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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

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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.