Killing Time In Pre-Pupillage Purgatory

By Jack Smith on

Pupillage-less prospective barrister Jack Smith is wary of forking out yet more cash on a masters, but daunted by the challenge of landing quality interim legal employment in a difficult market

With only a few exams and assessments before the end of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), thoughts have turned recently to what the devil we’re all going to do next year. A small handful of my friends have managed to secure pupillages commencing in October 2012, however many – like me – are still on the hunt, leaving at least one year of uncertainty. So what can a Bar graduate usefully do in that year?

It was Aristotle who said: “Education is the best provision for old age”, and at times it’s easy to fall into thinking that old age might, in fact, arrive before an offer of pupillage. But is there merit in doing a masters?

More and more people nowadays seem to have one on their CVs. As a 22 year-old, I don’t, having gone straight from school to university, and university to Bar school. One of my course mates from across the pond, however, has spent the last ten years in higher education and has a list of suffixes longer than most people’s addresses. He anticipates his education has cost him several hundred thousands of pounds – that’s a heck of a lot of dollar.

A sports car or the Cambridge masters in corporate law? You decide

In the UK, LLM fees range from around the £7,000 mark all the way up to £20,000 (for Cambridge’s new master of corporate law). And that’s excluding living costs. All in, you’re looking at a sum of money which could buy you a pretty decent sports car. But will it increase your prospects of securing pupillage?

Unsurprisingly, opinion is fairly divided among the barristers who I’ve spoken to. While some say that they haven’t taken anyone in the last five years without a masters, others suggest that you’re certainly not a weaker applicant because you don’t have one.

An alternative to the masters is the New York Bar qualification. According to BPP Law School, qualifying as a New York attorney-at-law will “make you more marketable and enhance your employment opportunities both in the US and the UK”. First, though, be prepared to stump up the fees: £3594.80 at BPP in London. Further, if you haven’t studied an undergraduate law degree and have instead completed the BPTC after enduring the GDL, you’re going to have to do a one year masters in the States before you can practice over there. And that’s going to cost you.

My preferred option for next year is to be in some sort of legal employment. Not least because I have racked up debts which I need to start paying off, but also because I actually want to be working. That is, after all, why I’ve come this far, and having the opportunity to gain some very relevant practical experience as well as starting to earn some money is the most attractive prospect at the moment. So what can BPTC graduates do?

The City is a very popular (and well remunerated) choice: management consultancy, banking and finance, and insurance work all seem to attract Bar grads, as do in-house roles in the legal teams of big corporates. The trouble is that City employers want to be a student’s first choice, rather than an interim back up plan for those looking to fill time, and gain experience, as they look for a pupillage.

The best that someone in my position, whose main ambition is the Bar, could probably hope for would be to obtain a paralegal or legal assistant job within one of these organisations, or indeed within a law firm. Not that these roles are easy to secure, Many law firms advertising for paralegals state that they require one, two, or even three years experience.

That’s why I’m also looking at other options, like research assistant roles at the Law Commission. The benefit of this (still highly competitive to obtain) option is the opportunity to join a team which works exclusively in the area of law you are interested in, enabling you to go on to gain an in-depth understanding of very niche aspects of the law within that area. In that respect such a job could be as useful as a masters – with the added benefit that you get paid.

If that doesn’t come off, there are other interesting options, such as trying your luck abroad (as someone interested in Chancery work, off-shore jurisdiction such as the BVI, Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and Jersey appeal) or even teaching law. One thing I won’t be doing is cross-qualifying as a solicitor – a very well-trodden path for Bar graduates that is regrettably no longer an option for us.

Until 1 September 2010, Bar grads without pupillage could undertake the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test (a very shortened version of the Legal Practice Course) and qualify in England and Wales as solicitors. The Solicitors Regulation Authority replaced this scheme with the equally inspiringly titled Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme, which, in essence, renders those of us without pupillage ineligible. The safety net has thus been removed, and cross-qualification as a solicitor can only be achieved by stumping up the cash (between £9,000 and £13,000 approximately) and spending another year studying for the LPC.

Jack Smith is a BPTC student at City University with a full scholarship from Lincoln’s Inn