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Integrity – A Bad Example

March 22, 2009

integrityRemember the need for integrity? Well, according to Oxbridge Training Contracts you can pay someone to write your application, fill in your form and answer your interview questions for you. This will cost you anything up to £2,000.

Never mind the people prepared to shell out the money. Anyone who believes that you can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear is simply stupid. BVC students who believe that someone else’s answers will get them an interview, still less a pupillage, still less a tenancy are not looking for a purse so much as a set of matching luggage.

The more important issue seems to me to be that this is cheating. I am not talking about a bit of help to present yourself properly – this site, your BVC course, your University Careers Office, numerous barristers, your friends and your Inn will all help with that for free. But that is a bit different from a ‘personalised’ service for which you pay big money but which promises nothing save to make you a lot poorer. These people are lawyers and – according to the site – they are pupils and junior tenants in band 1 and 2 sets as per the Legal 500.

So what is the position of a pupil or a barrister who charges a potential barrister for a service like this? Well, personally speaking I would regard it as conduct likely to prejudice public confidence in the Bar. After all, if you are exploiting your own position to charge the potential competition that hardly looks good. And I doubt your Chambers would be terribly pleased to interview someone whose answers had been written by someone else in the same Chambers (an option in the pull down menus this site offers).

Integrity, as I have said before, is vital to the Bar. There is no integrity in allowing other people to write your essays, construct your CV, tell you the answers or plan your interview. If you can afford it, you are also getting the jump on those who can’t. If you are using this service you ought to be ashamed. You ought also to be careful because the draft application letter for pupillage is written by someone who – according to the site – has a current pupillage at ‘a leading Chambers’  and a Distinction in the BCL – but who cannot write proper English to save their life. The letter opines that “I know from conversations that awards are taken with a degree of salt at Chambers”. If the writer really is a pupil they ought to be looking elsewhere come June. Salt may be taken in degrees in other jurisdictions but in England it is usually taken in pinches. One may be “at” Chambers in other jurisdictions but in England one is “in” Chambers. The writer may be a real pupil but I doubt it.

Of course, if the owners of this money mill would like to contact me I will happily allow them a fair say. The site says nothing about these people. No names. No qualifications. No personal details. No integrity.

If you are one of the people helping others to cheat then you are an embarrasment to your profession and you ought to stop. Now.

Finally, I am not linking to the site. If you want to give them the traffic then find them yourselves. The Bar can do without these people and – if you are any good and have the slightest desire to uphold the values of the profession you want to join – so can you.

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27 Comments leave one →
  1. Interested Counsel permalink
    March 22, 2009 11:00 pm

    Had seen this reported on twitter just this afternoon and am in complete agreement with the Learned author.

    I can’t imagine my Leeds or London sets being interested in people who use this service; and if the idea is that use of the service is not disclosed, then that probably answers the question ‘is this ethical’.

    There is a real problem with young graduates looking to the Bar and really having no idea how to engage with Chambers – the answer is simple and free – through your Inn and through (measured) contact with Barristers you have met in mini-pupillage.

    If you haven’t got an Inn, haven’t been on a mini-pupillage – apply for both now. They are extremely useful.

    Have just discovered Simon’s blog and will have a good rummage around – only wish there was such a thing when I was at the BVC stage.

    Good luck to you all

  2. March 22, 2009 11:01 pm

    Excellent… Thanks for doing this. I suspect that they are the same type of people who do essay writing services for law (and other students).

    Not impressed. Cheating is cheating – even though the essay writing service providers state that the essays are only for research purposes and private study and MUST NOT be submitted as the student’s own work.

  3. lawminx permalink
    March 23, 2009 8:21 am

    I must give an ENORMOUS Hat Tip to Android at Android’s Reminisences for flagging up this site on behalf of all Bar Students, Aspirants and Putative Pupils.
    The most cursory investigation of the site throws up many many issues, not least of all its alleged ability to provide offer ‘Model’ Answers for the ‘Chambers Specific’ aspect of the application form, and actually lists a number of Very High End Sets against whom this service could be provided. It is frightening reading; I wonder if these chambers are aware that this site is associating itself with them?-

  4. March 23, 2009 10:39 am

    On a quick whois check on oxbridge traiing contracts and oxbridge law, these people are behind it:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article703120.ece

    Their attitude to ethics is clear enough…

  5. bar boy permalink
    March 23, 2009 12:47 pm

    The outfit’s main portal is to be found here http://torg.co.uk

    …. a general dearth of specialist law services. I would have said a dearth is a dearth, but I write my own essays and complete my own applications and so what would I know ?

  6. lawandlife permalink
    March 23, 2009 7:05 pm

    While I admit that a wry smile did escape me just for the sheer cheek of this, it is very worrying indeed that a) there are those out there that would think about paying for this and b) those who would risk their careers for short-term financial gain. Magic circle trainees and pupils don’t need to moonlight, they are paid well enough. And those at Oxbridge shouldn’t dilute the value of their degrees! I would like to see Kings and Birmingham Universities expel this pair for bringing their institutions into disrepute. They wouldn’t even hire themselves, so what does that say about their opinions of their own universities?

    If you are not good enough you are not good enough and needless expenditure will only prolong you being discovered. It won’t, however, make it any less true.

  7. March 23, 2009 10:35 pm

    I find it hard to imagine how anyone could make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that is the OLPAS form, it is not a format by my recollection that allows for a great deal of creativity, being largely fact based (and therefore verifiable) with a very limited word count for the more descriptive element (which I suppose is something of an art form – a legal Haiku?). One main purpose as I understood it of OLPAS (and application forms in general) is to level out the playing field as it is heavily weighted to objective criteria, thereby minimising the vulnerability to subtle discrimination that more old school application processes such as ‘CV and handwritten covering letter (so we can see if you have public-school handwriting)’ are susceptible to (although one could make a very good argument that OLPAS in fact works the other way as it is heavily qualification based and leaves little opportunity for the gifted but disadvantaged to shine sufficiently to obtain an interview). Even if (which I doubt) these unpleasant mercenaries could secure someone an interview via OLPAS I fail to see how they could assist with the interview itself.

    At any rate presumably OLPAS / the Bar Council / Inns of Court could adopt a robust and very public stance about this and take disciplinary action / sanction any candidate found to be using such methods in order to protect the reputation of the profession. This would need to be backed up however with some system for identifying plagiarism, on which point no doubt advice could be taken from those involved in the University system and hopefully translated into workable practice across OLPAS and individual chambers (not sure how). Sadly as I write this I see that this is unlikely to transpire…

    Well done for highlighting this though. It is very concerning that this is going on, but not altogether surprising to me. I knew one law student who earnt money from writing these essays, and he viewed the work as just a means to an end and somehow ok because the client’s money meant that they, not he, bore the ultimate moral responsibility for the use of the essay (some weird perversion of the cab rank rule I think). He is now at the bar.

    Anyhoo – excellent post. Bad naughty men – BOO! to you. Must go – have seriously overused parentheses, do not advise use of this comment as model of good writing style. I never was any good at Haiku.

  8. March 24, 2009 12:19 pm

    do we care?
    it is capitalism and the usual rules apply – if they are selling something and it isn’t as described you have the same recourse as with any other product. the plagiarism of essays etc is a different matter for me. for application letters etc i don’t see that you can apply the same rules – unless there is a declaration somewhere that the contents of your application form are your own unaided work.

    as i told android, i would bin anyone who sent an app telling me my chambers [none yet] was ‘unparalleled’ just cos it’s naff. if chambers like the sort of letters these people appear to write, they will perhaps interview someone if their cv looks up to it. if their cv looks good, why shouldn’t they get interviewed? and then they will either offer pupillage or not (if said user is such a worthless piece o’crap as we are making out, it’ll be the latter).
    frankly, the system is such a ridiculous lottery i have no problem competing against somebody using this ‘service': partly becuase i doubt it would help them and partly because i have yet to understand what the bloody rules are anyway.

    by the way, loo, i reckon olpas is (or was – no experience of this year’s yet) indeed an art-form. simon has already demonstrated a gift for the concise and relevant answer to everyone’s favourite ‘why do you want to be a barrister?'(i wonder if they still ask it this year?). verily a haiku.

    for anyone who cares: i want to be a barrister because only then will people stop asking me why i want to be a barrister.

  9. lawminx permalink
    March 24, 2009 4:43 pm

    The Pupillage Portal now carries a warning against the use of firms such as Oxbridge TC, with the Bar Council Stating it has alerted Chambers to its potential use.
    Many thanks, Simon, for trying to stamp out this sharp and under hand practice.

  10. March 24, 2009 8:03 pm

    @ simply wondered – as one question ceases another and yet another takes its place: not just ‘what made you want to become a barrister?’ but also ‘what’s the difference between a barrister and a solicitor? or do you wear a wig? do you defend rapists? how can you represent someone you know is guilty? do you mind if I just ask you a quick legal question? can I sue for a breach of my human rights because the [insert name of item here] I bought from [insert name of shop here] is no good?

  11. March 24, 2009 8:21 pm

    For an example of the chutzpah of this breed of essay factory owners, may I commend to you my own post at

    http://nearlylegal.co.uk/blog/2008/07/on-the-naughty-step-4/

    and specifically to the responses from the mealy mouthed hypocrite under discussion, a ‘non practising barrister’ no less. May I also suggest, purely for your potential amusement, that then you visit the edit history of the Wikipedia entry for Grays Inn at about this point:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gray%27s_Inn&diff=prev&oldid=7933703

    and have a guess at the source of this edit, subsequently righted.

    Not self-publicity, honest, I wish merely to provide an insight into the nature of the beast..

  12. March 24, 2009 9:09 pm

    Interviewed John Foster of Oxbridge Training Contracts – he has put his views.

    http://charonqc.wordpress.com

  13. lawminx permalink
    March 24, 2009 9:21 pm

    Charon’s done a podcast with Mr John Foster, in his capacity as a representative of Oxbridge TC.
    It’s well worth the listen, even if it’s quite uncofmortable……

  14. March 25, 2009 8:35 am

    hey loo – alas, the ‘why do you want to be a barrister ?’question differs from the others in that it is asked by those who profess to know better. and appear to have at least a portion of your future career in their hands.
    ps yes- sue the buggers. alas i can’t charge you for that, but just you wait…

  15. March 25, 2009 8:42 am

    nearly – don’t knock the man; he has, entirely by his own efforts and post-midnight doctoring of wickipedia, learned how to spell ‘famously’.
    maybe he is a oughttodiedact.
    tenacity and shamelessness – why is he not at the bar?

  16. Martin permalink
    March 26, 2009 11:57 am

    Have you considered talking to the Oxford and Cambridge university careers services? They normally take a dim view of these sort of people using the term ‘Oxbridge’.

  17. james c permalink
    March 27, 2009 10:19 am

    Simon,

    Whatever the virtues of barristers might be, I would not consider integrity to be one that is universally held.

    It might be better, then, to design an admissions system which cannot be so easily cheated.

  18. March 27, 2009 4:37 pm

    James,
    I entirely disagree. The Bar is a profession which depends on integrity. The fact that it sometimes suits the Government to complain – and the papers to report – that Barristers are all bent and in it for the money makes not the slightest difference.

    Following through one case from start to finish should make it clear that public money is saved and time not wasted because the Bar trusts each other.

    Can you define your terms and give some examples please?

  19. james c permalink
    March 27, 2009 7:34 pm

    Simon,

    My own experience does not bear this out. I am not going to give any details, but in the case in question one barrister, who had a reputation for being ‘fair’ was replaced by another whose reputation was rather different.

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