After finally securing a pupillage over the summer, OccupyTheInns returns to offer his words of wisdom to students commencing the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) this month
Amongst the celebrations, late nights out and long brunches I have enjoyed since obtaining pupillage last month, one thought has kept returning to my mind: how can I constructively use the knowledge and experience that I have gained during this hellish quest to help others as they embark on their Bar studies?
Often an idea has popped into my head, perhaps a nugget of wisdom that I wish I had known when I started out on this path, and where possible I have procured a pen and written this information down. The following advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience, but it may just come in rather useful...
Get to know your Inn
Far too often, students hurry through the BPTC without paying enough attention to what, in this veteran’s opinion, is the most important element of Bar study: the Inns of Court. Which one you join is a matter for you (although I know which one is the best!). But in truth they are all fantastic, and much, much more than mere dining clubs.
Trot through the Temple. Lazily wander through Lincoln’s Inn. Get yourself up to Gray’s Inn. Watch the barristers and their clerks go about their business. Feel the stone with which these buildings were crafted all those years ago. It is only once you understand the Inns that you will know what it is to be a barrister.
Book yourself a Christmas treat
I know that it’s far too early to be talking about Christmas. However, on the BPTC it makes good sense to plan ahead. There are many things which I would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight, but on one issue I was rather prescient. Before even beginning the course, I booked a week’s boarding in the Rockies over the festive period.
Every time I felt stressed, I would simply look at my board propped up in the corner of my bedroom and remind myself that I would soon be shredding powder thousands of miles away from grey, stressful London. My young friends, I advise you to do the same.
Pop in for a cuppa
Regular readers will recall that I have written previously of the importance of taking the initiative during mini-pupillages. The exact same rule applies when you commence the BPTC. For heaven’s sake don’t wait like a lemon until the first tutorial session to meet your tutors when they are already amongst you and you know their names from the timetables you have received.
Pop up to their offices, knock on their door and say 'hello'. They might even invite you in for a cup of tea! BPTC lecturers are invariably barristers, and very nice ones at that. It is not only well worth getting to know them on a human level, away from the madding crowd of small groups and lectures, but these well-connected individuals may even be able to assist in the pupillage quest.
Let your differences unite you
You will find students from every nook and cranny of the globe on the BPTC. Make no mistake, their presence is an extremely enriching experience. It is thanks to these students that I have sampled the delicious cuisine of the Caribbean, Pakistan and Malaysia, to name but three international destinations.
However, with English often not their first language, some of these students do face communication difficulties. It is important to accommodate them and be patient, rather than react in anger if they make a mistake that holds up a session in a subject which you are particularly skilled at such as advocacy. Instead, channel the energy behind that anger into a positive action.
In my second term on the BPTC, I did this through learning a number of sentences in relevant foreign languages which I then employed to make the international students in my group feel more at home – and therefore more confident and less likely to make mistakes. No doubt this knowledge will also come in useful as I prepare for a period of travel in the interim period before commencing pupillage next year.
There is limited time, so use it well
The broader objective of the BPTC is of course to gain a pupillage and commence a career as a practising barrister. Students must never let this truth disappear from their minds during Bar school. However, it is important to be aware that a properly-crafted pupillage application takes at least a week’s full-time work, maybe more. The time you spend doing it will reduce in direct proportion the amount of time you have to devote to the challenges of the BPTC, which can be considerable.
So when is the right time to apply for pupillage? Only you can answer that question. For me, the right time was after I had finished the course. Nevertheless, the pupillage applications I made during the BPTC proved extremely useful as a form of learning, as I found myself able to build upon what I had written in subsequent applications in order to reach a higher standard. Just be careful not to let your work suffer, because a low grade on the BPTC can drive a nail into the coffin of even the brightest hopes. I wish you the very best of luck!
OccupyTheInns graduated from the BPTC last summer, and was called to the Bar in July 2011. He will commence pupillage next autumn. There's more from OccupyTheInns here.