I recently received this very moving (and upsetting) message from a reader. I am posting it with permission and, on their request, I have kept them anonymous.
I think it is important for the profession to read experiences such as this so we can fully appreciate the emotional toll that this process takes on candidates. How are we supporting unsuccessful applicants for pupillage as they transition away from a career at the Bar? What can we put in place to ensure that they have the support they need to deal with the ongoing battering to their sense of self-worth? How do we avoid chewing them up and and spitting them out without a thought for the consequences?
I don't have the answers. But we aren't going to find the solutions unless we're reminded by people like Anonymous just what it is that we need to fix.
I recently came across your article on the pupillage process, published in The Lawyer in May, and I had to reach out to you. I was Called in 2016, and after a thoroughly awful five pupillage application cycles, threw in the towel in 2019. I came very close every year, securing at least one final round every year - in my final year of applications, I had five, following eleven first round interviews.
I did everything and anything to maximise my chances of securing a career at the Bar - strong academic credentials, postgraduate study, scholarships, mooting success, pro bono work and practical work in spades. I thought inside the box and outside the box. I held positions of all kinds in the legal sector, had interview coaching sessions, and obtained the best references, but none of it worked. After failing to secure pupillage so many times, I decided that, for the sake of my health and the people around me, I have to walk away. However, being told over 100 times I was not good enough has, I feel, permanently damaged me. My self esteem was and is obliterated. Things are slowly starting to improve now as my life away from the Bar begins to yield fruit, but I still have bad days. I feel totally abandoned by the profession, including my Inn.
Reading your article was a cathartic experience. It raised much-needed awareness of the psychological impact the pupillage application process has on applicants, especially those from less-affluent, less well-connected backgrounds who face challenges unique to them. Knowing that there are people at the Bar who can see how dysfunctional the process is is truly validating. I sincerely hope that voices like yours continue to be heard at the Bar.