In the summer of 2000 I was fortunate enough to visit New York with my family. One of the best moments of that trip was looking down at the city from one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Just over a year later those towers had been destroyed. At first I was shocked and angry with the senseless terrorists who had committed this atrocity. But as the US invaded Afghanistan in retaliation, then Iraq, and opened up the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba to hold detainees from those wars, my views began to change.
Why were the detainees being held without trial? Why were they not entitled to any of the protections of the Geneva Convention? Amongst all the lawlessness shown by the Bush administration I learnt for the first time about the rule of law, and how necessary it was to civilised society.
I already knew I possessed a passion for argument and public speaking, having reached the final of a prestigious debating competition while at school, so it was a career choice that seemed to fit. With high predicted grades, I considered the idea of studying law at university. Yet despite knowing it was law I wanted to pursue as a career, something held me back. I wanted a broader knowledge of the world. So I elected to study a non-law subject at one of the highest ranked Russell Group universities.
First however a gap year beckoned. Seeing Asia, where I assisted on various sustainable development projects, reinforced my commitment to becoming a lawyer. I maintained this commitment to helping others at university, working part-time as a fundraiser for charities during my holidays.
By the time I began the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) a more nuanced plan was taking shape. Two areas interested me most: the City and the Bar. I pursued these interests further by undertaking a vacation scheme at a leading City law firm and a mini-pupillage at a barristers’ chambers. I quickly realised the dilemma I faced was very simple. Sit around in an office all day or go to court to fight a legally and culturally fascinating case each day? It was the Bar for me. Yet despite getting a commendation on the GDL and a ‘Very Competent’ on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), I remain without pupillage.
If somebody like me, who has carried a torch for the law since being a teenager, and has in addition obtained consistently high grades, cannot get a pupillage, what hope is there for anybody else? Last week, some of the comments posted on my article seemed to suggest I felt I was entitled to a pupillage. To those people I ask the following question: where does the line between entitlement and reasonable expectation fall? In my opinion the facts of my case fall within the bounds of reasonable expectation.
Other people who commented on my article, including the excellent blogger and barrister Adam Wagner, had more sympathy with my situation. However Adam not unreasonably asked me for my ideas with regard to changing the system. This is obviously a highly complex area, but I put forward three key proposals.
More pupillages and tenancies (funded by a freeze on all cuts to legal aid);
A more standardised interview system that takes into account candidates’ advocacy skills to a greater level;
Greater awarding of pupillages on the merits rather than through nepotism.
I await readers’ comments on my ideas with interest. In addition, my commitment to a peaceful occupation of the Inns remains. To those of you who disagree with me, I respectfully hope to persuade you that you are wrong. To those of you who have sent messages of support, I offer thanks. Finally, 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.