Cracking the First Six: Be a Critical Magpie

Pupillage interviews are over, congratulations to all who battled through! The calibre of candidates is so high these days that just getting an interview is a testament to your exceptional skills.

Now that the dust has settled, let's talk about something that came up during our first round of interviews. We reached the customary "any questions?" stage, and while we're happy to answer anything, one candidate stumped us with a brilliant, deceptively simple question I'd never heard before:

"What makes a successful first six pupil?"

As the rest of the panel swivelled my way, it dawned on me that yet another Head of Department duty seems to be fielding questions that are, in cricketing terms, "proper chin music." Any barrister tasked with answering this on the spot likely resorts to the age-old trick of reaching for water to buy some thinking time.

So, what does make a successful first six pupil? My answer: be a critical magpie.

As a first six, you'll shadow your supervisor – and hopefully several other barristers – gaining exposure to a multitude of styles. Watch them in court, observe their interactions with clients, solicitors, and other representatives. Be critical, absorb it all. And if you see something you like, be a magpie and steal it!

However, remember that we all have a unique skill set, and that extends to our advocacy style. Ask yourself if what you're considering pinching would fit comfortably within your own style. If it doesn't, then sit back and enjoy watching another professional do their thing brilliantly.

But if you think it could fit your "style set," then here's the second part of my advice:

Adapt, don't adopt.

Don't mimic entirely what someone else has done. Personalise that technique, turn of phrase, delivery, or approach to breaking bad news to clients. Adapt it to you, don't adopt it uncritically. Soon, what seemed like a stiff pair of new shoes you admired in a shop will feel like a comfy old pair of slippers.

Be a critical magpie. Observe, learn, and adapt to build your own successful style as a first six pupil.


Author: David Maddison, Head of Family Law

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