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Bar Council calls out ‘truly shocking’ treatment of pupil barristers

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Representative body wants mandatory pupillage contracts to help curb ‘abusive’ behaviour

Mandatory contracts between pupil barristers and their chambers could help stop pupils being taken advantage of, bar chiefs have said.

The Bar Council says that some sets are guilty of “truly shocking” treatment of their pupils, with some calls to its helpline disclosing behaviour verging on “abusive”.

In comments to the Bar Standards Board (BSB), the organisation representing barristers in England and Wales demands more enforcement action against rogue chambers.

The Bar Council says that it has “evidence, through calls to the Pupils’ Helpline, of some examples of very poor, indeed abusive, treatment of pupils. Some instances of behaviour towards pupils are truly shocking and indicate a complete failure on the part of the AETO [Authorised Education and Training Organisation] to appreciate the nature of pupillage and their responsibilities towards their pupils”.

Some unhappy callers complained of inadequate training and not even being given the opportunity to attend court. Others have been left hanging when their chambers dissolved, with no opportunity to finish their training.

The organisation says that it “would be interested to understand more about the BSB’s experience of ascertaining breaches of, and enforcement of, existing rules through spot-checks and risk-based assessment”.

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The Bar Council’s Education & Training Committee made the comments in response to the BSB’s request for feedback on whether written pupillage agreements should be mandatory. The committee backed the idea, saying that contracts might concentrate chambers’ minds on their responsibilities. But it warned that they were no substitute for intervention by the regulator.

It also backed the idea of making all chambers follow the Pupillage Gateway recruitment calendar, saying that the “applicants without social capital are likely to be disadvantaged” by the different application deadlines enforced by different chambers.

The BSB recently hiked the minimum wage for baby barristers, with pupillage awards from September 2019 required to be in line with the rate recommended by the Living Wage Foundation.

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81 Comments

Anonymous

It also backed the idea of making all chambers follow the Pupillage Gateway recruitment calendar, saying that the “applicants without social capital are likely to be disadvantaged” by the different application deadlines enforced by different chambers.

Why would one deadline be beneficial? Surely having a number of different deadlines is of greater benefit, so that applications are spread out and can be tailored?

(31)(2)

Anonymous

I think the “social capital” point is around some applicants not realising some chambers will have earlier deadlines, which fall outside of the pupillage gateway window.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

If someone is too lazy to look at a website of the set to which they are applying that is their problem. “Social capital” what tosh.

(36)(4)

Anonymous

“I was unable to check the website regularly throughout the year because I didn’t go on sailing/skiing holidays as a kid.”

(31)(14)

Anonymous

“I was unable to check the website because mummy and daddy aren’t paying my course fees and rent, so I’m working full time around my studies to make ends meet. I also have no links to the Bar providing me with an edge as to what sets to apply to and when. I’m also conscious of how competitive obtaining pupillage is, and as a result am trying to keep tabs on over 40 different sets.”

The pomp and blinkered views in this comment section make me retch, and the process of qualification is outdated.

Anonymous

Because in reality, the deadlines are not spread out. In my experience, they come in clusters.

Additionally, consider matters beyond the paper stage. Receiving invitations to interview and offers throughout the spring and into the summer, some before and some after relevant BPTC deadlines, is just messy.

The social capital point also makes sense. In a process involving so many applicants and so few places, so much of a paper sift by chambers, an intensity of interviews and on the whole, a lot of risk taking by both parties to the process, it is silly not to make it more uniform.

(7)(7)

An actual barrister

The real problem is that the gateway caps the number of sets it is possible to apply to. Nothing could disadvantage applicants “without social capital” more.

Sets outside the gateway allow such (indeed all) candidates to make a larger number of applications and so increase the probability of obtaining pupillage.

(17)(0)

An actual recent gateway user

A fair point, but on the other hand if we are looking at the gateway and access, one of the most likely things that people with less actual money are going to be dealing with is applying during study, rather than in a comfy (parentally funded) year out.

I recently wrote applications during a masters, mostly in the gateway and one outside, and I really don’t think it is possible to write much more than 12 thoroughly researched, serious, tailored applications whilst preparing for exams. As such, I doubt mandating everyone to use the gateway would harm people’s chances asymmetrically. Especially as everyone would be limited to the same number, so some chambers would receive fewer applications as a result too.

(8)(2)

Anonymous

It’s about the date of offers being made – sets within the gateway have to wait until a certain date to make offers. Some outside the gateway make offers earlier and put a lot of pressure on applicants to accept quickly. This generally means pupils are forced to accept (otherwise risk being left nothing). Unfair for sets in the gateway who lose good candidates but, more importantly, unfair for candidates who are prevented from being able to make a proper choice between chambers.

(17)(4)

Anonymous

Not unfair at all. Everyone knows what they are in for, applicants have to make a judgment about whether to take offers. The whole job is about judgment.

(5)(9)

A recent gateway user

Not really. It is (reasonably) hammered home to applicants how difficult pupillage is to get, especially at a decent set. I know people who have taken offers from non-gateway sets who might have been able to get better places if everywhere had to run at the same time. It plays on people’s fears of rejection and also encourages a race to the bottom in terms of setting deadlines earlier and earlier to catch good but rightly worried candidates.

(12)(1)

Anonymous

Very true. I agreed it played on people’s fears of rejection.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Judgement*

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Moaning snowflakes. Surprised they went for the “social capital” grunt rather than some lame bleat that it disadvantaged women.

(18)(26)

Anonymous

Shut up, you greedy little gammon

(18)(11)

Anonymous

Dull and witless. You know the type.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I’m totally indifferent to names people use for various groups. I’m interested though, would you use that word to describe someone of colour, or is it just for white people?

(7)(1)

Anonymous

I’m a different anonymous but gammon refers to a type of person not to a race generally so any insinuation it’s racist is, not to put too fine a point on it, bollocks.

Anonymous

Thanks, but didn’t answer the question.

Anonymous

Fck the bar. Archaic trash for pretentious twats.

(11)(17)

MR CHIPPY

Address: your shoulder

(27)(0)

Anonymous

Social capital? I fucking ask you. The fact that my practice certificate fees are being spent on some new-speak shithouse who spouts this utter excrement make me despair.

(18)(17)

Anonymous

Comment of the week for me there. Bang on.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

And remember, you are being asked to pay more and more to subsidise the Luddite criminal bar.

(2)(1)

Criminal Barrister

Ok… please tell me how your money is subsidising me. I’m not seeing any of it!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Or just join K&E etc. and don’t have to worry about this + earn more

(3)(2)

Anonymous

One can earn much more at the commercial / IP / tax bar than most firms (inc American TITANS) for the first 15-20 years. Gig changes with partnership v silk, but quality of life delta especially in the early days makes it incomparably better at the bar, as a career overall and given a free choice between the two, in my view.

(17)(0)

Anonymous

Longer holidays too. And having all that cash and capital when young is great for buying property and getting laid.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

The reality however being that there are precious few opportunities to do this. I eventually chose a company secretarial career over the bar for the simple reason that I realised whilst I could be competitive in securing a pupillage (although likely to take more than one attempt to do so) at best I’d end up training and later working alongside the kind of sheisters suggested in this article!

I don’t earn megabucks but I still earn about double what the average criminal barrister can hope to achieve and I have my dignity in tact (well, at least to some extent!)

(3)(0)

Just Anonymous

I don’t think that merely having different application timetables is a problem in itself.

Leaving that issue aside, however, I think the Bar Council is otherwise right: some sets are guilty of treating their pupils very poorly indeed.

My own set treated me very well. However, throughout pupillage and thereafter, I have heard appalling story after appalling story from pupils experiencing utterly disgraceful treatment.

The Bar is a tough profession. There is nothing wrong with requiring excellence. There is nothing wrong with blunt – but fair – feedback. However, pupils are there to be trained. The whole point of pupillage is that pupils are initially NOT capable of practising independently as tenants, and pupillage is required to bring them up to that required standard. Good sets will see pupils as an investment in the future, and will thus provide reasonable guidance, training and support in order (hopefully) to bring them up to that standard, so that they can go on to contribute to the long-term success of chambers.

In my opinion, far too many sets still fail to appreciate that pupillage is – or should be – a training year as described. Rather, they see pupils merely as cheap labour who exist to assist their own practices; or they adopt their attitude that ‘the pupils will either sink or swim, and if they sink then who cares’.

I’m not convinced that mandatory written contracts is necessarily sufficient to solve this problem. But it is a problem that needs solving.

(45)(0)

Anonymous

Agree re poor treatment. I spent most of pupillage typing for pupil supervisor, getting dry cleaning, generally being his PA and was blanked by some other members of chambers who felt a pupil should be “seen not heard”. Thankfully I left and am in much better chambers now.

Genuinely struggle to see the “social capital” issue re deadlines. All pupillage are on the gateway, everyone knows the deadlines and surely it gives greater scope (additional applicantions over the 12 allowed in portal, and spread out more)

Yes it puts pressure on when non gateway chambers make an offer before gateway but that’s a judgment for applicant to make. Everyone applying is in the same boat and the whole job is about judgment.

(10)(2)

Mr Grammar

It’s quite extraordinarily that someone apparently at the bar doesn’t know the difference between “judgment” and “judgement”…

(3)(10)

Mr Style Guide

…and that someone who calls himself Mr Grammar writes in contractions.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Also, “extraordinarily” – LOL

(8)(0)

Mr Style Guide

True, but I thought “extraordinarily” could be excused away as a typo by the pompous, ignorant tit.

Anonymous

There is none. Refer to the OED.

(3)(0)

Anon

What is clear is that barristers forget that once they were in the same position as those seeking pupillage. What makes me sick is those barristers who think they are superior. The pupillage way of training is knackered. You don’t get trained properly, you are a as someone said, a PA. Time BSB (although the BSB has problems) realised that mistreatment goes on and punish those who do so. A policy document – oh dear I’m shaking! Either make chambers increase their intake or limit places on the Bar Course each year. People are running up huge debts in expectation. I am a barrister, I worked dam hard and my pupillage was not memorable. The bar needs a good shake up.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

It really depends, most civil pupillages are excellent.

(3)(0)

The Spelling Police

It’s “damn”, not “dam”.

(1)(0)

3rd year law student

Name and shame these chambers so we don’t fall into the trap of applying to these awful sets?

(6)(1)

Anonymous

I have not taken my legal qualifications yet and therefore I am yet to apply for pupillage. I can however explain a nasty situation I was put in by a barrister.

I was at an outreach event which was arranged by one of the Inns. We were set some advocacy work, having never studied law, I struggled with the work and told the 2 tutors that I did not want to take part in the exercise. One of them was fairly relaxed about this. The other said whether I take part or not will depend on if there’s time after everyone else has completed the exercise. There was time at the end of the session. He then proceeded to stand me up in front of everyone and completely grill me. He said that “the bar is a gossipy profession and I could easily spread your name around and ruin your career”. He then started to question how much work I put into the task, even though I really did try with no legal knowledge at all.

Needless to say that a lot of people in the group told me privately that they were shocked at how I was treated. I’m happy to reveal the barrister is from Garden Court Chambers.

#MeToo@TheBar

(10)(1)

Anonymous

Sounds like the Bar is not for you, snowflake.

(1)(36)

Anonymous

Not a snowflake at all. Just didn’t appreciate having my entire future career threatened when it’s barely even started.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

It was more your attitude to the advocacy work that. Snowflake.

Anonymous

Becoming a barrister does not entitle you to act like a turd of a human being like the practitioner the OP described. It often happens anyway, but it shouldn’t be expected.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

My attitude was that I gave it my best shot but felt like I wasn’t able to make a reasonable submission to a court which I didn’t even know how to address. Also I didn’t know any law and did not understand the concept of misrepresentation. You can call me a snowflake as much as you like…. but you’re doing so behind a computer screen…. oh the irony

(6)(0)

Shirley

An inadequate barrister abusing students at a Bar “outreach” event needs to be reported to the BSB.

No, this turd can’t “ruin your career”.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Did you tell the Inn about this?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Yes, I told the Inn. They said they can either speak to the barrister in question or send out a general message to the trainers about their conduct. I opted for the latter option as at the time I was genuinely anxious that this barrister really would try and spread my name around.

(0)(0)

Anonymous 2

My set is part of the Gateway. We have struggled to recruit pupils of appropriate quality for the last decade. The result is that in some years we have none and in most years we have one when we want two. The mandatory limitation of choices to x sets (almost however many x is) is unjustifiable if one is going to make everyone fit within the same portal.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What areas of practice does your chambers do?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Space law. Horse law, with a little bit of donkey law. The law of seeds, including all aspects of Seeds Tribunal work. Some weights and measures on the side. And crime.

(12)(1)

Anonymous

But mainly crime. Only the superstars of the set get to go to the Seeds Tribunal.

(1)(0)

Anon

Would help if chambers focused on more than just binning most applications that do not have appropriate A level grades or did not go to a red brick university. Poor quality candidates is a direct result of poor quality recruitment practice. I have seen pupils in court who are the ‘oxbridge’ type and some are brilliant while some are so inept it is horrifying and laughable. Pupillage recruitment needs reform first I do not think changing Gateway or anything administrative would make the blindest bit of difference, especially if the barrister doing the hiring is a middle class white man stuck in the dark ages.

(6)(5)

Anonymous

I bin the ones that went to a red brick.

(4)(1)

Pupillage

As someone involved in managing Pupillage at a large set, the treatment of pupils nation wide is shocking. I would want to see robust and new regulation in the following areas:

1. It is completely unacceptable to put pressure on pupils regarding their use of the 20 days annual leave. A pupil should be completely free to take these days whenever they wish without reference to Chambers or their supervisor. Further, the BSB needs to clarify and put beyond doubt the fact that the entitlement is *in addition* to public holidays.
2. The BSB policy needs to change in any event, and there needs to be 28 days minimum leave with the option for chambers to offer longer if deemed appropriate (subject always to a maximum cap).
3. Pupils should *not* be used for the unpaid taking of notes and the writing of attendance notes during second six. I hear of many experiences where the only thing 1st Six pupils do is take notes of hearings and write their supervisors attendance note. This bleeds over into second six when they are out of court. If a pupil is taking a detailed verbatim note of a hearing they are not learning or genuinely deriving benefit from the experience. Instead, they are focusing all their attention upon writing down what is said verbatim. Pupils need to be able to just watch and absorb a hearing. There should be a rule that any second six pupil who is used to take a note of a hearing during 2nd Six must be remunerated (and no- the pupil award is not a salary, it is not consideration for assisting tenants with administration – it is a grant to assist them through pupillage and should be treated as made without expectation of return for Chambers.
4. Pupils should not be in Court 5 days a week in most practice areas. There should be a maximum number of days per month that a pupil can be sent to Court, and Chambers should be fined for flouting the rules.
5. The BSB should set up an anonymous complaints system which enables tip-offs about bad practice in Chambers. It is unreasonable to expect a Pupil to complain about a set using their own name. The BSB has no process for receiving in confidence and anonymous complaints.

(10)(3)

Anonymous

1. Junior members are expected to be around in certain periods. Pupils with a future should expect to do the same. Certainly those with the qualities for tenancy should. It is just one year, not a lifetime.

2. 28 days is over 5.5 weeks. More is absolutely not necessary. Again, it is just one year.

3. Note taking, note preparation, understanding, digesting and presenting the material all shows the calibre of the pupil. Just sitting there watching is a waste of everyone’s time.

4. Might be an issue for some practice areas.

5. This is a valid point across the Bar generally.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

What is a holiday? I doubt I have had a day entirely free of work-related activity since 1993. Perhaps a few Christmas Days, but not all.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Then you would appear to be either a workaholic who takes on too much work, or incredibly inefficient.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

or broke

Anonymous

This is just a pathetic precursor to yet more mandatory nanny state regulations by the increasingly over-officious Bar Council.

(3)(6)

Anonymous

The main problem is the unrealistic attitudes and expectations of pander over-sensitive millennials. Not enough resilience.

(4)(7)

Anonymous

I would have happily washed cars and sweeped the chambers steps everyday. Easy life.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Just merge the professions already.

Junior barristers clearly need the training infrastructure available by larger law firms and junior solicitors, in my experience, need the advocacy and black letter law expertise available from the seasoned professionals in chambers.

Plus those unfortunate sods in the criminal bar may actually have some slight chance of a pension.

(5)(11)

Anonymous

They’re simply different jobs. Have you seen the quality of advocacy in jurisdictions with one profession?

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Have you seen the quality of advocacy from some of those at the Bar? I’ve seen many a dreadful senior junior and even dire QCs

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Yes, I’m from one of those jurisdictions. There are rockstar advocates and there are those who can barely order at a McDonald’s drive through. Just like here in the UK.

I believe the resources should be combined in an effort to create better all round lawyers, hammer out inefficiencies in both systems, and create a better profession. Then at the end of the day just let the clients work out who to instruct and for what task – just like they do everywhere else around the world.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Is it me, or is the one word mention of the abusive treatment of pupils mentioned to the helpline in 19 pages not good enough ?

Is this scandal covered somewhere else please ?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

And, what are “Wellbeing at the Bar” doing about the shocking abuse of pupils??

(6)(1)

Anonymous

Thank you for your racist contribution. Do you actually have anything constructive to add?

(2)(5)

Anonymous

Yes…

You are a douche bag..

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Thank you for your childish contribution. Do you actually have anything constructive to add?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Wellbeing at the Bar… What a joke..

How about “Well being a Pr1ck at the Bar”??

(17)(0)

Anonymous

It’s strange.. how these so called “wellbeing Gurus” are the worst culprits when it comes to abuse at the Bar.. be it pupils or otherwise..

#metooatthebar

(18)(1)

Anonymous

Do these people actually have any qualifications re wellbeing etc ???

(14)(0)

Anonymous

It’s a three stage process:

1. Be a douche bag
2. Be a douche bag
3. Be a douche bag

(19)(0)

Anonymous

Harsh…

But fair

(13)(0)

Anonymous

Exactly…

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzCL_UGdPlI

Douche bags r us!!

Lool

(13)(0)

Comments are closed.

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