We all know the differences between the Bar in London and the Bar on Circuit. To name but a few…
* London has the beauty of Temple – the home of the Inns and arguably the home of the Bar itself;
* London often has the biggest Pupillage awards (but also the smallest for those of us in the publicly funded areas when the cost of living is factored in); and
* London has the size – whether that be in terms of the number of sets, the number of barristers or the number of most other potential comparisons you can think of.
Does that mean London is better or you will be more successful there? For what it’s worth, I don’t think so and I couldn’t be happier to have ended up accepting an offer of Pupillage outside of London this year.
However, the reality is I would have happily moved to London. Not only did I apply to many London sets, but I ended up having just under half of my first-round interviews at sets in or around Temple. Just like most people I know, I wanted Pupillage and, even if it wasn’t my first choice, I would have gone to London to get it.
So, instead of contributing to the London versus non-London debate (a simple google search will provide you with many articles on that topic if you are still unsure), I decided to try and cover something more useful. Namely, if there is a difference between interviews in and out of London.
I fully accept that this is based on interpretations of my own interviews and that there will no doubt be many of you who have had different experiences or even categorically disagree with me. But, from someone who endured a fair few interviews and who quickly wrote down every question I was asked after each interview, yes, in my experiences, there is a noticeable difference in the interviews.
That main difference comes in the types of questions asked – particularly in first-round interviews. In London, my first-rounds were all dominated by the bog-standard, traditional questions that we are all advised to prepare for. For instance, in addition to the standard ethical questions, I was repeatedly asked:
* Why a Barrister?
* Why [insert your area of law]?
* When have you been involved in Advocacy?
* Tell us about a time you have persuaded someone about something.
* Argue for/against [insert topic such as anonymity of sexual offenders].
* Why [insert name of chambers]?
Obviously, the above did appear in interviews elsewhere (albeit to a lesser extent) and candidates no doubt need to be prepared to answer them. But, the dominance of these questions in London meant that nailing them was the only way to stand out and get through to that second-round. There wasn’t much else to the London first-rounds and being prepared to answer those generic questions was key.
In comparison, my interviews outside of London (covering 3 of the 6 Circuits) were far more unpredictable in terms of questions. The scope of the questions asked was much wider. Some notable ones I recorded include:
* If you ran a PR firm, what perception of the Bar would you change and how?
* Who would you trust to appoint Judges?
* Give us a review of the last book you read (with this one actually taking up at least 90% of the interview time).
* How are you going to persuade our small, local firms to send you work?
* Should WhatsApp encrypt private messages to prevent terrorism?
Whilst I accept that such questions are testing candidates in a similar way by getting them to argue, analyse and show commitment to the Bar etc, it was clear that some of the Regional sets were intentionally trying to avoid the traditional questions and the pre-prepared answers that come with them.
Finally, and on a much quicker note, the regional sets are, understandably, bigger on location. Whilst this doesn’t mean that you have to have based all of your applications or Mini’s in one City, you will struggle if you can’t persuade the panel that you want to build a long-term career in Newcastle, Manchester, Bristol, Northampton or wherever the set may be.
Given that sets have the freedom to ask whatever they want, the utility of this comparison may be limited. The biggest thing anyone who has made it this far should take is that you need to be prepared for all types of questions. The best way to do this? As I said before, furiously write down every question you have been asked and create a bank of them. That way, questions such as the controversial, some say ridiculous, ‘what Disney Character would you choose to be?’ won’t throw you off. For clarity, I was asked that one outside of London!