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‘If You Want to Be an Actor and Earn Some Money, Become a Barrister’

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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.

Of course, legal world watchers know it doesn’t work like that. Not only is it notoriously hard to land a pupillage (by far the majority of BPTC graduates fail to bag one), but the money, for criminal and other legal aid barristers, is almost as bad as for start-out acting jobs – with many pupils getting by on just £12,000 a year. It doesn’t rise all that dramatically from there, either. And being self-employed means there’s no pay cheque at the end of the month.

In fairness to the law schools, which have been roundly criticised for allowing so many students to do the BPTC despite the lack of pupillages, they do try to warn wannabe barristers that the odds are against them. Yesterday BPP Law School chief executive Peter Crisp told me that he’d been criticised for being too negative about the course to prospective recruits – and, despite my general cynicism about some private law schools’ motives, I believe him in this respect.

Read that Glenister quote again.

“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!”

Crucially, a bid to become a barrister ticks all the boxes for parents – who, in many cases, are happy to fund the course. Don’t get a pupillage? Well, at least the kid will have a qualification at the end – and, ultimately, it’s less risky than becoming an actor (or is it?). Plus my lad will get to be a member of one of those fancy Inns of Court. And the serious man from the law school is warning us about the risks? Well, that’s just super-cautious lawyers for you.

If the Bar Standards Board, or the Bar Council, or whoever, is going to do something about the troubling Bar entry situation, they need to start thinking about how to confront this mentality.