Being a Christian during pupillage: an encouragement

 

There can't be many more tortuous processes for a would-be lawyer than a 12 month pupillage. You struggled through a law degree or the GDL, you fought a war of attrition against the BPTC, you navigated the stormy waters of Pupil Gateway, suffered the knock-back of rejection from interview after interview, and when you finally secure a coveted pupillage your reward is a year-long assessment process under the exacting and punctilious eyes of 50 barristers.

Modern day pupils do, however, have a lot to be thankful for. Don't forget that only a few years ago there was no guaranteed minimum award and pupils were largely considered cannon fodder for the most undesirable bulk work in Chambers. Medium sized criminal sets would recruit 10 pupils with the expectation that only one or two would be taken on, and there was little interest in giving them formal training. That just doesn't happen anymore. The pupil supervisor accreditation courses and closer monitoring of the system by the Inns of Court and Bar Council have also led to much higher standards and far fewer horror stories of Dickensian pupil masters delighting in the humiliation of desperate-to-impress apprentices. Not to say that this never happens today...

I was blessed with a brilliant pupillage – great supervisors and a friendly and supportive Chambers underpinned with an attitude of fairness that meant pupils were considered on merit rather than background. That is not to say that it was easy. Pupillage is inherently lonely and even if you have co-pupils you are often conscious that there is an element of competition. Pupillage is also inherently tense with the feeling of being under constant scrutiny, never able to relax, even when at lunch in Hall or in the pub with a solicitor. Pupillage is often pressured with tight deadlines to find that key authority for a cantankerous QC or even just to find a remote County or Magistrates Court after getting a 6am train to the middle of nowhere.

In fact, I cannot think of a better year for being completely dependent on God. I could not possibly calculate the number of supplications I fired up to the Heavens nor the number of times I was praying in tongues as I ran to a courtroom. I also could not count the number of answers to prayer I had – finding that un-catalogued book right there on the shelf, spotting the error in an 80 page schedule of loss or striking up a good rapport with a difficult client. I also got an awful lot of things wrong, and again, would recommend that the best solution to putting your foot in it at the Christmas Party or missing a blindingly obvious legal point, is prayer.

Pupillage is a great time to pull out all your favourite Bible verses. Some of mine were "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" -Matt 6:34 (sobering but encouraging), "whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men" - Colossians 3:23  (useful in promoting accuracy with your margins when photocopying Court of Appeal authorities late into the night) and "let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" - Hebrews 12:1 (for the cold winter months when your supervisor likes to work with the window open). Oh yes, and "trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight" -Proverbs 3:5 (worth meditating on that for a moment).

By way of encouragement, I should say that relying on prayer and the Bible did not seem to harm my prospects for tenancy (not least, as I have said, because of the scrupulously fair approach of my Chambers) and I was taken on at the end of my 12 month stint. Having "Christian" on my CV and having worked for LCF for my year prior to pupillage did not close the curtains on my career at the Bar. I was also blessed to be able to make it through the year without Chamber's commitments requiring me to miss a single Home Group and I also benefitted from attending many of the weekly lunchtime "Fleet Street Talks" and almost all of the LCF Friday morning prayer breakfasts. Sometimes it is right to sacrifice the chance to impress a colleague by unnecessarily "pulling a late one" in order to prioritise a Church service.

As a parting thought, we can often think that the qualities Jesus taught about such as meekness, humility, honesty and integrity are ones which are not respected in the world, but the Bar has got (in my experience) many who do display (and value) those qualities. So those character traits that the Holy Spirit gives us when we ask will very likely count as a positive on that fateful day of the tenancy decision, and if others around you do not share or value those qualities, you will stand out, for the better, all the more.

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Encouraging Christian lawyers to speak about Christ and live out the gospel in the legal profession