Tenacity pays off for alumna Cara Hall, awarded Middle Temple's Queen Mother Scholarship

After securing a prestigious Bar Course scholarship on her third attempt, Cara shares her experience and offers six key pieces of advice for fellow aspiring barristers

Kent Law School alumna Cara Hall is one of a very select few to be awarded this year’s Middle Temple Queen Mother Scholarship – a scholarship that’s only awarded to candidates deemed ‘the most all-round impressive’. We caught up with Cara (who graduated in 2018) to find out more…

Congratulations Cara! It takes great tenacity to keep applying for scholarships, can you tell us what it’s been like for you?

I originally applied to Inner Temple when I was in my final year of study at Kent. I must admit that I was not as prepared as I would have liked for the interview, as I had a lot of essay deadlines close to it. The interview did not go well at all. Inner Temple gives you a case to read shortly before the interview and then asks you questions about it. I really fell down here and so wanted to try to avoid this sort of task when I applied the following year by applying to a different Inn. I did have a better idea of what to expect as a result of that disaster of an interview though.

I then applied to Middle Temple because they don’t ask you about a set case. I found my interview at Middle Temple much more enjoyable, and it definitely went better than the previous year. But, unfortunately, I was unsuccessful again. I did, however, receive a £5000 scholarship of excellence from BPP and that encouraged me to take a leap of faith and begin the BPTC (now known as the BPC or Bar Professional Course) anyway. I began studying the LLM Legal Practice (Barristers) part-time in September 2019. Studying a Master’s course that incorporates the BPC allows you to apply for the government’s Postgraduate Master’s Loan. Combined with the scholarship I’d received from BPP, I was only a few thousand pounds short so I decided to start the course part-time. The beauty of studying part-time is that it gives you another opportunity to apply for a scholarship from the Inns of Court. But I began saving the outstanding fees anyway, just in case I was unsuccessful on my third attempt.

I learnt from the previous year that I needed to improve my current awareness, so I made sure to work on that. I had also done a couple of mock interviews (in preparation for a pupillage interview) a few weeks before the scholarship interview which were exceptionally helpful, and I made sure to prepare for the standard questions that the Inns tend to ask (Kent Law School Senior Lecturer Per Laleng keeps a big list for students to use as a base – all he asks is that you let him know what you were asked in return!)

The interview took place via video link, and after some technical difficulties, we got into it. I felt like I had great rapport with the panel and that they really wanted me to succeed. They asked what was different from last year that meant I should be successful this time around. I think they were impressed that I had tried to be very involved with the Inn: having a mentor via their mentorship scheme, being on the committee for the inn’s LGBTQ+ Forum, and attending an advocacy weekend at Cumberland Lodge. I think they also liked that I had undertaken a few more mini-pupillages and a volunteer casework role at the charity Advocate, which really demonstrated to them that I had taken steps over the past year to improve my application and myself.

They also asked me to tell them about a recent case I had read that I’d found interesting, asked me why I believed I would be a good barrister, and challenged me on my answer I had written to the ethical dilemma question on the application form.

You’re clearly very motivated to practice at the Bar, where does that motivation come from?

I think that, to be pursuing a career at the Bar, you really must not want to do anything else. It is such a competitive industry, so if there was anything else I wanted to be doing I would probably be doing that! I think it is really important for students to figure out what they don’t want to do so that they can figure out what they do. For example, I got accepted onto a scheme to try and help students from underrepresented backgrounds become city solicitors (thanks to one of the wonderful employability bulletins produced by the Law School’s Employability Officer Jayne Instone). However, a stint of work experience at Baker McKenzie showed me quite quickly that it wasn’t what I wanted, and that it was advocacy I wanted to do. My first job post-graduation as a paralegal also helped to confirm that.

I want to be a barrister because no other job offers the same opportunity to do advocacy, and that is what I love to do. For me, it is the perfect blend of intellectual challenge and performing to an audience (I used to want to be an actress!)

Mooting is definitely what inspired me to pursue a career at the Bar, and so I am extremely grateful for all the wonderful mooting opportunities I was given while studying at Kent.

How do you think your experiences of studying Law at Kent have helped prepare you for a career as a lawyer and, ultimately, as a barrister? 

Mooting is essential for any aspiring barrister: I really don’t think you can know if a career at the Bar is for you without doing a moot. Kent has the most amazing mooting opportunities, and I really took full advantage of them! I did a total of seven moots while I was at Kent (and was fortunate enough to come back and do another as an alum for the official opening of the Wigoder Law Building in 2019). You will learn how to be an effective advocate, but it is also tons of fun and can take you to amazing places: I was lucky enough to be selected to take part in the LAWASIA International Arbitration in Tokyo, Japan in 2017!  Mooting is also a great way to explore what practice area you might want to pursue – I loved crime in the classroom but didn’t enjoy mooting on it at all.

I came back to judge a moot last year as well, which was very fun! I had the most amazing time mooting at KLS and I hope to give back and stay in touch throughout my career.

I think studying critically at Kent also helps prepare you for the critical thinking that is required when tackling legal problems. I remember attending a lecture by Per Laleng about the legal syllogism in my very first week, and I still use it as the basis of my submissions now!

Can you tell us a little more about the work (and mini-pupillages) you’ve been doing since you graduated?

I think mini-pupillages are essential for any aspiring barrister, for three reasons. Firstly, it is really the only way to understand what the day to day life of a barrister actually involves; second, it is an excellent opportunity to gain an insight into what that set is like for pupillage applications; and thirdly, it is a great way to learn what your practice area of interest actually entails as most sets are willing to accommodate your interests. I have learnt that I will be doing a lot of possession hearings as a junior property law barrister!

I worked as a commercial property paralegal for a year at Outset Legal LLP. It was an excellent opportunity to experience law in practice, and I learnt a lot about the Mergers and Acquisitions process.

I have been working as a legal editor for eight months now. FromCounsel specialises in corporate law guidance and news, so I have been exposed to a whole new area of law. It has been extremely useful in improving my commercial awareness.

How did it feel when you heard the news that you’d been successful at Middle Temple?

I was absolutely thrilled to have been successful this time around. I’d worked really hard to improve my application and interview skills in the meantime, and it felt as though the risk I’d taken in choosing to study the BPC part-time (and the hard work that studying this way demands) had paid off.

What are your plans now – which field of law do you think you’d like to specialise in?

I am half-way through my BPTC as I started in September 2019 and it takes two years part-time. I am at BPP – they have some excellent scholarships of their own that students wishing to pursue the BPC should definitely look into. I was rejected from Ulaw and offered a £5k scholarship from BPP in the same week! Keep the faith, sometimes it’s just a bad interview and not a reflection on your ability.

I hope to specialise in property law (five out of the eight moots I’ve done have been on property law – I just can’t seem to get enough!)

And finally, what advice do you have for other aspiring barristers who aren’t successful on their first attempt to secure a Bar Course scholarship?

My biggest pieces of advice for those who are unsuccessful is as follows:

  1. Keep a list of the questions you are asked in interviews, any interviews, especially the ones you found tricky. You never want to be caught out by the same question again
  2. Don’t see the gap year that you may have as a sign of failure – see it as an opportunity! In my interview, I was asked what I had done since last time that meant I should be successful this time around – I really used the year in-between to fill some of the gaps that I felt I had on my application
  3. Don’t lose faith – if you don’t believe in yourself, why should the interview panel? Besides, if you fail and then succeed, you have an excellent resilience-based story for pupillage interviews!
  4. GET INVOLVED IN YOUR INN – I cannot stress this enough. I am a member of the committee for Middle Temple’s LGBTQ+ forum – this went down a treat in the interview but it has also been an amazing opportunity for me to network with barristers in a less formal context – prior to lockdown we all went to see the Lion King, and have had numerous virtual movie nights in lockdown! Middle Temple also has a Mentoring Scheme – I have the most incredible mentor who was invaluable in helping me figure out what steps I needed to be taking to improve my pupillage applications, and has been a great resource when it comes to answering tricky application questions
  5. Use the employability service through your university or BPC provider – this is always useful to discuss application questions you are stuck on, to know what gaps you need to fill, to practice for interviews and to find opportunities
  6. Consider part-time study. It is hard work, and I would advise you not to underestimate it. I was put in touch with a Kent alum who studied part-time to “warn” me of what I was getting in to, and I would be happy to do the same for anyone considering studying the course in this way. But part-time study has some great benefits: you can work full-time, meaning you can earn some proper money and get some experience in the “real world”; your class will be really diverse with people from all sorts of backgrounds in all sorts of careers and you all stick together; and part-time study teaches you essential skills for the Bar – you are responsible for your success and, when you get home from your full-time job, you have to sit down and study – much like barristers have to sit down and prepare for their next hearing following a day in court. Just be alive to the negatives: it is demanding, you will have to use all your holiday for exams, interviews, mini-pupillages, etc and it can be an isolated way of studying the course.

Find out more about studying a Law LLB degree at Kent Law School

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