The City Law School began life way back in 1852 as the Inns of Court School of Law, a combined effort between the four Inns of Court to deliver barrister training. Soon after the bar vocational training market was opened up in the late 90s, breaking the Inns’ monopoly, City University took over the course. Until now it has been delivered mostly at the original Inns of Court School of Law campus in Gray’s Inn. But City has now moved to a £30 million law school in Clerkenwell. The impressive new building includes a seven-storey glass tower, plus a four-storey brick building to adjoin it. All City Law School students will be located here.
Doubtless this history is a major draw for some students. As one departing City student puts it: “They wrote the textbooks. They’re in Gray’s Inn.” Indeed City’s course manuals, which are authored by its lecturers, are used by other Bar Course providers. Among those lecturers is Professor Stuart Sime, one of the country’s leading authorities on civil procedure, who students rave about.
The downside to City’s status as the original Bar Course is that it can lead to a tendency to rest on its laurels. Students tell us that the advocacy training and wider teaching “vary enormously”, with classes “sometimes brilliant, sometimes awful”. A recent graduate elaborates: “Often the emphasis was on dragging up the advocacy of the weakest in the class, i.e. ‘stand up straight’, ‘speak up’ etc. Where it was good, it tended to be very good; however, it wasn’t always able to reach that level.”
The mixed nature of the course is reflected in those who take it. Oxbridge graduates with starred firsts and pupillages lined up at the nation’s leading sets rub shoulders with candidates with considerably less impressive CVs who will face a battle to secure places in chambers. There are also a fair proportion of international students on the Bar Course at City, many of whom will use the qualification to return to practise in their home jurisdiction.
For those without pupillage, there is an active careers service. Students can make appointments to discuss the application process and have mock interviews. There are also regular events, with practitioners from the many nearby chambers popping in to give talks about how to make it into the profession. This is a major plus of doing the Bar Course in London.
A major negative is of course the cost. While not (quite) the most expensive, the City Bar Course doesn’t come cheap. Students understandably struggle with the £19,500 price tag. When combined with the cost of living in the capital, it means the course is out of reach of many unless they have secured a scholarship (from the Inns of Court or City directly). One puts it like this: “[The course is] ludicrously expensive to the point where it prevents pursuit of a legal career for those without a scholarship or steadfast, relentless, iron will to succeed.”
To those who’ve made the financial commitment, the best advice is to go for it, embracing everything that legal London has to offer – attending as many careers events as possible, cramming in all the mini-pupillages they can manage and, if there’s time left over, even trying to enjoy some social life. As one recent City graduate tells us: “City is located next to some great pubs. Frequented many times between civil lit and crim evidence.”