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Don’t Believe the Law School Scholarship Hype

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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.”

Now, back to what the College of Law – where 456 students do the BPTC every year – is actually offering:

Two scholarships.

One covers the full £15,000 course fees.

The other is £2,000 towards fees.

No doubt the two recipients of the scholarships – particularly the first one – will benefit greatly from the cash. But with the Inns of Court offering far, far, far more scholarships (£4.7 million worth last year), is the College’s £17K pair of prizes really such a “vital life-line”?

As regular readers of my Guardian column will know, I’m no fan of the Inns, whose wealth comes from massive property portfolios which they refuse to disclose revenue figures for. But for the practical purposes of a wannabe barrister, it’s these fat cats venerable institutions that should be the focus of their scholarship hunt, not a PR hungry law school battling it out in a tough legal education market.

12 Comments

Legalemu

Urm – what exactly is your problem with the Inns of Court exactly? I read your Guardian article on the Inns and thought that it was inaccurate, biased and poorly reported. I still do. As a former bar student I received nothing but help (both financial and vocational), encouragement and advice from my Inn. I would like to reiterate some of the points made in the comments on your previous Guardian article, namely that:

1) They award extremely large scholarships and bursaries, without which the majority of students would not have a snowball’s chance in hell of studying for the bar.
2) They provide advocacy and ethics courses for students and professionals, mooting competitions, debate training and public speaking competitions – which often have hefty monetary prizes.
3) They run open days, mock trials and competitions for schools, in an attempt to widen access to the bar.
4) University students are invited to the Inns to dinner BEFORE they apply to the Bar Professional Training Course, so they can speak to practitioners and ask any questions they might want;
5) Dinners and the subsequent educational training are heavily subsidised.
6) The education departments of the Inns lobby on the behalf of bar students.
7) The inns do not control the fees charged on the Bar courses, or the number of students permitted on the courses. If you want to attack anyone then attack the law schools run as private enterprises.

So if you outline more clearly your objections to the Inns then that would be great…

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I say it with love

Many non-practising barristers suffer from Stockholm Syndrome.

Wake up. You are meaningless to the the Inns, your august BTPC institution or to the Bar generally.

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Legalemu

Thank you so much I say it with love. Without your incisive comment I would never have realised that I was wallowing in a pit of self-deception and an almost criminal lack of self-awareness. Thank god people like you exist to save people like myself from our cloud cuckoo lands of rainbows and bunnies.

You may have gathered I find your comment patronising and condescending. Would you care to rebut my points or just to dismiss me as an idiot? Would you also care to suggest why I would not feel positive towards an institution that provided me with considerable financial help and whose training activities I have found consistently useful and practical? I am perfectly prepared to agree with your potential criticisms of both the system of bar education and the law schools who provide them, but I stand by the fact that my experience of the Inns has been positive, and that the nature of yours and Alex’s objections to them remain unclear (other than those cited in Alex’s Guardian article, in which it would appears he is violently opposed to communal meals).

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I say it with love

I was commenting on the post above, not Alex’s earlier Guardian article.

I’m delighted you received a scholarship from your Inn. Nevertheless, if you remain a NP barrister, you will find your relationship with your Inn will draw to a close. As time marches on, there’s nothing for you there.

I believe the point of this post was to highlight the sham of BTPC providers’ scholarships. They’re selling a dream that 99.9%, no matter how clever or lovely, will ever achieve. Yet people lap it up and set out to defy the odds with their brillance and charm.

So no, I’m not impressed with your defence of the status quo.

It’s a swiz from start to finish.

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Legalemu

At what point did I offer a defence of the status quo? My original comment was picking up on one point in Alex’s post; his dislike of the Inns and his reference to his earlier Guardian article on the topic. My defence was of the Inns and no other part of the bar education process. Of course I am aware that if I remain a NP barrister my relationship with my Inn will come to a close, but that does nothing to mitigate the fact that the experience that I have had with my Inn so far has been a positive one and I remain grateful for the help and training that they gave me, regardless of whether I pursue a career at the bar or not.

As I said in my second comment, I am perfectly prepared to agree with criticism of the current bar education system. I also agree with the gist of Alex’s post – that two scholarships offered by the College of Law are but a drop in the ocean when it comes to BPTC fees, and can be seen as little more than a publicity stunt. I also think that the Bar education system is in urgent need of reform: the fees are too high, entrance criteria are not selective enough and the course itself does not do enough to equip students for practice. The responsibility for this lies in large part with the law schools, but I also think that bar council should urgently review the system of legal education (as they are doing at the moment) and that there should be a representative body for bar students along the lines of the law society’s JLD.

I do not defend the status quo. Again, I am merely curious as to the exact nature of Alex’s objections to the Inns given that I found them one of the more helpful institutions when I was studying.

So no, I’m not impressed with your response.

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I say it with love

Thank you for your many comments.

I’m having difficulty divining the point you’re attempting to make.

Unless, of course, the one and only point you’re making is you’re pleased your Inn gave you a scholarship.

This is the sound of my one hand clapping.

Legalemu

Dear I say it with Love,

I guess that is a no then to my previous question as to whether you would like to rebut any of my points or dismiss me as a self-congratulatory idiot?

Asela Wijeyaratne

The writer of this article accusing Lawyer2B of hyperbole? The words pot and kettle come to mind!

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Weatherwax

Strongly agree with Legalemu – being from a less privileged background I would never have been able to fund the BPTC without a scholarship from my Inn. I have also made many contacts with both other students and senior practitioners by dining there. Being a part of an Inn gives bar students a network and a feeling of being part of something, particularly when they studied degrees outside of London. It also helps bar students connect with the distinguished history of the profession, which can only influence them in a good way in practice (albeit, if they ever get there).

The only entities to blame here are the law schools who over-subsribe the course in order to make a commercial benefit, when they are fully aware that the majority of the students whose money they accept will never get a pupillage.

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Dusty_Cobweb

Out of all the conceivable problems with the Bar as a profession, the Inns are not one. Since joining Inner 18 months ago, there is nought about it that I could criticise and they have been nothing short of spectacularly supportive and proactive.

The Law Schools offering the BPTC, on the other hand, seem to be trying to claw money out of students like it’s going out of fashion and surely this is the point that Alex is making here? Today Lawyer2B has announced that Northumbria University is hiking fees for the September 2012 intake by nearly £2000, for no other reason than they can. The fees for the LPC, I note, have gone up by only a few hundred pounds and yet they have managed to find the cash to offer a ‘free’ ipad to all new students. They too are offering scholarships for the BPTC, but the entire pot comes to £30,000 and, from what they have stated on their website, distribution is not on the basis of need. The law schools need to be run as businesses, no one disputes that. This display of avarice, however, is nothing short of career-stopping for those of us trying to already trying to push water uphill with a fork by getting to the bar in the first place.

From where I am standing, in the wake of the withdrawal of professional funding by the banks, the scholarships from the Inns are the only barrier preventing the Bar from sliding back into the Victorian era and having their ranks swelled by those who can afford to be funded by the family estate.

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Dusty_Cobweb

And hats off to Alex for bringing the issue up in the first place.

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