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London criminal law chambers pulls ‘unpaid’ internship

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Exclusive: 9KBW places controversial expenses-only programme ‘under review’

Poor law students

A six-month internship programme that had been offered unpaid by a London-based criminal set has been pulled, Legal Cheek can reveal.

9 King’s Bench Walk, based in Temple in central London, had posted an advertisement for the internship programme at the end of last month.

It offered aspiring barristers the opportunity to spend anything from three to up to six months gaining “real world legal experience” at the chambers. But the set, which specialises in crime, immigration and regulatory work, was offering the internships on an expenses-only basis.

It has been confirmed to Legal Cheek today by a spokesperson at 9KBW that the chambers’ internship programme “is currently under review” and they are “not offering internships at this time”.

The programme drew considerable criticism for not offering to pay its interns for such a significant period of time because it could be a barrier for potential candidates without the financial means to support themselves independently, as unpaid pupillages had been in the past.

One critic, a criminal QC based in Manchester, was so outraged by the programme that he decided to act and offer up a two-week PAID work experience of his own — and paid for by himself. Jaime Hamilton QC, a criminal specialist at Manchester’s 9 St John Street, described the unpaid internship as “plain wrong” and something that “just should not happen”. His work experience offer will be advertised shortly, Hamilton says, and until then he has released a few details on social media. Today he tweeted:

“My offer will include spending time observing three areas of law within chambers; a day marshalling with a judge; advocacy tuition; a CV/application clinic with a legal recruitment consultant; a day with a criminal solicitor. My aim is to give my candidate the range of experiences found in multiple placements.”

Concerns about the unpaid internship were also raised by the Bar Standards Board which told Legal Cheek when we broke the story: “The BSB is concerned by the practice of offering long unpaid internships which may hinder equality of access to the bar since many students simply cannot afford to work for long periods without pay. We expect all chambers to have policies which promote equality and diversity and to operate fair recruitment and selection processes.”

On its website 9KBW had originally explained its rationale for the programme in that “the legal field has become more complex” and “the opportunities for obtaining pupillage reduces in number, making competition all the fiercer”.

It looks as if the chambers is not alone in finding the issue of internships tricky. At the end of last year, research by the Sutton Trust showed that 54% of law internships (a broad term) were unpaid and a further 17% were expenses-only.

Last week, the Bar Council sent a reminder to all chambers offering internships and mini-pupillages to be “aware of its guide on best practice, including remuneration of internships in chambers or other organisations.”

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29 Comments

Anonymous

They got caught. Well done LC!

(18)(5)

Anonymous

Yep, well done LC.

The BPTC costs £20k in London. Living expenses are another £15k on top of that. The minimum pupillage award has meant that there is now only about 1 pupillage for every 5-10 candidates (depending on how the BSB massages the figures). And the system is literally designed such that low aptitude students subsidise the fees of high aptitude students. The BSB has openly chosen not to impose any meaningful entry standard on the BPTC because to do so would ‘disproportionally affect’ BAME students.

One only needs to look at the BSB’s own figures to see that financial considerations do not even begin to serve as a barrier to students from low income backgrounds. The market is absolutely flooded with students from low income backgrounds who have been lured into spending £35k on a fools errand.

30 years ago, 9KBW would have given out several unpaid/lowly paid pupillages. And all graduates would have been given a fairish shot at making it at the bar. Now, they’re not allowed to, and so the best they can do is given out unpaid internships. And yet LC, the BSB and the Twitterati mob won’t even allow them to do that.

9KBW have lost an intern. One unlucky pupillage reject, £35k+ in debt, has lost the opportunity to build his or her CV. But the most worrying thing of all is that people seem to think this is a good thing.

Would it be nicer if 9KBW paid their interns? Of course. But this is a tiny, tiny symptom of an endemic industry scandal. Intimidating some little, obscure criminal set, whilst ignoring the underlying problem is not something to be congratulated.

(40)(38)

Anonymous

Spoken like someone who truly benefits from the current system.

(11)(6)

Anonymous

You seem to have overlooked the fact that, after immersing themselves in £35k+ of debt, the many from low income backgrounds will not have the means with which to undertake this internship. It’s somewhat of a nice gesture offering it, but the majority of BPTC graduates cannot work a full-time job for six months for no pay. So what’s the point? It’s just more of the same from a profession that, like most professions in the upper echelons of society, favours the deeper-pocketed.

I agree with your over-arching point about the problem being more endemic. Give it a few years, and this will boil over.

(19)(2)

Anonymous

Exactly – why LC don’t focus on the BPTC fees which are an absolute scandal? Is it because BPP and the like are sponsors and host LC events etc?

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Any evidence that this debt has any impact on those for low income backgrounds, because all the studies point to that being inane patrician bollocks.

(0)(4)

Commenter at 10:40

No, I haven’t overlooked that ‘fact’. Indeed, it was the central theme of my entire argument. I realise my comment was slightly rambling so let me try to explain what I was saying in clearer terms.

People assume that it is high entry costs which are the main enemy of access to the bar. However, even a cursory look at the data shows that this clearly, CLEARLY isn’t the case.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

It would be far easier all round if sets could offer additional unpaid pupillages alongside paid ones, as in the past. It would increase the number of pupils enormously.

Those who can manage on their own with inherited wealth should be able to.

Means test pupillages basically.

(5)(18)

Anonymous

In effect, the rich folk would have a much easier trip to the Bar. I’m aware they have a much easier trip in life more generally, but this is a bit on the nose.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Now this is actually a brilliant idea, somewhere along the lines of how needs based scholarships at Inner Temple

(1)(7)

Anonymous

And would also vastly increase the numbers rejected for tenancy.

So what’s the point?

(7)(1)

Anonymous

Two reasons. First, those rejected for tenancy will have been rejected on a fairer/more comprehensive basis than mere examination results and performance in interview. Secondly, they will have marketable skills and experience which are valuable to employers.

(3)(7)

Anonymous

Agreed. Even with all their brains, it is dubious that chambers believe they can select a potentially life-long colleague after reading one paper application and (often) two short interviews.

Having said that, I do not believe unpaid pupillages are the answer.

(1)(3)

Anonymous

This is correct. The point is, once you have completed pupillage, you are qualified. Working in a solicitors firm become available without the need to undertake a TC. Ergo, that £35k may not be utterly wasted.

(0)(0)

Grezza Gluska Future Trainee

Excellent

(0)(1)

Anonymous

So the social mobility warriors have reduced the places on offer again. Well done! The Bar Council best practice slaughtered the number of places on offer and led to more concentration of those from the socio-economic top tiers. Well done, again!

(8)(21)

Anonymous

By a ‘place on offer’, you are aware you’re referring to an assistant/admin position which is far from a guarantee of pupillage?

(9)(3)

Anonymous

This internship has been going on for at least a few years.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Yeah look at how many pupils at 9KBW have done it. Outrageous…

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Chambers should be working alongside the Inns in relation to securing funding for short term internships to ensure at least minimum wage or living wage is paid.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

I would not want my Inn frittering money away like that.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

Unlike the awards they give to people who don’t obtain pupillage…

(4)(0)

Anonymous

I always thought that awards should be on the basis of ability alone.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Better than handing someone 19 grand for a course they end up doing nothing with. I’m curious to see the percentage of scholarship recipients who go on to obtain a pupillage and add up the Inns’ losses.

(5)(0)

Family Pupil

There is only enough work (broadly speaking) to keep the roughly 500 new entrants to the profession busy every year.

You could make the oversupply problem go away by streaming the bar like medicine, effectively ruling out the lowest academic performers at 18 before all the costs and crippling anxiety of the long road ahead take their toll on people but it isn’t workable for the varied reasons people study the law (ie in the majority not to become barristers).

It would also be very stupid, because plenty of hardworking people eventually acquire the skills to be a barrister and plenty of people with gifted intelligence are hopeless at it. All job applications are flawed but you can convey quite a lot with a CV you’ve spent a few years on and some decent conversation, along with your general appearance and manner.

Having more people enter the profession than can be supported with the current workload is just as foolhardy.

The often repeated argument that it would be fairer to let more people qualify even if there is no tenancy or worse tenancy with no work is the same thinking that brought us the “unregistered barrister” title and call before the completion of pupilage.

The road is so difficult that people have become indoctrinated with the view that becoming a barrister is an end in itself or that it will lead to untold opportunities.

Like anything, it is only a worthwhile qualification at the moment because few people attain it. That will go out of the window if vastly higher numbers start qualifying.

The final nail in the coffin for this is that you can’t practice alone (that is without working for an employer or being in a chambers with at least one suitably experienced colleague) until you’ve been qualified for 3 years. There is no hope then, that you will set up your own massively successful chambers after being rejected from tenancy or accepted and skint.

Your options at this point will be to go and do a paralegal job for a paralegal salary in a bank or law firm whilst retaining the courtesy title qualified barrister. Sounds a lot like being a bptc graduate doesn’t it.

Barristers and chambers individually cannot meaningfully address this problem. The only way it will improve for the candidate is if the bptc providers offer places only to those with pupilage. This would mean pre bptc graduates could apply for pupilage as they do now, for an unlimited amount of time until they give up or attain one. No pressure on the candidate to pay for their own bptc in an attempt to increase likelihood of Pupillage. No 5 year time bomb for those who have taken the bptc.

The BSB and the providers actively stop this, because training is such a money spinner.

(11)(1)

Andon

Another similar but related issue is that in the name of social mobility chambers are now required by the BSB to jump through a series of regulatory hoops when offering mini-pupillages. Hence, many now (including my own set) don’t.

However , I am sure that when daddy is practising at the Bar, then he could swing it for his offspring or their chums to spend a week with him or one of his colleagues on an informal basis……

As a result, aspiring barristers without family or social connections at the Bar find it harder to get experience and contacts while those who already benefit from such connections are not greatly hampered and may even gain an advantage.

Just another example of a well-meaning idea bringing about the very thing that it was intended to prevent.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Spot on.

(0)(0)

Richard Wood

This article fails to mention that 9KBW also offers two funded pupillages: https://www.9kbw.com/recruitment/pupillage

It’s not that they don’t want to pay people to begin their career as barristers, it’s that they want to help more people than they can afford to give funded pupillages to.

Ending the unpaid internship won’t enable them to offer an additional paid pupillage. It just means fewer opportunities to become a barrister.

(1)(3)

Anonymous

It stops them selecting the pupillage candidate from an individual who has been able to pay to attend the unpaid internship. That’s been identified as the REAL problem with the system in place at 9KBW.

(2)(1)

Comments are closed.

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