Killing Time In Pre-Pupillage Purgatory

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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


Cheryl Jones

My view is that every person who comes to the Bar should have had to have spent at least six months stacking shelves or working in a MacJob so that they appreciate how fortunate they are to have been blessed with the ability to be barrister, as well as the opportunity. This would provide much needed understanding of clients, together with humility and gratitude to the Fates. And I would recommend a 6 week course in touch typing as well.


Scott Baldwin

Are you trying to say that pupils are out of touch with reality and don’t know what clients go through? The majority of the pupils that we have had in the last 5 years have not come from priveleged backgrounds and have often had to do something else post BVC/BPTC because they couldn’t get pupillage and they needed to work. They are saddled with massive debts and have worked in lower paid jobs through university and beyond. The touch typing thing I absolutely agree with.



Stop being jealous just ‘cos you haven’t even been blessed with the ability to do a shelf stacking job.


Cheryl Jones

No, Scott. That is not what I said (read the comments in the light of the article). I did not generalise about pupils and I wouldn’t. The comment was intended to be helpful, and if it came across otherwise then I am sorry.


Scott Baldwin

The written word can often be misinterpreted and on reading my response it was sharper than intended. No offence taken and non meant in response and we both agree on the touch typing thing.



Getting an LLM does not mean paying more large fees and living expenses. Having already shelled out some 19k in a bank loan for the BVC in 2009/2010 I looked into doing a Masters and was initially discouraged due to the expense. However some Universities (often those that provide the BVC now BPTC) have a ‘top up’ LLM in Legal Practice. The BVC is effectively 3/4 of a Masters so you are adding the necessary points to allow you have both a PDip and LLM.

It can be taken full or part time, and only consists of writing a research proposal (25%) and dissertaion or research project (75%) on your chosen area of law. It is very doable whilst maintaining a full time job, whilst ensuring you keep up to date in legal reforms and changes. I have found it to be a good talking point in pupillage interviews, and it means you haven’t added another 7k on your quest to become a Barrister.

With regards jobs, although BVC/BPTC graduates are in a good position to apply for ‘city roles’ as discussed in the article from speaking with Barristers through work, you ideally need to be in a paralegal role where you are given the opportuntity to advocate, draft etc on a daily basis. Although many adverts ask for at least 1/2 years experience, when getting my first paralegal position half way through the full time BVC, I used what we were doing in classes as evidence of my drafting skills/written skills/working knowledge of the CPR which could be used in the role, and it worked!



Sound advice is here:

You ought to be looking at trying to get work that is going to help you be a better advocate/barrister/lawyer and also, if possible, be relevant to your desired area of practice. An LLM may be less useful than you think, and of less value than first appears. It’s also going to do very little to make you stand out.

You need to step back, look at your CV, look at where you want to be, and find work that fills in the gaps and meets the requirements for where you want to go.



And for those who thought I was simply bigging up City Law school or BPP (neither of which I have ever been affiliated with, nor attended), I was just trying to give fellow pupillage-less peers a tip off about a cheaper LLM alternative.



For the sake of being even handed after my attack on this chap’s last blog, I wanted to say he makes a good point about the QLTT.



I mark OLPAS forms for my chambers. If you’re good enough, you’ll get pupillage. . If you haven’t got it after three years, give up. Sorry, but that’s the reality. There’s no work at the criminal bar any more.


I say it with love

At least solicitors have HR people to do the sift rather than the Lauras of this world.



On the value of an LLM, here’s where I stand:

There’s no point doing a masters for the sake of it, especially given the cost. If you’re going to do one, go and do it properly at a highly ranked university.

I did take an LLM after bar school to boost my CV. I did get a pupillage. However, I was offered a pupillage before I graduated from the LLM. It’s just the way the pupillage season timetable worked out. So, I don’t think my having an LLM had any direct bearing in and of itself on my securing a pupillage.

Having said that, studying a masters gave me more to talk about at interview and because I was studying modules relevant to my chosen area of practice (crime), I could answer substantive questions with more confidence. Which leads me to my point…

Studying a masters, if it doesn’t do anything else, should hopefully give you more confidence and faith in your ability. If it does, you’re going to come across more competently in interview.

Looking back at my own experience trying to secure pupillage, the obstacles I hit came more down to lacking confidence than anything else. I found interviews scary and let it show. I wouldn’t have offered me a pupillage frankly.

I needed more time to grow up and mature. A year on a masters did the trick for me, but I dare say other, less costly experiences, would have done the trick.

I maintain, however, that where securing pupillage is concerned a great deal comes down to luck and chance. As with most things in life.


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