The true state of the BPTC, from someone who has recently gone through it

A Legal Cheek commenter shares their story

wig-rubbish

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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83 Comments

Anonymous

So much of the above rings true with my experience of the BPTC. A few bits read like they might be exaggerated. But on the whole, bits which sound like exaggerations are more common than one might think. For example, there was a guy in my class who also failed literally every exam and every resit too. Shocking.

(1)(3)
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Anonymous

Why do people persistently feel the need to do the bar course to get pupillage?

It isn’t needed to get pupillage, and if you’re good enough you’ll get pupillage without the BPTC anyway. Other than those who have secured pupillage and/or have a scholarship, it is beyond me that people are stupid enough to pay for the BPTC.

You could spend the best part of 20k on other things which would give you more chance of getting pupillage than this joke of a course.

(9)(3)
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Anonymous

Many do the bar without pupillage because the Inns give some form of funding. Makes sense to do it if you can. The bigger problem is the shoddy standard of teaching and some students on the course who are absolutely hopeless

(3)(0)
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Matrix

You’re stating the obvious and assuming it to be true.Although you mention in the context of getting a pupillage, you are reciting the general line of the uselessness and expensiveness of the BPTC rendering it not fit for purpose.

However, you make a number of assumptions about the course which are not correct. The worst is that you assume that the majority doing the course are English. They are not. To assume the course has no value for them would also be incorrect. The BPTC and qualifying in our jurisdiction qualifies others in multiple other jurisdictions, e.g. in Asia like HK, Singapore or Malaysia, or even the Caribbean. These people can use their qualifications here and use them to train in law firms in their respective countries (or immediately qualify as associates).

The other assumption relates to scholarships. It’s competitive to get a scholarship. But there’s a myth or misunderstanding that people can get pupillage without scholarships – every single pupil at any half way decent chambers has one. Probably about 50% of those who are awarded scholarships actually get pupillage. So you’re assuming that people who actually aren’t paying for the course or who aren’t paying much at all, who don’t have pupillage yet, are paying c.20k for it. It’s not true.

So when you state the obvious you are really referring to about 20-30% of people on the course, if that. A bigger question is why people want to become barristers at all, especially at the non commercial sets where there is often next to no money, but that’s a question for another day.

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therage191

Dude, i’m gonna type as sober as possible, that honestly looks pathetic and disgusting compared to my meal. and I’m being one hundred percent serious. Sorry we dont cook stuff that was previously in cans. you’re a joke dude, and im dead serious. get a real family that cooks good food, drinks beer and wine and winecoolers and has a good time, and has a million dollar house on the beach. dont ever post your poverty dinner here ever again bro

(28)(1)
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Scouser of Counsel

You haven’t lived until you’ve had Sainsbury’s beans and sausages (out of a can) on hot buttered toast. That’s real luxury!

(1)(1)
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Ben

I did the BPTC in Nottingham and this wasn’t my experience at all. I agree there is a need for reform, but the above experience exaggerates the situation somewhat. Nottingham takes a practise-based approach to learning the rules and ongoing case studies formed the basis of our class sessions. Of course some struggled with this. Some decided the Bar wasn’t for them. The rest of us are generally securing Pupillage (myself included) or are otherwise securing good quality legal work which will assist in their efforts towards Pupillage. Perhaps the writer went to a BPTC-churning institution that did not consider competence upon entry?

(12)(2)
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Rzbg

I have fond memories of my friend and I, who both got pupillage, doing a basic civil advocacy exercise in class. When the group was asked for comments on the law, one charmer raised her hand to say “nah, it was boring”. Nobody said anything else. Needless to say she failed the course. I am surprised the BPTC tutors can stand it.

(2)(2)
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Junior Barrister (practising)

I remember doing my negotiation exam with another student who had problems with English and zero aptitude.

She basically gave me everything I asked for. I actually had to rein back my demands and suggest to her that her client may be more likely to accept a compromise, and would be unlikely to accept a complete capitulation to my clients demands.

I got a VC. She failed.

I was told afterwards that my grade would have been affected negatively if I had just made all my demands, had them accepted and closed the deal.

2:1 LLB and fluent English should be the minimum requirement to access the course.

(22)(0)
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Anonymous

100% agree. We had some foreign students on our course who caused difficulties in the negotiation exams and caused a lot of people to lose marks because they couldn’t complete the exercise.

(6)(0)
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MM

I did the BVC, as it then was, in 2007/8. Doesn’t sound like much has changed I was very disappointed with the return I got from my £12K. I think the proposals would be a big step forward.
For example there was a person in my year that got 6 months into the course and was told at that point that his English wasn’t good enough and that he would have to come back the following year. The guy genuinely couldn’t speak English, but he lasted six months in a course teaching the art of communication and persuasion, you’d have thought they might have routed that out earlier!! The Law schools treat it as a money making machine and always will. They have no incentive to make it more selective or rigorous.
The only useful bits were: getting familiar with the procedural stuff on the civil side (basically just the CPR and basic civil drafting) and the rules of evidence and procedure on the criminal side. This could very easily be self taught or in much larger lecture type groups and/or taught by a non-barrister. Indeed whilst the tutors where touted as barristers in reality they had practiced (in my case anyway) for about five minutes (> two years) before becoming full time tutors. No disrespect to them, but they simply didn’t have the breadth of experience to bring real world insight to the teaching of the course – which is presumably is the whole point of having barristers teach it.
I have to disagree with the popular opinion that the most useful part was the practical advocacy side. In the whole year the only feedback I saw given (over and over again) was “yes your eye contact is good” or “I liked the pace of your delivery” “make sure your volume is consistent”. If you can’t already talk at a steady pace, an appropriate volume and whilst making eye contact, then you shouldn’t be on the course. There was no nuanced feedback, no actual technique or insight, and no meaningful progress (other than a result of simple practice) – again because the tutors hadn’t developed any of their over their short careers. You get all of that in pupillage from members of your chambers, during training organised by the Inns – who frankly do a much better job of training, or the hard way once you are actually on your feet.
Of my class of 12, 4 of us got pupillage eventually, 2 cross qualified as solicitors. To be fair not all of the others actually wanted to practice but most did and gave up eventually. I say bring on the BC’s suggestions.

(7)(0)
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Ramookey

I found it a “waste of time” – It did lead me to qualification and now I work in an MC firm…. but the pretentious attitudes etc were in no way proportional to the actual course/ title etc. Regardless off the “pomp”, the course was shoddy. (BPP, about 8 years ago).

I honestly wish I hadn’t done it and I genuinely feel tarred by it rather than proud. Which is a shame.

(3)(0)
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Anonymous Coward

Qualifying as a barrister these days is mostly who you know.

I did a law degree with a guy who scraped a 2:2, barely passed the BPTC after spending most of his time in the pub with his uneducated mates. Between his studies he drank even more and did not do any extracurriculars whatsoever.

It was ok though. His dad was a QC and head of chambers, so he walked straight into a pupilage.

I don’t have a head for advocacy so qualified as a solicitor and brief him occasionally. He’s grown up a lot and is a good barrister, but if it wasn’t for his connections he would be where he is now.

(5)(27)
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Baby Silk

Impossible at any set worth joining. Perhaps possible at a couple of sets that are not worth joining (hobbyist, non-earning bar).

Four years ago a former member of chambers and then current member of the Supreme Court asked if we would give his judicial assistant a mini-pupillage. We said – sure, if she gets through the anonymised application process like anyone else.

Running a good set of chambers is expensive these days. We can’t afford to carry people.

(12)(1)
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Anonymous

I did my pupillage at a large set that was very much a family affair with numerous counsel who were the sons and daughters of former and current members of Chambers.

That said, most of them were as bright as their parents so may have got it on merit after all.

(3)(2)
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Not Amused

LC provides an extremely useful role in publicising this. One of the most upsetting truths is how we all know this, but no one tells the young people.

(17)(1)
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Anonymous

I knew how rubbish the course was, but it’s not optional. To qualify and start pupillage you have to do the BPTC. I did it with an Inn scholarship, though I didn’t have pupillage before starting BPTC. The problem isn’t ignorance, it’s lack of options. If we had a choice between self study or attend course, I’m sure 90% of students would choose self study for knowledge based exams.

(18)(0)
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Anon

The most useful experience as far as learning during my BPTC year was the Inn Advocacy weekend at Cumberland Lodge and that cost me nothing!
I have to agree with he comments about English, there were several people on my course that spoke very poor English. They failed the course having paid thousands of pounds. But what I find more annoying than that is the fact that these students are part of your learning group – you have to cross exam them, take them through evidence in chief. It really does you no good when they can’t understand a word you are saying. How can you learn anything yourself? And…. there’s no interpreters at law school!
Rant over….

(17)(1)
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BarryStir

Having a difficult witness either because of a language barrier or otherwise is the best, even in a classroom situation, way of learning. Look at things positively if you really want to practice.

(5)(2)
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BarryStir

Translators are not always provided for various reasons which is a long and separate subject. I have been in a tribunal when the translator was not putting my questions or the answers as they were given. Only rely upon yourself ………….

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Anonymous

I’m on the course right now. It’s a shambles. Combination of letting people onto the course without basic English/intellect meaning those with pupillage/prospects spend half their time listening to basic points being explained (at a rate of around £2 a minute), and the fact the course itself is run by incompetent individuals. Basic errors in all assessments and practice questions, textbooks with mistakes, and the hiring of tutors who don’t understand how teaching should differ to the questionable methods they use in practice. Also as someone going into the BPTC with pupillage in a non civil/criminal area, 95% of my learning is a waste of time. 0/10 would recommend. Save your money unless you have an offer or someone else is paying the fees.

(12)(0)
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Rough tongue

All higher education is just a big rip off. A three year law degree could be done in one. Back in the day it was good fun to spend three years benefiting from cheap beer and off the leash ex-public schoolgirls, but the institutions are now raking in big bucks for the same old rubbish churned out by the same old lazy academics (failed lawyers).

(6)(13)
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Anonymous

As someone who went to Oxbridge I would like to see you fit our workload into one year without serious mental breakdown. Maybe that says more about the calibre of your university than the calibre of degrees in general.

(28)(6)
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Anonymous

Please enlighten us as to how the academic workload at Oxbridge law is bigger than at other unis, given that presumably the same core modules are taught

(7)(18)
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Pantman

They aren’t necessarily saying that, they are saying that the previous poster is talking nonsense in comparison to their own experience.

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Not a rugger bugger

Wrong and wrong. Firstly, I did go Cambridge and (apart from being full of ***** like you) it is a breeze as long as you can read. Secondly, surely the point being made was that a worthwhile education is about what you need to know, not the filler you don’t, if you are paying for the privilege. Exactly how much of your law degree do you use in practice? And don’t give me any nonsense about a rounded education or preparation for future challenges. Plenty of people do rather well in life without a degree. Be focused, tick the box and move on.

(7)(10)
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The other half of the story.

A very large contributor to the poor quality in BPTC classrooms is simply a lack of motivation. Many students completing the BPTC have no interest in pupillage in the U.K, and will be returning to other common law jurisdictions to practise law. The results achieved on the BPTC, and even to some degree the LL.B., are of less consequence abroad. The competition for pupillage in the U.K. is generally a far cry beyond that for entry-level legal positions elsewhere. Further, many of these jurisdictions have fused professions for which the BPTC entitles entry (or entry to a bar transitional programme), and some BPTC participants may have little intention of practicing as advocates.

Speaking from personal experience (which, of course, is of only so much value) I can say that the lowest scoring performers in my groups tended to be persons who intended to return to other countries to practise. The intention was often to put in the bare minimum required (something most of us have been guilty of at times). Perhaps my experience is unique, but I doubt it. One caveat being that generally most students made significant efforts in respect of the centralized exams (given their very high fail rates).

Now would better entry level requirements curb this? Yes. However, not to the degree many suggest. There really is little evidence to suggest that all of these low performers have 2:2 degrees; those kind of results simply aren’t advertised. That said, the BCAT is really there for the sake of appearance. With respect to the assessment days carried out by certain providers pre-entry, I can only say I know of no one who was refused a place on those courses (admittedly, experential and again, unlikely to be advertised); beyond that, I am hestitant to venture further comment.

The fact remains that English practice remains highly relevant in other common law jurisdictions, albeit at times more as an example of how the law ‘ought to be’ rather than ‘is’. In addition, for certain jurisdictions, the BPTC represents a shortcut of kind, in that it would take longer for these students to qualify at home. It’s certain then that overseas students will continue to enroll.

The question then, is what is the solution? I don’t doubt that higher entry level requirements are needed (and indeed, that a 2.1 and sufficient English language skills should be a requirement). However active participation must be required. The author is correct to say that many of the Bar exams require less comprehension / participation and more cramming / memorization. Unless the methods of assessment are addressed, you can hardly expect to motivate individuals to actively partake.

(13)(0)
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Stop 'sanitising' the Bar!

Most people here need to quit with the patronising nonsense about the BPTC being a waste of money if one hasn’t secured pupillage. If a person has the money/means and they have been warned of the pitfalls of the BPTC, I think they should be allowed to use their money how they wish. We should not turn legal education (such as it is) into a preserve of those who have either secured pupillage or come from ‘good unis’.

Yes, make the quality of teaching on the BPTC better but don’t dictate to anyone how they use their money. For those complaining about having classmates who can’t speak English or understand basic concepts, how are you going to deal with clients of similar abilities if you can’t take a year of people who are different to you? Practice (especially in London is full such people and it will be your job to put their case or defend them). Part of the skill of a barrister is being able to deal with people from different backgrounds, and yes this includes those who may not speak English or understand basic concepts. No one complains about rich foreign clients paying a lot of money for legal representation in London, so why should we complain about them doing so on the BPTC.

In conclusion, if you have already secured pupillage or went to a ‘good uni’, please get off your high horse and stop slating people who are different to you. The reality of practice is that you’ll be dealing with a lot more such people and probably relying on them to earn a living. Yes, make the quality of the BPTC better but don’t dictate or put obstacles in the way of adults doing with their money what they want.

If the Bar is to be diverse then this should be reflected on the BPTC too!

(11)(10)
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MM

It is not patronising nonsense – other people’s inability to speak English or to perform at the requisite intellectual level directly effects the ability of their peers to learn, develope and progress as aspiring barristers, and, in the case of joint assessments, can actually negatively effect the grade you end up with on certain practical modules because the exercise can’t be carried out properly unless both people are competent. We are complaining about it because it seriously negatively impacts on the learning experience of other people, who might not be rich, and who might have had to make sacrifices to pay the course fees.

Nobody on this thread is blaming the people for spending their money and going on the course, they are blaming the law schools for cynically taking their money and letting them on the course when they aren’t equipped to pass it. Medical schools don’t just accept anybody with the cash to pay to do the course and neither do other analogous professions. Why should the bar?

Your point about dealing with clients makes no sense. I have no problem socially with any body on the basis of their background (uni/ethnicity/ability to speak English). I deal with and represent a massive array of people on a daily basis. Your peers on the bar course aren’t there to teach you how to deal with clients like interesting social specimens, they are supposed to be learning how to be a barrister just the same as you are. Of course the BTPC should be diverse ethnically, socially, religiously, but it can only be so diverse intellectually without it undermining the whole purpose of the course.

(7)(3)
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Anonymous

I am doing the BPTC right now and my group (and many of my peers who I am not in a group with) are focused, dedicated, on the ball etc.

Going through the BPTC is part of the growing process to get to the bar. As a result, plenty get pupillage while on the course or the year after. That’s not to say, of course, that it cannot be improved/overhauled etc.

AS a final note, I am disturbed by Legal Cheek’s reporting on this issue because it plays into negative stereotypes. It’s one thing to trot out a post on how the BPTC sucks. It’s another to, EVERY SINGLE TIME, make reference to a few foreign students who cannot cut it. If I didn’t know much about the bptc/bar, having only read legal cheek I’d think they let in loads of foreigners who don’t have a basic grasp of english let alone common sense. That is obviously not the case and LC is at fault for perpetuating such stories.

(4)(5)
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A Barrister

It’s not just a few foreign students who can’t cut it- there were a hell of a lot at ICSL ten years ago who could barely speak English. It held the rest of us back because the lecturers were trying to explain things in simplified “World English” (think Newspeak) to cater for them.

That said, money talks…

(3)(1)
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Anonymous

My first day on the BPTC, after the first hour session ended, the student sitting next to me looked at me and smiled incredulously, saying ‘…oh my goodness I had better go and buy and pad of paper…I am going to have to take notes!’

True story…

(5)(2)
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Anonymous

I sat next to a guy who kept getting wang out in lessons. Every time he did it he shouted “look at me big rooster”, and if we didn’t he’d shout louder and louder. Once he put a rubber chicken in his trousers that made a high pitched squeal when you squeezed it. When he shouted to everyone to look at him, he squeezed it. Admittedly it made everyone laugh, me included, but it’s not really what you expect when you’re paying £16,000 for the privilege

(3)(2)
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Pantman

Perhaps the Bar Council needs to focus the minds of the BPTC providers. If they were limited in the number of students they could take on, based on the numbers passing the course, then there would be an incentive to recruit better students and provide a batter course. For example, if they could only take on the same number of students, plus 10%, who passed the previous year, then that would limit overall numbers.

(1)(0)
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Anonymous

Passing BPTC isn’t the issue. Any idiot could pass the BPTC.

The problem is that the course costs a fortune, the quality of teaching is poor, the calibre of students is low and most of the knowledge based aspects can be self-taught. It just needs to be abolished.

(2)(0)
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Pantman

Well the original poster seems to be saying, their experience is, that many people fail the course. Out of 12 in their class 5 failed. That’s a 42% failure rate – so if my limit were put in place the following year they’d only be able to recruit 64% of the students they did the year before (58% * 1.1).

If they kept recruiting dullards/laggards (ie the same profile of 42% failures) then they’d relatively quickly have no course to offer. After five years they’d have virtually no one left to teach.

(3)(0)
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Anonymous

That’s a fair point. I was surprised to see some 40% fail when I did it a couple of years ago. Of the 60% that passed, the majority were idiots with no realistic prospects of pupillage.

But my issue with the BPTC isn’t the calibre of the students, it’s the utter pointlessness of the course itself. No barrister has any respect for it and it costs an absolute fortune (waste of £4m per annum of Inns money). Very surprising it hadn’t been abolished yet. There was talk of getting rid of it about 10 years ago, but then they just changed the name from BVC to BPTC, increased the amount of pointless content and thereby doubled the price over the years.

(2)(0)
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Anonymous

Actually, the ones who get the Inns cash are usually the ones who get pupillage.

Speaking as a practising barrister who got a top scholarship that paid for the whole course with change left over, and got pupillage before finishing the course.

Non connected, non-Oxbridge and state educated, before the haters jump in…

(7)(0)
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Etonian/Cantab looking for pupillage

OIK!!!!!

You just got your scholarship and pupillage as a diversity case!!!!

I bet you’re a BME woman too!!!

(3)(2)
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Anonymous

Lots of people with scholarships don’t get pupillage though. I know 3 with major scholarships (one a Queen Mother) who have given up the pupillage hunt and bitterly resent the Bar for having encouraged false hope. They are charming and have interesting life stories. That will get you a scholarship, but not a pupillage.

(1)(0)
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Anonymous

Fixing the BPTC is like fixing a puncture when the engine is shot, it will do noting. The “Powers that be” are in denial about the complete and utter mess pupillage is. No good churning out BPTC students or any other type of student if there are no jobs at the end of the process. It is just plain stupid. The whole system needs to be fixed but it may already be to late as the Bar is crumbling as barristers live in denial

(1)(1)
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Anonymous

Well not no jobs. 400 pupillages a year. Those 400 need some form of training. I would think self taught knowledge exams + Inns advocacy training should do it.

(3)(0)
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Anonymous

Well close to no jobs, unless of course you have a contact in a set OR if you want to go to the Commercial bar you have an Oxbridge degree. Still 400 jobs less the nepotism equals no jobs. Estimate 4000 applications for 400 pupillage- NO Chance really. BSB and BC have to come up with better ways to pupillage, get young barristers in the door give them a chance and let the cream rise. Two years in a chambers on apprentice salaries, keep the cream let the others go but at very least this way you give people a fighting chance

(2)(4)
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Charlotte

Those complaining about the standard of English spoken by foreign students are just racist.

It should be OUR job to try to understand THEM, not the other way around.

(0)(0)
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Anonymous

I’m Irish currently contemplating pupillage in London and the contrast between the BPTC and the bar course in Ireland (which is run by the Inn) is staggering.

Obviously in Ireland people also shell out an outrageous amount of money for the course but the quality of the course is absolutely not in dispute. In fact, often when someone is looking for a master (no chambers system), the master has no interest in the person’s academic background rather they trust the bar course getting people properly prepared for devilling (pupillage). The Irish system has HUGE issues regarding diversity, social mobility and post-qualification but the value of the bar course is iron clad.

(1)(1)
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Anonymous

But aren’t there far too many barristers in Ireland? So it’s not like the exams weed out all but the best, they just weed out the morons. It’s like it would be here if everyone who passed the bptc went straight into practice. As a matter of interest, why do you want to do pupillage over here instead?

(0)(0)
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Anonymous

True – but it does help ensure there’s at least a decent standard of those taking the course. The crippling costs and glacial pace of building a practice weed out the rest, which is why I want to do it in London.

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Anonymous

I heard that. Also, I understand that nepotism is rife – a bit like it was back in the day over here. So the people weeded out are not necessarily the least talented. People complain about the system here, but at least it’s meritocratic. Plus, you’re either in (with a career) or out (and can go and do something else).

(0)(0)
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