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Bar Council explores adding contextual recruitment tools to Pupillage Gateway

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Incoming chair Nick Vineall KC reveals possibility in inaugural speech

The Bar Council is looking into the possibility of embedding contextual recruitment tools onto the Pupillage Gateway in a bid to make it easier for chambers to take applicants’ backgrounds into account when recruiting.

In an inaugural speech delivered at Middle Temple yesterday evening, incoming chair Nick Vineall KC revealed the Bar Council is “actively exploring” ways of making these often expensive tools more affordable for chambers.

This, Vineall KC said, may include allowing access to such systems as an “add-on” to the Pupillage Gateway, the centralised portal which allows chambers to post and manage pupillage vacancies.

The 4 Pump Court barrister went on to give the example of two candidates who both achieved a first from the same university but have slightly different A-Level grades — A*AA and A*A*A, respectively.

“[P]erhaps the first candidate, with the slightly weaker grades, comes from a home background where academic excellence is not highly regarded and went to an under-resourced and overstretched school,” Vineall KC explained. “[T]he second went to a well-resourced and highly academic school and comes from a family where academic excellence is celebrated.”

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“Then the position might well be that the first candidate is more likely to thrive in your chambers than the second,” Vineall KC added. “Contextual recruitment tools can help that type of judgement to be made.”

Contextual recruitment systems have been long-favoured by City law firms, however uptake among chambers remains comparatively low.

One example, run by London-based recruitment agency Rare, pulls data from two databases (school/college results and UK postcodes) and combines this information to place candidates’ accomplishments in context. In 2019, Twenty Essex became the first chambers to adopt a tool in an effort to attract applications from candidates from non-traditional and more socially diverse backgrounds.

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28 Comments

FFS

You can have the fanciest, ‘futurology’ software system that takes into account a pupillage candidate’s blood group, therapy bills and shoe size.

But if barristers still want to pick someone who goes to the same public school as their kids, or went to the same Oxbridge college as them or who has the same breed of designer puppy, there is absolutely nothing press releases and software can do to change that.

Thanks, but no thanks

This is the sort of mindset that means the woke brigade will want more and more positive bias in recruitment and they will never be happy whatever is done.

Anon

What ‘positive bias’ and ‘woke brigade’ at the Bar? It couldn’t be more of the opposite.

How many disabled or barristers from a refugee background can you name without checking?

Eh

The disabled are accommodated when taking A levels. So why is that point relevant to this sort of positive discrimination by algorithm?

Counsel of Counsel

Does this mean that the computer is more likely to give a place to a lower achiever who went to a worse school?

As someone who went to a school in a deprived area but who still excelled and got pupillage at the first opportunity, I find this insulting.

Thanks, but thanks

A levels are so easy that those good enough will get the grades whatever background they come from. Nonsense such as this might have a place in recruitment for an accounting firm taking on 200 people but it has no place in the pupillage system.

Barrister

This hits the nail on the head. Indeed, I’d go one step further: A-levels (and GCSEs) are extremely standardised.

Yes, the quality of teaching and general culture might vary between different schools. But ultimately everyone sits the same exams, and has access to the same textbooks and past papers etc. Furthermore, regardless of subject, most A-levels are relatively easy.

At degree level, distinguishing between candidates is far more arbitrary. This is true for candidates who attend the ‘same university’ but study different subjects. It’s even more of a problem when the candidates attend different universities.

I'd rather not

I would strongly prefer if the Bar Council did not waste my money making these expensive “tools” available to chambers. The Bar Council is now gorging more and more fees, particularly from the civil bar, and it has to stop with this sort of siliness.

Barista

I cannot understand how my practising certificate fee is almost as much as my insurance. My insurance contributes to a big pot of money to be paid out as damages and/or defence costs if I get sued (which is a constant risk and requires expensive indemnification). As for the practising certificate fee…?

I'll have a cortado, slimmed milk, extra shot and a quadruple espresso to go

Easy really, the Bar Council got all socialist and started taxing the civil bar to fund the costs of the criminal bar when the annual costs were linked to earnings, and like all taxes, once that came in it has been ramped up and up and up. Long gone are the days of flat rate annual fees. Ironically, it was introduced at t time what there fees were being gobbled up with a raft of hopeless judicial reviews challenging reforms to public funding of criminal work. Now the fees are gorged on by tick box loving social justice warriors living in Fulham and Belsize Park. As long as the criminal bar and public/human rights bar can get funding from the civil and commercial bar for their schemes and plans then they will find ways to spend the money to further their agenda. This recruitment software idea is a prime example.

Alan

Wokeism is now pervading the profession. RIP the Bar, nice while it lasted before the looney left took over.

Even Alan-er Alan

Too right ALAN! There was no wokeism in our country back when this nonsense would have earned you a “drubbing” from the headmaster! BRING BACK THE BIRCH!

1950s call (still alive)

Absolutely!

When I was a pupil we were beaten until we pood for so much as breathing out of
turn!

Missold University courses?

As a Northerner in industry who has completed the Bar course (VC) for a mid-life career change, I don’t think it is Chambers recruitment that is at fault. This is one of the fairest recruitment industries where the best candidate nearly always wins (of course there will always be exceptions).

How else can a chambers be confident of repeat work and therefore continuance in business where advertising is restricted and therefore success at their last hearing is the most persuasive advert?

The amount of students to places available is a question for the educational establishements and the Bar coundil to look more closely at. A few more students than places maybe. Possible double the students to places, but 12 times or more students than places, all paying what was £19k per year in 2021. Really?

For a travesty, try the massive over recruitment and over selling of an inflated cost course to students who can ill afford it and, even less afford the many years after in pupillage applications and minimum wage paralegal roles whilst waiting for something tht may never come. The Universities and Bar council should hang their heads in shame for this misselling scandal that matches PPI in severity if not volume.

Look at the poor treatment of students well documented on here by a leading university (in fees at least). With the highest fees in the country at one point should we prioritse those foolish enough to have been taken in. Or should we band together to take up the pro bono case for the misselling scandal that permeates our industry.

Secret Barrister? Criminal system in tatters? Its time for a Secret Law Student. Is big business cashing in on education at the cost of our most vulnerable students and the next generation? Aided by our own regulator? Access to the Bar, or access to cash for private “education” establishments.

Maybe an author on the truth of this career path, might be a better career path than the Bar as it stands at present. Bar career = Meritocracy. Bar education process – cash cow for big business universities that used to have integrity.

Wheels keep on turning

Is anyone listening though?

Write what you like about big business, the wheels keep on turning. A secret student (no matter how good) is unlikely to make a difference in our lifetime. Education in its current model is a business like any other. Whether that is right or wrong is probably an academic argument unless you are in the cabinet and have the budget for change.

Bob

Imagine if there were only 25-30% more places on the vocational course than pupilages. That would sort it. Oh wait, is is exactly what the position was when there was the Inns of Court School of Law as the only provider. But the woke lot wanted more places and they got it, and now they complain that people who were never going to get a pupillage are not getting pupillage.

Djed

People complain about how the criminal justice system is collapsing and the Bar Council thinks the solution to fix this is to impose equality of outcome instead of equality of opportunity (which has never worked and is in fact counter-productive)…

Just Jed

So Djed, the Bar Council is meant to address the structural challenges of the socioecomic pyramid and the flaws in the nation’s education system? Your vacuous soundbite points sound more like what one would expect from a low quality secondary school third string debate team.

Barista

‘Contextual recruitment’ is a nice idea (and clearly a gravy train for those who can advise upon it) but never works in practice. The first reason is that it is impossible to reliably work out what a person would have achieved if their circumstances were different. There may be nice assumptions about how that 2:1 student would have got a first, or how that B student could have got an A, but no-one really knows for sure and it is pure guesswork. The second reason is that as soon as you start fiddling around with recruitment you immediately get people arguing for their chosen group and trying to skew the figures one way or another. Instead of having a single standard you have a hundred different standards all sloshing around. More than anything there is an impact upon fairness. These schemes work by favouring weaker candidates over stronger candidates. That is what they do and it is by design. After all, the argument for these schemes is that the ‘strongest’ candidates are being held back by their circumstances. There will be a huge amount of resentment amongst those who are not recruited because their real-life achievements count for less than the possible, maybe, would-be, ‘achievements’ of others. There will also be a huge loss of talent when these people go elsewhere.

Michael T

A person who achieved A* in every subject, because they were spoonfed through five years of independent school, is not going to make a better barrister than one who got A’s, while attending a state school in a deprived area.

Why

Why? They have the same results and getting an A* is easy.

Barista

But how do you know? Perhaps the A student has very supportive parents and has reached the limit of their intellectual ability? Perhaps the A* student has a totally dysfunctional home life, parents who are crippling themselves financially to send them to an independent school, and whose results nonetheless reflect exceptional talent? Are these assumptions we are making about what people could have achieved sufficiently strong to justify turning a merit-based approach on its head?

functional brain

I don’t know what sort of panacea you think independent school is. They don’t get handed 5A*s just for attending; they still put in the work and revision. For a person who stands an actual chance at pupillage, they should have the commitment and ability to achieve that on exams as easy as GCSEs and A Levels without outside influence.

My $0.02

Always easy to spot those who were private schooled when this conversation comes up.

In the seven years I was at my awful state school, not a single person got into Oxbridge. 200 students per year. If one person had got in, hypothetically, you might say they were the most capable student in 1,400 (top 0.07%).

At a top independent school, I understand that in a typical year the top 20% might go to Oxbridge.

If you compare the achievement of the former student to the latter students, of getting into Oxbridge, can you see how contextual recruitment can play a part?

Barrister

Sampling bias.

Peter Principle

Contextual recruitment. How about merit instead? Best person for the job maybe?

M’bimbo Bim Bam

Nah. Too easy and too common sensic.

Gotta get woke, bro.

Michael T

There are far simpler ways to deal with the problem.

Short term solution
Give the bar schools one year to get their act together. Then six months later, draw up a table of the schools, ordered by the percentage of students who got Pupillage. Withdraw recognition from the schools in the bottom half of the table.

Medium term solutions
For the remaining schools, cut the number of places by 50%. Increase the entry requirements for the bar course to a minimum of an upper 2:1 degree.

Long term solutions
* Split the course in a similar manner to the solicitors.
* Alternatively only offer places on bar courses to people who have obtained a Pupillage offer. Top training contracts are sometimes offered as early as second year LLB.

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