BVC provision is a problem. They were created to broaden the choice from one provider – the ICSL. That was desirable because local authorities had stopped giving grants for Bar School (you will all be too young to remember what grants were, but once upon a time in a golden land called 60s-90s Britain the government paid for you to be educated) and the cost of living in London was enormous. Also, in the late 80s – 90s, the good times were there for the Bar and people believed that they would last for ever.
Now we produce about 3,000 people pa with the vocational qualification. Of those, all but the 500 odd who get pupillage (employed and independent) have nothing of value save what they actually learned. And it costs a fortune (the ICSL cost me £6,000 in 1985 – I remember the pain of handing over the cheque).
There is an ethical debate about when we should shut the door on being a barrister. At present that is the final stage – i.e. everyone can compete for pupillage. Were we to move it back and make entry to the BVC the sifting point then a number of consequences would seem to flow. Firstly, some BVC providers would close, because the economies of scale would not permit them to carry on. Secondly, we would have to decide what criteria would apply. It seems to me unlikely that Chambers would wish to chose pupils 3 years before they arrived – if only because the decision to offer pupillage is usually taken at the last minute and because there’s many a slip. Yet 3 years would probably be required so that pupillage could be offered in the second year and the BVC place obtained in the 3rd year.
It is also probably the case that costs would not go down – indeed might even go up because the course would have to be delivered to fewer people. Then we would have to deal with the question of how many people got to go on the BVC course – you couldn’t really confine it to those who only had pupillage because they may drop out and leave the Chambers without a pupil they wanted. And Chambers’ needs can change over 3 years, particularly if a mid-ranking junior really takes off and has returns coming out of their ears. And what about the people who want the qualification to go to a different country and practice there? Do we only let them in if they promise to go? What if the country they wish to go to doesn’t chose its pupils for another 2 years?
And, finally, what of all the people who would say ‘ I would be a brilliant barrister but my academic performance isn’t my strongest point’? How else are we to judge entry to the BVC/the obtaining of pupillage if the entire exercise is taking place in the 2nd year? Normally mini-pupillages are undertaken when the student knows some law. If the BVC is pupillage dependent and the exercise is being conducted in the 2nd year then how many informed mini-pupillages will be done? And if we chose some other criteria to limit entry to the BVC that can only be academic.
On the other hand I am afraid that my experience shows that too many people who have no realistic chance of obtaining pupillage believe the contrary. To some extent they are grown-ups and must bear the consequences of their own decisions. However, when I see a candidate with a 2.2 from a not terribly distinguished university, who went to a decent school (and thus cannot rely on any argument based on differential), has done nothing special either of an extra-curricular nature or within their degree (for example a first in a dissertation on remedies and a letter saying they can produce really good work but can’t handle all the subjects to the same standard within a tight timetable), and who produces an Olpas form that looks like 300 other peoples’ Olpas form – I think that person has wasted time, money and effort and should have been disillusioned early.
In reality my favoured system is a barrister sift, where a panel of about 5 people spends 1/2 day with a group of potential applicants and then either says yes or no (the coercive option) or gives advice (the gentle option). And in these days where no profession is allowed to regulate itself that is about as likely as Satan being elected God.
So once again, because we refuse to trust anybody, we don’t believe in feel and we attribute every decision which goes against us to a sinister conspiracy or the ‘old boys’ network’, we allow blunt tools like exam results to dictate the lives of thousands of people, or we leave it to the market and allow the suppliers to grow rich on a course which only 20% of their consumers will benefit from. Good hey?
I would welcome comment. This is one of the things that genuinely makes me angry.