For an insight into pupillage at 5RB, we asked Gemma McNeil-Walsh (left) and Hope Williams (right), our current pupils, a few questions:
Where did you go to university and what did you study?
HW: I studied a Bachelor of Arts (History) and Bachelor of Laws at the University of Sydney, Australia. My undergraduate thesis charted the rise of ‘new true crime’ podcasts and the impact of contempt law on their viability in Australia. I moved to the UK to study a Cambridge LLM, where I wrote a thesis on political criticism of the judiciary and the constitutional protection of speech in the UK, US and Australia.
GMW: I did my undergraduate degree in Development Studies and Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and then studied for a Masters in the Social Science of the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute. Following that I completed the law conversion course at BPP Law School and the Bar training course at the City Law School in London.
Why did you choose 5RB?
GMW: My academic and career interests have always been in media and privacy – so as the leading set in this area of law, 5RB was a clear choice. When you scroll through the website and see the sheer number of topical and leading cases that members of 5RB have worked on, you cannot help but be inspired.
Prior to applying I did a two-day mini pupillage in Chambers. Everybody was welcoming and down-to-earth, which confirmed that I wanted to start my legal career at 5RB.
HW: I wanted to join a set with expertise in both traditional media work and growing areas of practice such as data protection. I was particularly drawn to 5RB’s record advising on human rights issues related to media and privacy, including landmark Article 10 litigation.
What’s the best thing about pupillage?
HW: Being exposed to my supervisor’s busy practice, and learning from watching his interactions with judges, clients, and professional clients. I feel fortunate that in just 3 months, I have already had invaluable opportunities to observe and work on matters that span multiple causes of action, and are at various different stages of the litigation process.
I have particularly enjoyed the challenge of applying areas of media law that I have previously studied in academic settings to real-life disputes. One example is the GDPR, which often felt nebulous when I was reading about it at University. Observing the way that my supervisor interprets and applies the GDPR in his cases has given me a new practical perspective on how this tricky area of law operates.
GMW: You feel ‘in the thick of it’ from the beginning. As a student, you will have read plenty of judgments and legal textbooks and hopefully you will have had the opportunity to see a case in court. But pupillage is a real behind-the-scenes insight into how a case comes together and how a barrister works on a day-to-day basis. The work that 5RB does is often in the news and the area of law itself is dynamic and evolving, so it is an exciting environment to work in; almost every day there is a new legal development to discuss and think about.
What’s the worst?
GMW: It is always nerve-racking handing in a piece of work to my pupil supervisor or to another member of chambers, but that is part and parcel of the learning process. I am told that these nerves never go away, so I suppose I had better get used to it!
HW: Unfortunately, the start of my pupillage has coincided with London’s second lockdown. However, technology has smoothed the transition – I have Zoomed into court hearings, dialled into client conferences with my pupil supervisor, and caught up with members of Chambers for “virtual coffees”!
Was pupillage what you were expecting?
HW: A common misconception about pupillage is that you will simply sit in silence and watch your supervisor working. I have been pleasantly surprised by how “hands on” the pupillage experience has been so far. Of course, there is an enormous amount to be learned from observing, especially in hearings or in conferences with clients. However, I have found pupillage to be incredibly practical. From day one, I have been encouraged to roll up my sleeves and draft letters, pleadings and skeleton arguments. I also enjoy discussing cases with my supervisor, and learning about the various legal, strategic and evidential considerations at play.
GMW: I am sure that pupillage has been different for everybody this year given the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. 5RB have been fantastic in ensuring that I get as close to a ‘normal’ pupillage experience as possible and I am grateful for that. Prior to starting pupillage, I had several introductory calls with my supervisor and other members of chambers, so by the time I started I felt fully prepared.
It is strange to think that when I applied for pupillage, ‘hybrid’ and ‘remote’ hearings were discussed as a thing of the future – and now they are the norm. In my first few months of pupillage I have observed a range of in-person, hybrid and fully-remote hearings, which has all been invaluable experience.
What advice would you give to potential applicants?
GMW: In terms of preparing to make an application, I would recommend taking advantage of opportunities afforded by your law school and your Inn. For example, through my Inn I shadowed a judge in the Queen’s Bench Division and I was involved in several mooting competitions. I would also recommend keeping up to date with legal news in the field of media and privacy law. The 5RB website, Inforrm’s Blog and Times Law are all good starting points.
In approaching the application form itself, one of the best pieces of advice I was given was to think of the pupillage application as a piece of written advocacy. It is not just what you write on the application that is important; but also how you write it. You don’t need to use fancy ‘legal’ language. You just need to explain as clearly and directly as possible why you are well suited to a career at the Bar and to this area of law.
HW: Think about what interests you in the media law space, and be prepared to speak knowledgeably on issues relevant to 5RB’s field of practice. Beyond the 5RB website, sources like Inforrm and the Media Law Podcast are great places to start.