Shifting call post-pupillage will damage diversity, says ex-Bar Council chief

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By Rhys Duncan on

19

Also impact Inns


Postponing the call until after pupillage would make the bar “gradually less diverse”, says a former Bar Council chair.

Stephen Hockman KC, who held the top spot at the Bar Council in 2006, weighed in on the ongoing debate in an article in the Bar Council’s Counsel magazine.

The joint head of chambers at 6 Pump Court was writing in response to an article supporting the shift, penned by last year by the then current chair Nick Vineall KC and vice-chair of its education and training committee, Fallon Alexis.

At it stands, students are called to the bar and given the title barrister upon completion of their bar course studies. Despite holding this title, however, they are unable to practice until the successful completion of pupillage. This was described by Vineall and Alexis as confusing and damaging to social mobility.

Taking the opposite stance, Hockman KC, who is also a master of the bench at Middle Temple, highlighted the potential damage the shift could have on diversity and the Inns.

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“It seems to me self-evident that if we move to a system in which no one can even be eligible to be called to the bar unless and until they have completed pupillage, then the number of those seeking to join an Inn of Court is bound to drop sharply and significantly, with many bright graduates choosing instead to follow the path to becoming a solicitor,” Hockman KC writes.

“The net result will be a branch of the profession which is gradually less diverse, and certainly perceived as less diverse and more socially exclusive” he continues. “It will also be a profession which is very unlikely to expand at anything like the rate at which it has expanded during our professional lifetimes, and indeed it will be a profession which will fairly soon start to contract in numbers.”

Raising further concerns for the future of the bar more broadly, the barrister goes on: “We cannot hope to exercise continuing influence, both within the legal profession itself and more widely, unless we maintain and indeed increase our numbers as we have done steadily over the last 50 years.”

The shift, he continues, would likely “put our branch of the profession on a downward path, at the very least from a reputational point of view, just at the moment when it is already vulnerable to competition in the commercial sphere from the major law firms, and by reason of funding constraints in the publicly funded sphere”.

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The almost certain decrease in the number of overseas students completing the Bar course and joining Inns was another issue raised.

“Our tradition of enabling students from overseas to be called to the Bar has not only achieved the surely desirable objective of strengthening our links with a good number of overseas jurisdictions. Perhaps more importantly it has encouraged the preservation of the tradition of specialist advocacy in those jurisdictions and thereby strengthened the rule of law in those countries.”

“In the light of the above strategic risks”, he concludes, “the possibility of what is described as ‘confusion’ as to the role of someone called but not yet authorised to practise can carry little weight.”

Join us this afternoon (Wednesday 24 January) for a virtual pupillage application masterclass in partnership with The University of Law, and featuring barristers from from leading sets Gatehouse, Henderson, Landmark and Radcliffe Chambers. Apply for one of the final few spaces.

19 Comments

Jaded Junior

This is not the point of this article, but when you’re a junior tenant and the new starter tenants happen to have been Called a year or so before you, prior to pupillage, and then appear more senior on the website, that stings.

For the sake of clients, Call should be after pupillage.

Likewise, for the sake of junior tenants, Call should be after pupillage, to save them from clerks marketing them as e.g. “2020 call” when in fact they only completed pupillage three years later and have no experience.

Wigmore

“Appear more senior on the website”

How old are you? Do you seriously secure pupillage, work in one of the best professions in the country and then worry about where other people appear on the website?

Jaded Junior

“Appear more senior on the website” is shorthand for saying “appear more senior and therefore likely to be a) billed out at a higher rate, and b) instructed in matters which are inappropriate for their level of experience”. Those are both legitimate concerns.

I accept that the comment you have quoted, taken in isolation, reads as though the sole objection is to the placement of members on the website. I also accept that, if that was the sole objection, it would be childish.

I trust you do not dispute the legitimacy of the concerns I have listed above.

Junior Barrister

I agree with you that Call should be after pupillage. The Bar is very strange in that it is the only one of the regulated professions that permits its *unqualified* members to use the title of its *qualified members* once they’ve done a year’s bog-standard vocational study.

However, I would point out that it is your Chambers’ decision to list members according to Call year and not year of qualification. That is not done by all Chambers (including mine), particularly because it risks confusing clients as to the skill-set/level of experience of the barrister whom they wish to instruct.

I’d suggest that you take this up with a member of your Chambers’ governing committee. I doubt you are the only person in your Chambers who has this opinion.

Anon

What a feeble excuse

W

So basically we should continue to sell a pipe dream to a large cohort of people for whom pupillage is unattainable – and why? Because it looks good on our diversity stats.

Anon

Isn’t this a perfect example of shooting yourself in the foot? In essence, what he’s said is that the pool of Bar course graduates is more diverse than the pool of Baby junior tenants. In other words, getting pupillage and then tenancy is still socially exclusive because Chambers still aren’t taking on many people from underrepresented backgrounds; therefore, we need the Call to the Bar to be before the pupillage stage to make the Bar look more diverse than it actually is.

Surely, I’m not mistaken in thinking that is pretty much what he’s saying?

I’m all for hiring based on ability rather than box ticking, but I also think that the Bar does need to be more diverse and that not enough is done to contextualise applicants results and applications more generally. It’s perfectly possible to move away from the standard “Oxbridge/Academic Prizes coming out their ears/Middle Class” etc candidates without diluting the talent at the Bar, even post pupillage. It just seems that there isn’t much of an appetite to do such. Consequently, they could well move the Call and Barrister status to post pupillage, thus saving a tonne of money regulating those who will never become practicing Barristers for one reason or another, but won’t because it would require actively trying to improve the issues at the Bar.

Anon

Genuinely who cares if they join the Inn and do the course? The point to it all is doing pupillage isn’t it? Unless I’ve missed something?

I’d go as far to say that comments like these from Hockman are damaging. They are pure status quo, self-preservation, and the result is you have a load of people joining the Inns but you aren’t addressing the elephant in the room which is diversity in pupillage and tenancy.

Anon

Call to the bar is a non-sense concept. Barristers have this on their profile and chambers put barristers in order of call which makes it totally misleading. Year of call is not years of post-qualification experience

I don’t see why barristers can’t have PQE like sols do.

Junior Barrister

There is nothing forcing sets of chambers to list their members in order of call-year. I agree that it is a stupid approach. My set doesn’t do it.

Master of the Inn

And the winners are…the ridiculously large numbers of BTC providers profiting from students…

Junior Barrister

At the very least, can we require all BPTC graduates to pay an annual fee to the BSB for life if they wish to be members of the profession without qualifying to practise in England and Wales?

That way, the *minority* of barristers (i.e. those with practising certificates) will not be funding the regulators’ oversight of *all* barristers (i.e. anyone who has completed the Bar vocational course).

Anonymous

Nah. It will stop people who aren’t really Barristers from calling themselves Barristers.

Simples!

Ohhh

Also note that call before pupillage is standard practice internationally ie for lawyers in Commonwealth countries the BARRISTER AT LAW status qualifies them to practice law in their home counties. The bar providers will go bankrupt in 5 minutes is call after pupillage is enforced.

Zazoo

I started pupillage a couple of years after I was called. Feel like a bit of a fraud sometimes when I see my year of call. I spent most of my time in the interim just bumming around in SE Asia…

Junior Bazza

Your profile should state clearly “X was called to the Bar in [year] and began practising from Chambers in [year] after completion of [his/her] pupillage.”

Edward

Raise the entry requirements earlier in the process:
* Reduce the number of “qualifying law degrees” offered at undergraduate level.
* Increase the bar course criterion to a 2.1 instead of 2.2.
* Offer a combined two-year Bar Course and Pupillage.

Anon

I know someone who started pupillage 5 years after call. Surprise surprise, their website profile doesn’t disclose this.

But this is distracting us from the main point that Hockman’s position is nonsensical.

Anonymous

Maybe Hockman should have sorted things out a little better when he was chair of the Bar…

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