I arrived at the Inn very early for my interview [a good idea]. It was with the intention of doing some last minute reading and demonstrating that if nothing else I can be on time but I soon realised it was also an opportunity to catch a glimpse of some of the other interviewees, or rather, size up the competition. One of them was leaving with a woman whom I assumed to be her mother. I was instantly grateful that my own mother hadn’t accompanied me. Although I love her and she is very supportive of me, she would have surely been a great distraction just prior to the interview. Besides, I would have then found it very difficult to answer questions about how independent I am. Another interviewee had what I imagined the interview panel would see as ‘inappropriate’ hair. It was at that point that I remembered something important that I had to do; I had to remove my tongue stud. Imagine, a few weeks later being informed that I hadn’t got a scholarship…“The panel were very impressed and carefully considered offering you a scholarship but unfortunately, you had a piece of metal in your mouth”. I took it out. The ‘Tongue Studs for All’ campaign is on hold, for now at least [a relief: they are dangerous and are not the best choice of barristerial accessory].
I approached the door and was met by the guard who seemed very suspicious of me at first, as if I’d got the wrong building and he was going to have to direct me elsewhere, despite there being a notice about the interviews on the door. Maybe people mistakenly wander into the Inn all the time, or maybe he had his own score sheet and criteria and the interview had already started [if you had been rude to him the panel would probably have found out]. Once I’d told him what I was there for and he checked my name against the list, he was more welcoming. I asked him where I could leave my coat and bag and he showed me into a walk-in cupboard.
He handed me a piece of paper and said, “There’s something for you to chew over while you’re waiting”, then directed me to where I should wait to be called for the interview. The piece of paper had on it the names of the five people who made up the panel and some brief details about their areas of practice. Pinned to a sort of noticeboard near the chair was a diagram of the room and where the members of the panel would be sitting and also pinned to it were additional copies of the piece of paper I held in my hand. Then came the water test; four bottles of water on the table next to me and several glasses. Was I supposed to drink it [yes]? Was it not meant for me [it was]? I was suddenly quite thirsty so I decided to go for it and take my chances of being reprimanded.
The piece of paper also had a question on it which I was supposed to give my views on in the interview:
“In recent years there has been a series of cases in which the courts have granted an order preventing newspapers and the media from publishing details of an individual’s private life and at the same time granting anonymity to the person obtaining the order.” Elements of the press have criticised the courts, maintaining that the judges are introducing a de facto privacy law, and are interfering with the press in an unwarranted and undemocratic fashion. Do you consider that:
(a) the press are justified in their criticisms?
(b) the courts are correct in granting such orders?
What did I think? I thought the exact same thing that I thought when I had been asked a very similar question at another interview where I was asked about balancing freedom of speech rights with the right to privacy. I was slightly disappointed. If this was the only question related to current issues, I wasn’t going to get the opportunity to attempt to impress them with the knowledge that I had acquired through reading late at night in the week or so before the interview and on the train to London (not forgetting to mention an episode of ‘Silk’ [please, do forget it. Silk bears roughly the relation to real life that Qhaddafi bears to a freedom-loving father of his people]). I tried to displace from my mind North Africa and the Middle East, reform of Legal Aid, control orders-lite, the disenfranchisement of prisoners, MPs and fraudulent expense claims etc., and planned out my answer to this unanticipated but answerable question in my head (I left my seven pens in my bag in the cupboard). It was then that the interviewee due in before me came crashing into the waiting area. “So, this is the act I’ll have to follow”, I thought. He was trembling and sweating so I offered him some water and he gratefully accepted. Now two of us could be told off if we weren’t supposed to drink it. His panic and terror made me feel all the more calm [this works for the Court of Appeal as well] and, as I was grateful for his nervous presence, when he was called into the room I wished him good luck. There were enough scholarships to go around and so a bitter rivalry wasn’t necessary, although, he never did say it back [charitably, nervous rather than rude].
After what felt like five minutes of staring out of the window, the door to the room opened, my new never to be seen again friend was ejected and it was my turn. The Chairman stood up as I entered and told me that he was the only one who would be shaking hands [helpful]. I shook his hand and sat at the long wooden table with the now deceased (probably) great and good of the Inn staring down from the walls at me. The two people at either end of the table sat with their heads bowed, refusing to look up. Were they going to look up? Were they going to ask any questions? My trusted piece of paper said that they might. The questions started, alternatively asked by the three members of the panel facing me, each question relevant to something I’d written about in my application; “What part of your degree did you enjoy the most ?”; “The end”; “What conclusions did you draw in your dissertation?”; “Good ones”; and “I see you’ve done some mooting…”; “Have I? Where does it say that?”. [Just in case you were wondering, those are not the answers I gave; my answers shall not be revealed but I certainly hope they were better than those [as do we all]].
This was followed by the question on the piece of paper. I had almost a speech prepared to give in answer but I was stopped mid-flow. See how I cope with judicial intervention? I know what you’re up to. They seemed to smile a lot at my answers throughout, which was slightly unnerving [almost certainly they were trying to set you at your ease]. Was that because they were good? Impressive? Laughable? Pitiful? Or had they stopped listening and were relying on the old smile and nod technique? Then came, “What is your greatest achievement… [pause for effect while the interviewee thinks about their degree/A Levels/GCSEs/11 Plus]…that is not academic?” It would have been not at all modest and quite presumptuous (and therefore not in my nature) to say receiving this scholarship but I exercised restraint and instead gave what I think may have been one of my best answers. Finally, a question along the lines of “As a woman at the Criminal Bar…” Yes I know. And that was it, they were done with me.
As for those people who sat at either end of the table, heads bowed? They never did look up or ask any questions but instead spent the whole time furiously scribbling away. I wouldn’t know them if I saw them again, unless someone introduced them to me by name or I was somehow able to recognise the tops of their heads, perhaps if I became an expert in phrenology [no such thing]. It didn’t strike me as strange until I was out of there, which was probably a good thing [it would have been helpful to introduce them and say what role they were playing]. Also when I came out, before heading to drown my sorrows/celebrate with my friend in a bar (as opposed to the Bar and by the way it’s surprising how many people genuinely think the Bar Professional Training Course is about making cocktails [don’t tempt me]), I started to worry whether, if I don’t get a scholarship, that means I’ve got no/less hope of getting pupillage [no]. Not that the two are interrelated and that pupillage always follows on from scholarship but because they’re decided on the same criteria, essentially; has this person got what it takes to be a barrister? [Not sure about that. Scholarships may well ask the question, “does this person need financial help to realise their objective and might they realise it?”] Helpfully, by chance, I later saw someone I could put my question to. He got pupillage but didn’t get a scholarship. Now I don’t want to rejoice in the misfortune of others but he made me feel better (and he did get pupillage so all’s well that ends well). And did I get the scholarship that may mean the difference between eating and not eating during the Bar Professional Course (it hasn’t really got to that point, not yet anyway)? I’m waiting for that letter.
Please do feel free to share experiences and comments below. If you were the nervous bloke before then now is your chance to say ‘good luck’ back.
Update: a major award resulted. And Ruby’s account of her Middle Temple Interview [not the same Inn as my correspondent] can be seen here.