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From BPTC to lawtech — the upsides of having a ‘Plan B’

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Nicola Jane Smith reflects on life after law school and the seemingly never-ending hunt for pupillage

My name is Nicola Jane Smith and I want to tell my story of life post-Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).

For many people, the paralegal route is the natural progression towards pupillage but I want to share how other avenues are available to young lawyers in the current market. It is important to understand for yourself, what you like and what you dislike, and that can only come (in my opinion) through work experience. I know many people who have successfully gone on with their law career without trying any other avenue of work so this is not to say it is the only way; it is just one of them.

I started my legal studies via an LLB then studying the BPTC at the University of Law — London Bloomsbury, during this time I was also working part-time as a ‘booth babe’ or more formally known as a promotional model. There has been a lot of press attention around whether or not promotional models should be used at e.g. exhibitions; car races etc. However, I can safely say that some of the most confident, happiest and nicest people I have met have been my fellow promotional models and it equipped me for my ‘Plan B’ career move — sales! The ‘Plan B’ came about after I made several applications to several chambers over the course of a couple of years and found myself stumbling during the interview process; I was unable to obtain a position despite getting through to interview stage.

For many aspiring barristers who do not secure pupillage in their first round of trying, obtaining legal work experience by being a paralegal is a natural move. I certainly tried the paralegal route, however, I quickly learnt it was not for me. I couldn’t cope on the wage — I was in £30K+ debt and due to multiple loans I had roughly £600 coming out of my bank every month just on educational debt. As a person, I really value my independence and since leaving home (Surrey) to come to the big City (London) at the age of 19 I knew I wanted to keep that up. Oh, I should say that I completed the BPTC straight from uni.

I was fortunate enough to be in a relationship at the time with a lovely man named James — he inspired me through my BPTC studies and had his own place so I was lucky enough to move in with him when relocating to London to complete my studies. James was in IT (tech) at the time and I didn’t really have a clue about technology or the many uses of it, however, I now find myself as head of sales for Europe, Middle-East & Africa for a legal tech company! So, it’s funny how things work out.

The 2018 BPTC Most List

James inspired me for many years through to completing the BPTC to my place in a tech company now. Unfortunately, he was killed in the London Bridge terror attacks last year but I am still living and working to serve his memory.

I still have my dream of completing pupillage however my ‘Plan B’ is certainly working out for me. I now earn a fantastic basic wage plus commission on anything I sell; I am renting my own one bedroom flat, paying my educational debt off and have since completed a master’s degree in Legal Professional Practice. I am due to speak at The London Law expo in October about legal technology and I spend most of my days talking to IT directors or even barristers’ clerks and other professionals from firms from the magic circle down to smaller boutique law firms.

The contacts I have made are invaluable for my next step at pupillage and I certainly know who to call for any future advice — some have even offered to read over my pupillage applications for the year to come. I am thoroughly enjoying putting my sales advocacy and persuasive negotiation skills into practice and whilst this is my last year to apply for pupillage, I feel confident about my chances.

I will be searching for either a criminal defence based pupillage or to join the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). My original dream was defence work, however, since the London Bridge attack I have found new energy to help victims of crime. I fully understand that with the pressures of legal aid and other factors that this is becoming increasingly difficult which only makes me want to work harder. I too understand that once embarking on the pupillage journey I will not be making very much money in comparison to what I am doing now — this is why earning this great wage at such a young age will aid me to extinguish the educational debt I am in before starting my pupillage journey. I truly believe that without my job now at nQueue I would not be able to financially sustain myself with all of my debts during my pupillage year.

Nicola Jane Smith studied law at Kingston University and completed the BPTC at ULaw. She currently works for a legal tech company and is seeking a pupillage.

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15 Comments

Anonymous

Booth babe, eh? *runs off to google her name*

(4)(8)

Anonymous

Jones Day Partner, is that you?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your partner James. Good luck in your search.

(25)(0)

Bar Bar Black Sheep

Whilst I can understand your personal reasons for working in tech and I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your partner, this is not good advice for those seeking a criminal pupillage.

Criminal Chambers want to see a demonstrable commitment to criminal work. I know this because I am a tenant at such a set and sit on the pupillage interview panels.

Working in tech simply doesn’t demonstrate the requisite level of commitment. Whilst I agree that you don’t need to be working as a paralegal you do need to be working in an area that has some nexus to the criminal bar. Selling tech (even if its legal tech) just doesn’t cut it.

Good luck, I hope you succeed but this is not a route that others with similar aspirations should follow.

(17)(6)

Anonymous

I hear what you are saying. Perhaps you could offer her some mini pupillage work to assist her applications?

(16)(1)

Anonymous

I have more than enough experience but was never selected for pupillage. face it is about who you know!

(7)(11)

BPTC student

No it isn’t. Maybe you just aren’t as good as you think.

(10)(2)

Anonymous

And the fact the criminal bar is so self absorbed and self obsessed is one of the many reasons it is dying a slow death.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

Hope Alex paid you for this article.

(5)(1)

Alex

Hahahahaha

(9)(0)

Anonymous

You sound incredibly motivated so I wish you all the best with your future career.

(14)(0)

Anonymous

I love your dedication and hard work and I have every faith that you will succeed. Cheering for you from the sidelines!

(8)(0)

Anonymous

Paying off 30k in debt and you are renting a 1 bed to yourself? You are mental – most people house share at that stage of life.

(7)(3)

Anonymous

Terrible to hear about your loss, and you are to be commended for your motivation and determination.

I’m sure the author knows that she has to demonstrate a commitment to criminal law alongside her job but it is true that straying too far away from it career wise can pose difficulties.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Its not so much a question of commitment. It’s that if you start practice with some solicitor contacts prepared to brief you. Then your diary will look something like this:

Monday: Knock about minor Crown Court Trial +£750
Tuesday: Day 2 of minor knock about Crown Crourt Trial: +£350
Wednesday: Day 3 of minor knock about Crown Court Trial: +£350
Thursday: No Work of my own – Cover £50 Mags remand – but might lead to a new solicitor instructing me.
Friday: No Work of my own – Cover someone else’s mention £90 – but might lead to a new solicitor instructing me.

(Week Total £1,590. Result: Baby Barrister turns over £75k per year and stays at the Criminal Bar and continues to develop a better practice).

Without that, your diary looks like this:

Monday: No Work of my own – Cover £50 Mags remand – but might lead to a new solicitor instructing me.
Tuesday: No Work of my own – Cover £50 Mags remand – but might lead to a new solicitor instructing me.
Wednesday: No Work of my own – Cover £50 Mags remand – but might lead to a new solicitor instructing me.
Thursday: No Work of my own – Cover £50 Mags remand – but might lead to a new solicitor instructing me.
Friday: No Work of my own – Cover someone else’s mention £90 – but might lead to a new solicitor instructing me.

(Week Total £290. Result: Baby Barrister turns over £12k per year and leaves the criminal bar after a year to join the CPS or SFO making training them a waste of time for Chamber).

The Criminal bar is no different to every other area of practice. If you are an unknown baby then all you get is the crap work that is generally floating around in Chambers and it takes a while to build up your own practice. The difference is that the crap work in a chancery chambers is still pretty well paid and so you can start with no work, earn reasonable cash and stay at the bar. In crime, the crap work is really crap and if thats all you have, you won’t stay at the bar long enough to build a practise.

Very sorry to hear of your loss and it’s a really good plan to have a plan B. But you see happy and you are making good money. I really won’t give that up to attempt a carrer at the criminal bar with no work of your own. If you really must do it, do some paralegal work at a criminal firm. If they like, they’ll instruct you.

Because its so difficult to get pupillage, people tend to think that if they could just get pupillage then they have ‘pulled it off’ as a barrister. No so. All a tenancy is, is the obligation to pay rent to chambers. Whether you are happy, busy and sucessful depends on your practice.

(3)(0)

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