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Bar Council snubs legal aid chambers over pupillage fair rates

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Organisers claim event will widen pool of applicants, but class divisions between haves and have-nots will be clearly on display

Lead

Bar leaders yesterday dished out a superb lesson straight from the pages of George Orwell’s Animal Farm — all barristers’ chambers are equal in the eyes of the representative body, but some are more equal than others.

That heart-warming aphorism was combined with a reminder of the power of market economics — and it was all wrapped up in the shape of the Bar Council’s first ever pupillage fair.

Pitched at wannabe barristers desperate for face-time with a collection of top practitioners at the legal profession coal face, the fair is billed as being “open to all chambers looking to recruit, irrespective of their specialism”.

But the prominence — or lack of it — of individual chambers at the Lincoln’s Inn event in November will depend on the thickness of their wallets.

Bucket rate exhibition fees for those chambers not in the stratosphere of high-end commercial practice start at £800. For that — and to assist their bid to woo the cream of law students — they are given … a six-foot trellis table and a couple of fold-up chairs. Think village green church fete.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Chancery and Commercial bar superstars will be offered the £3,000 “gold” package.

Included will be not just room for pop-up banners, but a specially constructed stand with name board and plenty of space for all-important branding.

The gold package also involves more space — enough for two tables and up to four chairs, or, as the Bar Council describes it, “alternative furniture”. Think chaise lounge, vintage 1960s arch lamp and full cocktail bar.

Between those polar ends are four tiers of intermediate categories, all involving various permutations of branding visibility — the word “logo” is mentioned frequently — and something described as a “graphics loop”.

However, chambers specialising in state funded and public law work will not be getting any favours from the organisers. Despite the Bar Council frequently complaining that government plans to slash legal aid fees and eligibility rates could drive many barristers to the wall, chambers in those fields will not be given a discounted rate to exhibit at the fair.

A Bar Council spokesman said:

We have made the cost of standard exhibition space cheaper than it has been in previous years … This will make it easier for chambers, especially those specialising in publicly funded areas of law, to get involved. We are also making available a number of pro bono spaces.

In yesterday’s announcement of the event, which is scheduled for 21 November, Philip Robertson, the council’s director of policy, waxed lyrical:

Careers advice on how to become a barrister, which includes what’s required to succeed at the bar and the challenges as well as the opportunities involved with the profession, is often hard to find.

(Well, that doesn’t reflect so well on the Bar Council’s engagement with students so far, then.)

Robertson continued:

The point of the Pupillage Fair is to bring all that information, as well as people who can provide a wealth of guidance about a career as a barrister, under one roof. Students thinking about a career as a barrister can use the fair as an opportunity to find out more and help them decide whether the bar is the path they wish to go down and whether particular specialisms at the bar are of interest to them. As we are joining forces with the Chancery Bar this year, there will be a healthy representation from Chancery sets as well as exhibition stands, information and workshops tailored for all specialist areas.

The council man finished with a challenge to chambers to put their money where their mouths are in relation to high-minded statements about social diversity in the profession:

If chambers are serious about opening up pupillages to tap into a larger talent pool, the Bar Council Pupillage Fair is an ideal opportunity for them to do that. The fair also sends a clear signal to students that the bar is open to all as a career.

Get those chequebooks out, chambers’ directors.

11 Comments

Anonymous

I’m sure most Chambers could afford the £3k if they wanted to, reliance on publicly funded work or not. The question is whether any expense like this is a good use of funds when pupillages are already massively over subscribed.

I believe our Chambers had 250 applicants for 2 places this year, so the need for further promotion is not obvious.

(34)(4)

Carnybull

These rates are a huge burden for small Chambers.

Cut a deal with Banksy. Hold it in Dismaland.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

But does your Chambers have any difficulty attracting good pupillage candidates even without the fair? It appears to be something of a BC vanity project.

(14)(1)

Not Amused

Right, let’s just think about this for a second. What resources is the Bar Council using for this? I should imagine very little. So the rates are almost certainly profit making.

Why is the Bar Council seeking to tax and monetise the profession? What is the point of such an organisation? Now that the Bar Council is a grubby little organisation, set on raising as much cash as possible for its seedy existence – why am I forced to belong to it?

I am a decent human being and right now I am being compelled to belong to an organisation that acts in a manner in which I would never act. That is the real question for me. As the Bar Council continues its slide in to acting like a used car salesman from the 70s, at what point can I refuse to be associated with it?

(25)(2)

Anonymous

Perhaps Legal Cheek could put in a query to see how much (if any) profit is being made from this event? It’s a shame that the Bar Council isn’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

It is very difficult to see how the Bar Council can justify such fees.

(8)(0)

Quo Vadis

I never went to a single event like this when I was a student. What would I ask?
Are you offering pupillage? (yes)
Am I a reasonable candidate? (either yes, or a polite ‘maybe’ where the answer is actually no)
Can I steal a chambers pen? (try, and you’ll lose your fingers)

(19)(0)

Anonymous

Is this running instead of or in addition to the Target Jobs National Pupillage Fair which takes place every March?

I found the exhibition part of that event pretty useless and don’t see how the Bar Council’s version will be any different. Aside from the occasional free pen, there was little to be gained that could not already be found on Chambers’ websites/Chambers & Partners.

The talks, however, were helpful and informative with a great mix of panellists and the fair may have some benefit if the Bar Council attempts to run a similar programme.

I would also hope that the Bar Council attempts to get a more varied mix of Chambers than can be found at the Target Jobs Fair. ‘National’ is an interesting choice of adjective given that the only Chambers to show up from the regions each year are Kings and No5…

(3)(1)

snowball

Tend to agree, these events are pointless and expecting chambers to pay to attend is ridiculous. The BC is losing touch and is in danger of going along with the ever increasing split within the Bar between the publicly funded and commercially funded Bars.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

total non-news.
pay more for more space.
standard exhibition rules no?

(1)(4)

Anonymous

This idea is BS but the targets jobs fair was excellent – if only to keep me well away from barristers who spent 10 mins telling me how they did better than their oxbridge peers yet ended up in the same position now… *sigh*

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Bar Council looking to make a quick buck me thinks

(2)(0)

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