candidate. Remember that barristers expect you to know the law – that’s why you have paid a fortune for your education. The ‘added value’ is the ability to talk with a degree of confidence and knowledge about how the profession operates – how Judges take to people who only take good points; how clients like business minded advice. Add a mini-pupillage to that mix and you should be able to head for the sets you want to join with some confidence. But it’s a hell of a risk to head for the dream place first, especially as most Chambers will only let you have one mini-pupillage in total.
Most sets book early and allocate on a first come first served basis. So I would apply at Christmas in my first year and expect to do my first mini-pupillage in the summer. Then you have time to assimilate the experience, get some more law under your belt, decide if the Bar is really for you, do your research and apply for the mini-pupillages that really matter in your second year and onwards.
If you convert then the timetable is necessarily shorter. But I would still be looking for a mini-pupillage in my third year and I would still read Glanville-Williams’ book (at least) before I started. By the stage I am discussing, you must know you want to try for the law and you must be wondering about the Bar. It isn’t exactly unfair to expect you to have done a little reading up.
I know that this sounds incredibly basic, but it is astonishing how many people do not do these things. Most barristers are very happy to have people tagging along with them – at the very least a student is likely to take them at their own valuation for a day or so and this is deeply satisfying – but the pleasure quickly dissipates when the mini-pupil asks, ‘Please could you tell me who the person all on his own on that big bench up there is?’ Especially if you are cross-examining at the time. And especially as the mini-pupil has used a preposition to end a sentence with (more on grammar another time).
Very occasionally someone like this makes it and becomes a member of a Chambers. Invariably they feel that asking obvious questions has served them well, and they keep doing it. I remember the outstanding question ‘What is it about this incident that you least remember?’ being asked by one such person. The witness, unsurprisingly, was stuck for an answer – a fact treated as a triumph by the barrister concerned.
Another such example, who was anxious to tell all and sundry that he did ‘mainly civil and mainly big-value commercial work’ was persuaded by the boys and girls at the criminal bar that, just as the County Court Practice was called ‘The Green Book (because it was green) and the Supreme Court Practice was called ‘The White Book’ (because it was white – are we barristers logical or what?), Archbold (the bible of the criminal practitioner) should be called The Red Book (because it was, with elegant inevitability, red). In fact Archbold is called (Criminal Barristers being simple souls) ‘Archbold’. Court was crowded to watch the results…
The point is that mini-pupillage is a time for you to assess your own reaction to the job. If the thought of doing the preliminary spade-work fills you with revulsion or you don’t quite see what is wrong with the above stories then it might really be better to do something else.