Who Are You Calling a Paralegal?

The title of non-practising barrister needs to be given more weight to reflect Bar school graduates’ educational achievements, argues OccupyTheInns

In his Legal Cheek article last week Simon Myerson QC referred to me as an “anonymous paralegal”. This was saddening because Mr Myerson – whose work I had hitherto regarded with the upmost respect – should know that those who have been called to the Bar (as I was fortunate enough to have been last summer) receive the title of ‘barrister’. If a renowned QC cannot get such detail correct, what hope is there for humbler members of the legal profession and legal support staff?

One of the most frustrating aspects of my present predicament, which involves me performing solicitor-level tasks professionally, is the insistence of many in referring to me as a paralegal despite my being a barrister – albeit a non-practising one until I obtain pupillage. My barrister friends currently engaged in the fiendishly difficult hunt for a pupillage have had similar experiences.

An elite path

It is a shame we must face this. I, and those like me, have four to five years of educational and legal training behind us, delivered at some of the best universities in the country, and we have been deemed sufficiently talented to follow the elite path to the Bar.

While some untrained paralegals may have the capability to develop first class legal skills after completing the aforementioned training, they do not without it. Accordingly, for the good of the profession, a distinction must be drawn between non-practising barristers and support workers.

At this point of my writing I can already imagine some of the small-minded commenters who seem attracted to this site sharpening their pencils to attack me.

“You can call yourself a barrister when you obtain pupillage,” they will predictably write, or some other such similar trite statement.

To which I say the following. Pupillage numbers are lower than ever yet the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), for which entry to is considerably oversubscribed, continues to produce barristers. If the Bar Council is to remain indifferent to this situation, it should support those of us presently stranded without pupillage by formalising the non-practising barrister title.

By making it clear to law firms and others involved in legal services provision that we are barristers, not paralegals, BPTC graduates would at least be afforded some protection during a difficult period. It is the very least the Bar Council could do.

OccupyTheInns graduated from the BPTC last summer, and was called to the Bar in July 2011. There’s more from OccupyTheInns here.

31 Responses to “Who Are You Calling a Paralegal?”

  1. James Vine

    I’ve not heard before of a called member of the bar who has yet to complete pupillage, being called a “paralegal.” Personally I can’t see anything wrong with you describing yourself as a barrister, so long as you do not hold yourself out as being competent to practise, until such a time as you have completed pupillage. (I’m not suggesting you are incompetent, just not in possession of a practising certificate.)
    To suggest that places on BPTC should be restricted smacks of pulling up the drawbridge, but there is an argument for saying that students should not be encouraged to splash out thousands of pounds on a qualification that they have no chance of pursuing in practice.

  2. Barrister

    Seriously? In that case, I’m going to start describing myself as a non-practising astronaut, or a non-flying pilot. Technically I’ve not gone to medical school, so maybe I’m a non-practising surgeon?

    “We have been deemed sufficiently talented to follow the elite path to the Bar” – See, the thing is – YOU haven’t. Nobody has thus far deemed you sufficiently talented to offer you a pupillage. So whilst that might sound harsh, it’s not really for you to moan that you don’t get to use the title.

    The solution is to follow the (eminently sensible) path of solicitors, who don’t get the call themselves solicitors until they’ve actually completed a training contract. But I suspect you would be annoyed if the BSB tried to take away your shiny (yet worthless) bauble.

    You have a well-established sense of self-entitlement (see previous posts passim), but I really fail to see any evidence to explain where you’ve got it from. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that your posts are little more than trolling.

  3. DC

    The title that your employers give you is up to them. If they want to call you a “non-practising barrister” and expose themselves to (at best) having to explain your position to people not familiar with the stages of legal professional training and (at worst) having to respond to criticisms by clients and/or regulatory bodies for holding out an employee as a legal professional, when in fact he has no privileges beyond that of a person with no legal qualification whatsoever, then that’s up to them.

    Perhaps even more so than other professions, the words “barrister” and “solicitor” carry with them a hell of a lot of weight with the public, who will be inclined to make all sorts of assumptions about what you can and can’t do. You have two issues there- first, that you create confusion in the minds of members of the public, and second that you get to enjoy some of the cache that actually qualified barristers have, as a profession, earned. The fact that you blew a load of cash on a course which, frankly, leaves you pretty ill-prepared for legal practice anyway, is not a sufficient reason to force these issues on two professions already struggling to maintain trust with the public.

    As a related point- I think there was a guy who recently got struck off for giving out legal advice while handing a card to people that said “non-practising barrister” at the
    bottom. Presumably he went further than that and did in fact hold himself out to be qualified, but it illustrates to an extent my point about the risks of using a meaningless title.

    As an unrelated point- stop. whingeing. about. everything.

  4. Disillusioned

    What a disgustingly arrogant opinion to hold. Many solicitors to be undertake paralegal work before securing or starting a training contract – they have completed training of identical length but I have never, ever heard of a future solicitor complaining about having the “title” paralegal.

    You may have a few years of education under your belt but in the workplace, unless you already have work experience, you are nothing. You’ve passed a few exams? Whoop dee do! Many legal support workers have legal qualifications similar, if not identical, to your own. I’m sure most people are happy to have a legal job and be in a position where they could potentially learn a lot from those they are working with. You might even learn a thing or two from the “humbler” members of the legal profession who will always be there in the future to ensure you are able to do your job.

    I agree with “Barrister” above when he says that only *you* have deemed your path to the bar as elite – the reality is that pretty much anyone with a law degree or GDL can get onto the BPTC. Recognition of your talent is securing a pupillage which you have failed to do so far. If your perception of the work you do hinges on the status of your job title then you’re clearly not in the profession to promote justice. Nobody cares if you’re a paralegal, you’re making a positive contribution to a case, isn’t that enough?

    If you really believe that you deserve recognition above that of a paralegal, please develop your argument a little and demonstrate exactly how, with examples, your contribution to the work you do is more sophisticated than a mere paralegal. I look forward to your response.

  5. Barrister

    What I do think is interesting, is that OccupyTheInns never gets involved replying to the “small-minded commenters” – I think you’d get a lot more respect if you actually engaged with the counter-arguments being put forward, rather than churning out more of the same self-pitying dross.

  6. Botzarelli

    I’m actually a bit shocked and surprised that you can even call yourself a non-practising barrister. To be accurate you should be a “not entitled to practice barrister”. Having spent most of my career as a barrister in employed practice (yes I have completed pupillage) I don’t see why you should get an upgrade in title from the paralegal that you actually are to parity with me. ;)

    Use the badge when you’ve earned it. Its value comes from its relative scarcity. Perhaps there’s an argument for following the accountancy profession in allowing people to describe themselves as part-qualified, but you’ve already got that in contrast to those who have completed the lpc but no training contract as you have at least been called to the bar.

  7. Adam Wagner

    The Bar Code of Conduct states that you cannot hold yourself out as a barrister, defined as “supplies legal services and in connection with the supply of such services” unless (amongst other things) you have a practising certificate, which means you need to have done a pupillage – see http://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/regulatory-requirements/the-code-of-conduct/the-code-of-conduct/part-ii-practising-requirements/

    I’m fairly sure holding yourself out as non-practising barrister whilst doing your paralegal job may land you in trouble, but perhaps speak to the BSB.

    This Institute of Paralegals page is useful and clear:

    http://www.theiop.org/careers/barrister-paralegals.html

    It says:

    “Bar students who have successfully completed the Bar Professional Training Course (formerly the Bar Vocational Course or BVC) and who have been “called” to the Bar, but who have not yet done pupillage (pupillage is equivalent to the two-year training contract undertaken by trainee solicitors). These individuals are entitled to call themselves barristers as long as they do not do so in connection with the delivery of legal services (The Bar Council tells us that without pupillage, the term “barrister” is effectively akin to an academic title). So barristers without pupillage practising as paralegals are not entitled to refer to themselves as barristers – although they can socially.”

    I think that reflects the fair position, to be honest. I speak as a current practising barrister and former paralegal. You’re right that paralegals often carry out similar tasks to more senior lawyers, but that is a separate issue to the question of whether people should be able to hold themselves out as barristers for professional benefit (or the confusing “non-practising barrister”, which to the public could mean anything. What is a non-practising doctor? etc) without having completed their training.

    An accurate reflection of your qualification would be to put “BPTC” in your web C.V.

    I personally think that the BSB / Bar Council should share some of the blame for this confusion, as people shouldn’t be referred to as barristers (in my opinion) after they are called to the Bar. When I was called I remember hearing that was changing, but it appears to have continued.

  8. Adam Wagner

    PS are you being 100% serious, by the way? I do wonder with some of your articles which appear to be perfectly pitched to wind up barristers and solicitors…

  9. Benjamin Gray

    Following on from what Adam just said, the BSB is much more explicit on this point:

    Barristers without Pupillage

    If you have not yet secured pupillage or do not intend to apply for it but still wish to provide legal services then you must be careful not to describe yourself as a barrister in connection with the provision of such services. Remember that the Code defines legal services as the provision of legal advice, representation, drafting, settling of any affidavit, statement of claim or other legal document. If you do any of this you should not hold yourself out as a barrister or use any other terms or expressions which would suggest that you are a barrister such as counsel, member of the Bar or member of an Inn, barrister-at-law or barrister (non-practising) This applies equally to any printed material used in connection with advertising of any legal services.

    You may describe yourself as a barrister on a CV or when applying for jobs through recruitment agencies but it is not acceptable for you to do so when providing legal services. Descriptions such as Legal Adviser, Caseworker, Legal Assistant or Para-Legal are all acceptable and may be used instead.”

    http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/for-the-bar/practice-updates-and-guidance/guidance-on-practising-rules-and-requirements/holding-out-guidance-for-bptc-students-and-those-recently-called-to-the-bar/

    The clear implication being that you should not, if you work as a paralegal, call yourself a non-practising barrister.

  10. Adam Wagner

    Thanks Ben. That is a bit clearer – although, I find this sentence difficult to stomach , in terms of the public face of the profession:

    “You may describe yourself as a barrister on a CV or when applying for jobs through recruitment agencies ”

    That surely demonstrates the unwieldy and unnecessary distinction between calling yourself a barrister when “providing legal services” and when not doing so. For example, would the firm which employed you as a “barrister” then be able to put a news item on their website referring to you as a barrister? It’s all unnecessarily confusing and I think the term should be exclusive to those who have done the full training.

    None of this detracts from the fact that OccupytheInns (who I am increasingly suspecting may be a hoax / troll, but apologies if I am wrong) shouldn’t be saying they are a non-practising barrister, full stop.

  11. Benjamin Gray

    I think it’s to do with wider recruitment, but I agree there’s not much logic to having certain categories where it’s allowed. Botzarelli’s suggestion of using the term “part qualified” makes much more sense.

  12. Adam Wagner

    I don’t like “part-qualified”. I think it should be a binary thing, i.e. you are or you are not. You wouldn’t want a medical student to hold themselves out as “part-qualified doctor”. The key is public understanding, and for me that puts clarity over the dubious professional benefits to those mid-qualification of calling themselves half-barristers.

  13. Antonin I. Pribetic

    Potato, potawto, tomato, tomawto.

    Please stop making it difficult for unqualified (or yet to be qualified) barristers to represent themselves to the public as qualified by the Bar Standards Board. How else is someone who never stepped into a courtroom, except to fight a traffic ticket, going to secure a pupillage or become a social media law guru?

    Seriously, in Canada, (except Quebec), the Bar has been been fused for over a century and all lawyers held the title of “barrister and solicitor”. The fact that most solicitors were transactional lawyers and had neither any litigation experience (i.e. drafting pleadings) nor any trial advocacy experience, did not prohibit them from acting in both capacities to argue a case in court from start to finish. Any judge can tell when someone is out of their depth the moment they start asking for the witness’ last statement to be “stricken from the record.”

    Of course, all of this is now rendered moot (at least in the province of Ontario where I practice) as both lawyers (formerly barristers and solicitors) and paralegals- both licensed and regulated by the Law Society of Upper Canada— are termed “Licensees”. This is an unfortunate development, in my opinion, since it may cause confusion in the public’s mind that usually associates licensing with street vendors, building contractors and, ahem, therapeutic massage parlours.

    The title “non-practicing barrister” is an oxymoron. The standard definition of “Barrister” is a lawyer admitted to plead at the bar in the superior courts. The comments by Adam Wagner and Benjamin Gray above regarding the completion of pupillage is the key point; but even if this condition is met, if someone chooses never to practice in the courts, then the title of”non-practicing barrister” is a redundancy. It’s better to just call oneself a “barrista” instead and work at Starbucks.

  14. Benjamin Gray

    It’s an odd anomaly that’s getting progressively smoothed out. You’re a qualified (albeit NP) barrister from call. Until a couple of years ago, that allowed you to do the BVC, get called and, if you didn’t get pupillage (or just fancied becoming a solicitor), entitled you to do the QLTT because you were a qualified lawyer, just without a practising certificate. By contrast solicitors aren’t “solicitors” until the end of their TC.

    For all its advantages, that had an air of unreality, but being called is a significant enough occasion (and perhaps a consolation prize?) that the “holding out” requirements appear to be a compromise. You can call yourself a barrister, just not where it would make a difference.

    The neat solution would be to defer call until the completion of the First Six, to allow for getting the relevant rights of audience. If then, at the end, you decide (or are forced) to do something else, then you can call yourself a NP Barrister. It would also have the advantage of meaning something because you would have been inside court.

  15. Benjamin Gray

    In any event I would not put “non-practising barrister” on my CV. To legal recruiters it’s obvious that you mean “didn’t get pupillage”. To everyone else I suspect it means you end up having a damaging conversation where you have to explain the reality of your situation.

    Oh, and the condescending attitude towards paralegals, ILEx etc. is pretty abysmal. I hate to think how you’d act in the Clerks’ Room.

  16. Kris

    I’m one of the NP barristers who took the QLTT a few years ago. People tend to forget that one had to pass the QLTT and work for a solicitors firm showing the SRA evidence of varied training-contract esq experience.

    I did that route for a couple of reasons. 1. Because Simon Myerson said if pupillage were a horse, he wouldn’t bet on it; and, my job needed me to have rights of audience (and as we know, NP barristers cannot exercise any rights).

    I was very careful never to call myself a barrister. And it still irritates me when NPs run around saying “I’m a barrister, you know”.

    If you want the kudos of a professional title, you have to get the A4 bit of paper- which you don’t have.

    I used to think the BSB were a bit harsh with the rule. But come to my East end pro Bono clinic and you’ll see punters rocking up with phoney “commissioner for oaths” by “barristers at law” for which they’ve been charged a fortune and have been rejected by the Home Office. So you can blame these idiots for spoiling it for us all.

    Anyway kid, if you did have a practising certificate, you’d be even more careful about bragging to the world and it’s wife you’re a barrister.

    Finally, let me disabuse you of your misunderstanding of “solicitors work”. You may be sat in a solicitors office filling out forms or running a learner file, but I doubt you’re called upon to exercise judgment – and in case nobody’s told you, judgment is the service we offer.

  17. Jeremy Hopkins

    The Director of the BSB today made specific reference to the requirement of the “non-registered” barrister to fall under the regulatory umbrella, in anticipation of there being a valuable space in the market for those falling into this category. In my view, this also seems a pretty foregone conlcusion from a comemrcial point of view.

  18. Milly

    Wow. Just, wow.

    Your false sense of superiority is really quite staggering. You’re among a vast number of graduates of the BPTC who are fighting for less than 200 pupillage places, which you evidently, have not so far, been deemed good enough for. Hardly proof of the elitist image you hold for yourself. Perhaps, your lack of research into the qualifications and training you need under your belt, to actually be called a “barrister” doesn’t say a lot for how much you really deserve to be one of those few pupillage holders. It’s not just a nickname.

    Okay, congratulations, you’ve passed the BPTC. Now get on with doing your job and think of the bigger picture. Your job is helping people in court, you’re just a tiny little cog in the works of the justice system. So get over yourself, and God help you when you have to work with those solicitors you so eloquently despise.

  19. C

    My goodness what an entitled post. Do you ever think SMQC called you an “anonomous paralegal” as that is in fact what you are – by your bio on this very site?

    I am also a “barrister” who is requalifying under the QLTT. I have never and would never hold myself out as a barrister, for the simple reason that until fully legally qualified why would you want to? I happly make it clear I am a paralegal to clients and when regulary advocating in court (or I am sometimes refered to as a trainee and sometimes my supervisor’s legal assistant). It is only someone extremely immature that does not think about the consiquences of negligence etc that would even consider doing so, you need to train and you need protection while doing it rather than the big I AM. Unfortunately the mentality of fresh graduates is “I am something special” hence your comment about the path. Frankly anyone can get a degree, I have 4 and I don’t consider myself especially bright. Get your head down, worry about learning to do the job properly, rather than what your called (its probably something to do with genetalia behind your back anyway) and become good enough that someone wants to offer you pupillage. Enjoy your life for goodnessake, perhaps if you had a slightly more pleasant demenour your current employer would have offered to train you as a solicitor while you could still have got in under the QLTT and you could have become an HCA by next year and soon transfered back to the bar.

    Also, it seems you need to do further research as the “title” non-practicing barrister doesn’t really exist anymore rather “unregistered barrister”. Pre 2005 it was a term for called “barristers” to provide legal services under a health warning. Presumably immature little upstarts took it too far so it was scrapped and ruined for everyone…

  20. D_T_T

    Is there any chance you are being called a paralegal as that is the role you have actually been asked to fulfil given you are not in a position to perform the kind of tasks a qualified lawyer is able to carry out?

    Essentially: you have been employed as a paralegal, rather than a barrister, haven’t you? This job title thing is a red herring.

    I think you’re probably on a wind-up anyway. If you’re real then your sense of self-entitlement is hilarious.

  21. Paralegal and proud

    I’m a paralegal.

    My firm employ me as a paralegal. That is my job title. My email signature says ‘Paralegal’. I earn very good money for ‘paralegaling’. I do most of the partners’ work for them, except in meetings with clients when I tend to sit quietly and take a note while the qualified solicitors wow everyone with the skill with which they tackle people and their problems. I learn a lot while I’m paralegaling and I really enjoy what I do.

    I was called to the Bar last year. But I am not a barrister. I’m not qualified and wouldn’t want to give anybody the impression that I am. I simply don’t understand occupytheinns’ complaints about, well, everything. I don’t feel degraded because I spent 5 years studying and find myself called a paralegal, I feel lucky. I feel lucky that I have the opportunity to learn so much from such excellent lawyers.

    The experience and skills I’ve gained as a paralegal undoubtedly contributed to the decision of my future chambers to offer me pupillage, which I will begin this September.

    I note that occupytheinns says he’s a non-practicing barrister until he (I assume it’s a he) obtains pupillage. I’ve obtained pupillage but don’t plan to call myself a barrister, socially or otherwise, until in begins.

    The poster above had it spot-on. I’m going to enjoy being a non-practicing brain surgeon and part-time non-practicing naked skydiver (titles I will be requiring all my friends and family to properly address me by).

  22. Simon Myerson

    I’m sorry you felt offended. However, I chose the description I used because it is how you are described on the Legal Cheek contributors page. As you are anonymous and I don’t know anything else about you, it seemed the best route.

    To the best of my recollection (I admit I didn’t check because, frankly, it didn’t seem that important) you can’t call yourself a barrister. Even if you could, you shouldn’t stand on your dignity. Your article didn’t address what I wrote and the issue of whether you contribute more to your employers than a non-qualified person isn’t one that interest me I’m afraid.

  23. Paralegal and proud

    @adamwagner, I fear he is not a hoaxer – there were plenty of, well, idiots in my year on the BPTC who carried an air of entitlement (very often without the ability to back it up) and came out with all sorts of nonsense like @occupytheinns has. His views are utterly ridiculous. People like him are all too common among the thousands of BPTC students and, in my experience, are almost always the ones who don’t get pupillage in the end. They begin the process with a chip on their shoulders and leave it bitter and offended when someone dares to call them a paralegal instead of a barrister. I don’t mean to be unkind to occupytheinns, but unfortunately it’s very difficult not to be!

  24. Anonymous

    Quite apart from the regulatory breaches (see above):

    1. This comes back to the persistent theme of too many BVC students for the number of pupillages.
    2. The plea to be called a “barrister” to fill the gap of not getting pupillage is something of a QED – only those who complete the relevant training can be called barristers;
    3. The poster is missing the point. Speaking as someone who is a barrister (and a QC) – it’s not about the title it is about the professional occupation. The poster would probably in a far better placed not creating new, artificial titles for himself but working as a legal advisor for someone like MSF.
    4. I wasn’t aware that the regs were to be changed – but if they are, those who don’t get pupillages can no doubt work – under whatever title – in the new ASB structures. Whether that is a good thing is obviously debatable

  25. Tom

    This debate over what job title to give people is ridiculous. I believe the whole legal system needs to be overhauled. Either Barristers and Solicitors should be amalgamated into one profession i.e. “Lawyers” (as is the case in the U.S.) and practice in partnerships (which is what chambers are becoming anyway) or the BSB needs to set up a new system for training Barristers. Most chambers seem to have no respect for the BPTC and almost view it with derision. Yet students spend a lot of money and time doing the course. I don’t think it is helpful to call these young people idiots for doing the (mandatory) Bar course and mock their attempts to further themselves in the law. A lot of those who undertake the BPTC are very talented and driven young people who are atleast trying to do something worthwhile. Many of them would and will be very successful, but not necessarily at the Bar or even in law. In fact I would recommend a different line of work for many of them. Hopefully somewhere that their talent and drive will be appreciated rather than mocked by a small clique of pompous old duffers who mostly went to public school and certainly attended Oxbridge. After all, it’s just a job. The experience of most Heads of Chambers when they became Barristers is so far removed from what it is like for students today that they can have no appreciation of the painful struggle many decent, talented young people go through to try to get a place at the Bar. I often wonder why they bother. The chap who refers to himself as “Barrister” above exemplifies the pomposity. “A non-practising astronaut”, “a non-flying pilot”, “a non-practising surgeon” . Ha Ha, chortle chortle. Did “Barrister” spend £20,000 at flight school? Did he attend the Astronaut training academy at NASA? Did he go to medical school, but fail to get a place as a surgeon? I don’t think so and neither do I think his flippant comments are very helpful. If you are called to the Bar, you are a Barrister whether you practise or not. I didn’t make the rules, the BSB did and until they reform the system entirely, that will remain the situation.

  26. V

    Well, are you a paralegal or aren’t you? What is all this analysis about when it all comes down to facts?

    What job did you apply for? What does your employment contract say? If it says ‘paralegal’ then that is what you are, whether you want to accept it or not. Clearly your entire concept of self-worth is tied to that title that you somehow perceive as being beneath you, apparently because you have studied somewhat. To the fact that you have been Called I would say – so what? Join the club!

    Oh, and grow up. And get a life.

  27. Heather

    Very interesting debate!
    I was called to the Bar in 1998, but failed to get pupillage. Following that ’cause célèbre’ my CV is a shocking array of jobs that have little if anything to do with the law; I’ve worked as a Legal Secretary but this led to a nervous breakdown due to lack of challenge and mental wind down .. literally!
    I would enjoy the opportunity of working as a Paralegal, or indeed qualifying to work as a Solicitor via the QLTT, but it seems the ‘breakdown’ was a step too far in the wrong direction. I could blame all manner of things for this unfortunate series of events, but I’m inclined not to winge as per ‘OccupyTheInns’.
    Perhaps the ‘legal profession’ in the UK will one day ‘become as one’, but for the time being the politics of the situation has to be discussed to the nth degree! If an increase in social liberalism wins out (and I suspect it will) we will follow the USA/Canada et al and employ ‘Lawyers’ howsoever they qualified and whatsoever they be named as a result.
    For the time being I’ll get on with my life and sit back and admire the ‘little man’s’ attempt to aspire to something a little higher! Well done ‘OccupyTheInns’ for adding another flame to the fire of an existing and ongoing debate; I wonder when the fire will be extinguished and a less destructive state of affairs will be established?

  28. ZAFORE

    One of the reasons for my deciding to study and practise at the Bar was because on the one and only occasion that I needed the services of a Barrister I was served up with a toffee-nosed arrogant and condescending fool who breezed into the Ipswich County Court five minutes before my matter was due to be heard, called me stupid when I made a suggestion with which he disagreed and charged me £1500 for the privilege. I decided there and then that I would never again be represented by a lawyer I had no previous knowledge of and that I could certainly do a better job than that specimen.
    Fast forward ten years I have now embarked on and completed LL.B and BVC, called to the Bar of England and Wales (a Barrister on that day) and have spent a good two years searching for that offer of Pupillage which would allow me entry into what is now clearly a “closed shop”. “Keep trying” I was repeatedly told, “you’ll get there if you really want it enough” – rubbish.
    I felt I should do something to help myself further. However another year spent securing a Masters in International Trade Law (awarded with distinction) did not help one bit, the door to Pupillage was still firmly shut. The scourge of the “non-practising” barrister was staring me in the face with little prospect of recouping any of my savings that I had spent financing five years of study and qualification; fortunately I had a way out.
    I recalled an article I had read some years previously in which a lawyer who having returned to the UK after practising in the British Virgin Islands had espoused the option of practising in a foreign jurisdiction as something more English trained lawyers should consider.
    In July 2008 I boarded a flight to Jamaica (my birthplace) where having handed over another £5000 or thereabouts I embarked on a six-month “conversion course” that September – where in fact the only new area law I was required to study was Constitutional Law as Jamaica has a written constitution – an appendage from its colonial past.
    At the end of July 2009 I was called to the Bar of Jamaica and started my Practice as an Attorney-at-law on 1 August 2009, a fused profession where I function as both Solicitor and Barrister. Yes, I had spent three months of the 6-month course in a local law firm and yes, I could not have commenced the 6-month course had I not been called to the Bar of England and Wales; the significant difference here however was that having completed this qualifying course, there was no barrier to my entering practise either on my own or as an employee of a firm. No illusive Pupillage to chase after.
    At this point I can imagine some of you will no doubt be thinking “inferior jurisdiction”, well, let me assure you that Jamaican lawyers practice law with the same degree of fervour which makes Usain Bolt the world beater he is. In some respects the courts and lawyers are more “English” than their English forebears presently are.
    Of Course, many of us (Jamaican lawyers) are trained at the English Bar and take pride in being members of the English Inns of court. We practice English common law. We have the same Civil procedure Rules and the great majority of our case law comes from the English Courts, and it is significant that despite there being a “Supreme” Caribbean Court of Justice in Trinidad our final court of appeal still remains Her Majesty’s Privy Council in London.
    In my practice I restrict myself to dealing with cases which are within my competence. I seek assistance from Senior Council where I feel the need but I am able to tackle cases to which I would never have been exposed as a Pupil barrister to the extent that I now handle matters in all the courts, including the Court of Appeal and involving the most serious of cases including Rape, Murder, Firearms offences and the whole gamut of civil matters.
    It has been a fast and steep learning curve, a sink or swim situation where sinking has never been an option and I can honestly say that in the many cases that I have dealt with from initial conference to trial, I can think of only one case where I performed abysmally, and in that case a major contributing factor to my poor performance was a particularly bad judge who has now thankfully departed the bench.
    I am fortunate in that I can experience the privilege of working all night preparing my clients case, that I can experience the relief and gratitude my client feels when I win a case or succeed in securing a reduction in sentence on those unwinnable cases, and that I have the ability to stand up in a packed courtroom (public gallery included) and argue my case in front of an audience who hang on your every word, and who will let you know in no uncertain terms when they believe you got it wrong – no conservatives in Jamaica, and I can only imagine how much better I would be had I had the opportunity of pupillage.
    So at the end of all of this my conclusion can only be that the English Bar has missed out on a talented lawyer (me) because of a system which hobbles potentially good lawyers before they have any real opportunity to prove themselves.
    My position is that everyone completing the BPTC should be provided a pupillage as a matter of course. The best can then fight for the few Tenancies available, on a level playing field, in preference to the current situation which picks the so called “brightest and the best” from the connected and the well-heeled, and leave out the talented and driven and passionate and committed; oh! And controls the “market” by keeping down the number of new entrants.
    I feel sorry for those of my “non-practising” friends who will have to settle for something less than they envisaged. I’m sorry that I have had to travel 5000 miles away from my home in East Anglia in order to realize my dream, but guess what, I am able to legitimately refer to myself as a Barrister and Attorney-at-law, and the term “non-practising barrister” need never cross my lips – at least not until I return to England. And so, the moral of the story is, find an alternative.