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Who Are You Calling a Paralegal?

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The title of non-practising barrister needs to be given more weight to reflect Bar school graduates’ educational achievements, argues OccupyTheInns

In his Legal Cheek article last week Simon Myerson QC referred to me as an “anonymous paralegal”. This was saddening because Mr Myerson – whose work I had hitherto regarded with the upmost respect – should know that those who have been called to the Bar (as I was fortunate enough to have been last summer) receive the title of ‘barrister’. If a renowned QC cannot get such detail correct, what hope is there for humbler members of the legal profession and legal support staff?

One of the most frustrating aspects of my present predicament, which involves me performing solicitor-level tasks professionally, is the insistence of many in referring to me as a paralegal despite my being a barrister – albeit a non-practising one until I obtain pupillage. My barrister friends currently engaged in the fiendishly difficult hunt for a pupillage have had similar experiences.

An elite path

It is a shame we must face this. I, and those like me, have four to five years of educational and legal training behind us, delivered at some of the best universities in the country, and we have been deemed sufficiently talented to follow the elite path to the Bar.

While some untrained paralegals may have the capability to develop first class legal skills after completing the aforementioned training, they do not without it. Accordingly, for the good of the profession, a distinction must be drawn between non-practising barristers and support workers.

At this point of my writing I can already imagine some of the small-minded commenters who seem attracted to this site sharpening their pencils to attack me.

“You can call yourself a barrister when you obtain pupillage,” they will predictably write, or some other such similar trite statement.

To which I say the following. Pupillage numbers are lower than ever yet the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), for which entry to is considerably oversubscribed, continues to produce barristers. If the Bar Council is to remain indifferent to this situation, it should support those of us presently stranded without pupillage by formalising the non-practising barrister title.

By making it clear to law firms and others involved in legal services provision that we are barristers, not paralegals, BPTC graduates would at least be afforded some protection during a difficult period. It is the very least the Bar Council could do.

OccupyTheInns graduated from the BPTC last summer, and was called to the Bar in July 2011. There’s more from OccupyTheInns here.