Entry To The Bar: ‘Let The Cream Rise To The Top’

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By OccupyTheInns on

OccupyTheInns disagrees with the call made by Mr Justice Burton at Saturday’s Young Bar Conference to make more pupillages available

Almost a year has passed since I launched my campaign urging Bar graduates without a pupillage to show their dissatisfaction by peacefully occupying the Inns of Court.

At the time I was an angry young man, consumed by the injustice of having completed the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) only to be left without a place at chambers to call my own. In a way, I suppose I was the sort of person about whom Mr Justice Burton warned at the junior Bar conference over the weekend when he said that BPTC graduates left in the cold will become the Bar’s “enemy”.

Today, I feel like I hardly know that person I once was. As the seasons have passed and autumn returned once more, much has changed in my life. Most notably from a professional point of view, I have obtained pupillage at a leading set to commence next year. As a result, the only occupation of the Inns I will be doing is from my new desk in chambers!

But what about this year’s new crop of angry young men and women who are graduating from the BPTC in economic times that are harsh, with even fewer pupillages to go around than in my day?

It is a question that I have found turning over and over in my head as I prepare for a period of winter travel to a series of global locations where people are facing injustice.

Should those BPTC graduates without a chambers be able to complete their pupillages unfunded, as Burton J suggested at the Young Bar Conference? Or should we do something more radical: keep the minimum salary requirement, but force barristers to contribute a sum towards pupillage awards, thus enabling more pupillages to be offered? Alternatively, do we refrain from interfering with the system in place at present?

In the past, I have argued passionately in favour of both of the former two options (see here and here). However, as a more mature individual, with a more pragmatic understanding of the realities of the Bar, I have come to the view that the current system, to paraphrase the great Winston Churchill, is the worst form of deciding who becomes a barrister except all the others that have been tried.

Do away with the minimum pupillage and there would be a real risk of the Bar compromising on quality, as individuals lacking the necessary talent to be a barrister could find themselves admitted into chambers. From an administration of justice point of view, there could be chaos once these people were allowed upon their feet in their second six. Diversity may also suffer.

Compel barristers to contribute their earnings to a bigger “pupillage pot”, and you risk the same problems, while also undermining the independent streak of our self-employed profession.

As it is, we have a route to becoming a barrister that is ruthless, but highly meritocratic, ensuring that only the best practise law. To put it in laymen’s terms: our system of entry to the Bar ensures that the cream – and the cream only – rises to the top. It leaves many disappointed, but over time most will come to terms with their lot and have perfectly good careers as solicitors or in legal support roles. Furthermore, as members of the Inns of Court, they will always have the opportunity to attend a dinner and feel part of the Bar. Some may even obtain pupillage a number of years hence.

I for one will always make myself available to offer them assistance and advice.

OccupyTheInns graduated from the BPTC last summer, and was called to the Bar in July 2011. He will commence pupillage next autumn. There’s more from OccupyTheInns here.