Further Degrees

MA Update (Hat-Tip Publawyer)

Publawyer has done some research on the vexed question of further degrees about which I posted at the beginning of July. The fact that research has been done is a huge step forward – I have not been able to find any equivalent exercise. The results can be viewed here.

Once one removes the BCL, the doctorates (a quite different level in my view and one that qualifies the holder as a genuine academic) and those MA’s which represent a qualification from Harvard or the Sorbonne etc, it seems to me that about 90 of 350 barristers surveyed had a ‘standard’ MA – about 25%. I would dearly like to know what those courses represented and who provided them.

As you will see, about half the pupils from sets offering large pupillage awards had an MA. But I suspect that the BCL, Harvard et al are included within that figure (a quick search of top tier London Chambers’ websites confirms this view). That would mean that of about 180 people surveyed from Chambers with a pupillage award of greater than £30,000, perhaps 40 had a ‘standard’ MA – about 20%. Again, I would very much like to know who the provider was and what the actual course was. All help gratefully received.

For the time being I remain of the view that a ‘standard’ MA offers no assistance to getting a pupillage unless directed squarely at the area of law in which Chambers specialises. On the other hand, it clearly doesn’t hurt either. And the BCL, Harvard etc are plainly of huge assistance.

Publawyer’s take is below: my comments are in purple (I have simply posted his/her last comment below because I have no email address to ask for permission. If I am asked to remove this bit then, of course, I will. In the meantime – many thanks).

“If people think it would be helpful then I’m happy to try and expand on this a bit and separate out the various courses and institutions. One potential problem, from my random sample anyway, is simply that some qualifications are not accurately described. It’s tempting to conclude that any such qualification simply isn’t relevant – I can understand why some non-relevant qualifications might be included to bolster an online CV (which is effectively what these profiles are), but I can’t see any reason why anyone would downplay a BCL or a Harvard qualification, etc.

You’re also quite right to point out that figures for the various levels of pupillage awards include all postgraduate qualifications lumped in together. From a quick look at my raw data there are 26 ‘regular’ MAs from the 181 highest paying chambers. That is about 15% rather than the 20% I postulate above. The breakdown is:
24 BCLs
26 LLMs
26 MAs (may include some LLMs simply labelled as “Masters”)
8 MPhils
9 PhDs

Things that surprised me included:
1. Almost half those who took on an advanced research course finished with an MPhil and did not progress to a PhD. I am not so surprised. A legal MPhil is only relatively rarely a waystation on the way to a PhD.
2. Some people feel happy to describe their university education as “x College, Oxford” without the merest clue as to the course or class of degree. Probably not Law and almost certainly an indifferent classification…

I suspect all of this isn’t going to offer much solace to some of the people who originally asked these questions. If they wanted an extra qualification to boost an unexceptional first degree then a BCL is going to be closed off to them. I would also have thought, but may be way off the mark here, that an extra qualification on it’s own is only useful (if it has any merit) in getting past a sift and through to interviews. Once the decision has been made to interview then the eventual decision is surely based more on interview performance. Not my personal view, but certainly tenable.

This is perhaps where an MA might be useful – if you can take enough from the course that you are a better speaker and more accomplished interviewee then it will be of benefit. If you register on a course simply to inflate your CV and fill a gap on the OLPAS form then it isn’t going to improve a poor interview performance. This might also explain the high quantites of BCL graduates – the course simply makes better lawyers than a standard MA so they consequently interview better.” In my opinion the BCL demands a particularly high intellectual standard and the people who have done it also have the reassurance that such attainment provides.

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10 thoughts on “MA Update (Hat-Tip Publawyer)

  1. If people think it would be helpful then I’m happy to try and expand on this a bit and separate out the various courses and institutions. One potential problem, from my random sample anyway, is simply that some qualifications are not accurately described. It’s tempting to conclude that any such qualification simply isn’t relevant – I can understand why some non-relevant qualifications might be included to bolster an online CV (which is effectively what these profiles are), but I can’t see any reason why anyone would downplay a BCL or a Harvard qualification, etc.

    You’re also quite right to point out that figures for the various levels of pupillage awards include all postgraduate qualifications lumped in together. From a quick look at my raw data there are 26 ‘regular’ MAs from the 181 highest paying chambers. The breakdown is:
    24 BCLs
    26 LLMs
    26 MAs (may include some LLMs simply labelled as “Masters”)
    8 MPhils
    9 PhDs

    Things that surprised me included:
    1. Almost half those who took on an advanced research course finished with an MPhil and did not progress to a PhD.
    2. Some people feel happy to describe their university education as “x College, Oxford” without the merest clue as to the course or class of degree.

    I suspect all of this isn’t going to offer much solace to some of the people who originally asked these questions. If they wanted an extra qualification to boost an unexceptional first degree then a BCL is going to be closed off to them. I would also have thought, but may be way off the mark here, that an extra qualification on it’s own is only useful (if it has any merit) in getting past a sift and through to interviews. Once the decision has been made to interview then the eventual decision is surely based more on interview performance. This is perhaps where an MA might be useful – if you can take enough from the course that you are a better speaker and more accomplished interviewee then it will be of benefit. If you register on a course simply to inflate your CV and fill a gap on the OLPAS form then it isn’t going to improve a poor interview performance. This might also explain the high quantites of BCL graduates – the course simply makes better lawyers than a standard MA so they consequently interview better.

  2. No problem with you quoting me at all!

    With regards to the MPhil / PhD issue I was surprised because where I am currently based we have had 7 times as many PhDs awarded in the last two years as MPhils and the MPhils have been regarded as, how can I put this tactfully … perhaps “incomplete” will suffice. That said, there are many situations where an MPhil would be considered a reasonable aim rather than a relative failure. The pressures of time for fitting everything in with a non-academic career might also come into play.

  3. Geeklawyer, I also have an MSc in Law.

    I’m pertubed by this comment of Simons: “If they wanted an extra qualification to boost an unexceptional first degree then a BCL is going to be closed off to them”.

    Why is it closed off to someone with an “unexceptional” first degree? What qualifies as unexceptional? The degree classificaition, the university? What about extrenuating circumstances?

    Incidentally, Oxford University offer an MSc in Criminology and Crimminal Justice Studies which started in 2001 and is modelled on the BCL i.e. some of the same modules are taught on both courses and both have the same passmark level.

  4. I think Simon’s comment is referring to the fact that acceptance on the BCL requires that candidates have a first class degree – that is the condition upon which offers are made (and many people with firsts / predicted firsts, or equivalents, will be turned down). It is a very well established and internationally renowned course with people coming from around the world to do it. The competition for places is very fierce, not least because the numbers who are accepted are very limited in comparison with the demand for places. They very often have as many as 60 or more countries represented on the course (BCL and MJur combined – the common law and civil law versions of the course) with as few as 130 odd places between the two courses each year. The MSc in Criminology does not have such strict entry requirements (perhaps partly because it is such new course). I don’t think Simon’s comment about the BCL being an unavailable option to those with an unexceptional first degree is at all judgemental or intended to be anything other than a factual observation. It does not necessarily mean either that the MSc to which you refer is not as highly regarded.

  5. Earth,

    That was my comment originally, not Simon’s. The Anonymous poster above has quite accurately stated what I was trying to say. Apologies if I did this too clumsily. For background, this question was originally raised by people with 2:1s or 2:2s who were struggling to get pupillage. My point was simply that a BCL would be no help to them because they have no chance of getting on it. Their only options would be general Masters programmes (which Simon thinks have little value in the very specific aim of getting pupillage) or an LLM programme targetted at the area of law they wish to specialise in. The very last thing I was trying to do was denigrate anybody for not having the first class law degree that Oxford demand for entry on to the BCL. For the record that category would include me. I don’t believe they consider extenuating circumstances at all. A professional legal qualification may get you in if you have an “outstanding degree” in another subject, but I doubt whether a 2:1 in Law and a BVC or LPC would be sufficient.

  6. Oxford state a preference for a 1.0 but weclome applications from people who have a high 2.1 in Law.

    I wonder if anyone has ever got on?

  7. I have just stumbled across this debate whilst contemplating whether to apply for Masters programmes for next year. Each of the points raised are highly relevant to me.

    In brief, I have a 2.1 in Law from Cambridge, a VC from the BVC at BPP (completed in 2005), and have been applying for pupillage to a lesser or greater degree for the past 3 years. During this period, I have consistently had 5-6 interviews from summer OLPAS, from which I have received 2nd round interviews in approximately 50%. With one set, I was called back to an unplanned third round and told that it was down to me and one other candidate. Needless to say, I have not secured pupillage. My honest self-appraisal is that I am performing well in the ‘interest / committment / enthusiasm’ interviews but less well so in the ‘legal’ second rounds. In the meantime, I have been working within the Legal department of a top tier investment bank.

    From my perspective, I am wrestling with four questions:
    i) Will my BVC remain valid (I am checking with Inns of Court, but my understading is that it is likely to be OK for at least one more cycle of interview / pupillage)

    ii) Is there a chance of me getting a place on the BCL or Cambridge LLM? I do not have a first, but would ‘industry experience’ gained over the last two years bridge the gap? Would welcome any thoughts on this.

    iii) Assuming otherwise, would a London masters (say, UCL or Kings) assist me? Based on the helpful postings, my assumption is that this would provide limited help in securing interviews. However, I also feel that it would assist in refreshing and developing my legal knowledge which in turn would help in the more legally focused interviews.

    iv) Am I just now too late? Primarily, would interview panels not simply conclude that I have failed to achieve pupillage in 3 years and therefore am not worth interviewing or making an offer to?

    I am tempted to apply for Masters courses (which I would enjoy), but would appreciate any thoughts as to whether this would be simply proloning the agony – and giving up a very well paid (but not thrilling) position in an investment bank to do so.

    Any comments would be much appreciated!

    1. OK, I’ve got into both the BCL and the Cambridge LLM. I have a scholarship for cambridge not for oxford and want to be a barrister. is the bcl really so much better that i should turn down the scholarship? Or perhaps the Cambridge LLM is thought to be one of the other great ones like Harvard, the Sorbonne? i went to an ex-poly and want to get this decision right so as to maximise cv benefit.

      i know this has been touched on before, but any new opinions would be much appreciated.

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