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The BVC – Again (and Update)

I don’t so this very often, but I am posting a comment left on the previous BVC thread by Becky. Firstly, I think it’s exceptionally well argued (the fact that she supports a sift is only a small part of that – honest). Secondly, it exemplifies what total idiots some bright, well qualified people can be – and how lacking in basic good manners and empathy.

For what it’s worth I think that London lags behind the provinces in this area. I am also less inclined to be kind than Becky. There is a degree of like chosing like. But there is also a need to see what one considers vital to professional success reflected back at you by the candidates. That is why diversity is such an issue and why people need to understand it. You don’t actually need a brilliant degree to be a good barrister. You don’t need to have understood business since you were 5 either – we don’t ask the criminal bar to demonstrate its knowledge of how to jemmy a window. And self-confident people with an eye on what is best for the profession shouldn’t need to see themselves in a candidate for pupillage.

Anyway, here is Becky’s comment. She didn’t leave an email address so I couldn’t ask for permission. If she wants me to take it down, I will. So catch it whilst it’s hot.

“For all the noble ideas that are being thrown at us by members of the Bar today, is there really the will to do anything about this particular chestnut? Your point about ½ day selection would be a victory for common sense. I would like to see the selection taken out of the hands of BVC providers (merciless, money grabbers that they are) and put back into the hands of the professionals. Full day workshops and a proper interview to decide on a person’s aptitude combined with a written exam and a bit of advocacy alongside the paper sift. That way at least it could be guaranteed that those who are making the cut do have some prospect of success in return for their money. Only then is the competition genuine for the pupillage afterwards (within the sterile confines of the concept admittedly).

However, this does cause me to itch all over. Allow me to indulge in a moment of comment on my situation. I have a good degree from a top 10 university with an excellent law department. I have interesting experiences (involving actual read life advocacy, none of your mooting for me). I got big scholarships from my Inn and university (based on merit I should add). I get interviews. I suspect it’s not my attitude because I have had no negative feedback (there were people who more committed than you, that’s all…how? No really, HOW?)

I am not barrister-bashing (although the more removed from the profession I become, the more I do), but dear me, it is an old boys network isn’t it? I could make you gasp in horror as I recount my favourite interview story (its better with my impression, honest), from an unnameable London Chambers, where I was asked what my parents did for a living and had to endure a gasp and a round of ‘they must be so proud’ (incidentally, they are both cleaners and they are very proud).

What can I do in the face of such attitudes? And that’s the problem for most of us. Whatever we do with BVC entry numbers, further training, re-educating the selectors, you cannot get past the attitudes. Completely without blame, the vast majority of those who make the decisions are public schooled, privileged. Like chooses like, bless ‘em. I can understand that. We chose friends for our shared characteristics, be it sense of humour or common experience.

This does throw up a problem though. The Bar is becoming endemically worse. The competition is tough, therefore those getting chosen are from largely the same backgrounds (broad brush) because they are perceived as those most likely to be successful based on old stereotpyes. When I was at Bar School last year, the 7 people who had pupillage were Oxbridge bar one. To be frank, with a notable exception, they were no better than many others and a lot worse than some. The Bar can’t change society. It can’t do anything about inequality in education, distribution of means or any of the other variables that hamper the selection for pupillage. It can do something about levelling the playing field based on aptitude, as discussed, and I think this would inevitably trickle down to the profession. If the profession trusted the selectors at Bar School, they would be assured that those coming at them for pupillage must have some modicum of ability and then they could make decisions at interviews based on, what I consider to be the important things: relevant experiences, knowledge of the area, etc. Depressing.

But as my grandfather says, the percentage of those from different backgrounds now is better than it was, and that’s an encouraging thought, isn’t it? And I for one know I will be there for all of my precious 5 years trying my hardest to impress.”

UPDATE: Lawyer 2 Be has discussed this matter at It is an interesting post and gives food for thought. The comments are also worth a read.

34 thoughts on “The BVC – Again (and Update)

  1. Excellent post – just to add, in my BVC group we had a guy that had a Cambridge degree although it was a desmond and he had 4 offers via olpas, another girl in my group who also applied to the same 4 chambers where Cambridge guy got his offers from was rejected and she had a 1st from John Moores and far better A Levels (AAB) as opposed to (ABB).

    Personally I dont think that the system is going to change, I just think you have to understand what you are facing and do your best to present yourself in your best light.

  2. Are you having a bad day?

    Read it again, because Becky doesn’t say anything remotely like that which you attribute to her. She actually says that she understands the position.

    This is a post about inequality and a failure of vision. Are you seriously contending that everything is perfect?

    Also, the reference to apologies and crying is unpleasant. I have no problem with counsel playing the man not the ball – we should all be big enough to take it. But I was always brought up on the proposition that one didn’t do that to the pupils and the junior tenants – still less to the students. Make your argument by all means, but back off the personal attacks on those who aspire.

    I think this is a necessary riposte because I don’t see how this comment really fits in with your proposition that one should not be too gloomy about the Bar. I agree with you that people need encouragement. I don’t discern any of that above.

  3. But as Churchill said – democracy is a terrible system that just happens to better than all the alternatives. I don’t think we should stop trying to improve.

    However, I am glad you have had a good day ;). I spent mine trying an appeal (sitting this week) and trying not to feel like I was in some book by Kafka.

    By the way – so you do the Speakers for Schools thing? If not, will you think about it please? Contact is Marisa Booker at the Bar Council.

  4. I think it is. It’s a real effort to try and widen access by catching kids early. And, as my own experience reveals that most careers teachers know nothing about the bar, it needs doing.

  5. … I agree with Simon in respect of this post; it is not fair to say that all BVC students believe that the World, his Wife and the Bar owes them a living; the vast majority of us come to the BVC with excitement and enthusiasm in the fervent belief that we are on the path to attaining a job for which we have tremendous enthusiasm. We also come with tremendous debt and the realisation that we are all taking a real risk given the inequality at the Bar. TB, having been through the system yourself, surely you of all people can syampathise with the situation, which is always going to be a tough one to solve. Becky’s well considered post highlights these difficulties.

  6. The bar does not owe anybody a living, if it was not for my wish to become a barrister, then I would not have had to fight repossession of my house and near bankruptcy, but this is a choice I made in fully knowledge that it was a long shot. The bottom line is the system is not working, you only have to look at the bar council statistics and this is evident, no selection process is perfect and you will always get people saying how unfair it is, however I do feel that if you show willing, work hard and are 100% committed to a career at the bar, then you will succeed given time, however this does depend on a selection process that is transparent and fair and with the current numbers of pupils searching for pupillages it is very hard to see how such a system can be fair given that the odds are so stacked against you. This would save people a serious amount of cash and the disappointment of failure. The question is what is the ideal criteria for a paper sift.

  7. I am a BVC student lucky enough to have got pupillage next year.

    I would totally agree with one of the main points of Becky’s e-mail. Whilst it is competitive and many won’t make it; it is blatantly the case that Oxbridge people get pupillages above those who are FAR more competent than them. Whilst many very talented people aspiring to be barristers come out of Oxbridge, especially those who have done the BCL, many Oxbridge graduates aren’t that bright. It leads you to believe that they must have had a very good education prior to Uni to get them in because natural ability wouldn’t have.

    People can accept being beaten to a pupillage spot by someone better or even as good as them; what bites is that it is so prevalent for poor Oxbridge graduates to get places in front of outstanding grauduates of other universities. This has nothing to do with the Bar owing anyone anything – this is clear and apparent unfairness which the Bar Council are always on about changing. It’s not changing for the most part.

  8. The trouble is that the assessment of who is competent is so difficult. Diversity and a sift is the answer!

  9. With every conceivable and imaginable respect to Troubled Barrister:

    “Another BVC student who thinks the Bar owes them a living and a job; to be frank the record is getting over played and boring fast. Since these arrogant prima donnas cannot find pupillage…”

    I find myself asking who the arrogant one really is here. It is a fact that it is much more difficult to secure pupillage now than in years gone by. It is widely accepted that it is more difficult every year. Would TB have successfully secured pupillage this summer? Mr Myerson, a Recorder and a QC, says that he thinks he wouldn’t have succeeded in this age. He gains even more of my (genuine) respect for saying that. No-one really agrees on what the criteria for awarding pupillages are or should be, beyond someone who “stands out from the crowd”. Which, given the age and likely life experiences of most applicants, is frankly asking rather a lot. Of course one obvious criterion is exam results and quality of degree. Should Oxbridge matter? Difficult question, to be honest. Yes, but not as much as it seems to matter in practice? However, the startlingly depressing thing about seeking pupillage is the degree to which luck is a factor. Everyone knows people less meritorious who have secured pupillages… In my own case, to put it briefly, I am an Oxbridge graduate with good results in my degree and in the GDL, and no obvious gaps in the CV. I am generally considered (modesty aside for a moment) to be eloquent and good at writing. It is unlikely that I messed up the OLPAS form twice. In two OLPAS rounds, I have secured one 1st-round interview in total (and most of my applications were not to “top” sets – having said that, are there any “non-top” sets in London today?). It is rather difficult to demonstrate one’s merit with the CV of “another” bright 24-year old, without even the opportunity to put one’s case personally in an interview. 300-odd applications; 30-odd first-round interviews; of course luck plays a huge role in narrowing that down!

    No, the Bar doesn’t owe me or any of my contemporaries a living, as such. But the Bar CAN AND SHOULD try its best to ensure that those who have sufficient merit get what they deserve. Even if I’m not good enough (which, to be honest, I am), then there are plenty of others out there who are good enough who don’t succeed. Sure, students (should) know the risks and willingly sign up for the equivalent of a lottery ticket. But I have heard too many qualified barristers be far too dismissive of what is a real problem and it really makes me furious. Yes, the Bar owes it to itself and to generations of law students to try and get the system right.

    You don’t like the song, so you ask for it to be turned off. If this is your attitude to problems presented by your clients, then I’m glad I probably won’t be instructing you anytime soon. Would it kill you to show some sympathy?


  10. Troubled Barrister,

    On reflection, I suppose a prerequisite for this line of work is belief in one’s own ability. Of course, my CV is not perfect, but by all accounts it should be good enough to go further than it has done (in many cases). In any case, I do not plan on publishing it on the Internet to see whether it succeeds in gaining your personal seal of approval.

    What I said was that I have secured “one 1st-round interview”. As it happens that set have asked me back for a 2nd-round. So, you never know, I might prove you wrong sooner than expected.

    No matter. The point of my post was not to cry over spilt milk in my own case. As I said, the point was not really about myself, but about the numerous other cases that one comes across while at Bar school today. It is far from a one-off problem.

    And even though you try to spin my message in a way that suits your case, I repeat: No-one has a divine right to be interviewed and get pupillage, not even me. However, everyone with sufficient merit should be able to legitimately expect to get what they deserve. I am very far from convinced that this generally happens.

    So I fear that you may have to put up with the over-played record for a while yet.


  11. Thank you for your good wishes.

    “How can you measure it anyway? Who does and does not deserve pupillage is totally subjective.”

    It is refreshing to hear someone admit that this is the case.

    I am not sure, however, that this should be the case.

    I am sure that you will agree with me that just because something may never be perfect, this does not mean that we should not strive to improve it. But if merit cannot be measured objectively at all… then all I can say is that this is rather troubling…

    Anyway, I think we have now flogged the issue to death, so, despite my own tone earlier, I wish you also all the best.


  12. Awwww – you GUYS.

    Sorry TB, but even my best friends wouldn’t say that being too humble was one of my problems! I mean it – I think that we have become too fixated on a face that fits academically and that we impose a requirement that the candidate sees the Bar as we do.

    However, you may – of course – frame my quote :). If you would like to whiz it along to Chambers I will even sign it for you – which would obviously add considerably to its value.

    Yours Humbly,


  13. TB – one thing I can say for sure: your constant confusion between quite and quiet means that you would not have obtained pupillage or tenancy in my set. And your attitude – are you quite sure you’re happy where you are? Whilst I’m here, why have you stopped anonymous comments on your blog? It stifles debate. If you’re concerned, you could always enable comment moderation.
    Simon, sorry to hijack your Blog.

  14. Hmm, although I don’t think troubled barrister’s tone is very nice (!) or helpful, I can see where he is coming from to some extent. Going through the system myself I found so many people with what I feel is the wrong attitude, i.e. “I’m not getting interviews, therefore the system is unfair” or “Although I appreciate each chambers can only interview 10% of applicants, the fact that I’m not in that 10% means something is wrong with the system”. Sure, it is a problem that there are far more BVC graduates than there are places in chambers and this is a problem from which the providers are cynically profiting. However with the system as it is anyone with any sense going in should be aware that there is much greater supply than there is demand, such that unless she is truly exceptional, there is a good chance that she won’t get pupillage. Any other attitude is pure arrogance.

    Chambers are entitled to choose the candidates they find most suitable – they are funding these candidates during pupillage out of their own money and will potentially spend the rest of their working lives with them. Which criteria WOULD be fair? Becky in her original post says academic ability short of meeting minimum criteria for the BVC shouldn’t be taken into account, rather relevant experience and knowledge of the law. Personally I think this is ridiculous for a number of reasons:
    1. The ability to gain relevant experience can depend heavily on luck/circumstance – e.g. so-called “privileged” students would be in a better position to go and work with Death Row prisoners than a single mother financially responsible for two children.
    2. No barrister “KNOWS” all of the law – it is the SKILLS of research, analysis, organisation, presentation, advocacy etc that matter, not the amount of statutes on Quicksearch in his head…and in any case how is “knowledge” to be judged if not by marks in legal exams? Anyone can gain experience/knowledge, but not everyone has the necessary skills.

    In any case, and most importantly, when Becky starts her own chambers she may most certainly make those the criteria if she so chooses. But chambers at the moment have different criteria and are perfectly entitled to this. I have come across so many people who think that the system is wrong because it does not emphasise the criteria that THEY would choose, which are usually also the areas in which they themselves excel…

    Furthermore, as Peter demonstrates, Oxbridge candidates do not all sail into pupillage and I know loads having difficulty securing interviews. However, some chambers may view a 2.1 as being more difficult to attain in Oxbridge than elsewhere. They are entitled to form their own judgements on this, just as some chambers may view particular sporting achievements as especially impressive on an application (I’m rubbish at sports, but I won’t whine that I could easily have represented the UK in a sports team while doing my degree had I only been born with better genes/received proper training/whatever). Furthermore, it really annoys me when applicants for the Bar say that I got a pupillage “just because I went to Cambridge”. I went to a state school, none of my family went to uni before me, I worked my ass off and got into Cambridge, and then attained a good degree. Is it too much to ask that I be given some credit for that, rather than have it be constantly inferred that having a degree from Oxbridge is some sort of random characteristic, like hair colour, on which chambers mysteriously fixate?


  15. It all comes down to one immutable fact: the vast majority of barristers have Oxbridge degrees.

    In and of itself, that exposes the flaws in the system (the argument that the proportion of Oxbridge graduates to other Law School graduates at the Bar is the correct one is entirely untenable). No further debate is needed. Once that is accepted, one can start to look for solutions, rather than squabbling over the existence and extent of the problem.

  16. I agree with that. But it needs breaking down a little more – can you help as to the last 5 years? Can ANYONE help as to the last 5 years?

    And, Martin, you can’t dodge it that easily. What is your solution – imperfect and partial as it may be (as everyone’s is)? A link to your blog would be fine 🙂

  17. I’ll cogitate on this one and revert, Simon.

    Andrew Hall QC, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, gave a talk in our SCR a little while ago and I believe he did quote some figures. I’ll see if I can dig them up.

  18. A long one I’m afraid! Rectifying the obvious bias towards those with Oxbridge degrees is unlikely to be resolved overnight with any form of strategy which falls short of positive discrimination against Oxbridge graduates. As has been noted above, chambers are paying their pupils and are entitled to choose whoever they like. The fact remains that current attitudes seem to operate favourably towards those with Oxbridge degrees and against the majority of those without them.

    One (very slow) method of raising awareness amongst the profession about the potential for non-Oxbridge graduates to do well is to publicise the success of those entrants to the profession who are not Oxbridge educated (ie a form of marketing campaign within the profession). Demonstrate that an Oxbridge degree is not a pre-requisite for success as a Barrister. As non-Oxbridge graduates are taken on (in smaller numbers at first no doubt) they will eventually find their way onto pupillage committees and at this point, hopefully, the firm bias towards Oxbridge graduates will begin to be eroded. This process will take a very long time in the absence of positive intervention requiring quotas of non-Oxbridge candidates to be recruited. But measures such as imposing quotas, as well as being very difficult to impose for obvious reasons, are generally counterproductive because the people who benefit under such a system are often regarded as being ‘token’ recruits to appease the system and the moment any one of them does something wrong it would be used as an illustration of why chambers should be allowed to implement their own recruiting criteria, free of obligation to meet certain recruitment requirements.

    Perhaps a survey of existing pupils and barristers who have been called in the last few years would be useful for the provision of information. I don’t think that being an Oxbridge graduate alone is sufficient to guarantee pupillage. There are lots of Oxbridge graduates out there who also fail to obtain pupillage. I have no doubt that some of the difference is down to the extra stuff that Oxbridge graduates have on their CV’s – the mooting and debating, the sports activities, the involvement with extra curricular activities which make them appear interesting as people, etc, etc… The sort of extra curricular activities that are perhaps not available, or at least actively promoted, at some other universities.

    It would be helpful if universities who have law courses could take a more active interest in what’s needed to succeed in a profession such as the Bar and could assist their students from the outset by giving them some idea of all of the extra things they need to involve themselves in to stand any chance of success. Given that law, as well as being an academic discipline, is clearly a vocational subject, I would think that priming their students on the expectations of the professions many of their students are aiming to enter, is nothing short of basic common sense.

    What is apparent is that this problem has been apparent for quite some time. Nothing positive seems to get done about it. I have already said on my own blog that encouraging a wider range of school pupils to consider a career at the Bar is utterly pointless if the discrimination which operates at the point of entry to the profession (pupillage) continues to operate (because many of the school children who are encouraged to study law will not go to Oxbridge, or even Russell Group universities).

  19. ‘ I went to a state school, none of my family went to uni before me, I worked my ass off and got into Cambridge, and then attained a good degree. Is it too much to ask that I be given some credit for that, rather than have it be constantly inferred that having a degree from Oxbridge is some sort of random characteristic, like hair colour, on which chambers mysteriously fixate?’

    Well done you. I hope this has given you a great education and expereience which will lead to you being a capable barrister. If, however, you are not as able as someone from a non-Oxbridge university – do you think you should be favoured because you went to Cambridge?

    What makes you think that having gone to Oxford/Cambridge makes you somehow better than graduates of other universities? Oxbridge is a sign of intelligence but, in my expereience a 2:1 grauduate of Oxbridge is not as bright as a First Class graduate from other universities yet they get preference for pupillage. It’s not a random charecteristic but there is serious inequality resulting from an apparently unjustifiable preference for Oxbridge graduates which reaches way beyond the personal merits of the individual.

    I am not Oxbridge – these are some reactions I have had.
    At mini-pupillage at a top London Set – senior barrister “I assume you’re from Oxford – what college did you attend?” – me “Actually I went to ***” – senior barrister “Oh.” – he then walked off without saying bye.

    At dinner – Senior barrister “You’re a bright spark – if you’d have gone to Oxford you would have had a pupillage in one of the top sets” – later he met a friend of mine who had gone to Oxford and gave him details of who to talk to in his set – these details were not given to me.

    Poor little Cambridge graduate – people complaining about people like you being unfairly favoured is a hundred times better than being dismissed for something unconnected with your ability to suceed in a career.

  20. It’s a complete fallacy that a 2:1 from Oxbridge is better than a 2:1 from another university. A first from another university is as good as a first from Oxbridge too. Did you know that to get a first from Oxford requires you to get first class marks (70 or above) in only 4 of your 9 finals papers (and above 60 in the others) – I have a friend there who has shown me this in the handbook. That means you can get a first class degree in law from Oxford with an average mark of 64.4%. At my university you have to get an average of 70% over far more than 9 subjects to get a first class degree! Why don’t the recruiters take some notice of this fact instead of making assumptions that just because you come from Oxbridge you must be better than everyone else? Makes me mad…

  21. I’m sorry but both of the last two posters (or is it the same anonymous poster?) seem to have misinterpreted me. I didn’t ever say that an Oxbridge student, where all else is equal, is superior, merely that it is a value judgement on the nature of the education/demands there which I feel chambers are entitled to make. Often the comparison is not like with like – a student with all Bs in GCSEs and AAB at A-Level with a 2.1 from e.g. Kent does not have the same CV as a student with straight As at GCSE and AAA and a 2.1 from Oxbridge, even if it is accepted that the universities themselves are of identical value. On AVERAGE, Oxbridge students tend to have better academic records than non-Oxbridge, even assuming the unis are all as good as each other, grading exactly the same etc etc. I do believe any bias towards a student who is inferior in all other respects to another candidate, solely because he went to Oxbridge, would be stupid and unfair. However I really do think any bias is generally hugely exaggerated by non-Oxbridge students. Statistics on the CURRENT intake would make the true position clearer. As I said, I know loads of people from Oxbridge without interviews, let alone pupillages. I also know loads of non-Oxbridge students who are not especially talented or bright but blame their failure to gain pupillage entirely on being non-Oxbridge. Nobody just walks into pupillage, Oxbridge or not. It is the complete failure of people to look at themselves that really bothers me. I didn’t get pupillage first go by the way – so I worked on weaknesses in my CV, rather than deciding the system was racist/classist/sexist/whatever!

  22. Just to clarify the above post as I know it sounds like I am contradicting myself – I think it would be stupid and unfair to discriminate in favour of an Oxbridge student who is inferior to another candidate solely on the basis of the prestige value of an Oxbridge degree; but I think if chambers are of the view that it is harder work in Oxbridge to get a 2.1 than elsewhere then this is a value judgement that they are entitled to make. Again, I am NOT stating that this judgement is correct, merely that I feel they are entitled to make it. However I do find it interesting that while many applicants I know from good red-brick unis state that a 2.1 from their unis is just as good as an Oxbridge 2.1, they balk at the suggestion that a 2.1 from an ex-poly is equivalent to theirs…

  23. “in my expereience a 2:1 grauduate of Oxbridge is not as bright as a First Class graduate from other universities yet they get preference for pupillage.”

    In my experience, I have found that: in cases where the intelligence of the two is comparable, the non-oxbridge-first candidate will generally get the pupillage and the oxbridge-2.1 candidate will not. And I’m not just talking about myself.

    And surely it’s fair to say that some universities have more valuable degrees than others? Sure, oxbridge has a prestige value, whether or not that is deserved. So, if you want to say that an LSE 1st is as good an indicator of ability as an Oxford 1st, I’m not going to argue with you. But is a 1st from [insert ex-poly here] really as good as an LSE 1st? I doubt it somehow.


  24. Peter, let’s hope you never get to be a barrister sitting on a pupillage committee – you’ll obviously bring your own brand of discrimination and bias to the table and keep the inequality alive. As there are always so many applications for pupillage I guess disposing of the cv’s of those from ex-poly’s is one way of doing an initial sift and cutting the numbers. Thankfully at my chambers I faced a more enlightened pupillage committee who took me on despite my ex-poly degree, and i don’t think they have had any reason to regret that. I suppose you would also say that Open University degrees are not as good as yours too, after all, while you agree that an LSE equivalent is of a similar standard to your Oxford degree, you obviously think that an equivalent ex-poly degree is substandard by comparison. On that note, in view of the competition for pupillage, in your world it seems that all ex-poly law degrees should come with a warning – “if you want to be a barrister don’t come here – our degrees aren’t as good as everyone elses”! J

  25. Peter, thanks for quoting my misspelling of experience – then spelling correctly directly underneath. In that sense your experience is more valid than mine. However, having been a BVC student and seen who and who does not get pupillage – 2:1 Oxbridges often get interviews when other Uni Firsts do not (I exclude LSE and Edinburgh – because barristers seem OK with them). Therefore, those applicants never even get a chance to be compared in person for intelligence or any other attributes.

    By the way, all the ex-poly Firsts I have met are exceptionally intelligent able individuals, just as much as those from Oxbridge.

    To Anya, I am the anon who quoted you. I am not Oxbridge or red brick and I did get pupillage straight from the BVC. I am not bitter and do not blame some ism for my non-existent failure. I do think there is great bias generally in the system and this needs to be examined and challenged.

    Further, I think A-Levels are often just as much an indicator of a good school as they are of genuine intelligence. University is, in the case of those without a quality education earlier, a great equaliser and a chance to show thier ability. The class of degree should completely eclipse any A-Level results; by the time you get to the Bar they are largely irrelevant – they were for getting into university.

    Your post clearly indicated that you felt you deserved credit for having worked hard and gone to Cambridge. Why? Your education is about learning and getting chosen for a pupillage is about potential and ability. It sounds like you have those things, but more from your route to Cambridge rather than the simple fact that you went there.

    Final, bigger point, I suspect that if the bias towards Oxbridge upper middle class applicants does not change fast, the government will act to break down the bar as a profession. The bar is in the public eye, all political parties are publicly against any blatant class bias in a profession. Whilst it may be true of some other professions – none are idenitified by the general public as much as barristers. In the media age, it’s perception that counts. If I’m right, then by trying to keep the club the same they are in fact cutting off their noses to spite their face and endangering the future of the profession even if it is their money they’re giving to pupils. Maybe letting people pick pupils under the same criteria as present isn’t such a good idea after all.

    Anon 1

  26. I don’t really feel this discussion is going anywhere as I have not myself experienced this apparent bias talked of by the variety of Anons. In my experience a 2.1 from Oxbridge is by no means as well regarded by chambers as you Anons appear to think. As I said I know plenty of people with them without interviews let alone pupillages. As I also said, I didn’t get pupillage first go, or indeed many interviews. I certainly don’t know of anyone with a first from anywhere being less well regarded than the host of Cambridge 2.1 holders I know (with the exception of one or two who have exceptional mooting achievements etc). I would say that in GENERAL the people I know from Cambridge are better able to sell themselves than those from many other unis and come across with more confidence. This is obviously useful when it comes to OLPAS, interviews etc.

    Most jobs don’t look SOLELY at degree classification, without regard to any other academic factors or the institution at which the degree was awarded. As such, Anon 1 is asking the Bar to take on a unique method of recruitment. The suggestion that a 2.1 from MMU is exactly the same as a 2.1 from say Harvard is one that is certainly open to argument, but in any case as I have said I feel it is open to chambers to make their own judgement on the quality of degrees, judging from their own experiences. There are so many applicants for each place that they can’t possibly be expected to interview every candidate with a 2.1.

    Anon 1, I don’t expect to be given extra credit for the prestige value of having gone to Cambridge. What I am referring to is simply people talking of my Cambridge degree as if I didn’t have to work hard (and be bright) to get in, and work hard and be bright to get a good grade. As in I couldn’t possibly have got pupillage because of the ability and diligence that got me my degree from Cambridge, but rather I must have got it unfairly because chambers are all highly elitist.

    Having experienced the degree of conviction of many non-Oxbridge students on the BVC that Oxbridge=pupillage and that any non-Oxbridge student without pupillage is being robbed of it by some pompous know-it-all Oxbridge toff who doesn’t deserve it, I feel quite sure that this discussion could go on forever, so I think I will sign off now!

  27. J – Honestly, I share your hope that I never have to sit on a pupillage committee. I really don’t envy those who do sit on pupillage committees. I think it’s a nearly impossible job, but one which still must be done properly. It’s a job that requires a good sort of discrimination. Yes, I have my prejudices, as we all do. I hope they are not completely foolish ones, and I’d like to think that I am at least open about them.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I mean no slight against individuals who have been to ex-polys etc. I’m sure that many of the people concerned are considerably brighter than I am. I am glad you got your pupillage, J, and I am sure that you deserve it. My point was not to comment on the actual intelligence or ability of the people concerned, but on the qualification they had… But I’m no authority on the matter and I acknowledge my own bias.

    Anon 1 – obviously our experiences differ. I am an ex-BVC student too, so I suspect what each of us has seen is as valid as the other, even if we seem to have seen the opposite things happening….

    Needless to say, I think Anya Hassan is talking a lot of sense and I agree with the thrust of what Anya says. I do think some people tend to underestimate how hard one has to work and how bright one has to be to get a good grade from oxbridge. (By the way, I’m not blowing my own trumpet at all, maybe I’m the exception who just got lucky.)


  28. Anon 1 Again –
    Sorry – this really long. I was just writing quick notes and I feel the entire point I was trying to make was not as well explained as it should have been.

    Anya, I agree this discussion could go on for ever and it seems unlikely that anyone’s view has changed in any way from participation in it. So perhaps it is all a little pointless in that regard. However, as I think you are misunderstanding me and that you are likely to be a proportion of the future Bar – I feel compelled to carry it on a little longer.

    “Most jobs don’t look SOLELY at degree classification, without regard to any other academic factors or the institution at which the degree was awarded. As such, Anon 1 is asking the Bar to take on a unique method of recruitment. ‘

    First, I never said that all degrees from all institutions were equal nor that Chambers should regard them as so. The point I made, which has been disagreed with by Peter, is that Oxbridge candidates with 2:1s are given preference for interviews above those with Firsts from other institutions, especially ex-Polys. As such, I have not even suggested that the Bar take on a ‘unique’ recruiting method and I really can’t see where you got this from at all.

    Much much much more importantly, this whole issue stems from a bigger point, which, though I may be mistaken, I feel you have entirely missed. The Bar is Oxbridge dominated; Oxbridge is dominated by public school students; the Bar is dominated by public schooled individuals of a certain background and culture. Unless you believe that people from this particular culture are more intelligent and able to be barristers than the rest of the population, then there is a problem in the selection process.

    As a barrister, you are likely to be involved in cases which involve other’s freedom, livelihood or children – these are important responsibilities. As most judges are recruited from the Bar, you may personally decide the fate of individuals from all walks of life. We are entering a profession that is quite rightly in the public eye and closely scrutinised by the Government and media. It’s not the same as becoming a stockbroker and making or losing yourself and other wealthy individuals their own money. Blue chip companies are not under the same pressure because, inter alia, Judges are not chosen from their employees and they do not defend or prosecute alleged rapists and murderers. Further, the Bar is a relatively small profession which is generally required or wanted by an individual who may through no fault of their own have ended up in a legal dispute – people do not want to be in Court. Additionally, many barristers are providing a public service paid for by the Government through legal aid. When someone is obliged to use an industry, yes they want the best, but generally they do not want to pay substantial sums to support a class that seems to have a hold over a profession needed by the general population. People do not want it and the Government, if they’re paying is not going to have it. Solutions will be sought and implemented if not by the Bar then by someone else.

    One solution is to break down the profession and merge it with solicitors by expansion of the solicitor advocates until the Bar is just a name that can be extinguished and all remaining members be granted the title of solicitor advocate. Another would be to take active steps to ensure that the Bar is more representative of the society which it serves. This is the vision – it’s less about individuals and more about a larger issue. As Simon said Becky’s original post was about ‘inequality and a failure of vision’ not about whether any particular individual feels that its unfair personally because all the Oxbridge people them. It’s so much bigger than that.

    You said ‘But chambers at the moment have different criteria and are perfectly entitled to this. I have come across so many people who think that the system is wrong because it does not emphasise the criteria that THEY would choose, which are usually also the areas in which they themselves excel…’. If you take out the individuals complaining about certain criteria you cannot escape the fact the Bar to an unjustifiable extent, especially given the nature of the profession, selects individuals from Oxbridge public school backgrounds similar to the make up of the senior Bar. Martin George hit the on the head when he said ‘the argument that the proportion of Oxbridge graduates to other Law School graduates at the Bar is the correct one is entirely untenable). No further debate is needed. Once that is accepted, one can start to look for solutions, rather than squabbling over the existence and extent of the problem.’

    I would restate that and address it to you and Peter. It is not alright for chamber to pick any criteria they like because it’s their money, if the criteria they pick lead to a continued ‘old boy/girl’ type profession. I reiterate that you are entering a profession from which the majority of Judges in this country are chosen and a profession which can influence the law which all society lives under. It’s not alright to be racist, sexist or ‘classist’; and chambers should not be entitled to do so even it just happens that the majority of Oxbridge grads are ex-public school and that wasn’t a specific criteria they looked at (indirect discrimination).

    This really is not the point:

    ‘Having experienced the degree of conviction of many non-Oxbridge students on the BVC that Oxbridge=pupillage and that any non-Oxbridge student without pupillage is being robbed of it by some pompous know-it-all Oxbridge toff who doesn’t deserve it.’

    Finally having understood why you are upset that people think you got pupillage just because you went to Cambridge and therefore don’t deserve it – I can totally understand why that annoys you – it would annoy me to. It seems like you have taken that individual feeling of not getting proper recognition and it has clouded you perspective on a real problem in the Bar which, being the first in your family to go to University, you could be part of the solution. The Government is trying to force Oxbridge to take more state school students which could also be a small part of the solution.

    I am not whinging because I didn’t get pupillage – I did. This is not a personal gripe – it’s a real and important issue. I am genuinely glad Anya and Peter got pupillage. I’m over the moon for anyone including myself because it can be a really difficult process full of rejection and endless interviews and work. I am concerned about the playing field not being level not about putting anyone down and thinking I’m superior to anyone else.

  29. Anon 1, I really appreciate your well-argued post here. Not least as I myself am someone whose politics are left of centre, the need to secure equality of opportunity for people from different social, economic and cultural backgrounds is a matter close to my heart as well.

    My concern is that, aside from the fact that the discussion is getting explicity political now, it might be rather too late in the process to start using selection for the bar as an exercise in affirmative action… I think broadly people agree that selection for pupillage should be based on merit, whatever that means, and certainly not based on things like one’s race or one’s socio-economic background. The problem, of course, is how you sensibly select pupils based on “merit”, while turning a blind eye to things like education results, which are sadly heavily influenced by one’s socio-economic background! It is difficult to have a merit-based system without indirectly discriminating. My feeling is that the problems start far earlier…

    As you (kind of) say, the improving attitude in Oxbridge etc towards selection based on academic potential, as opposed to just final grades and ‘polished-ness’, is certainly helping matters. (While you put this development down to government coercion, I think oxbridge are much more sincere about their diversity / meritocracy than many people appreciate.) Geoffrey Vos understands the problems extremely well (I know because I’ve spoken with him!), and the Bar Council is starting to reach out to younger kids from less privileged backgrounds, which is fantastic. It is this kind of long-term, root and branch, step that we need, not the dangerous erosion of standards sadly brought about by excessive (albeit well-intentioned) positive discrimination for pupillage.

    You are right; we do have a moral imperative to address the problem. But I don’t think it’s fair to expect individual chambers to sort out social inequality in the macro-economy. The chambers come at the end of the education chain. The problem needs to be addressed first by the government and the education establishment, and fortunately we have a Bar Council ready and willing to work with them on these issues.

    Basically, it’s one thing to encourage the less privileged to apply, to show them where and how to acquire the skills they will need, and to give them every help possible (including financial help) in acquiring those skills. It’s quite another thing to give jobs to people with less skills on application-judgment day! Am I being unreasonable or short-sighted?


  30. I do wholly agree with Peter’s post. I think I am in a rather strange position here, as I feel as if I am arguing as one of the people whom the people on the “other side” of the argument are trying to protect! I do feel rather better now that Anon 1 has seen what I was trying to say re the whole anti-Oxbridge sentiment and I accept that this is a personal annoyance for me! I would again agree with both Simon and Peter that I have never seen an Oxbridge 2.1 being taken as superior to a first from anywhere, but as the other posters have noted this is really a bigger issue than our own limited experiences.

    The essential question is, as Peter notes, that of positive discrimination. Of course I am very strongly against a society favouring nepotism/public schools/the rich getting richer etc etc. But I don’t feel that rectifying this should fall at chambers’ feet. Of course I want more opportunities for those of my attributed (!) social class and for members of ethnic minorities. However, I feel that opportunities in education need to be improved earlier on, rather than excuses made later. I am so proud to have gained pupillage because, despite the obstacles, I have reached the highest standards. I don’t want to gain a pupillage at the expense of someone who is better than me, don’t want people to know that I am there because I’ve satisfied some quota because I’m Asian or my parents didn’t go to uni or whatever. That’s not to say that chambers shouldn’t take into account the “route” in the sense that some people have not had it as easy as others, but only in so far as this illustrates determination and intelligence, and not out of some desire to retrospectively make things “fair”. I do feel that schemes encouraging people of all walks of life are valuable but from what I can see they are not sufficiently tailored which I find somewhat patronising. That is, I know several people of a similar background to myself who were strongly encouraged to go for the Bar despite being very average academically. They received full funding for the BVC but struggled to pass it. Of course they are not going to get pupillage. What is the point of that?

  31. From my experience of applying for pupillage and the questions asked at interviews, there is a lot more to selection than your class of degree or which university it is from.

    I did not go to Oxford or Cambridge, in fact I studied abroad – at a good university, but one, I’m sure, that many UK barristers have never heard of. However this has not prevented me from getting 8 first round interviews. The questions asked have been mainly about life experiences and the law-related work I have undertaken. Most people who are successful at obtaining pupillage are quite a few years out of university, as far as I can tell from Chamber’s websites. I think there are so many factors that determine whether you are offered an interview and that anyone with a good degree from anywhere that has done nothing interesting since leaving university would probably not get interviews, whereas someone who has demonstated initiative and commitment in what they have done since university, particularly in law related fields, will probably get interviews notwithstanding where they studied.

    This is my experience, at any rate!

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