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...
...but it would put pressure on chambers to fund the course – and could lead to it getting scrapped altogether, writes Lancaster University's Angus MacCulloch
The plight of thousands of aspiring barristers who invest large sums of money to undertake the BPTC, but are increasingly unlikely to secure pupillage, has encouraged a lively debate in and around the profession (see, for instance, contributions from The Law Horse, Alex Aldridge and BPP Law School CEO Peter Crisp).
In this debate competition law looms like a spectre; often being referred to but rarely being discussed.
It is also worth remembering that any question regarding access to the Bar is equally applicable to all other branches of the legal, and other, professions.
The Bar isn’t being singled out for attention, it just happens to be in the cross hairs at the moment.
The competition law issue is essentially very simple. The Bar Standards Board (BSB), as a professional body and regulator, controls the entry requirements for the profession. The competition authorities become concerned when it appears that the rules put in place by the regulator appear to favour the interests of the profession over that of others. The Competition Authority’s task is to ensure that the market for legal services operates in a manner which best serves the interests of the consumer.
When deciding who can practice at the Bar the rules should ensure the quality of legal services and, by facilitating healthy competition, ensure low prices and increased accessibility, by means of direct access or otherwise.
I’ll take a look at a few of the suggestions made for reform and tease out the competition problems before I pitch in my own thoughts.
My favourite character in the media storm that has embraced embattled Tory peer Baroness Warsi is 'Barrister' Abid (full name Abid Hussein), the Baroness's Walthamstow-based business partner.
When he’s not working on projects with Warsi, Abid – who graduated in law from Sheffield Hallam University – is a 'third sector and external funding manager' at Tower Hamlets council.
The Bar Council has no record of Abid qualifying, yet he regularly prefixes his name with 'Barrister'.
I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to contact Sheffield-born Abid to find out if he is qualified as a barrister in a jurisdiction other than England and Wales, but Tower Hamlets council’s press office tells me is currently on leave and has been unable to put me in touch with him or anyone who might be able to comment on his behalf.
All they would say is that Abid "is not employed as a lawyer here so we are not prepared to comment." Accordingly, I’ve been unable to rule out the possibility that Abid simply nicknamed himself 'barrister'.
Certainly, it would be a preferable option to forking out £16K on the BPTC and then failing, like 80% of Bar graduates, to secure a pupillage. But are you allowed to do this?
The chairman of the Bar Council was recently reported in the Evening Standard saying that there are not enough pupillages for those trying to enter the Bar. This is not new, but that is not to say that it should not be news, writes The Law Horse.
Every BPTC student gambles tens of thousands of pounds on their legal future, only for most to find that they are one of hundreds betting on diminishingly slim odds of securing a pupillage. It is disconcerting – the more so as the problem worsens – and Michael Todd QC is right to give light to the issue. To dismiss his concerns as “scaremongering” while your organisation profits from selling false hope is flatly dishonest.
If the issue is old, so are the touted solutions. Without of course wishing to pre-empt the self-indulgently expensive white elephant that is the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR), there are five broad solutions to consider.
On Sunday BPP Law School chief executive Peter Crisp became the latest – and most unlikely – person to (indirectly) lend his voice to the growing chorus of warnings against doing the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).
Speaking to The Sunday Times(£), Crisp said that he does "not advise going into criminal practice at the bar".
Now, wannabe lawyers, when a man who does very well out of the hundreds of students doing the BPTC each year at his venerable institution says don’t go to the criminal bar – which, of course, supplies a substantial proportion of the 450 annual available pupillages – it means there is REALLY SOMETHING VERY, VERY WRONG at the criminal Bar.
From that, you can draw the conclusion that even if you do get a pupillage at a criminal set, you’re probably still shafted: another very good reason not to do the BPTC unless you want to practise civil law (and are clever and good at advocacy).
City University BPTC student Jack Smith welcomes Legal Cheek duo Alex Aldridge and Kevin Poulter into his Lincoln’s Inn home – obtained thanks to the scholarship he bagged from the famous Inn.
Like a Japanese tourist on his first visit to London, Aldridge insists on filming everything. The unique footage of smith's flat, nestled in the corner of Lincoln’s Inn on Chancery Lane, is available below.
Joining Smith, Poulter and Aldridge is Tim Bierre, another City BPTC student. Bierre hails from Pennsylvania, and has come to the UK to take advantage of its lower law school course fees, and, of course, to experience those lovely wigs we allow our barristers to wear.
Listen to the quartet in conversation in the podcast below
Why incur the cost and hassle of an aptitude test to limit entry onto the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) when there is a far easier solution, asks OccupyTheInns
This week the Law Society warned the Bar off introducing an aptitude test to restrict entry onto the BPTC. You may not expect this from a barrister who has completed the BPTC but is still without pupillage, but I agree with the Law Society on this point. In my opinion, an aptitude test is wrong for four reasons...
A contributing factor towards lack of diversity at the Bar, and the oversupply of wannabe barristers, is poor reporting of the issues by the legal press, says Alex Aldridge
For journalists, stats-based pieces can be a pain, because they require meticulousness and frequently more work than straight reporting of events. Often you just don’t have the time you’d like to devote to them.
Having covered the legal profession for a while, and gone through the legal education process myself, I’ve got an advantage over most journalists writing about this area. With that in mind, here’s my commentary on Lawyer2B’s rather misleading piece on the ‘Bar Barometer’ statistics published yesterday - starting with the most misleading bits first.
Lawyer2B is in italics.I’m in bold.
The results for 2009-10 further showed that 72.5 per cent of pupils were from a white ethnicity background, while a mere 15.5 per cent were from black and minority ethnic [BME] backgrounds.
A mere 15.5%? The most recently-recorded equivalent BME figure for the general population is 8%. This figure is likely to have been shown to have risen when the 2011 census data is released in July, but not to more than 15%. So ethnic minorities are actually overrepresented among pupil barristers. The reporting here obscures the fact that the junior Bar’s problem isn’t with ethnic diversity, but socio-economic diversity.
Recently the actor Philip Glenister (pictured below), of Life on Mars and Mad Dogs fame, told the Guardian: “I look at my eldest and think, if you want to be an actor and earn some money, become a barrister. You can still wear a wig and get dressed up, but you earn. So let's get down the Old Bailey for a taster!”
And there you have the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) oversubscription problem in a nutshell. Want a cool, creative job, where you’re the centre of attention, and a secure, regular income too? Become a barrister.
College of Law Bloomsbury: “The panel invited the management team to account for the fact that there seemed to have been a large increase in first time pass rates and in students gaining an Outstanding grade in the academic year 2009-10, but fewer students gaining pupillage.”
Cardiff University: “There is a high proportion of students with 2:2s on the course since there are a high volume of applications from such students.”
City University: “...in 2010-11 there are 28% [students with 2.2s]”
Manchester Met: “The panel was concerned to learn from the teaching staff that their workload had recently been excessive: they could often teach from 9.a.m. until 9 p.m. without a coffee break.”
Yesterday a press release from the College of Law appeared in my inbox, headed COLLEGE OF LAW LAUNCHES SCHOLARSHIPS FOR BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course) STUDENTS.
An hour or so later I noticed Lawyer2B had published it as a news story. Now, usually when journalists write on-diary news they tone down the frequently hyperbolic tone of press releases. But in this instance, conscious that the story wasn’t all that exciting perhaps, Lawyer2B hyped it up.
The first line read: “The College of Law (CoL) has thrown a vital life-line to would-be barristers after launching two new dedicated scholarships.”
Follow @FellowsAdam Bar graduate Adam Fellows isn't convinced doing a masters degree is a good way to land a trainee legal job
One option for law graduates without a training contract or a pupillage is to study for a masters. Universities have offered LLMs for a long time. More recently, the big name course providers such as BPP and the College of Law have moved into the LLM market. The latest instalment in this developing area is BPP’s new MA in Law and Business, which will allow graduates of its Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) to gain a masters in as little as 15 weeks.
The process involves the study of modules covering business strategy, management, finance and analysis. It costs, in addition to the LPC or BPTC fees, £3,650. The hope is that law firms and chambers will see this new course as giving graduates an extra string to their bow. In law firms, a good sense of business is as essential to a successful career as a good sense of the law. And with chambers being encouraged to enter into alternative business structures as a way to preserve the bar, such skills and knowledge may be useful to someone entering the junior end of the profession.
Follow @OccupyTheInns Unless the legal profession acts, an occupation of the Inns of Court could become inevitable, argues OccupyTheInns
During the last few days I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that it is not currently a realistic objective to occupy the Inns of Court. It has become clear to me that it is simply too dangerous for most law graduates without training contracts or pupillages to attempt an occupation. I include myself in this group. As angry and disheartened as I may be, I continue to be hopeful of obtaining pupillage, and indeed have had some positive news on that front.
For that reason I can see that protest is something that all disenfranchised law graduates must approach with caution. Nevertheless, I am proud of this campaign for raising a good deal of awareness on the matter, notwithstanding some disappointing comments in response to the words I have written. Sadly, I expect more to follow these words.
I make the above statement of retreat with a caveat, however. If a year or two passes and a sizeable number of law graduates remain without pupillages and training contracts, and without the hope of securing one, then the situation could be very different. At that point, it may be more dangerous to continue sleep-walking in a basic legal support role than to publicly draw attention to the situation through an occupation of the Inns of Court.
Follow @FellowsAdam Adam Fellows considers the discrepancies between pupil earnings, and asks whether the Bar should bring back unfunded pupillages
At Legal Cheek, the matter of pupillages has been getting a lot of attention recently. Two posts by jobless Bar graduate OccupyTheInns - one about ways of showing dissatisfaction with the lack of pupillages and training contracts, and a subsequent piece about how this could be rectified - have both received some fairly damning comments.
I do not agree with the posts myself. However, I am enormously sympathetic with the thrust of them, and it is easy to see that Bar students, and those still awaiting pupillage, feel that the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board (BSB) have given up on resolving the issue of oversupply of graduates and undersupply of pupillages. But it is a complex matter.
Which is why when I saw the report about the increase in the Wilberforce Chambers pupillage award - from £48,000 to £65,000 - I knew exactly what I was going to write about this week. The reasoning behind it is that the set, quite rightly, wants to attract the best brains to supplement its current members. Yet the amount stuck firmly in my mind.
In the summer of 2000 I was fortunate enough to visit New York with my family. One of the best moments of that trip was looking down at the city from one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Just over a year later those towers had been destroyed. At first I was shocked and angry with the senseless terrorists who had committed this atrocity. But as the US invaded Afghanistan in retaliation, then Iraq, and opened up the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba to hold detainees from those wars, my views began to change.
Why were the detainees being held without trial? Why were they not entitled to any of the protections of the Geneva Convention? Amongst all the lawlessness shown by the Bush administration I learnt for the first time about the rule of law, and how necessary it was to civilised society.