Pupillage advice: words of wisdom for pupils

Posted on 14th Oct 2016 in Legal Profession

As she settles into her training for life at the Bar, Sophia Stapleton, winner of the inaugural ICLR Pupillage Award, has been collecting nuggets of advice from barristers and judges on what to expect and how to deal with it. In this post she shares some of those words of wisdom.


shutterstock_151899725Like many other pupils across the country this year, my pupillage began in October. Preparing for pupillage, I was incredibly excited, but also very nervous and unsure of what to expect. As part of winning the ICLR pupillage award, I was lucky enough to attend an award reception where the conversation turned to the words of wisdom that the other attendees could offer me. Immediately when I heard what they had to say, I felt reassured. This gave me the idea to write to barristers and judges to ask for their words of wisdom and share them in this blog piece. Here are some of the replies I received:


Be prepared for difficult questions

“In preparing anything, whether it be an advice, an application or a trial, never ignore the difficult questions which will occur to you.  Difficult issues don’t go away if you ignore them. They will come back to bite you – and when they do you will have less time to think about them.  If you don’t have a good answer to them, it’s better to know sooner rather than later and modify your strategy accordingly.”

— Ian Gatt QC, Herbert Smith Freehills


Build relationships

“Success in pupillage and beyond is all about building relationships.  You need to be competent in what you do.  That is a foundation for everything else.  However, if you really want to succeed you also have to focus on building what I can best describe as professional friendships.  In pupillage, these will mainly be with other, more senior members of chambers.  Show them that you are a useful and, just as important, pleasant person to have around and you will be well on the way to gaining tenancy.  Those relationships will also stand you in good stead when it comes to building a practice in the years to come.”

— Cain Ormondroyd, Francis Taylor Building


Be polite

“Always be polite to Court staff, no matter how infuriating the situation you are in. The Court staff have the power to make your day worse by putting you to the back of the list. Some Court staff will report to Judges if people, whether legal representatives or others involved in a case, are rude.”

— Daniel Benjamin, 2 Dr Johnson’s Buildings


Be concise

“Before you send or use any document you have prepared go back through it and try to convey the same points in fewer words. The skill lies in shedding not adding them. The less the reader has to read, the easier and quicker you make it, the more receptive s/he will be.”

Lady Justice Rafferty


Learn what it is to be a barrister

“In the first six months you should be seeking to learn what it is to be a barrister.  As to how to be a barrister you have the second six and indeed the whole of the rest of your career to learn that.”

— Silas Reid, 2 Dr Johnson’s Buildings


Be prepared for the rollercoaster

Pupillage represents practice at the Bar in embryo: and the Bar is, and will remain, a rollercoaster for you. On some days you will soar; and on others you will plumb the depths of despair.”

— His Honour John Samuels QC, Chairman of Lincoln’s Inn Pupillage Foundation Scheme


Read more of His Honour John Samuel QC’s wise words in a separate post on this blog: Pupillage advice: welcome to the rollercoaster ride of a life at the Bar


Sophia Stapleton has recently begun her pupillage in chambers at 2 Dr Johnson’s Building.  You can read her own words of advice on applying for pupillage on this blog: Pupillage Applications: Surviving Rejection


If you would like to add your words of wisdom to a future post for pupils, please contact Sophia via Twitter: @SH_Stapleton

And/or the ICLR: @TheICLR