This has to be the nastiest time of the year for budding barristers. It is hunting season and the prize is one of those coveted pupillages. At the end of April a swarm of hopefuls sent their carefully crafted pupillage applications whizzing off into the unknown. Some may even have knocked out extra applications to sets of chambers not subscribing to the Bar’s version of UCAS, the dreaded Pupillage Portal.
For a select few, pupillage will be a foregone conclusion (I knew a guy who received eleven offers!). Most applicants, however, will find themselves plunged into an unbearable state of limbo. That state of limbo may well drag on until September. It’s all unnervingly uncertain. Obsession starts to blossom. I remember refreshing the pupillage portal and my email every ten minutes in the hope that I’d see the words ‘Under consideration’ transform into ‘Invited to first round interview’ praying to god that I wouldn’t catched sight of an uncomprising ‘Rejected’. The bloody postman never came soon enough. It’s like a massively protracted penalty shoot-out, the outcome of which may either spell out sheer elation or another year of the same uncertainty if those rejections fill up the screen.
So, I’ve taken it upon myself to suggest five ways those currently plodding through this frankly sadistic system may make it to the other end (whatever the result) in one piece.
1. Get a job or volunteer
You’ve got to eat into all that time you’ve got available to sit, ponder, worry and slowly descend into madness. Distraction is key. During my time in pupillage purgatory, I did a bit of decorating (I laid a floor). Hard work and cold hard cash in your back pocket at the end of the day. I also emailed an organisation (the ICLR) I had done work experience at in 2007 and asked if I could come in a few days a week and do some work on a voluntary basis. It just so happens I’m still there and I’ve ended up as a fully paid law reporter (which keeps me ticking until I go off for pupillage in October).
Call in a few contacts or become a barista at Starbucks. Get out of the house and earn some dosh.
2. YouTube, Spotify and a decent pair of headphones
Music is a great healer. Pupillage limbo is a perfect time to find new music and/or sort out your dreadful musical preferences. I’ve got to say, I was struck at Bar School by how much crap people seemed to enjoy listening to. I’m not a music snob, but if you’re in your early-mid twenties (as most applicants for pupillage are) and you’re into the Rocky Theme, Tenacious D and Elton John, sort it out quick smart.
Here’s a bit of Alexander O’Neal to get you started.
3. Become one of those ‘cafe’-types
Now, you’re gonna need something to do when you’re not working or listening to Alexander O’Neal. Why not try being one of those people who drinks coffee, eats cake and reads books all at the same time? Go all Fitzrovian with your bad self. Get yourself down to Bloomsbury and head to the London Review of Bookshop, get yourself a Martin Amis or a Tom McCarthy novel and plonk yourself in the LRB’s cake shop. And if you get fed up being all psuedo-bourgeios-boho-intellectual, take a trot over to the British Museum and have a look at a hoard of tourists photographing the Rosetta Stone as if their lives depended upon it.
4. Avoid the token ‘Know-alls’
Every Bar School has them (especially BPP). You know who I mean. “Oh, I’ve just finished marshalling with Lord Justice SniggleSnaggle, he says I’m so great.”, “Yah, I’ve just had an interview at One Essex Court. It was so easy. We just talked about how much I enjoy fox hunting and how strongly I feel about human rights” or “No, I haven’t applied for pupillage this year, I’ve already got one of course – good luck though”. Pupillage limbo is a sensitive time and you want to avoid psychic vampires at all costs. There are a couple of hotspots for these types. The first is the Inns of Court bars (Lincoln’s MCR and Inner’s Pegasus Bar). The second, is Daly’s winebar on the Strand. So far as I can tell, Daly’s is frequented almost exclusively by the most annoying wastes of flesh conceivable. Avoid at all costs – unless you’re one them, of course.
Waiting to find out whether you’ve got your dream job and being interviewed by experienced and highly trained interrogators is stressful stuff. You’ve got to find a way of venting. It’s all about balance. Here’s a few ideas. First, during pupillage limbo you’ve got carte blanche to moan at will – make the most of it. Make sure those around you (your folks, girlfriend/boyfriend, pet cat) are feeling your pain. Second, try not to overload on the law as tempting as it may be, switch it off occasionally. Go and think about giraffes or something. Third, speak your mind and get those little hassles of your chest. For example, if like me you find cricket paralysingly dull, start an argument with someone who really loves it and tell them just how crap you think the sport is. There’s plenty of cricket lovers at the Bar – go get ’em. Finally, pubs are fantastic little spots of sanctuary (except the aforementioned Daly’s). Develop a taste for Guinness. Regress and remind yourself how horrible Smirnoff Ice is. Read the Sun or the News of the World. Go and play “Who want to be a millionaire?” on the quiz machine. You could even ask a few friends if they’d like to join you. And if it all gets too much, take a stroll over Waterloo Bridge and weep your heart out into the Thames below.
In all seriousness, the pupillage hunt is a punishing old process. Hang in there, keep your chin up and do your best. It may not feel like it, but for better or worse the hunt will be over soon enough.