A Legal Cheek commenter shares their story
It hasn’t been an easy few months for the Bar Standards Board (BSB). With their consultation into the ‘Future of Training for the Bar’ finally coming to a close this month, it’s time to take stock and reflect.
Back in October it confidently trumpeted what it believed to be a number of viable alternatives to the current Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). But they didn’t go down too well. Accepting that the current system needs to change, The Bar Council, Council of the Inns of Court (COIC) and over 500 members of the profession have all publicly slammed the BSB’s proposals.
Taking to Legal Cheek’s active comments section on these proposals, one recent BPTC student reveals their experience and why something needs to be done.
Anyone who’s done the BPTC recently (me three years ago) would tell you that the problem is much worse even than this letter makes it sound and the Bar Council solution is by far the best. The point of letting the knowledge based stuff be done through books is that you will no longer be forced to pay to sit in a class of 12 being taught rules that you have to learn by rote in the end. You spend one year doing 4 days a week, when the whole thing could be crammed in a matter of months. There is simply no challenging material there to justify group learning.
And yet of the 12 in my class, only 2 of us ever got pupillages. Indeed, 5 failed the course (3 failed EVERY single module and EVERY single resit and of those, 1 went on to pay to do the course again the following year). That they could do so is shocking – there is a lot to learn off by heart, but that is it – it is at pre-GCSE level of difficulty. Most of the people I knew who had/got pupillages that year got the two highest levels of grade in the final exams, by virtue of a few weeks’ cramming at the end.
There were people in my class who were hard workers, but who could not understand the difference between a rule saying someone ‘must’ do something and someone ‘may’ do it, even after this was explained to them for 30 minutes (which of course the rest of us had paid to sit through). I remember someone eagerly putting up their hand to answer the question “When are you permitted to serve a witness summary instead of a witness statement?” with the answer “You have to pay them travel expenses”. And then not understanding why that didn’t answer the question.
Needless to say these were people with 2:2 LLBs from degree-machine universities, who had absolutely no hope of getting a pupillage. That the law schools will take their £16k (as it then was), and take it repeatedly if they wish to redo the year after failing, is atrocious.
At least if the knowledge-based exams filtered out these people from advancing to the practical stage, where you have a lot to learn (albeit if it is still easy to pass), that stage could be much more useful for those left in the mix. Imagine trying to do a cross-examination when the classmate playing your witness cannot remember, no matter how many times they are reminded, which character they are supposed to be playing. Or when every single class for an entire year someone has to have it explained to them again the difference between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ questions.
It was a painful year and it would be brilliant if future generations of barristers could be better served.
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