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Bar Should Be Restricted To Russell Group Graduates

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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…

1. Contrary to what many seem to have misguidedly concluded, the BPTC is a difficult course on which to gain a place. Each year approaching 3,000 students apply, and each year around a 1,000 of those students are disappointed. So to all intents and purposes there is already an aptitude test!

2. It is commonly assumed by some that a BPTC aptitude test could somehow be plucked out of the air. However, the logistics of implementing a test would be a nightmare. Where would law schools begin? Would they include an advocacy test? Would they interview all 3,000 students applying? Would they demand that the many overseas students wishing to take the course simply “fly in”? And maybe most importantly, who would pay for it?

3. The concept of an aptitude test gloriously fails to take into account the great progress many students make during the BPTC. I can say personally that my advocacy skills developed tremendously during the course thanks to some brilliant tutors and the fine additional advocacy training provided by the Inns of Court. While I feel confident I would pass any aptitude test that was implemented, I certainly would achieve a higher mark now that I have benefitted from this training. A test could mean the Bar loses the valuable talent of some impressive late-developers.

4. My political sympathies are located firmly on the Left, but it cannot be ignored that the aptitude test breaches fundamental principles of free market thinking and the very laws of supply and demand. In a profession like the Bar, where as many practitioners specialise in commercial work as legal aid, can it be right to bring in a system of externally imposed regulation to decide who can become a barrister?

Advocates of an aptitude test are not only wrong, but they ignore a simple solution to the problem: restricting BPTC entry to graduates of Russell Group universities (or universities with equivalent status) who boast at least a 2.1, or if necessary a high 2.1. Many of the students on my BPTC lacked these credentials and as a result struggled to keep the pace of a demanding course. Preventing their entry, unless they had exceptional mitigating circumstances, would in an instant reduce the numbers of barristers seeking pupillage without incurring the cost and difficulties of an aptitude test. Sometimes the most obvious solutions are positioned right beneath one’s nose.

*On a separate matter, I considered long and hard the case for and against responding to the accusations that I am a “troll”, and I have decided not to dignify those accusations with a response. If, however, I struck a note that offended people with my previous post about the provinces then I can only express my regret at this.*

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

29 Comments

I say it with love

Oh lemme guess, you’re a Russell Group grad?

Just. Go. Away.

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Barrister

Alex, I can only assume this is some attempt at a Brass Eye-style satire on the self-entitlement of certain types of pupillage hunters.

Am I alone in really finding this quite boring now?

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Rachael Waring

I quite agree, these articles get me so angry I shan’t be visiting this sight anymore.

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Barrister

“They see him trollin’…they hatin’…”

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Weatherwax

Ridiculous! So an aptitude test would restrict the free-market principles but only allowing those from Russel Group Unis wouldn’t?

Queen Mary is non- Russel Group, yet when I was there I was taught criminal law by Professor David Olmerod (know him?) and human rights by Geraldine Van Bueren (know her? she wrote The Convention on the Rights of the Child). Not exactly a vastly inferior legal education. I know people from my year who waltzed in to pupillage, but on your recommendations they wouldn’t even have been able to take the BPTC!

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Adam Wagner

Clintonesque evasion of the troll question!

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EMAIL@EMAIL.COM

Cunt.

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A qualified barrister

There are two possibilities:

(1) OccupyTheInns is, as many suspect, actually Alex Aldridge (himself an unsuccessful pupillage seeker) writing under a pseudonym. If so, this is actually quite damaging to the reputation of the Bar, on the basis that Alex’s alter ego comes across as an utter idiot.

(2) OccupyTheInns is a real person, in which case he is an utter idiot.

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Holly Kilbey

Whilst I fully appreciate your concern about the numbers of people applying to the bar, I think your “solution” is misguided.

There is no evidence that supports your theory that Russell Group graduates are any better equipped for the bar than non-Russell Group graduates. You have made an arbitrary distinction between Universitys that fails to serve any purpose at all.

As well as academics, chambers are looking to recruit pupils who are personable and likeable. Purely judging from your most recent post, this may be where you are going wrong.

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BPTC student

This is complete and utter rubbish. Some of the strongest student contemporaries of mine on the BPTC are non-Russell Group graduates. Indeed, I know some weaker Oxbridge graduates who would be best advised to give up now. Your degree-awarding institution has absolutely no bearing on your ability as an advocate.

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Milly

I have a solution: lets stop the hand wringing. If students want to do the BPTC in the full knowledge of their chances of gaining pupillage, that is a matter for them. If they go into it without the full knowledge of their prospects of success, more fool them, there is plenty of information around. That they want to whine afterwards is a matter for them, and frankly, should be ignored. They pays their money, they take their chances. Sometimes, only the house wins.

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I say it with love

But here’s the joke guys: Mr Occupy’s solution is the very elitism he rails against.

Make up my mind.

Then go away.

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I say it with love

@milly The “house” being the GDL/BTPC/LPC legal education money printing swizz.

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Milly

Indeed. But no-one forces arms up student backs to take these courses. The data is out there – we have to accept that folk are exercising choice.

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I say it with love

kind of like “a sucker born every minute” ethos?

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Milly

Not at all, more of a ‘go into it with your eyes wide open’ ethos and understand it is more likely than not that you will enter the profession. With circa 20% of successful graduates getting a tenancy, all of whom have something about them given they got through the academics, it is little more than a gamble.

Every student on the BTPC, or at least, certainly every student on my BVC when I took it, believes they have what it takes to become a barrister. Sadly, a great number of them are wrong for various reasons. And of those who are right, there simply isn’t the space in the profession for all of them.

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Milly

I mean it is more likely than not that you will fail to enter the profession. Whoops.

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Anthony Dursi

Has any research whatsoever been done on this? The recent BSB aptitude consultation takes into account international applicants doing the BCAT.

Nearly a third of pupils last year came from non-Russell Group universities. See statistics from Inner Temple on page 14: http://www.innertemple.org.uk/downloads/prospective-members/Inner-Temple-Prospectus.pdf.

Not to mention, what would happen with international students studying for the BPTC to return to foreign jurisdictions afterwards? They should be automatically disqualified?

Ridiculous.

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Johnno

I completed my LLB at a reasonable post-1992 institution (ex-Poly) and at no point on the BVC did I feel I was ‘struggling to keep the pace’ of the course. Indeed, I was awarded a VC overall without having to re-sit any of the assessments. For the sake of completeness, I haven’t got a pupillage, but I have had interviews and I am gaining strong experience within the solicitors’ profession as a fee earner.

Barristers should be persuasive in the way they write. Your article, however, is contradictory and seems to be based on little more than blatant prejudice. You are against the aptitude test on the basis that it is anti-competitive but you are in favour of restricting entry into the profession to those who attended a limited number of universities. How can you reconcile these propositions?

Frankly, I question your suitability for the profession based on this article alone.

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Rachael Waring

If this is the case then why haven’t you gotten a Pupilage yet? Let me think….

Thank goodness no one agrees with your elitist draconian views. You do realise that there are heads of Chambers and instructing Solicitors who, horror of horrors haven’t been to Russell Group Uni’s and whom you would need to interact with on a daily basis?

I’m not asking you to live in the real world per se, just the real legal world of today and not 1920’s Britain. If you spent less time writing ‘ridiculous’ articles and more time on looking/working towards a Pupilage you might have one by now.

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6THU

May help if you could spell “pupillage”

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Counsel

With each post I’m more suprised that Occupy did not get pupillage (yes I am being sarcastic). This is the level of idiocy we come to expect from Alex. Wait a minite…

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C

I think OTI is Alex as well. Aspects of the post about the provinces reminds me too much of an article he once wrote for lawcareers.net. And the Russel Group thing is crearly so ridiculous it is just to garner traffic. I think its a good technique to get hits and comments though as its clearly working and thats the ultimate aim of a blog. It is kind of brass eye. Well brass eye meets meets the office.

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Andrew

OTI, this is an articulate and sensible response to the growing problem of overcrowding at the Bar. (You are a long-term writer for the Guardian I believe, so this article seems not to be the unhinged rantings of a failed pupillage seeker and nothing else, but the thoughts of an educated and experienced journalist).
Where there is so much competition in gaining a pupillage, of course the BPTC should limit the amount of people spending vast sums of money with little chance of success. This current policy detriments those who should seek a career elsewhere, so a pre-entry requirement is a good idea, especially in the form suggested by OTI. If non-Russell Group graduates feel this is unfair, frankly, they should have aimed higher or done better.
Weatherwax – You are right, not in that the idea is ‘ridiculous’ (overly used in this thread), but in that Queen Mary should be a Russell Group university, or alternatively, that a separate, parallel, ‘Law Russell Group’ is set up. QM is one of the best universities for law in the country, so for its graduates to be excluded on this basis is rightly unfair. I did not go to QM by the way, but Nottingham.
While a small minority of bright, deserving people might miss out on the BPTC, the bottom line is not that these graduates are too thick to do well on the course, but that barristers’ chambers are unlikely to bother interviewing those from Birkbeck or Manchester Metropolitan when they are already inundated with applications from Oxbridge and other top-end universities.
Whether one may like it or not, what university you went to has a direct correlation to how intelligent employers believe you are. For chambers not to do so is highly unrealistic.

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Simon Myerson

Leaving aside the proposition that writing for the Guardian makes anyone sensible, the suggestion in the article is foolish and so is this comment. It is also breathtakingly unaware: for example there are various minority groups in this country who go to the closest university to home, or to places where there is a community in which they feel comfortable. This is known as free choice.

To seriously discuss restricting entry to a profession on the basis of a decision informed by far more than academic results is not just daft, but unproductive. The unstated (and possibly unrealised) reasoning behind it is that the Bar is all about academic ability. It isn’t. Academic ability is important but it comes second to judgement.

These points are obvious and I’m afraid I’m coming to the conclusion that, whether this author is a troll, a fool or a stooge, this site is losing any claims to be a serious forum for debate. There is too much pandering to the obviously publicity seeking and too little serious debate. That may bring in the advertisers and secure an income, and even provide some innocent amusement, but it doesn’t help aspirational lawyers. Pity.

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C

Was “Andrew’s” post not sarcastic? Goodness if not.

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Jade

seriously? I don’t know why I keep reading these posts, probably the same reasons I read The Daily Mail……rant material.

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Katie

1. The statistics show the number of BPTC applicants and then the number of those who enrolled on the course. The statistics do not show the number of applicants followed by the number of those offered a place. Applications for the BPTC are made in advance of the Inns announcing their scholarship decisions. It may be that some students are unable to take up their places without a scholarship. Others may defer and take up their places later. Others may change their minds and decide that the BPTC is not for them.

2. I am not saying that it is an appropriate measure of aptitude for the course or for practice but a BPTC aptitude test has already been piloted and therefore your questions have been answered. It does not involve advocacy or an interview. The pilot test was computerised and could therefore be taken anywhere.

3. The BPTC aptitude test in the form in which it was piloted does not contain material covered on the BPTC. The test was designed to assess a prospective student’s ability to think critically. I cannot comment on how you would have done on the test prior to the BPTC or how you would do on it now. Perhaps you should take it.

4. A system of externally imposed regulation to decide who can become a barrister would only be right if you came up with it?

Nonsense.

P.S. I am not an advocate of the BPTC aptitude test.

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Jakaroo

I left a Russell Group university (UCL) to go to a 1994 Group university (UEA) – no difference in standard of work or workload.

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