By Priya Mohanakumar
We interviewed CPS pupil barrister, Catherine Elvin, about her journey to the bar and asked her what tips and advice she has for aspiring barristers. Read on to find out about how she chose the Inn of Court for her and succeeded in her pupillage application.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF
My name is Catherine Elvin and I am a current pupil barrister with the CPS. Prior to starting pupillage, I worked in employment law for 3 years, most latterly as an advocate representing respondent companies in Employment Tribunals across the UK. In terms of my education, I studied my university degree (Law with Spanish) at Queen’s University Belfast and subsequently completed the BPTC at BPP Law School Manchester. I was also fortunate to receive a scholarship from the Inner Temple to help fund my studies.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE BAR AS OPPOSED TO THE SOLICITOR ROUTE?
I wanted to be in court on a regular basis and recognised that the Bar presented a better opportunity to have that experience. I had additionally completed some work-experience in solicitor firms and I simply didn’t enjoy it as much as when I completed mini-pupillages and observed the day-to-day work of a barrister.
WHAT DREW YOU TO A CPS PUPILLAGE?
I have always been interested in criminal practice having undertaken earlier work-experience in the area, thus the CPS was a natural choice. I was also drawn to the benefits of the employed Bar coupled with performing a public service role.
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE CRIME AS YOUR PRACTICE AREA?
When gaining experience through mini-pupillages, I always found criminal practice to be the most interesting. It is an incredibly human area of law with real-life impact. As a criminal practitioner, you are crossing paths with individuals from all sectors of society at usually the most difficult times of their lives; no two days are the same. Furthermore, criminal practice is renowned for its court-room (and somewhat theatrical) advocacy!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE FOR ASPIRING BARRISTERS ON CHOOSING AN INN OF COURT?
The best piece of advice I could give is to browse the websites of each Inn and if possible, go and look around the Inns in person. I had a tour of Inner Temple and it was a fantastic opportunity to view the facilities and speak to members of the Inn face-to-face. Scholarship opportunities can also be decisive in choosing an Inn.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING BARRISTERS ON SUCCEEDING IN THEIR PUPILLAGE APPLICATIONS?
Pupillage applications are competitive, demanding and can be mentally exhausting. Therefore, my first piece of advice is to be resilient and if you receive rejections, to ask for feedback and try to improve. Remember how tough the competition is and build on every application and/or interview to give yourself the best chance next time. In terms of practical advice, I would say that proofreading can never be emphasised enough. Proofread, proofread, and proofread again, and with fresh eyes. I was also advised to treat my written applications as a piece of written advocacy and I would equally recommend that approach. Back up your answers with experience and avoid verbosity. Furthermore, whilst applying to lots of sets will statistically better your odds, I would advise against the scatter-gun approach. Apply to sets where you genuinely have an interest and can see yourself fitting in. As much as sets will want to like you, you also need to like them. Lastly, take care of each application. Each set is different, therefore tailor your answers and avoid re-using the same answer across multiple applications, particularly when asked: “Why us?”.
On a personal note, I applied for pupillage over four cycles and received approximately 20 interviews, nearly half of which were final rounds, and half of those final round interviews were all in my final year of applying. My applications improved as both my professional experience and confidence grew year on year. I hope that this inspires future applicants to keep working hard and to stay resilient during what can be a truly challenging process. From my current perspective, I can say, it will be worth it!
Catherine is happy to help and if you would like to ask her more questions feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/catherine-elvin-4722a7177/