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Chambers Most List 2016: More money flows to the expanding Oxbridge elite

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79% of rookie barristers at the top 50 chambers went to Oxford or Cambridge

Lead

Being elitist is a central tenet of any top barristers’ chambers’ business model. How else do you get magic circle solicitors to come to you when they have a problem unless your set is stacked full of legal super brains?

But the reality of that commitment to recruiting the very best is brought home by a glance at the 2016 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List, which reveals that a whopping 79% of new tenants in England’s top 50 sets have graduated from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Indeed, there are 20 chambers without a single graduate of any other university among their newest members, and a further 17 boasting four Oxbridge graduates out of their five most junior barristers.

Only six top 50 chambers — Henderson, Matrix, No5, 7 Bedford Row, St John’s Chambers and St Philips — have fewer Oxbridge new recruits than non-Oxbridge ones.

The findings mean that, taken as a whole, the top 50 chambers in the Chambers Most List — which is released today — are more Oxford and Cambridge-dominated than the top 30 chambers which we surveyed last year, across which Oxbridge graduates made up 77% of new tenants.

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What is more, these centres of legal nerdery are paying more than ever, with Atkin Chambers this year vaulting to the head of the Most List as it smashes the £70,000 pupillage award for the first time in bar history.

The construction and engineering-geared outfit, which has a relatively compact 27 juniors and 17 QCs, is now paying pupils an almost obscene £72,500.

The 20% pay rise takes Atkin — whose name Legal Cheek would like to think is a tribute to Lord Atkin of Donoghue v Stevenson fame — above 2015 top-payer 2 Temple Gardens, where pupils are still being required to scrape by on £67,500.

Meanwhile, a host of the chambers who used to pay youngsters £60,000 have quietly nudged up their awards to £65,000. One Essex Court, Essex Court Chambers, 7 King’s Bench Walk and Stone Chambers are among those to have made this move. And slightly further down the ultra-elite pecking order Outer Temple has ruffled feathers by upping its pupillage pay by an incredible 40% — from £43,000 to £60,000.

For the thousands of jobless Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) graduates trapped on the outside looking in, the rises will be enough to make them despair. But for wannabe barristers who are currently studying undergraduate degrees at other Russell Group, and even non-Russell Group, universities, there is a ray of hope.

The Chambers Most List Oxbridge figures include all levels of degrees — with a barrister deemed to be Oxbridge-educated even if they only did a masters at good old at Cantab or Oxon.

As they compiled the data our researchers noted that while most of these elite barristers had made it to Oxford or Cambridge the first time around, a fair proportion got in there as postgraduates.

But, be warned, even such relative chancers had stellar CVs that abounded with first class degrees, scholarships and prizes. A consistent theme across them all was success in mooting competitions — i.e. winning them, often repeatedly, frequently on some kind of international scale, rather than just making the quarter final of some internal university debate.

So if you are not the sort of legal superhuman whose very presence would calm a stressed out Slaughter and May partner — and you don’t fancy earning the minimum wage at the crumbling legal aid bar — perhaps resign from the mooting society and start furiously applying for training contracts.

The Legal Cheek Chambers Most List: 2016 edition is now live.

78 Comments

David Hughes

The real issue with diversity at the bar is social class. Those with the sort of family background that encourages academic achievement and striving, with the financial self-confidence to undertake all sorts of worthy, cv-enhancing activities, will make it regardless of race or gender. But a bar that doesn’t have the academic late-developer, the person who’s not lived their entire life putting together a stellar cv, will not be a very diverse bar.

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Not Amused

I’m all in favour of academic late developers. However they can demonstrate their late development exactly the same way another applicant demonstrates their ‘on time’ development – with grades.

My concern is with kids who are born poor. They need to get positive and even pushy messages about how important academics are. That means telling 11 year olds in state schools exactly the same things 11 year olds in public schools are told. It means turning our state system in to a competitive academic environment where success is praised and encouraged.

To be frank we do not do this now. Teachers are, in my experience, some of the most de-motivational forces on our kids. As are parents. As can be the media when it says stupid things that imply a poor born kid can’t succeed. A poor born kid can succeed – but it really has to fight for it (just like everyone else).

It also means telling the media to shut up about this whole ‘elite academics are morally wrong’ thing they have going on. Elite sport. Elite musicians. None of these are criticised. Poor kids who are academically brilliant should be praised not made in to pariahs.

None of the rich born kids who succeed at the Bar were lazy. None of them ever felt they lived a low pressure existence. They all worked bloody hard. Plenty of rich born kids fail each year because they aren’t as good. Underachievement by poor born kids is indicative of serious failings in the state – not of failings in the kids themselves. We need to encourage and inculcate that same level of effort in to state schools. The kids themselves often have this. But abolishing grammar schools (were such competitive pressure flourished) and surrounding state school kids with de-motivational forces has seriously undermined that effort.

The message to poor born kids should be “if you want to achieve in a job which requires key academic ability, then you need to go to a brilliant uni. You can go to a brilliant uni if you try”.

Conversely chambers need to stop putting weight on graduate qualifications. There is no government funding for arts and humanities graduate degrees. That is a sad truth. But while it remains true it is recklessly irresponsible to award any credit to an applicant for having done one – you are unwittingly discriminating against those who are good enough but who can not afford it.

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Anonymous

Not Amused, surely you can take into account a graduate degree which was funded by a full scholarship awarded either on the basis of merit or need? Also, it’s incorrect to say there is no government funding for arts and humanties graduate degrees; AHRC funding is available, it’s just highly competitive (like everything else we’re talking about).

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Anonymous

No, there is money for arts and humanities degrees – from the AHRC as the previous commenter mentioned and from various other sources, including most Oxbridge colleges. A masters scholarship is a fine way to demonstrate that you have been academically impressive (to someone) on a CV.

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Not Amused

The ill I am trying to highlight is an employee giving weight to a candidate having obtained a graduate degree in law.

The fact that the AHRC has (extremely small) funds (limited to a tiny minority of people). Or that (a handful of the richer) colleges may offer (modest or insubstantial) grants from private funds, doesn’t really defeat my argument.

The vast majority of graduate degree kids in the humanities self fund. Ergo it must follow that if we give weight to graduate degrees in the humanities, we will accidentally discriminate in favour of kids who can self fund.

The AHRC kid is already obvious to a selection panel – for precisely the same reasons she is obvious to the AHRC. The stellar rich born kid is/would have been obvious for the same reason. Neither need a graduate degree for the purposes of practice (an academic career perhaps, but not practice).

My ill is the two identical kids with 2:1s. It is lazy and accidentally discriminatory if employers decide to choose between those two candidates on the basis that one has a grad degree and one does not. Because you will see, we will see, that over time the candidate who wins is the candidate who had money.

I am trying to encourage chambers to ignore grad degrees. Where you have two 2:1 kids – interview hard, assess, double check assumptions. Do not merely say “oooo look this one has an LLM”.

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Anonymous

Being from a grammar myself, can’t agree with the reference. On the whole, however – well put.

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Anonymous

“the person who’s not lived their entire life putting together a stellar cv” (read: an older person with a less impressive CV) is not likely to make it over a more qualified younger applicant. Why is this a diversity issue? It’s a highly competitive field, and it might be factors as small as a bit of polish on a CV that can change success to failure.
Using this line of reasoning, you may as well say that the bar should start taking on non-lawyers (“But a bar that doesn’t have a 17th Century Cornish Literature student, the person who’s not lived their life putting together a cv with any legal experience, will not be a very diverse bar.”).

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Anonymous

The Bar wants the beat person for the job.

Typically those who rise to the top showed promise at a young age. They then went on to Oxbridge after succeeding at GCSE and A Levels.

It is therefore not a surprise so many barristers went to Oxbridge. It is not about elitism.

Declaring my background, I attended a comprehensive school and it was fine.

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Anon y Mouse

Poor brainwashed chump. A perfectly efficient meritocratic system, eh?

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Anonymous

Kiss ma teef. Bitch.

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Quo Vadis

There is no excuse for an outstanding lawyer to not end up at Oxford or Cambridge at some point during their career. Even if they don’t get in the first time round, they have every opportunity to study for the BCL or Cambridge LLM afterwards. If you get the top first at the University of Doncaster, and can demonstrate that your A-level results were a fluke, you will be welcomed in with open arms – and a scholarship.

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Lol

“There is no excuse” – but maybe they don’t want to go to Oxbridge?

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Anonymous

I dropped out of my Fine Arts degree, picked fluff out of my bumhole for five years and then applied to the bar, but they didn’t accept me. WHERE’S THE DIVERSITY!?!?!?

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Quo Vadis

Quite right – I should have added, “if they want to”. A BCL/LLM certainly isn’t a prerequisite for excellence. Having said that, I like to think that if I was clever and motivated enough for the BCL/LLM (which I most certainly am not), I would like to do it simply for the sheer pleasure of learning law in such an environment.

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Anon

I very easily got the top first in law at my uni, and still got rejected from the BCL. Anecdotal I know, and I’m sure that some (perhaps even, many) other ‘top firsts’ do get in, but to say that they are ‘welcomed in with open arms and a scholarship’ might be a bit much.

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Quo Vadis

I am given to understand that students from Hull, Kent and Westminster have got in before, and I would bet they were top of their years.

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Pantman

I think a reasonable excuse might be the fees for these courses. I’m pretty sure I looked at the BCL recently and the overall fees were circa £18k.

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Anonymous

bullshit

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El Presidente

Meanwhile the Pope is still the head of the church and bears still shit in the woods.

How are any of these ‘statistics’ news, LC? It’s easily been like this at the Bar since John Selden spoke about the Chancellor’s footlong.

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Anonymous

You know, this isn’t massively surprising in a profession which values academics highly.

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Anonymous

I don’t care what all the Oxbridge fanclub say – it is a statistical impossibility that this high a percentage of their graduates should be tenants, and by extension the best candidates.

Think about the odds for a minute.

It’s people hiring the ‘right sort’, in their own image, with a bit of snobbery thrown in.

I’m all for recruiting on merit, from university selections to pupillage selections, to tenancy decisions. This simply isn’t the case at present.

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Not Amused

Look, I can’t do maths either. That’s why I, like so many others before me, became a lawyer. But, when you say “Think about the odds for a minute” and then don’t actually produce any statistical analysis – your argument looks weak.

In reality an Oxbridge grad has been through multiple levels of ‘sifting’ designed to select the most academically able.
– level 1 was GCSEs
– level 2 was A levels
– level 3 was university application/admission
– level 4 was maintaining adequate grades while at uni
– level 5 was getting the degree

Each stage of that process actively seeks out (through a variety of assessment techniques: including interview, coursework, modular exams, resits and final exams) the most academically able. So, although I am not good at maths, your fundamental contention must be wrong.

On a purely statistical basis, after 5 levels of active academic selection, the resultant Oxbridge grad is surely more likely to be genuinely academically able. If they aren’t then why did we bother with those 5 levels of assessment?

If you selected athletes on a similar basis and then said “after these 5 levels of assessment, involving a variety of techniques, our product is more likely to be a good athlete” then would you feel as you do?

Because I’m afraid your conclusion is not based upon maths in the way you claim it is.

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Pantman

– level 1 was GCSEs
– level 2 was A levels
– level 3 was university application/admission
– level 4 was maintaining adequate grades while at uni
– level 5 was getting the degree

I think you left out a few levels there, which is a bit odd because you allude to some of them above:

– level -3: were you born into money (to pay for an education), or were you lucky enough to have parents that recognised the need to motivate you in your education (because they knew that most of your teachers would be useless)
– level -2: did your primary school have the resources to develop the talent of its brightest pupils
– level -1: did you pass the 11+, or even live in an area where such things matter
– level 0: did you end up at a shite secondary school with shite teachers

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Anonymous

“I could totally have been the best academic in the world, but it’s society’s fault I didn’t get the grades”

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Pantman

Do you know what a bus is?

Anonymous

Do you know what a rent boy is?

Anonymous

I don’t think we want to know about your incest fantasies.

Anonymous

I disagree, but on the assumption that your model is correct, the issue isn’t the Bar and/or Oxbridge, it’s Early Years education. Oxbridge dominance is the symptom, not the cause.

Even so, if someone needs to defend a multi-billion pound multi-jurisdiction claim, they don’t give a hoot about the “diversity” or “distance-travelled” of who they instruct. They want the cleverest and most able at that time. If that person happens to be the benficiary of extraordinary privlege, so what?

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Pantman

Well, early years is strictly nursery and reception, so I’m not making that claim – I’m saying that state schools across the board don’t motivate children to achieve, so unless you are truly exceptional or have parents to motivate you, you are going to be hard pressed to get into a decent university, etc.

Essentially, if you want to do well via state school, then you’re going to have to fight the system right the way through – which isn’t the way it should be. The problem with primary education is that all they seem to want to do is meet the (incredibly low) targets set by the government, and do nothing to educate/motivate the brighter children.

I think you also have to look at this in the round, it may well be that the best and brightest get to Oxbridge – but somehow they are disproportionately from fee-paying schools (what are the stats: 7% of children go to fee-paying schools, but 42% of Cambridge and 37% of Oxford students went to fee-paying schools).

No one is really going to suggest that children with parents that can afford to pay the fees are somehow born with higher IQs than everyone else, are they?

Quo Vadis

I would certainly suggest it. Private education requires money; money requires intelligence. Intelligence is strongly heritable. The average IQ of students at Eton is likely to be vastly greater than at Bogwood Comprehensive, given the number of illustrious and successful families that send their children there. (And I say this as a proud alumnus of Bogwood Comprensive…)

The real problem nowadays is not that the children of the elite have their success bought for them – far from it. The problem is that they earn their success, through intelligence and no small measure of hard work, but spend so little time in the company of ordinary people whilst doing so that they develop a pathological attitude to those outside their own little milieu. Hence the current government.

Anonymous

“Money requires intelligence” is a pretty controversial and indefensible generalisation.

Quo Vadis

It must be defensible to a certain extent otherwise it would not be controversial. To whit – the Brideshead aristocracy is dead. It died a long time ago. Those now at the top (whether in status or wealth) are there at least in part because of merit.

Anonymous

It is controversial in the sense that it is something that is repeatedly discussed, but indefensible in the sense that it is blatantly untrue. For a taste:

+ Wealthy criminals (white-collar or other) need not necessarily be intelligent.
+ Celebrities, artists (people in the arts in general), professional sportsmen need not necessarily be intelligent.
+ Successful businessmen need not necessarily be intelligent.
+ Miscellaneous individuals who are unscrupulous or otherwise blindly fortunate need not necessarily be intelligent.

I have known examples of the offspring of all of the above attend expensive independent schools. Do not conflate money with intelligence.

Quo Vadis

Wealth and intelligence do not match precisely. But there are several studies demonstrating a strong and undeniable correlation between the two. You must also take care to avoid conflating intelligence with virtue. People who are unscrupulous may still be exquisitely intelligent. This is precisely my point; the casual indifference shown by the elites towards the poor is not down to privilege alone. It is also due to the fact that they are very bright and very hardworking, and they resent bitterly those who are not.

Anonymous

Ah, but you did not say “on average people who are wealthy have a tendency to be more intelligent that those who are not”, you said that intelligence is a requisite for being wealthy, and there is far more in that than mere semantics. It risks oversimplifying the issue, which is that there still exists a subset of people who are apparently able to buy their way into circles that are supposed to be meritocratic.
I am aware that unscrupulous people may be intelligent (as may criminals, celebrities, businessmen etc.), that’s why I said that they “need not necessarily” be intelligent.

Pantman

Your little brother?

Pantman

I would certainly suggest it. Private education requires money; money requires intelligence. Intelligence is strongly heritable. The average IQ of students at Eton is likely to be vastly greater than at Bogwood Comprehensive…

I think you only need a glance around to see that there isn’t much of a link between intelligence (that can be tested via Oxbridge) and money. Are the Beckham-Spice offspring likely to have an intelligence enhanced by their genetics or their money?

If you’re at the stage where you’re measuring what an Eton student can achieve then you have already missed the point. 99% of those boys (and pointedly not girls) had an advantage at birth bought by money, not genetics.

BTW, private education doesn’t always require money, some are lucky enough to get scholarships or bursaries – but they are the minority.

Quo Vadis

Are the Beckham-Spice children representative of privately educated children? I doubt it. A better example of elite habits are the East Coast prep schools – where most of the really well-connected people send their kids nowadays. Most of the kids at Andover or St. Pauls enter Ivy League schools or Oxbridge. Legacy admissions aside, getting into an elite university is incredibly difficult, a real achievement, and something that cannot be bought. That is indicative of a talent amongst the student body which would not be replicated elsewhere.

Anonymous

Clearly not met many private school thickies, have you? Or perhaps you are one.

Anonymous

I think we are at a turning point in UK’s private school history.

Many very intelligent parents (doctors, lawyers, academics etc) can no longer afford to send their children to private schools at £30k per year fees. Intelligence and wealth has no real link any longer (if it ever did). Arab and Asian millionaires will come to dominate our leading public schools – and that will bring the demise of Great Britain. The end of civilisation as we know it. Though that does mean state (mainly grammar) schools will now get more bright offspring of the intelligent but not super-rich parents.

Anonymous

Oxbridge dominance is neither symptom nor cause – they aim to pick the best people and they then give those people a better education than most universities can.

As if defending yourself against Oxbridge academics in close quarters for several years wouldn’t prepare you well for the Bar.

Not Amused

I didn’t claim that the 5 stage academic selection procedure I identified was fair. Saying “it is likely to be effective at identifying the academically most able” is not the same as me saying “I like it and don’t want any change”. I stated it would select the brightest kids. It does.

It ought to be abundantly clear that I do want change. I want huge change in the way that poor born bright children in my country are treated. Part of my achieving that is dismissing all of the recurring bad arguments that surround this issue.

It is almost impossible to improve the plight of poor born bright kids without someone with a chip on their shoulder re-hashing a tired and failed argument. I want a results based approach and grammar schools best encapsulate how I feel:

Having grammar schools did not help all poor born children
Having grammar schools helped more poor born bright children than not having grammar schools has done
Ergo I want grammar schools and additional solutions to other problems.

Currently anyone wanting to actually help is hampered, largely by those on the left, who simply will not let any beneficial change happen unless ‘all’ children can be helped. As all children can not be helped – because not everyone can succeed; the answer from the left has been ‘then I shall not help any child’. Such an argument is to my mind insane.

What I do in the meantime (until I get my amazing politician who actually saves UK education) is try to reach out to as many kids as possible and tell them that they can succeed. Yes it is a fight. It is a really hard fight. It might look like the rich kids aren’t fighting. They are. They are not your enemy. Your biggest enemy is that voice inside you which tells you not to bother to fight – and any voices outside who tell you the same lie.

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Pantman

. Saying “it is likely to be effective at identifying the academically most able”…

It doesn’t do that, as posted above, all it does is show who could pay to get a better education for their children. And that is reflected in the eventual Oxbridge output.

Anonymous

Your biggest problem, NA, is that you assume that Oxbridge entrance is an objective process, when we know it is nothing of the sort. You are known to be extremely unhappy about recruiters using subjective tests, extra-curriculars etc when judging applicants for training contracts, yet completely neglect that failing in the Oxbridge entry system.

For instance, Johnny from a poor family in Hull might have great grades from his failing state school but has never had interview practice. He applies to Cambridge and gets rejected in favour of Jonathan who lives in Surrey and went to Eton, who has been coached for the interview and has an enormous array of extra-curricular activities behind him.

No one is saying that Jonathan did not deserve a place at Oxbridge, but Johnny did not get refused on objective – academic – criteria. Everyone who gets into Oxbridge has stellar A Levels. No, he didn’t get in because he didn’t do so well in the interview. Interviews can never be objective.

Statistics even suggest that state schoolers tend to do better on average than private schoolers once they get to university: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/state-school-students-get-better-degrees-than-private-school-pupils-with-same-a-levels-10504225.html (although of course this is not a conclusive study). So assuming that Johnny and Jonathan had done equally well at school, Johnny likely would have performed better at Oxbridge.

But say Johnny goes to UCL. Remember that at this point, no objective discrimination has been made between them. If both want to become barristers, however, many barristers like you will assume that Johnathan is the “best” candidate purely because he got into Oxbridge, even though the end result may not be that at all, if Johnny has worked hard and reached similar attainment levels. Oxbridge might have higher teaching standards in general, but the top student at UCL will obviously be enormously more capable than the bottom student at Oxbridge – so there is certainly overlap between top students at Oxbridge and other top universities, and all we are arguing about then is the extent to which they overlap. You actually have no possible way of knowing that Oxbridge exams are harder than any other given ‘top’ university either. That is a problem – there should be some sort of unification – but you simply make the assertion lower down that Oxbridge is definitely harder, as unproven as if I said that Nottingham exams are harder.

Then there is the aspect of college application. Downing College Cambridge for law, for instance, is significantly, almost comically, harder to get into than St Hugh’s Hall Oxford for classics. So there is no objective standard for Oxbridge entry in that sense either – someone could be an enormously better student, but miss out because they apply to a much more competitive college than a weaker candidate.

Oxbridge entry is therefore not even close to being an objective system of identifying achievement. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that – they do the best they can because there is ultimately no obviously objective method to judge a person. But for people like you, who make hiring decisions and hand out career advice to youngsters, to imply that an Oxbridge student is an objectively superior student, is nonsense.

I have no Oxbridge chip – Oxbridge clearly has the best exposure to top academics, the history, the culture, everything that sets someone up to succeed and everyone should go if they can. But it does not by any means produce objectively superior individuals – it just works clever people hard and gives them additional opportunities, often through the tacit assumption that some Oxbridge graduates (including you, based purely upon your posts here) make that they are cleverer than everyone else.

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Not Amused

I agree with a lot of what you say. If I can just distil a few points:

1) On the Jonny/Jonathan point, my answer is to give interview prep to Jonny. I actually do this, every year and I both sign up others to do so and give a bit of cash. The counter argument is to say I am cheating because Jonny Mark 2 doesn’t even get my help – I feel guilty about that and would encourage all to assist. My view is that the state schools need to be copying their far more successful cousins – copying specifically Winchester, Westminster and St Pauls.

2) Every Oxbridge academic I know would say, I don’t care, coaching doesn’t help, we’re not testing flair or panache we’re testing how their mind works. Now that itself is probably true. I know many state school Oxbridge Dons who have no reason to lie. But because I am risk averse, I try to get Jonny some training anyway

3) I agree on the top firsts being just as good. But they get in. The problem is coasters heading for a 2:1. Oxbridge actively scares, hurts, kicks, bullies, terrifies and cajoles them in to working. Other unis do not. I want this problem solved by the others in the top 5 improving their standards – I find it remarkable just how lazy we let them be. Seriously, go and ask a kid at one of them just how much work they do a week and how much teaching they get (and whether it is by an academic or a PhD student). You will be appalled. In many ways the anti-Oxbridge media stuff provides a welcome distraction for those unis – like Argentine doesn’t have to actually run its economy if it can distract enough people over Las Malvinas or the SNP can be really crap as long as they can distract the people – same phenomena, same result.

4) I agree whole heartedly on some subjects being easy ways in to Oxbridge. That is something Employers need to be aware of – just as I caution them on reliance on graduate degrees.

Oxbridge takes really clever kids and through an intense process kicks them in to being far better than they would otherwise have been. My view is that as we go down the top 10 the remaining institutions are lazy and letting their kids down.

This article itself admits that the numbers a skewed by including grad degrees. When you only include undergrad degrees the numbers are no odder than you would expect the top 2 unis to produce – if the obverse was true we would be asking why Oxbridge was failing. No human devised system can ever be truly objective – but I think Oxbridge admissions comes close and I am proud of the efforts put in to it.

Quo Vadis

“Oxbridge actively scares, hurts, kicks, bullies, terrifies and cajoles them in to working”

I like this very much, and it is true. But I wouldn’t underestimate the amount of work necessary to get a top grade at a second-class university. Equally, Oxbridge humanities subjects are notorious for giving their students perhaps 6 hours a week of contact time and making up for it with a reading list the size of Jupiter.

Anonymous

I’m glad that you agree wholeheartedly with a lot of my post, but I just wanted to highlight this:

“3) I agree on the top firsts being just as good. But they get in.”

The point is that this article shows that that is untrue – the top chambers do not take non-Oxbridge graduates. I don’t see the graduate degree point as being relevant, because scholarships are rare and otherwise you have to be rich to afford to do one, so the question is not ‘why are top chambers not taking 2.1s from LSE’, but ‘why are the top chambers not taking top first from anywhere other than Oxbridge’.

Anonymous

None of these levels are unique to Oxbridge. Most self-respecting Universities vet their applicants/students on this basis.

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Not Amused

What is unique to Oxbridge is that at each of the 5 stages it is taking the best. Now you might argue that the best can also end up at some other unis. I would agree. However that ignores two key factors:

1) Oxbridge has by far the highest teaching standards;
2) Oxbridge maintains the highest levels for awarding degree

Now you might try and say “NA that’s unfair, teaching standards at Uni#3 are just as good” and I would challenge you to prove it before you made such a claim. I have not been lazy on this issue, I am broadly aware of teaching standards at the top unis – mostly through my years as a mentor. You may say “NA that is unfair Uni#5 is just as rigorous a tester” and again I would challenge you to prove it – and here I would say that when a uni announces in the TES that it has deliberately lowered its criteria for getting a first that that is a *bad thing*.

In any event those are nuance arguments about the Top 5 unis – who are not underrepresented at the Bar. You didn’t seek a nuanced argument. You said:

“None of these levels are unique to Oxbridge. Most self-respecting Universities vet their applicants/students on this basis.”

That statement is untrue. That is because:

1) Only Oxford, Cambridge and York interview undergraduate candidates for law. That is a disgrace because interview is a vital part of selecting and identifying academic ability. If you are an alumni of a uni that is not these 3 then I urge you to pressure your alma mater in to going back to interview.
2) Oxbridge are taking to top slice after every one of the stages.
3) Universities outside the top 5 all lower their grade requirements.

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Pantman

Only Oxford, Cambridge and York interview undergraduate candidates for law.

Not true. I didn’t attend any of those universities, but did attend an interview to get onto an LLB course.

Anonymous

That isn’t what you said. You said “In reality an Oxbridge grad has been through multiple levels of ‘sifting’ designed to select the most academically able”. You differentiated it by stating that it has the stages, not that the stages themselves are different in nature to every other University. The top universities in league tables have scores that are largely similar. I am in agreement with the poster above who said that the percentage of Oxbridge grads is disproportionate when you consider that Oxbridge may be the best but there are a number of great Universities which are only slightly less excellent. The numbers do not add up.

You also seem to be saying that Oxbridge is unique in retaining the people who get the top results in each stage, which cannot be what you mean. Presumably you mean the best in the country, which would be a somewhat controversial sweeping statement.

In addition to Pantman above, I also did not attend Oxbridge or York but was interviewed for my LLB.

Anonymous

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Oxford and Cambridge consistently rank in the top universities in the world (ahead of any other UK instituion) in independent rankings. You have to at least concede that it’s a guarantor of a high quality of university level education. For example for 2015/16 Cambridge and Oxford were 3rd and 6th respectively in the QS table, and 4th and 5th respectively in the CWUR table.

I don’t mean to downplay the problems with diversity in admissions that Oxford and Cambridge have, but they do have a very high academic standard and quality of education.

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Anonymous

I think the issue is that they are hugely overrepresented when you consider that they are only slightly higher in league tables than a large number of other universities, which suggests that the process is something other than meritocratic.

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Pantman

It’s even worse than worrying about what the top 50 chambers might be doing, in London 57% of those called since 2010 have a connection with Oxbridge (50% have their first degrees from Oxbridge):

http://www.indx.co.uk/pupilbase/?mode=stats&rtype=oxbridge

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Anonymous

The % of state school students attending Oxford and Cambridge has increased in recent years – significantly so over recent decades. If these universities make progress with socio-economic diversity in the students they admit, there is less scope to complain that the Bar (or indeed any profession) is too Oxbridge-heavy. You can’t have your cake and eat it.

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Not Amused

The more that each and every one of us can do to get poor born bright kids in to Oxbridge the better.

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Pantman

The % of state school students attending Oxford and Cambridge has increased in recent years…

Show us the stats! The last I saw Cambridge had 42% from fee-paying schools and Oxford had 37%. That’s with 7% of the children in the UK going to fee-paying schools – that’s 5.642857142857 times over-representation from fee-paying schools.

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Quo Vadis

Interestingly, the proportion of kids achieving A*/A grades and going to Oxbridge is the same at both state and private schools.

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Pantman

Reference? Let’s say you are correct. Does this prove anything? No, all it confirms is that perhaps there is a meritocracy at the point of entry to Oxbridge – but we’re still left with the conclusion that it must be more difficult for state-educated children to get to that point.

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Harvey

That 7% figure extremely misleading. Not all the remaining 93% go on to do A-Levels, which are the requisite for top universities. Many will take apprenticeships or vocational qualifications. The figure you need is the % of A-level students being privately educated vs. the % being state-educated.

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Pantman

Given that you offer no stats on this the argument is weak. But even if we guesstimate it there’s still an over-representation: probably close to 100% of privately educated children do A-levels, given that something like 50% of all children go in to higher education, and we take out of that a full 7% of the privately educated (ie we assume that they all go to university), then the ratio of state school/private school educated children at university is 43:7.

Or to put it more simply: 14% (at the very most). This still means that there is a 2.6-3.0 times over-representation of privately-educated students at Oxbridge.

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Anonymous

AND the majority of “state” entrants came from grammar schools, not your typical local comp.

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Tunde's vermillion waistcoat

Wait but what about Tunde? Didn’t he go to that shitehouse known as London Met, tug off a 2.2 and still become a glamorous, obscenely rich bazza?

Explain that, LC.

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Anonymous

social mobility in practice, diversity at the bar, positive discrimination ….blah blah blah.

still doesn’t help the fact that he is either :-

a) colour blind; or
b) gets dressed in the dark.

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Anonymous

He got to where he is due to having Top Bantz

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Tunde's tugboat

Tunde having Top Bantz? Loool what are you smoking blad?

That little pinhead just sucks, even the thought of him makes me cringe.

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Anonymous

Who makes these Most Lists? Half the sets in Temple are missing again like last year.

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Anonymous

It is arguably easier to get a first from Oxbridge than some of the London universities. At Ox/Cam we are spoon fed in tutorials and we get intense training on how to think/write. And to top it all off the percentage of firsts awarded is absurdly high. If 30% of the year group are awarded firsts (as they are on the Oxfordh history course), it means one only needs to be in the best 1/3 of the year group. Whereas at UCL/LSE only 5 – 10% are awarded a first.

If you take into consideration that some courses at Oxbridge are not very difficult to get in to (classics for example which is only realistically open to privately educated kids who speak Latin) – coming in the top third of a not so impressive bunch is not a huge achievement though it might seem so on paper. Chambers abound with classics firsts – personally I would value a first in classics from Cambridge less than a 2.1 in law from Durham.

Those saying that state schools need to learn from the leading public schools: this is an absurd argument. Give Hackney Community School the sort of budget that Westminster School has and you will see the wonders that does.

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Anonymous

Actually, Classics is open to those who haven’t previously done it – you can do the languages from scratch (I did). The other Classicists that I met were without exception fiercely intelligent and hardworking. It’s not for nothing that it has a reputation as one of the more rigorous degrees.

And maybe History is an easy subject to get a first in – but it’s known for being the least demanding of the arts subjects (at Oxford anyway).

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Anonymous

The applicants to admissions ratio for classics at Oxford is 1 in 3. And although you correctly point out that Latin is not a prerequisite, it is certainly the case that the vast majority have studied Latin/Greek in school – subjects which are not very common in state schools. It is a fact that classics is one the easiest courses to get in to at Oxford – and that necessarily means that quality of students is not as high as it is on other courses. The combination of low number of applicants and the fact that these applicants come mainly from private schools brings makes classics at Oxbridge far less impressive than it sounds.

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Not Amused

Well, personally, I found your argument to have many flaws. Not least of all this sentence:

“At Ox/Cam we are spoon fed in tutorials and we get intense training on how to think/write. ”

First, I don’t think Oxbridge spoonfeeds. They both give extensive weekly reading lists. That is not spoon feeding. When I look to what Uni number 3 to 5 give I see less work. (I have anonymised the uni names because I have a suspicion that it won’t help if I am honest).

Secondly, and more importantly, what you call “get intense training on how to think” that is what I call “education”. I do not understand your complaint. I want all our children, from a very early age, to receive an intensive training in how to think.

When you go on to say that there is also training in how to write, I see a real lack of honesty. Oxbridge does have failings. One is that it assesses and judges how its kids write, but it never triesto correct weakness. Oxbridge relies upon the feeder school having taught the kid how to write. That is a common failing of state schools and a frequent problem of those ‘in’ Oxbridge education (who are very clever, but were never taught to write that cleverness down in an ordered way).

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Anonymous

You could say teaching how to think/write is “education”. There is a whole other debate about whether other universities should adopt similar Oxbridge tutorial style teaching. My point is simply that we are spoon fed to a very large extent and trained like robots. Leading academics in the field hold the hand of undergraduate students to take them through substantive content, analysis and essay writing. This is great for the student, but it does mean it is less effort on his part and more credit to the system. A student at one of the other elite universities who does not have the benefit of the Oxbridge tutorial system yet still performs very well academically achieved this entirely on his own. The same argument could be made with regards state/private secondary schools.

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Anon

Perhaps my experience wasn’t quite the same, but I got the distinct impression that my tutors at Oxford decidedly refused to spoonfeed us. It was pretty much the case of “Here’s your reading list, now get to it and see you next week with your essay in hand”.

Spoonfeeding to my mind would look like: “Now here’s all the substantive content you need to know distilled into nice lecture notes for you, so you don’t need to read the textbooks, articles and cases! We have prepared model answers for you to go through the tutorial questions, let me explain how the analysis works.”

No such thing ever happened in my tutorials. My tutors expected us to turn up already familiar with the substantive content (some gave you immense grief if you didn’t), and woe betide the student who failed to turn in a decent essay. I don’t think the tutors try to “spoonfeed” analysis and essay writing technique as much as refine them (eg by giving feedback which is specific to each piece of work, or asking questions to prompt a more in depth discussion). In fact, something I really appreciate is that there is no “model essay” – people can go in completely different directions and styles, and still do well as long as they produce a solid and coherent argument.

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Anonymous

This discussion is wandering from the point. How can we explain clear evidence which finds that top chambers do not regard any applicants outside Oxbridge as suitable members? Is this perhaps because they aren’t really looking (i.e. ‘people like me’ syndrome). Applicants are simply discounted at the point of application, unless lip-service is being paid to social mobility criteria. (The same happens at the point of Oxbridge selection). Are we supposed to believe that there is an absence of talent amongst graduates from other universities ? I know that the closed shop filters down to students and that impacts on applications being made to Oxbridge and then to chambers. The answer to this is a universal national standard for the law degree, i.e. common assessment. I have the feeling based on many years’ experience as an external examiner that this would be quite revealing in terms of differences in standards and in abilities, and it might make these chambers think twice about whether Oxbridge should be the exclusive feeder university.
Incidentally, I would not bank on funding from the AHRC for postgraduate study – and it would be far better to study a law degree than an LLM. A PhD, on the other hand, seems to be closely aligned in terms of skills and intellect to indicate preparedness to excel at the Bar.

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The Famous Eccles

In the words of the late, great Cilla…

SURPRISE SURPRIIIIIIISE!!!!!!!!!

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Anonymous

Another issue is the proportion of applicants for pupillage, both generally and particularly at the sets in question, who graduated from Oxford and Cambridge. Just going by my BPTC cohort at City, there seemed to be a disproportionate number of applicants from Oxbridge, relative to what you’d expect if it were equal numbers from across England and Wales, or even equal numbers from the south-east of England.

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Anonymous

Certainly at our set (a small Commercial Chancery set) we get over 100 applicants who have a first class degree. About half of them will have an Oxbridge BA or the BCL+ Good Russel Group firsts. We cannot afford to take any account at all of the 100 other applicants with a 2:1 or lower because there are too many applicants with 1sts and all of the other expected CV attributes (national mooting, good work experience, two or maybe three inn scholarships/prizes ect). When we whittle down, we interview 19 with one “wild card” (so 20). At least 10 will be Oxbridge 1sts or BCL students with everything else and more, the other 10 maybe being Russel Group 1sts without the BCL (or maybe with the Cambridge LLM). Our policy is to have one “wild card” place reserved out of the 20 slots. A member of chambers will go through the applications of everyone who has a good 2:1 and pick the person with the best excuse/best mitigation.

We do not deliberately look for Oxbridge/BCL- it just so happens that most of these people also have the other pre-requisites. In fact, we operate a blind, points based system (i.e. 5 points for a 1st ect, 2 points for a national mooting win). Nevertheless, it always happens to be that those with (to use an example) the top 1st at LSE and the BCL will tend to have all the other qualities needed to make the final 20. In principle, there is no reason why someone with a 1st class degree from the worst university in the country, provided they had all the other attributes (not to do with university) on the list, would not be invited to the top 20. I have, however, never seen it happen.

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Disgruntled

Both of our pupils this year – and we are a leading common law & commercial set – are non-Oxbridge. Strangely, though, we’re not on the list…

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