‘How can I demonstrate I’m a first class student trapped with a second class degree?’

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A bar hopeful seeks readers’ advice

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, a “first class” student is concerned her 2:1 undergraduate result will prevent her from pursuing a career as a barrister in London.

“Prior to starting university, my academics were flawless (all A*s at GCSE and A-Level). However, as an undergraduate I experienced bouts of depression, which stifled my intellect and concentration. I graduated with a mid-2:1 in the humanities, after which I gained a high commendation on the GDL.

Since then, my mental health is much improved and I have completed a number of vacation schemes at City firms and minis at regional chambers. All were highly complementary of my advocacy and research skills, and there seemed to be a general consensus that I would be suited to the bar.

As my primary interests lie in company law, I would prefer to commence pupillage in London. I have made mini-pupillage applications to Tier 3-5 sets, as I had considered them to be more ‘realistic’ options.

However, I am struggling to secure minis at even T4 sets. This is likely due to the 2:1, but I did broadly allude to the presence of mitigating circumstances. I am disappointed that so few sets were sympathetic.

I’d appreciate some advice. How can I demonstrate that I’m a first class student trapped with a second class degree? If this is impossible, then should I shift my focus to the regional bar?”

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A 2:1 is really a 2:2 in the modern world of grade inflation. So it is going to be hard. Unless you are Oxbridge, which did not need to descend into the grubby world of grade inflation, then you might have a hope.



Re Anonymous 10.02: actually Oxbridge have also inflated their grades – 94% got a first or 2.1 last year, if I recall correctly.

and to the original poster: do a masters in something related to commercial law, or perhaps an EU-based EU law masters, or even the Oxford BCL, that might bump you up?



Research grade inflation and look at the shifts on 1st and 2:1s from 2:1s and 2:2s in the last decade. Then come back to us.



It is not good advice to suggest pursuing an LLM merely in the hope of “laundering” the 2:1 and commendation in the GDL. LLMs cost a lot of money, and unless the OP can work themselves into the ground for a Distinction (which is still not guaranteed) it’s a waste of time. The BCL costs £20k for fees alone, and frankly there are people with first-class law degrees from excellent universities who dont get a place on the course.

The OP should put all their energy into finding good, paid employment related as closely as possible to their area of interest. Earn money, start building your life, dont waste another year on education getting further into debt. Pro bono work (especially something like FRU or School Exclusions Project) will show wider interest in advocacy and the Bar

And if you still struggle to obtain minis after six months to a year, I would put Bar ambitions to bed. Apply for TCs or jobs in another sector



Agree that there’s nothing lost in the long run to cut loose and find another career. I’ve travelled to 30 new countries since cutting my Bar ambitions and only regret not doing it sooner.

What no-one wants to be is that person doing 20-30 FRU cases whilst living on noodles and working part time in the hope of getting pupillage.

Don’t believe the marketing and any barrister who struggles to think of what else to suggest doing after the BPTC. Volunteering and good intentions doesn’t launder a 2.1 degree either.

It was heartbreaking to watch wonderful advocates there with 2.2s or from lower ranked unis keep plugging away at tribunal cases year after year and getting absolutely nowhere with their pupillage search.



I sympathise. I’m a gold medal winner in the 100m sprint, marathon and decathalon, a world cup winner in rugby, cricket and football, an award winning writer, poet and raconteur and the holder of a double first from Cambridge, a PhD in astrophysics from MIT, and the world’s greatest lover but trapped in the short, balding, asthmatic body of someone who scaped a pass from the University of Derby in Theatre Studies.



I suppose that as you’ve chosen to focus on company law, you’ve made matters more difficult for yourself, as that is a field in which academic prowess is of more importance. However, provided the university at which you obtained your degree is a Bar-friendly one (i.e. Russell or Oxbridge), I would do a Company Law Master’s somewhere prestigious, with a view to obtaining a first. That would probably help bridge the gap. The alternative is to shift your field of focus, perhaps choosing to have a mixed civil practice.

But hey, I suffered with depression at uni, graduated with a first in Law, then obtained a Master’s degree at one of the best Russells (Oxbridge was too expensive), and did well on the BPTC too, with a full scholarship. I never got pupillage. There’s still, frustratingly, a large element of luck to it.



If you are interested in Company law/disputes, I suspect the top sets in London will be very difficult to crack. The best set at the Company Bar by a mile is Erskine Chambers, and almost everyone at that set has a glittering CV. The next best sets are probably Maitland and South Square and those chambers will be a big ask given your profile (between them, Erskine and South Square dominate the Company and Insolvency space). All three are among the absolute best Chancery sets.

The best Commercial and Commercial Chancery sets are very difficult to crack even with a First class degree and an array of prizes as most sets take around 2/3 pupils a year at most. I think even a lower tier Chancery set like Radcliffe would be difficult without a First. Have you thought about good regional sets that do Company/Commercial work like No. 5 or St Phillips?



Actually Radcliffe has a recent tenant with a 2:1



I am a journalist trapped in the body of an LC author (writing about vlogs and twitter posts) and I think there is no escape.


Tommy C

Top bantz



A 2:1 isn’t prohibitive to pupillage; nor is a high commendation on GDL. If you think it is academic credentials holding you back, look to increase that area of your CV – work with the law commission, in house legal teams at big companies etc. You don’t have to do mini pupillages in London either in order to secure pupillage in a London set so look further afield.

To be honest though the commercial bar isn’t exactly renouned for its advocacy and court work; if that’s what you’ve excelled in maybe you should look at other areas of law. Dont forget that the London sets will be offering £60-90k pupillage awards and frankly that’s going to attract the creme de la creme candidates. Maybe reassess whether the commercial bar is really for you – why not planning or employment?


Kestrel Shelby-Body

Heard that you can earn shed-loads in planning.



“How can I demonstrate I’m a first class student with a second class degree?”

You can’t. If you’d got a distinction in your GDL then you might have had a chance but you didn’t achieve that.

Don’t have unrealistic expectations, apply to regional sets for your pupilage.

Broaden your skill set, get further experience. Maybe even consider doing an LLM at a good RG uni and aim for a distinction.



I can look online and see barristers within 10 years call who have a 2.i at Radcliffe Chambers, 1 Chancery Lane, 4 New Square and 12KBW. Several at Fountain Court too without BCLs/LLMs.

Don’t believe the lie that ‘You need a First’ to have a career at the Bar.



Pupillage can also depend on your ethnicity, the strength of your Catholicism for certain sets, the London public school you attend that people on the pupillage committee send their kids too and even if you have a dog of the same breed as someone on the committee.

Get those factors right and some may overlook the 2.i.



Where can I find information about the pets of the pupillage committee?



Just wait for them to leave office and follow after them. Then can spend the night outside (do not forget you sleeping bag – nights are getting cold now!) waiting for them to take their dog for a walk.



I know a barrister that mentioned on her application form that she was training her puppy, which made someone on the pupillage committee light up and ask more questions because he also had the same breed.

They really are children.



I am of the opinion that ethnicity, the strength of your Catholicism for certain sets, attendance at a London public school that barristers on the committee send their kids to and whether you share a dog breed with someone on the committee can also play a part in securing pupillage.

Stop censoring non-libellous opinions LC



And that is fine. These are private associations of self employed professionals not the civil service. They should be utterly free to choose who they share with, for good reason, bad reason or no reason.



You’re hard.


Snoopy can take a hike

Snoopy sounds a right chip on the shoulder jerk. I say it to people’s face all the time. I make it clear I only care about the black and white hard results and data not sob stories as to why someone is better than someone else with similar but better grades.



Don’t. Just join an elite US firm in the City and do litigation/arb there. Will be paid more, be less lonely and have the option to transfer our later if you’re good enough.



Agreed with a lot of the comments on here. Plenty of options going forward if you really want to achieve that goal.

There is the masters route or show what you can do via internships, networking, mini pupilages etc

I got a 2:2 from Hull University, was more or less told I wouldn’t become a solicitor with that. Within two years of being a paralegal got a training contract, now I am almost qualified. Showed I could do the job extremely well and qualifications don’t mean the end of the world!



LGP is genuinely inspirational. Shows you can be very stupid and still make it in the law.



Solicitor and barrister are complete different ball games though.



If possible, do an LLM (UCL, King’s or LSE – prestigious enough if you do well and will take you with a 2:1), try to get a Distinction, and then look at more chambers. I should say I did law, so I can’t comment specifically on doing an LLM after the GDL.

You’ve said “even T4 sets”. Is that a reference to tier 4 in Chambers & Partners? Many smaller sets aren’t ranked at all (even though some of their members are) and I’m not sure how much these rankings even mean. The best advocate I’ve ever seen is ranked tier 4 (at a set that isn’t ranked at all).


A barrister

Securing minis is important, some sets put your application straight in the bin if you haven’t done a mini there.

Key tip is try and demonstrate an interest in the area of the chambers you are applying for. So if it’s commercial law, join the “young commercial lawyer’s association”, “student commercial law network” (I’m making these names up but you get the point), go to their events, then you will have something to talk about on your application.

Or, write an article on commercial law for a student journal, or enter a student essay competition in the area. Or spend half a day in the commercial court, take a note and then say something interesting about the case on your application.


A barrister

PS. if you explain “mitigating circumstances” for your 2.1 on your application I have heard that annoys quite a few sifters, not least because they have 2.1s!



As someone who applied for years, endlessly networked, pretty much tried everything you can think of to boost my CV and distinguish my application, and even got his hands on the mark schemes from a few chambers, your advice is akin to spitting on a forest fire. The small measures you propose will not make a substantial difference.


Infatuated of Tunbridge Wells

Bring back Katie King!


Former Bazza

There was a similar conundrum on here ” Non Russell Group: is the commercial bar out of my reach” Definitely worth a look. Your option in only wanting to practise at the Company, or by definition the Chancery bar means the likelihood of you being successful is none .
This is arguably the area in which the law is the most mind bendingly complex and turgid, and there is in reality only half a dozen sets who are genuinely company law experts, with Erskine perched on top. The CV’s of the tenants taken on in the last seven years will have without exception pretty much the following:
TOP award winning firsts from Oxbridge with prizes
Distinctions in Masters and BCL’s again with prizes
Winners of major national mooting competitions, etc, etc
Ignore what snoopy said, you are fishing in a very different pool from the sets he/she mentioned , he/she is clueless.

12KBW, most of the tenants taken on in the last seven years or so have top firsts, BCL/Masters Degrees from Oxbridge, and this is a PI/Clin Neg/Employment set, albeit a very good one, ditto 4 New Square, and Fountain Court.
If you are desperate to be a Barrister, set your sights on mixed civil/family/crime sets and that is far from a given

I hope this helps



There are tenants at 12KBW, 4 New Square, 24 Bedford Row, 1 Chancery Lane and Radcliffe Chambers all within 10 years call with Oxbridge 2.i degrees.

Go on these chambers’ websites and look.

Do I need to post internet links of the relevant barristers here?



what about construction?



Yes. The Construction Bar is less picky because the work is less intellectual than Commercial or Chancery: it is all fact and hardly any law.


Con Can

Nonsense. There are many pure law issues in construction law. Some of the key issues in privity, scope of duty of care etc came up in construction law cases.



If the construction bar is less picky, it’s because construction is a niche area and those who can demonstrate a genuine interest in it can probably get away with slightly less perfect grades than required by the top general commercial sets.

That said, junior tenants at Keating and Atkin still tend to have Oxbridge firsts and prestigious LLMs/ the BCL. We’re just talking fewer departmental prizes/ the odd LLB from UCL.


There are people at Keating with degrees from Leicester, Keele, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. They wouldn’t get within a million miles of the commercial or chancery bar. The construction bar is simply not as challenging intellectually as those areas of practice. Very light on the law.



You can’t. You might as well have asked, “How can I demonstrate I’m a good lawyer, even though I work in an offshore law firm?”


Former Bazza

@ snoopy, I have looked at Fountain Court site, and ALL those taken on in the last seven years have a combination of some or all of the following:

Oxbridge firsts/double firsts(finishing in top 5 , etc)
Masters/BCL Distinctions
Judicial Assistants to CoA/SC Judges
BPTC- Outstanding
Top scholarships(multiples of them)



Read what I wrote and look at the chambers’ website again.

I never denied that a commercial barrister needed good academics.

However, an expensive BCL/LLM or MPhil degree is not possessed by every single member of that set under 10 years call.

It might be wrong therefore to state that Fountain Court will not consider applications from people without BCLs/LLMs/MPhils.



But a meh 2:1 in humanities is straight in the bin.



@Former Bazza what’s your opinion on getting into the construction bar with a 2:1? Bearing in mind that sets such as 4 pump court and 4 new square are also commercial sets.


Ex Barrister

My regional set’s pupils were almost exclusively Oxbridge educated so while you may think that these sets are beneath you, they may think that you are beneath them too.



You are a 2:1 student. End of.


Former Bazza

And what Ex Barrister said, if you think the regional bar is a shoe in, think again, look at the leading sets in Bristol, Leeds, and Manchester, doing civil/commercial work, and the CV’s are very good academic wise.


Derek ZLNR




Get some first class experience. I got a 2:2 law degree 20 plus years ago, and am now head of a dept and equity partner at 150 staff firm.

Someone told me many years ago, once you start working, no one cares what degree you have.


Martin Routh

The key bit here is “20 plus years ago”. Apples and oranges old son. Plus she wants to be a barrister at (what she doesn’t seem to realise are) really top end sets, not a solicitor in a medium size firm.


Be straight sun

“150 staff firm” gives people little to go on to determine the level of success this individual is purporting to have achieved so it’s quite unhelpful. Anyone can be an equity partner in a firm that makes the square root of a bat’s armpit. Give us your gross annual salary vs your net (so we know contributions) or otherwise get back in your box.

Wait for it: [disappointment]



I have a 2:1 and a major scholarship from my Inn and will be staring pupillage at a decent chancery/commercial set next year. You should be applying for a BPTC scholarship, it will be of real financial help and is
a plus on the application. A first helps but it isn’t a shoe in if you have one. Alot of chambers are looking for a ‘fit’, take a look at the last 10yrs call on their websites. Do you see tenants with a similar education to yours? Keep in mind, however, they have likely had more time to pick up extra accomplishments and their bios are written to impress clients and scare oppos.

Look at doing something to differentiate your self, i.e. the CoA judicial assistant scheme. Stop thinking like an aspiring pupil and start thinking like an aspiring tenant. You could for example, write a journal article. Oh and please never use language like ‘trapped’ in relation to your degree or worse put in mitigating circumstances. There will those on the pupillage committee with a 2:1 and they do not appreciate it, it is still a good grade.



Are you White?



Defo not.



I would be interested to know why the person who gave you a TD did so.


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