‘IT’S TIME TO OCCUPY THE INNS OF COURT’


Jobless law graduates should follow the St Paul’s protesters’ example, argues OccupyTheInns

As the Occupy Wall Street camp is cleared, and the City of London commences legal action against the Occupy London protesters, why am I proposing the occupation of the Inns of Court? Simple. Because I, and many law graduates like me, are angry. As we have seen in Egypt, New York and at home in London, anger can be a great energiser.

Through no fault of our own, a generation of Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) graduates find ourselves with no jobs – or no jobs as lawyers anyway. The lucky ones are paralegals. The unlucky ones work in bars (not the Bar).

This generation did all that was required of it, and in many cases much more. We obtained A-stars and high 2.1s from the best Russell Group universities. We undertook all the extracurricular activities that we were told prospective lawyers need to have on their CVs nowadays.

For my sins, I chose to become a barrister, and so did the BPTC. The Bar has always been a dream of mine; in order to promote justice, to help those from less fortunate backgrounds than myself, to pursue an intellectually stimulating career. Those were, and still are, my aims.

As I mentioned above, I have a high 2.1 from a leading Russell Group university, where I read a challenging non-law subject. Also, without wishing to sound arrogant in any way, I am very able as an advocate (something reflected in my BPTC grades and the success I have enjoyed at mooting competitions).

Yet a pupillage remains out of my, and many of my contemporaries’, grasp. The statistics are frightening. Approaching 2,000 students do the BPTC every year, but just over 400 obtain pupillage. Those are not far off National Lottery odds!

It is for these reasons that I propose peaceful direct action. It is time to occupy the Inns of Court. To those of you reading this in my position, please get in touch, by Twitter (@OccupyTheInns), by email ([email protected] ) or by commenting beneath this article.

OccupyTheInns graduated from the BPTC this summer, and was called to the Bar in July.

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27 Responses to “‘IT’S TIME TO OCCUPY THE INNS OF COURT’”

  1. Adam Wagner

    Really? Are you being serious?

    “Through no fault of our own”

    Whose fault are you saying it is?

    “This generation did all that was required of it, and in many cases much more.”

    All that was required by whom? Who told you that if you did the things you mention you would automatically get a pupillage?

    I have huge sympathy for people who go through all of the hoops and can’t find a pupillage – it took me 2 years to find one and I had many, many rejections along the way. But I think you need to provide some concrete suggestions to make the system better…

    There are a lot of ideas out there – changing the entry requirements for the BPTC, bringing back unpaid pupillages etc. What are yours?

    Reply
  2. Rachael Waring

    I agree entirely with Adam, I am a Sol’ & it too took me 2 years to get a T.C & whilst I know there are not as many Pupilages as T.C’s it’s still over subscribed.

    My first boss age 16 said to me, if you want something bad enough you’ll get it. I’m a great believer in that, I did & I did! Without wishing to appear rude you sound kind of expectant, entitled almost. My old boss once said to me, ‘in the real world grades & where you went don’t mean squat’ and you know what it’s true. It’s 99% about who you are as a person & as you are confident in your advocacy abilities then your time will come. In the meantime I suggest you don’t occupy the Inns as potentially getting a Crimimal record will do you no favours in getting a legal job Russell education or no Russell education!

    Reply
  3. OccupyTheInns

    Dear Adam,
    Firstly let me say that I have a great deal of respect for your blogging. In addition your story of obtaining pupillage is extremely encouraging.
    I am not putting forward the argumnet that it is anyones fault other than the system’s.
    As to your second point. My careers advisors told me those things. Of course they said there was no guarantee but I don’t think it is too much to expect to obtain pupillage if you reach what are high levels of academic achievement.
    As for the ideas, you will have to wait for next week!
    Best regards,
    OccupyTheInns

    Reply
    • You are the 99%

      “My careers advisors told me those things…I don’t think it is too much to expect to obtain pupillage if you reach what are high levels of academic achievement”

      Take a look at profiles of recently-called practising barristers. Ask yourself again: do I match up?

      I’m going to hazard a guess and go for a resounding “NO”.

      But aside from that, the Bar is in a slow (and possibly terminal) decline. And the recruitment stats are available for all to see. If you didn’t have the wit to take a look at the horrific over-subscription before spunking your £15k on the BPTC, it seems to me that you have received an expensive – but completely necessary – lesson.

      Reply
      • Tom

        Hang on a second.

        You took a look at the CVs of a few newly-called juniors (note the number of Oxbridge firsts), you took a peek at the amount of people who do not succeed at pupillage, still chose to give it a shot with a Russell Group 2:1, and you think that there’s someone else to blame but yourself?

        Absolutely zero sympathy. Go and make an arsehole of yourself if you like, but don’t expect it to improve your employability prospects. You took a calculated (if stupid) risk, it didn’t pay off. Take some responsibility and move on.

        Reply
    • Lmbsaflavin

      Is your careers adviser a member of the pupillage committee of a set of barristers’ chambers? Or a bencher of any of the Inns? Or a barrister at all? Personally I don’t remember requiring you, or even asking you, to do anything at all.

      What exactly is it you wish the Bar to do? Create work for you from thin air so that the bar can become larger? Create work for us from thin air so that we can cheerfully fund more pupillages?

      But I am sure that your occupation strategy will meet with enormous sympathy, that the Inns will cheerfully tolerate it, and that the members of all the sets of chambers in the Inns will be so wildly impressed they will offer you pupillages forthwith. This kind of approach and degree of analytical reasoning is what we always look for in candidates.

      Reply
  4. nhs999

    See? I wasn’t being sarcastic. You are, apparently genuinely, advocating the occupation of the Inns of Court on the grounds that you thought passing the BPTC guaranteed you pupillage.

    It doesn’t guarantee you pupillage. I have never met anyone who thinks it guarantees you pupillage. You are not guaranteed pupillage. Pupillage – you – not guaranteed.

    Reply
  5. Adam Wagner

    OccupytheInns – thanks for the kind comments about the blog.

    I don’t want to be dismissive – I know there are a lot of very bright and talented people out there who could have got a pupillage but narrowly missed out.

    I also think that the Oxbridge entry bar which another commenter has mentioned, and which is pretty common in chambers, is not representative or necessary of the level of intellect required to do the job… it’s more a reflection of qualification inflation as a result of the large ratio of candidates to pupillages.

    However, I do think the tone of your post and response to comments is a bit off – there will never, ever be a system whereby a certain level of academic or other qualification will automatically get you a pupillage. That is why chambers interview candidates, and from my experience of sitting on panels, the level of candidates’ qualifications is usually little or no guide to their performance at interview.

    Since being a barrister is a huge amount about client, colleague and judge interactions, interviews are absolutely crucial. The Bar will never give them up and, in fact, in the days of grade inflation, where so many candidates are brilliant on paper, interviews are more and more important.

    The fact remains that it is a very, very small profession, around 400 new places per year. There are thousands of people applying for those places, all of whom have access to the figures. I am sure there is tweaking to be done around the edges to make things fairer (e.g. access schemes, the Pupillage Portal etc) but the essential facts will remain and no amount of time sitting in a tent in the Inns is going to change it I’m afraid.

    Reply
  6. Conor Loughran

    ‘Jobless law graduate’, it looks like your so-called colleagues have turned on you. That should be no surprise since only 400 positions are available in your profession and of the thousands of students that chose law to study, those that actually won a position don’t want to rock the boat. They much prefer retaining their prized positions than standing in the dole que. And who could blame them? The competition is fierce and only those that are prepared to ‘do what they have to do’ (the morally debased) get a-head in our society.

    Welcome to Capitalism! The winners win big (very big!). And the losers? Well, they lose big-time. As I’m pretty sure you know already, in any race there are not as many winners as losers. If you agreed to play the game you shouldn’t complain when you end up in the latter category. However, the losers (myself included) are beginning to sense their own strength. We are the majority. And the majority rules in the game of ‘democracy’.

    We are the 99%. A few of your so-called colleagues are now part of the 1%. If you had managed to obtain a position among the 1% I don’t think you would have called for an occupation of the Inns. This is the crux, the perplexing dificulty, the terroristic nature of our system. But there is hope. You can now use the intellectual tools you developed at university to point out the corrosive aspects of this system. Or, you can stack shelves for the rest of your life at Tesco’s, and work your way up the ‘social ladder’ to become supervisor – manager even (in a few years time)!

    If you chose to fight the system you will have at your disposal the support of 99% of the population behind you. If on the other hand you chose to lie down and allow the steam roller crush your aspirations, you will still have the 99% on your side. Looks like a win-win situation to me. It’s all in how you look at it.

    I’m pretty sure though that you still want to be a barrister. One that defends the rights of those that are less fortunate than yourself. Those that have been forgotten in a system that grabs us by the throat and screams ‘Give me all you have’. If so then go to the source of the problem. Give your support and professional advice to the occupiers of the LSE. Help them fight the eviction order by the Corporation of London. Become part of something bigger than 1%, and accept your place among the 99%.

    Reply
    • Conor Loughran

      Of course you can my friend. Everyone can be part of the 99% (which would make it the 100%, incidently). I was reading John Perkins’ book recently, ‘Confessions of an Economic Hitman’. In it he reveals an awful truth about ourselves. It turns out that in our pursuit of happiness we in the Western world have confused and conflated our measure of success with greed. We want the big house (or apartment), the car in the driveway, the well-paid job and (for those that are interested) a family life located in a safe and socially progressive environment. We want all these things, which is great because it shows that we are decent people at heart.

      The problem is that we compete with everyone else in order to ensure our own prosperity. The institutions we have constructed foster this ‘tooth and claw’ attitude towards others -our friends and family included. I’m not saying you’re a bad guy because you are part of the 1%. I understand that if you refuse to do those, shall we say morally debased actions (for instance, ensuring a financial company receives it’s profits to the detriment of mortgage holders etc…), then someone else will come along, take your position and the perks that go with it. The nature of the system we live in demands that we execute those functions or perish. So I’m familiar with your dilema and feel the inner turmoil you experience because I have a conscience too.

      It is this greed principle, the ‘just can’t get enough’ attitude, purveyed by our institutions, that then becomes part of our individual and collective thinking. This attitude is therefore seen as normal human behaviour and is internalised by everyone in the Western world. It enters the realm of value systems and we begin to measure our success by the amount of material comforts that make our lives pleasant and desirable by others.

      Over a period of time something strange begins to happen because of the antagonistic role we play in society. We develop a kind of dual personality -the executive mind takes over in the working environment while at the same time the ‘family man’ or socially conscious frame of mind, takes over after office hours. And because we have internalised the more morally debased aspect of our behaviour, we don’t even realise we are doing this. A great example (if some-what embellished characterisation) of someone becoming conscious of this fact is portrayed in Bret Easton Ellis’ classic ‘American Psycho’. When Patrick Bateman’s girl friend asks him to give up his job so that they can get married and raise a family he refuses point blank. Why? Because he ‘wants to fit in’.

      We all want to fit in. But fit in to what? If our culture is fundamentally schizophrenic in nature then we increase the likelihood of engendering (consciously or unconsciously) schizophrenic characteristics in individuals. The process continues ad infinitum thus developing a cyclic pattern through generational exposure.

      I’m sorry if I sound as though I’m preaching. I can assure you that I’m not religiously inclined (Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ reserves a special place on my book shelf). I just feel that people should look to truth for authority rather than to authority for truth. And the truth is that our system is corrosive at it’s core. Which brings me to your second point. ‘In a world where the 99% rule, would everyone get the job they desire?’

      Well, as both of us would probably agree, considering we are conversing on a site set up by an individual that cannot get a job in the feild he specialised in at university, the present system is incapable of fulfilling that requirement. The greed factor coupled with the desire to live pleasantly leads inevitably to winners and losers. So why don’t we, as the late great Bill Hicks stated in similar terms, attempt to renew our civilisation. Sure, it will be messy at the beginning. All ventures are. But should that prevent us from trying?

      Road maps can only be created when we already know the way. Because we are on new terrain all we can do is experiment with potential solutions to our problems. Either we do this or our chilren and our childrens children, will be forever embroilled in a battle of ideologies, increasing in bitterness and further negating the prospects of achieving our aspirations. As change agents all we can do is assist in bringing about the conditions that would ease the transition from our current culture to one that engenders the kind of civilisation we both desire. To put it simply are you willing to resign yourself to a defeatist, pessimistic position that states ‘thus far and no further’. Or, alternatively, are you ready for the adventure of our life time?

      A new world is possible. An alternative does exist. At the moment it is an idea in our heads, at the nascent stage of development. Which means we can all contribute and participate in constructing OUR, and not Huxley’s, Brave New World. That’s really all we can do. The choice I leave to you …

      Reply
  7. Jay

    I agree with the other commenters here – anybody who does the Bar course does so knowing that, unless you stand out head and shoulders above the rest, or can rely on special connections to help you, the odds are stacked against you. On my bar course I think only three people had pupillages by the end of the course, out of maybe 45 people looking for one.

    That being said, I wonder what the outcome would be if hundreds or thousands of rejected barristers got together to demand access to the profession. I suspect that it might get some sympathetic coverage and put off a few more seventeen year olds from applying to law courses at university. It wouldn’t achieve much else.

    A small crumb of comfort for rejected barristers is that other legal jobs exist, and rights of audience are being expanded. That aside, I wouldn’t expect much to change until even the sons and daughters of MPs, lords, barristers and judges find it difficult to obtain pupillage. Then, I imagine, “something must be done”.

    Reply
    • Amanda Jones

      “That aside, I wouldn’t expect much to change until even the sons and daughters of MPs, lords, barristers and judges find it difficult to obtain pupillage. Then, I imagine, “something must be done”.”

      And the basis for your assumption that it’s easy to get pupillage if you’re the son or daughter of one of the above is…..?

      Reply
  8. Benjamin Gray

    In seriousness though, while I’m sympathetic to those who feel short-changed by the current way people train for the Bar, and think there’s a lot that people can justifiably feel aggrieved about, I don’t see how an occupation of an Inn is going to achieve anything at all. Wrong target, wrong tactic.

    And more worryingly, no agenda. For all the anger, I don’t see a single proposal here beyond sitting on one’s backside in one of the Inns in a freezing November and irritating the very people you want to give you a job. It’s a complete lack of engagement with anything that might usefully be done to fix the problems.

    Fundamentally though, there are always going to be more people applying than there are places to go around. Things can be done to make that competition fairer and less prohibitively expensive. But to suggest that it’s all everyone else’s fault and it’s so unfair and you’re going to sit around until Somebody Else fixes it for you is hardly a serious proposal for change.

    Reply
  9. Another failed BVC graduate

    Aren’t you turning your inability to make the cut into someone else’s problem.

    “An SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem…. The brain just edits it out, it’s like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won’t see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye.

    The technology involved in making something properly invisible is so mind-bogglingly complex that 999,999,999 times out of a billion it’s simpler just to take the thing away and do without it……. The “Somebody Else’s Problem field” is much simpler, more effective, and “can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery.”

    This is because it relies on people’s natural predisposition not to see anything they don’t want to, weren’t expecting, or can’t explain.”

    I don’t have pupillage. The reason is simple: a lack of ability and serendipity in the appropriate quantities required for success in any field.

    The reasons I don’t have a pupillage is not that the powers that be of the legal world couldn’t just hand me me a job with my degree certificate. A job to which I should apparently feel a sense of entitlement to. God forbid I just didn’t make it.

    Presumably these jobs for all must come from some other mystical ‘L Space’ space in which they store a bountiful supply of work (and funding) for everyone called to the Bar?

    Reply
  10. Richard Borrett

    An interesting idea, and I certainly understand the sentiment – with a non-Oxbridge degree it took me almost 3 years and some 60+ applications to finally obtain my pupillage.

    Unfortunately, there is of course no ‘magic formula’ – not even an Oxbridge first – if that were the case there would be no-one at the bar with anything but an Oxbridge first; the reality is, when you look away from the top-flight specialist sets (Matrix, Brick Court et al) there are a good number of (mainly young) practitioners with ‘alternative’ backgrounds and degrees.

    Many of my fellow young barristers are the first in their families to go to university, many did not go to Oxbridge, or even Russell group universities, and many of those who did still struggle to find pupillage.

    So I suppose what I am saying is that the system is unfair to those wishing to join it, but not for the reasons many think. I genuinely believe that most sets are no longer elitist about universities or background. Even having the best degree you could wish for won’t necessarily seal the deal. At the bar a major part of ‘making it’ is having qualities that simply aren’t demonstrated through academic success; qualities many will not know whether they do or do not have until it is too late.

    Whilst I stand by what I said about non-oxbridge students, a good set of A Levels and a reasonably good degree is, of course a must. It is, sadly, the other elements which cannot be taught.

    There is of course a great deal of luck involved – most sets receive hundreds of applications and even after removing those without specified qualifications or experience, there are usually still far too many to interview. Robing-room gossip tells of applications being tossed down stairwells, and those landing face-up being offered interview: hopefully untrue, but a sad indicator of the sheer numbers of people who , on paper at least, could make it.

    The solution? The difficulty is that some of the blame must lie with the course providers. Though they are a mix of academic institutions, charities and commercial outfits, all of them take on far too many students who have no real prospect of ever making it to the bar. Of course this is wholly unfair on those students, spending tens of thousands on courses, living expenses, dining and the rest, whilst racking up huge debt without the LEA support many of our older colleagues received.

    Even so, there are likely to still be far too many students with the right boxes ticked ‘on paper’ and dealing with this is much more difficult. For a start better education is needed about what it takes to be a barrister – it is no longer a school tie and the right surname. i also sometimes wonder if there are legs to the argument that pupillage should be obtained prior to study – but that would require a wholesale change in attitude and approach- and change is something with which the bar struggles.

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    Can I suggest that instead of Occupying the Inns, you occupy the law schools and providers of the Vocational Course.

    There are 400 pupillages because there are only so many tenancies per year to fill. There are only so many tenancies because there is only the work for so many new barristers.

    The 400 pupillages (incidentally funded by barristers) allow for enough candidates to fill those tenancies and allow for natural wastage etc.

    So, suppose there were more pupillages, all you would have is a further year of training with no tenancy.

    The real issue is over provision of legal education (at vast cost to the student) which means that there is a huge bottleneck at the pupillage stage. The Bar objected to this overprovision as inevitably causing this bottleneck and was overruled.

    Reply
  12. Priya

    I agree that OccupyTheInns is an entitled fool who should take his lumps with grace. You played the law school game, and you lost. Sorry, but you should have known the stakes before you began.

    But all is not lost – Lexis would probably hire you. Decent salary, benefits, and legal work. Not what you wanted, perhaps, but better than busking at a tube station or checking out groceries at Sainsbury’s.

    By the way I was seriously considering applying to Linklaters and Freshfields (which I still can’t think about without imagining a dairy farm) in London for a summer associate position next year. Now I’m not so sure – as incredibly shitty as the American legal market it, there are still more high-paying jobs over here and if you go to at least a top 25 school with perfect grades, you still have a good chance of getting that $160k salary.

    Reply

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