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Make a Difference: Sponsor a Pupil Barrister For Just £3 a Day

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Andrew Jackson, a barrister at 5 Pump Court Chambers, has come up with a compelling proposal to raise the measly £12K minimum pupillage award

I simply do not accept the fake hand-wringing about pupillage pay. “I wish we could pay our pupils more – they certainly deserve it!” is the typical barristers’ response when this issue is raised. There is, however, a straightforward way the Bar Council could end the situation it has created.

1. Every pupil to be paid a minimum of the average graduate salary. For the sake of mathematics, let us call this £25,000.

2. For every 25 full tenants, a chambers must take on one pupil to be funded in full by chambers at that salary (in other words, a chambers cannot say part of this funding is to come from case fees undertaken by the pupil during second six).

This means that for a set of 50-60 barristers (not uncommon in London these days), the set is required to take on two pupils every year. The figures on the above are equally clear – each tenant would spend £1,000 a year – the equivalent of under £3 per day.

At those prices, a pupil would cost less than two cups of coffee a day. I suggest prospective pupils only have to visit the pubs and wine bars around chambers to see barristers drinking heartily as to why they ‘cannot afford to pay pupils more’.

When I last proposed the above salary I was told by the then chairman of the Bar that if pupillage pay was mandatory at that amount even more chambers would fail to offer pupillage.

Of course, if the second part of the proposal was adopted this argument would be negated.

I still have had no clear answer as to why this uncomplicated idea cannot be brought in.

For more on minimum pupillage awards, check out this thread on the Inner Temple LinkedIn page

6 Comments

Morus

*Very* cursory check of OLPAS lists 73 sets paying >£30k, plus another 11 paying between £25k and £30k. So 84 sets would be unaffected by this. Some are funding 4-5 pupils at £60k each.

The £12k minimum I believe includes 2nd six fees and expenses, so these award bands are just the cash chambers hands over unconditionally. The above 84 sets excluded, there are financial awards bands of £15-25k (30 sets), £10-15k (62 sets), and £5-10k (22 sets), so around 114 who currently pay under national average wage per pupil.

There is perhaps a case for questioning whether sets currently paying the minimum (£12k including some fees & expenses) for 3-4 pupils should be encouraged to fund perhaps only 2 at a better rate. Not only would there be a drop in the number of pupillages, but pupils who had earned £25k during pupillage would suddenly find their income dropping on gaining tenancy. There is some market sense supporting the arguments of the apparently craven lushes of the criminal bar!

My personal view is that reform of pupillage awards should be tied into reform of the BPTC.

Imagine that the BPTC was only open to those (a) with pupillage, so that chambers paid fees for that year, plus a small stipend for 1st six before fees could be earned in 2nd six; (b) major scholarships from the Inns (which cover majority of fees and provide a 95% chance of the candidate finding a pupillage); or (c) those wishing to practice outside England & Wales.

In one fell swoop, you’d remove the problems of students racking up massive debts with little prospect of pupillage, you’d not need the silly aptitude test, and you’d make the law schools accountable to the chambers who were funding their pupils and expecting them to be ready for pupillage. Everyone starting the BPTC would do so knowing how it was funded and the overwhelming majority would know where they were practicing the following year.

At the moment, only around 5% of BPTC candidates already have pupillages lined up, and only 20% of pupillages are awarded to pre-BPTC candidates. This is the reason for the expectations gap, and means that the overwhelming majority of students are underfunded.

This would clearly limit chambers funding for pupillage and the early years of practice, but we know that it is easier and less stressful to arrange private financing if you’ve already secured and started a pupillage (without debt from BPTC fees) than expecting people to do the financing of the course on their own, and then still get a pittance in the unlikely event they secure pupillage.

I like the idea of raising the minimum award and making a case for it (as long as it isn’t too out of step with early tenant earnings) but I think linking to BPTC fees would have added benefits as well.

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[…] have I found myself nodding as fiercely in agreement as yesterday when I read Andrew Jackson’s proposal to raise the minimum pupillage award by having barristers effectively compelled to pay £3 a day […]

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Barrister

Four points:

1) Would a niche commercial chancery set (like, for instance Selbourne Chambers) would have the same obligation to pay, as a similar size criminal defence set (such as Farringdon Chambers, or Blackfriars Chambers), despite the huge disparity in their earnings? At the moment, the proposal treats all chambers the same, without recognition of the fact that they are hugely varied places.

2) Your proposed levy would essentially be a flat-tax – that’s going to hit junior tenants in a way that is grossly disproportionate to their income. Maybe Mr Jackson, with his 1990 call date, has forgotten what life is really like for the sharp end of the junior bar, already weighed down with university debts but without any real aged debt built up. If the aim of the proposal is to improve fairness, then a regressive tax isn’t the right way to go about it.

3) Maybe the OFT should be looking into the fees charged by BPTC providers, which have risen at a frightening rate since I did what was then the BVC. There doesn’t seem to be any sensible explanation for this increase. Clearly, any reduction would at least reduce the levels of debt which students start pupillage already burdened with.

4) The proposal seems to miss the point that, as self-employed professionals, any time spent not billing, is lost money. So all those members of chambers who give up their time to help out with pupil advocacy training, or giving feedback on their (usually inept) work, is essentially reducing their income. I can’t speak for all chambers, but most seem to take the development of their pupils very seriously indeed, and it seems perverse to hit them with a £1,000 charge for it on top of the time they already spend.

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[…] week, a tenant at 5 Pump Court, writing on Legal Cheek, argued that barristers should be taxed £3 per day – or the price of “less than two cups of […]

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[…] I share the reservations of Simon Myerson QC about the £3-a-day sponsorship proposal under discussion (albeit for different reasons), I am surprised at the implication in his words […]

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[…] to be met. It should be about increasing the number of pupillages (which, ironically, was the point the initial article focussed on, even though I think the idea a bad one). However, the number of pupillages is […]

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