In this article Lucie Briggs describes her own path to law and offers advice for non-law students hoping to pursue wishing to have a career at the Bar. Lucie studied Chemistry at King’s College, London before undertaking the law conversion course (PGDL), and then the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) at the College of Law, London. Lucie was called to the Bar in 2004, commenced pupillage in the same year, and became a tenant in 2005.
How did you know you wanted to be a barrister and transition into law from a non-law degree?
I knew from a pretty early stage that I wanted to be a barrister. Luckily, I received some good careers advice before my A-levels that guided me in the right direction and I was able to take a path that best suited me. I was from Carlisle and had no contacts in the legal sector, and was told I would have to do extremely well academically. My strengths were in the sciences not humanities and essay writing wasn’t my strong point, so the advice I was given was to do a degree that would get me the best result academically and then undertake the law conversion degree.
What was the motivation to become a barrister not a solicitor?
Early on I had an interest in arguing – something my parents can attest to! I joined the debating society in school and knew quite early on that I was attracted to the idea of advocacy. Once I had started to think of it as a career, I undertook some work experience in a small local solicitor’s firm. When I started doing mini-pupillages it confirmed my belief that the Bar was the place for me.
The advantages to becoming a barrister for me outweighed a career as a solicitor. It wasn’t just the advocacy and court appearances that I was interested in, it was the lifestyle as well. This is something which is a hugely important consideration. Being self-employed was the major benefit for me. Obviously, there are downsides to this such as having no fixed income, for example when on maternity leave, which could possibly lead to financial insecurities. But for me these issues are far outweighed by the benefits, such as being self-employed and my own boss – I have the freedom and flexibility to manage my own career and can work from home as and when it suits me, which is a huge benefit now as I have two small children.
Do you think that coming from a non-law background was an advantage or disadvantage in applying for pupillage and practising as a barrister?
I thought having a non-law background during the application process was slightly to my advantage. The main advantage was that I received a better result in my degree in chemistry than I believe I would have achieved if I had gone down the route of undertaking a more essay-based law degree. I sit on the pupillage committee at Atkin Chambers and for the committee the quality of your degree is the key factor, whether it is a law degree or not. The committee want to see that you have a good academic grounding.
At the pupillage interview I believe I was also at a slight advantage as at Atkin Chambers the interview consisted of a contract and tort based question. I was in the middle of the PGDL and I had recently studied the core elements of tort and contract, and learning the practical application, so it was fresh in my mind, whereas I know that for candidates who studied law many had not covered these core subjects since first year.
In practice thereafter it has been neutral, possibly slightly advantageous in my field, to come from a non-law background as construction law involves liaising with experts in the field, often with a scientific element.
Tips and advice for non-law students – The Inns of Court
My advice, drawing upon my own experience, would be to join and use the resources available of the Inns of Court. I am a member of Lincoln’s Inn and joining the Inn gave me access to a variety of courses, mooting competitions, and regular dinners where I could network and make contacts. Another advantage of the Inn is the scholarships that are available, transitioning from a non-law background often involves higher costs as you have to undertake the conversion course in addition to your degree and Bar Course.
Pupillage applications often ask for legal experience, as a non-law candidate what could you add?
Different chambers have a difference focus and therefore it depends largely on what area of law you want to go into. As Atkin Chambers is a commercial set, the focus is perhaps more on academic attainment and strong academic references. Postgraduate qualifications are looked upon favourably, but they are not essential. However we also look for well-rounded candidates. Evidence that applicants have drive, determination and initiative is important, as well as a strong commitment to the Bar and to practicing within our area of work.
I would suggest doing mini-pupillages if possible and any other law-related work experience, as on your CV it helps to show the experience you have in any field of law. It also gives you a chance to pick the brains of your mini-pupillage supervisor or the other legal professionals you encounter which means that you can draw on real experiences in your pupillage interviews.
I also would suggest joining debating societies at school and university, these give you good experience of oral arguments and are often open to non-law students.