Pupillage Applications: Surviving Rejection

Posted on 21st Sep 2016 in Legal Profession

Sophia Stapleton, winner of the inaugural ICLR Pupillage Award, offers some advice based on her own experience in applying for, and getting, a pupillage.


“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

— Albert Einstein


Getting pupillage can be hard. A rejection does not mean that all chances of pupillage are over, but keeping the motivation to carry on applying is difficult. Here are three things that made my life easier when applying for pupillage:

  1. Giving myself plenty of time

Advertisements for pupillage do not appear and disappear overnight in hidden corners of chambers websites. All vacancies throughout the year are advertised on the pupillage gateway, even for those chambers that do not administer their applications through the gateway system. Most chambers also recruit at the same time each year, so it is fairly easy to predict when a set of chambers is likely to advertise.

It was important for me to give myself time not only to write my application, but proofread and ask someone else to look over it. I didn’t want the reason I missed out on pupillage to be that I had made a silly typo or didn’t quite say what I had intended to. Lots of universities, BPTC providers and Inns of Court offer this service for free; it’d be foolish not to use them. It was an excellent way for me to re-examine what I had written.

  1. Being aware of current affairs and legal developments in chosen practice areas

This was an easy way to prepare for interviews and debate style questions. Often questions at interview were related to something that had been reported in the news within the past couple of months. It enabled me to show off that I was up-to-date and it also gave me a lot of confidence. In the interview where I finally secured pupillage, it was a great feeling to be asked about R v Jogee, having just read the Supreme Court press release, as well as a couple of related news reports.

  1. Reviewing my progress

I have never had a completely unique interview. There were always some questions that always came up and could therefore be predicted. After all of my interviews, and the interviews of friends, I noted down any questions asked. This gave me a huge bank of potential questions. I’d look at the questions and think about what the interviewer was trying to get from me. It did not help me prepare for out-of-the-box style questions, such as when I was asked “what would you do if you had a time machine?”, but it did enable me to think about and analyse interviews from the perspective of the interviewer. By the time I reached my final interview, I felt prepared to show the panel why they should offer me the pupillage.

Reviewing is also important to give yourself some perspective. It is likely that as an applicant for pupillage you have already achieved a lot. Rejection can give you a warped perception of yourself. If you do not take the time to remember those achievements, you will grow in insecurities and that will hold you back not just from pupillage, but from also taking other opportunities.

My hunt for pupillage was difficult, and at times it felt soul-destroying. The work on applications and towards interviews felt constant, but I am glad I did it. For me, it paid off. But even if it hadn’t, even if I hadn’t been one of the lucky few to be offered pupillage, I know that I could feel proud for persisting. Ultimately, that is all we can ask of ourselves.


Sophia Stapleton will be doing her pupillage in chambers at 2 Dr Johnson’s Building. On 15 September 2016 she was formally presented with the 2016 ICLR Pupillage Award, which was established last year to provide financial assistance to a pupil in chambers doing primarily publicly funded work.