How to deal with rejection

This site is intended as a guide to help you understand what you will need to do in order to get pupillage. It is not intended to be a ‘doom and gloom’ page to frighten you with tales of woe. However, rejection is, for most candidates at least, a fundamental part of the pupillage application process. Processing and moving on from that rejection – at any stage of the process – is an intensely personal experience.

What follows is the experience and thoughts of a criminal pupil and then some practical tips from a civil pupil.

A criminal pupil writes: ‘Hold on for one more day’ – or, how I learned to stop worrying and deal with rejection

I applied for pupillage during three application cycles, and on the last occasion received two offers of pupillage.

My first attempt was during the BPTC, the second was the following year, and the last was the year after that. The year I felt the impact of the rejection most heavily was, perhaps counter-intuitively, the year I got pupillage. Applying for pupillage can be (as has been said of marriage) ‘a very long business’. I lived, breathed, ate, and slept pupillage applications over the course of four months between January and May 2017. I have concluded that to be successful in obtaining pupillage, you will need to be prepared for two distinct flavours of rejection. These are:

  1. Rejection within the application cycle

Within a cycle you will, almost certainly, have to deal with being knocked back – even if you are doing well, and being invited to interviews. Upon reflection, the two rejections I felt most keenly were post-first-round interview, from sets I really liked. I was at work, sitting in the front office at a police station, waiting to represent a client in custody, when the emails came through on my phone. By the time I received the email, the date by which I had expected to be invited back for a second-round interview had already passed, so I was to some extent prepared for bad news. Nonetheless, knowing how difficult it can be for chambers to keep to strict deadlines, I was still holding out hope, which – again, upon reflection – made the rejection sting even more.

  1. ‘Offer day’ rejection

You may end up dealing with this type of rejection if, having negotiated the paper sift, the first round, and then made it to the final round of interviews, you trip at the last hurdle and don’t get an offer. I never experienced this myself; however, I have seen first-hand the toll it took on people close to me. It can be utterly devastating. The person I am thinking of got knocked back after second round interviews at several sets she really loved and really wanted to join. The following year, she was offered pupillage and is now a tenant at her ‘dream’ set. But before she finally made it, she had to process the grief of not getting an offer on offer day. It has the capacity to be traumatising in a way you may not be expecting.

It may be that you think you will be sanguine about it, and will be prepared for the feeling of losing out on pupillage after three stages of selection. I suggest that this is somewhat naïve. If you (like everyone else I know who has got pupillage) are utterly dedicated to becoming a barrister, you might think that rejection at this stage of the process will come as a sucker-punch to the gut that will take some time to recover from.

My point in making these observations is this: consider what you will be doing on offer day. Consider your support networks.

General reflections on rejection

My most important piece of advice on this topic is that you must keep going. You might be rejected from your very favourite set without being invited to interview, or you might get all the way to the final hurdle, only to get knocked back.

This happens, but nevertheless you must keep going, must hold on to whatever it is that has kept you going up to this point – not least because, if you do succeed, then rejection and disappointment are going to be an inevitable part of your career. You are going to have to deal with losing legal arguments, losing trials, and being sacked by clients. Rejection is in many ways an integral part of this profession. How is one to deal with it?

It is of course right that you will experience a burst of elation every time you progress to the next stage of the process; each time you are invited to an interview, and each time you are invited back for a further interview. These bursts can be the things that keep you moving forward. However, upon reflection, the impact of the rejections can be equally significant, even if you are ‘doing well’.

Hell is other people!

The impact of your own successes or otherwise can be substantially affected by those of others. It’s only natural that, when going through the pupillage application journey, you choose not to travel solo but rather to take friends and acquaintances along with you. My final substantive reflection on dealing with rejection is this: choose your travel companions carefully. You will find at various points that you progress at different paces and your paths may differ. This is a natural part of the process. It may be that you are someone who is naturally inclined towards sharing your experience. Take care – hearing from others that they have been offered a second-round interview at the set where you were desperately hoping for the same, and then hearing nothing from them yourself can be a kick in the teeth. By all means talk to your friends, but consider carefully whether and who you want to share your journey with.

The purpose of this entry is not to frighten you, but rather to provoke thought. You may be one of the lucky few who sails through the process, untroubled by rejection. If that is you, then I applaud you. If, on the other hand, you think you might experience a few setbacks whilst applying for pupillage, then I would encourage you to spend a little time considering how you will deal with it, who you might turn to for support, and how you will keep yourself going. Forewarned is forearmed.

Practical tips for BPTC graduates: a civil pupil shares their thoughts

I got pupillage the year after I finished the BPTC and credit my post-BPTC work with making me stand out from the average candidate. Until then, my CV looked remarkably like your average candidate. There are numerous serious candidates who do not get pupillage until after they have finished the BPTC. Here are my thoughts:

Addressing gaps on your CV after completing the BPTC

The classic route is to work as a paralegal or an LPC Law advocate (DWF have also opened an advocacy unit which appears to be specifically aimed at those who finish the BPTC without pupillage.) There are also less common alternatives, such as working for a charity that deals with legal or quasi-legal matters in the area in which you ultimately want to practise. Being able to add such roles to your CV can really enhance your profile, as you not only gain experience putting your skills to use on the job, but also demonstrate tenacity in finding and securing a relevant job in the legal industry.

Before taking this step, you must consider seriously the reason(s) why you have not been successful thus far. You may continue to be unsuccessful in your search and hence there may come a stage where you have to pursue an alternative career. There is also a high chance that if you take a job for the primary reason that it will help you in pupillage applications, you will be underemployed – at least when you start in the role. You must consider whether the job helps your application to the extent that it is worth the opportunity cost of not pursuing an alternative career in case you do not get pupillage. Ultimately, only you will know your capacity for repeat applications.

Next page: How to handle multiple offers