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What to know before starting the BPTC: An interview with Saira Shani

Saira Shani is a very inspirational BPTC student and you will do yourself a big favour by reading to the end of the interview because she packs in so many amazing insights and pieces of advice. Thank you Saira!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your legal journey?

I am 25 years old and a part-time BPTC LLM student at the University of Law. I completed my undergraduate law degree at BPP University and graduated with a 2:1. Then I took a year out between my degree and BPTC LLM in order to gain more legal experience and most importantly to save up some money for the bar course.

I am an advocate for using social media to gain legal experience, my first legal experience was obtained via Twitter, where I obtained an internship with a leading family law silk. The legal community both on Twitter and Instagram are willing to help students in any way they can. If you need any help, guidance or just want someone to talk to, we are all here for you.

I utilised my year off after my LLB in order to complete three further family law mini-pupillages, a marshalling placement, and a mooting competition. I did this whilst also working a full-time job. It was after my second application for a BPTC Scholarship that I was awarded a Benefactors Scholarship from Middle Temple to help fund my BPTC.

In February 2020, I was left jobless right at the start of the pandemic. During lockdown myself and Bethany Stirling organised online advocacy sessions for students of all backgrounds and we were able to get senior and junior barristers to judge the advocacy.

I have recently been offered a position at the Royal Courts of Justice and looking forward to my move from Staffordshire to London early next year. I am looking forward to completing my BPTC LLM in June 2021.


2. Why the bar? What attracted it to it? What challenges have you encountered along the way?

I decided on a career at the bar because it looked like fun. I do not have an extravagant backstory and I definitely did not want to be a barrister since I was 3 years old. My decision was more of a whim. I came to the end of my degree and I was faced with the crossroad which most law students are familiar with - LPC or BPTC? After securing two work placements at law firms’ during my undergraduate studies, I came to the decision that I would not like to be a solicitor. I did not want to work long hours whilst being stuck in an office. A barrister gets the best of both worlds: involved in complex legal cases and travels around the country to difference courts.

The biggest challenge I have faced is the never-ending cycle of ‘imposter syndrome.’ When I attended my qualifying sessions with my Inn and walked through Middle Temple Hall, the grandeur and extravagance is both beautiful and intimidating.

Even in class when you see the amazing level of advocacy by your peers and wonder to yourself- ‘do I sound like that?’- ‘will I ever sound like that?’ Competitiveness is built into the DNA of bar students. We constantly compare ourselves to those around us and minimise our achievements as a fluke. If you worked hard and you put in the effort, you deserve to be there just as much as everyone else does. If you are in a room of bar students and barristers, it was your achievements and your determination which got you there. Do not forget this!


3. What are your top 3 tips to nail an application to the bar?

Try every area of law. If you have a strong interest in criminal law maybe try a mini-pupillage at a personal injury set because you will never truly know you want to do something unless you have tried other things in order to rule them out. 

If you have a wonderful interest or hobby include that on your application. Make yourself stand out for reasons other than your academic and legal achievements. You need to show the panel that you are a valuable person for them to work with for the next 30 or 40 years of your legal career.

Make sure you have covered the basic legal experiences which are needed in order to be a barrister this includes: mini-pupillages, mooting and (if possible) marshalling. My advice would be to have at least one mini-pupillage on your application before applying for pupillage.


4. What do you wish you knew before starting your course? I.e. what advice would you give yourself?

I wish I knew how the people on your course will impact how you cope with the stress of the course. The BPTC is an extremely intense one or two years of your life. I was so blessed to have people on my course who inspire and uplift me on the good days and especially on the bad days.

There will be days when you feel like nothing is going right and you are struggling with the workload but knowing that you are not in this alone and have a supportive group around you makes it a little bit easier.

Also, I wish I knew how little White Book and Blackstones reading we actually do for the course. I know at first it may seem like you are being tasked with reading it cover to cover but actually if you look through the BSB Syllabus you will notice that we do not cover all of the White Book or Blackstones.

I used Lockdown No.1 to read through the syllabus reading for civil and criminal litigation and although your tutors may direct you to reading which is outside of the syllabus (which is good for when you are practice) but it may not form part of the BSB assessment. So just make sure that you are keeping in mind what and how you are assessed for the exams. I wish I could go back to Saira in September 2019 and tell her to just focus on the syllabus reading.

5. Please recommend a book that made a big impact on you and explain why

The Art of the Advocate by Richard Du Cann. I picked this book up in the summer before I began the BPTC and it was (and still is) a life saver. Advocacy, in particular courtroom advocacy, is a different format to any other style of advocacy you may have seen. The language, the formalities and structure of courtroom advocacy is not the same as you would have seen in an episode of an American courtroom drama. This book will provide you with the knowledge and style you will need to be a fantastic barrister and is a must read for all BPTC student.