ALBA, not the Scottish chapter of the BBC but the Constitutional and Administrative Law Association (don’t adjust your screen, I don’t know how they got the acronym either but you can read more about their work on their website), is the latest specialist Bar association to lay on a webinar on how to secure pupillage. There are a lot of these sorts of events around at this time of year but the point of this and those of the other speciality Bar associations is to occupy a Goldilocks zone for applicants. Not just one chambers, but not so general either that it’s difficult to pick out what’s relevant to you.
The word public doesn’t always carry notions of prestige. Public convenience. Public nuisance. Public indecency. Clearly the first few speakers had been briefed to warm up the crowd and portray public law as the true embodiment of everything that’s excellent. Its breadth, its fast-pace, its fundamentality to civic life were all advertised as contributing to its knockout dinner party caché.
In all seriousness the seminar was well planned and well run. Each speaker was given a specific subject on which they were best placed to speak – a current pupil told us about ‘a pupil’s perspective’, a barrister based in Yorkshire (someone ring Channel 5 and they’ll send a TV crew) talked about ‘public law practice beyond London’ – so there was refreshingly little overlap, and much of what was said was very practical in nature. I like that because I can read the theoretical things online and when I’m writing applications I try to make it sound like my feet are still on the ground and my head not in the clouds. There was the usual juxtaposition of daunting lists of all the worthy things you can do to build a stellar CV beside assurances that selection panels don’t need the finished article, just potential and ‘curiosity’. I think I’ll still hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Questions were well handled too. Most were dealt with in writing on the chat function and only the best saved to be answered verbally at the end. This meant we avoided the usual parade of obvious, show-offy or peculiar questions. What was left was quite incisive and quite practical: do some types of cases take an emotional toll? Is there a right answer for why you want to be a barrister? What are the particular pitfalls of videos?
I’m no expert but I wouldn’t recommend treating an event like this as a substitute for chambers’ own open evenings. There was a quick run-through of the main types of public law practised in the various chambers, plus the explicit caveat that very few sets do public law on its own so a weather eye on the rest of chambers’ practice is needed, but understandably no chance to glean much about the atmosphere of each chambers. It probably is a substitute though for going to the panel events at pupillage fairs. Not only was this twice the length of those – two hours instead of one – but it also didn’t mean I was having to sacrifice the opportunity to speak to barristers one-to-one about their work.
Thanks to Matthew Pugh for this incisive review. Matthew is a member of this year’s Lawbore journalist team and is studying for a GDL at City Law School with the intention of going to the Bar. Before coming to City he read Classics and was editor of the Oxford Bar Society’s magazine, The Pupil.