The BVC

New Term, New Beginnings

Safely back, tanned and rested. Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. My destination remains a secret although that means I am fending off comments about holidays in Skegness. But it included my nephew’s Barmitzvah and lots of deli sandwiches (clue).

In the past few weeks lots of you will have handed over cheques ranging from between £7,000 to £12,000 (approx) for your BVC courses. Will you get value for money?

I have done some research which I set out below:

Fees:
ICSL – £12,770 4
College of Law London/Birmingham – £12,080/£9,900
Northumberland – £7,000
BPP London/Leeds – Not published on website but £13,000 – which may explain the silence (Thanks to Seahorse)
Manchester £8,500
Cardiff – Not published but £8,000 + (thanks to Rhadamanthus)
Nottingham – £9,700
Bristol – £8,600

Scholarships:
ICSL – 4 as a rebate
College of Law – No
Northumberland – No
BPP As a rebate and it looks like 7 for both sites
Cardiff – No
Nottingham – No
Bristol – No

Pass statistics – only Bristol

Pupillage Statistics – only Bristol although Manchester includes a warning that pupillage is hard to come by. However, Seahorse was told that the figures were:
Bristol: about 25% (now 30% according to the website)
BPP: 45-60%* (including those with a pupillage before taking up their place)
College of Law: 50%
Northumbria: 10%
Nottingham: 60%

The website’s are pretty shoddy on any view. I found the BPP website long on waffle and short on critical information. One can only hope it doesn’t produce barristers in the same mould. Cardiff was virtually useless (virtually – ha! Geddit?). Northumberland didn’t even really try to sell itself. Manchester, Nottingham, the ICSL and The College of Law sold themselves on the basis of waffle about dedicated teaching and contacts with the Bar. I would have thought that those things were a given, but perhaps not. Only Bristol has the guts to confront the difficult questions and to give truthful answers. Hats-off to them.

When I have a moment I shall get on the phone and ask some questions. In the meantime, if you know what the pass rates/pupillage rates are then please let me know. This would be helpful information.

Having paid your money to take the Chance card, I hope that you are getting decent careers advice. Please let me know.

As a cautionary tale, I have recently spoken to someone who had been advised by their BCL Tutor at Oxford that commercial law was out of the question for them because their BCL (!) result was not good enough. I was able to offer reassurance that getting a place on, and passing, the BCL was good enough for almost everyone, but it did make me wonder why Oxford University allowed such cobblers to be spoken in its name. The same ‘advisor’ also said that the qualifications held by my caller would ‘probably’ be good enough for crime and family law. The rampant snobbery implicit in such a comment should, in my view, persuade the University to allow the genius to try his hand at real practice and see how he gets on. I live in hope, but not much expectation…

I think the moral is to ask more than one person. And to read this site of course. In the hope that some of you, at least, are new readers, please read the posts on the top of the list which are designed to take you through the basics. And providing you keep your comments polite (ish), anything goes.

Good luck and try and enjoy yourselves, at least a little. Oh yes, and don’t behave like this when you qualify!

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22 thoughts on “New Term, New Beginnings

  1. Simon, don’t forget that Providers peddle their wares not only by website but also by brochure, “careers” talks and attendance at Law Fairs etc. Most are realistic about fees, awards, pupillage stats. and pass rates. There are certain difficulties in respect of the latter two (e.g. what do you take as the cut-off point) but there has already been a modicum of, perhaps informal, research. The grapevine suggests that Nottingham, College of Law (London) and BPP (London) have, historically, had the highest pupillage rates, with Nottingham and CoL hovering around 45-50% compared to a National average of approx. 30%. The BSB will, no doubt, eventually publish such information. In the meantime I guess the debate over value for money will continue …

  2. BPP (Holborn) is an eye-watering £12,995 this year.

    They, and the other London BVC providers, rather deftly refer applicants to their previous years’ prices at the point at which applicants must decide where to apply to. The providers only reveal the charges students will pay once they (the providers) have made their decisions.

    Just over a year ago I emailed all of the BVC providers in the country to ask them what their success rates were in terms of acquiring pupillage.

    The responses I got were:

    Bristol: about 25%
    BPP: 45-60%*
    College of Law: 50%
    Northumbria: 10%
    Nottingham: 60%

    Unable to demonstrate the courtesy or competence necessary to field a reply to a prospective applicant’s email enquiry within a year: Cardiff, ICSL, Manchester (MMU).

    *BPP: “about 10% – 15% of students acquire pupillage before they start the course, then approx. 35% – 40% acquire pupillage while they are on the course” – I’ve assumed these figures can be added,
    i.e. aren’t cumulative.

    There are several reasons why it would be wrong to make straight comparisons between these figures, not least that there may be absolute variations not just in characteristics of the providers but also in characteristics of the students.

    But this was an interesting exercise nevertheless. In particular, those that didn’t reply got very bad marks in my personal selection process!

  3. I fear that I must rush to the defence of my beloved Cardiff provider.

    The fees in 2005 were around £8,000 and the major advantage is the ratio of tutors to mugs…..I mean students. The tutorial sizes are around 12-1 and even the lectures are around 70-1 allowing a decent working relationship to develop.

    AS to pass rate….well I passed with a VC so as far as I’m concerned it’s superb!! Of course I would hardly have reached my position of Lord Chief Justice of Appeal of the Underworld without a VC now would I?

    All in all Cardiff is a great city (honestly Leeds fans it is) and the BVC provider is more than adequate and cheaper than London.

  4. I am a little concerned by what seems to be a very one-sided view of your caller’s concerns over what s/he was told about their BCL results and life at the commercial bar (and I suspect that their account was more than a little selective).

    The tutor who said this is probably either in commercial practice, or is closely associated with it (in the form of being asked for opinions in complex cases). Furthermore, their analysis sounds pretty spot on to me. The commercial bar is based largely in London, is probably the toughest branch of the bar to get into, and you do need — effectively — to have a first class degree as well as, ideally, a first class Master’s degree to stand a fighting chance. There may be exceptions, but by and large, this seems to me to be just the way that it is.

  5. I quoted is as I heard it and my informant does have a first class degree. I think your take is true of the ‘top’ 5 commercial sets but, and I know this may be a secret, they are not the only places to do commercial work. The tutor concerned is not in independent practice according to their student.

    I certainly agree that particular sets require a 1st plus a Masters. I utterly disagree that such academic success is a pre-requisite for doing the job properly. You have to be clever enough, but intellect (especially as displayed in passing UK exams) is merely one requirement of a job which needs so much more.

    Shed the anonymity and if you are an established commercial practitioner you can have a guest slot…

  6. Your remarks about the comments of a BCL Tutor are not that helpful in trying to dispel the commonly but incorrectly held myth that snobbery is rampant at Oxford – it is not. The comment was apparently not uttered in the name of Oxford University, it was something which appears to have been said by a tutor to a student. If the comment referred to in your post is correct, that this particular student’s BCL result would not be good enough for the commercial bar but probably would be good enough for the criminal or family bar (everyone who has competed for a commercial pupillage in the last few years will know it is incredibly competitive, and not just at the ‘top 5’ sets) then I would think that this says as much about rampant snobbery at the bar rather than the educational establishment that has taught them.

    As for your comment about the university allowing ‘the genius’ to try his hand at real practice, it is worth noting that many BCL Tutors do in fact practice at the bar, not surprisingly the commercial or chancery bar. Many BCL Tutors are also widely regarded as leaders in their field. Some of those who do not practice themselves often have very close links to the profession, even to the extent that some of the most senior tutors are honorary QC’s and Benchers at the Inns.

    You have given a very limited contextual account of the conversation which must have taken place between this student and this tutor, and no detail about the student and their qualifications or performance on the BCL, let alone any personal information which might better inform why such a comment would have been made (not that you could be expected to give such information). But, as you say yourself, whatever the context in which this comment was made, anyone who takes the word of only one person does themselves a disservice. In fact, someone who has a first class degree and has passed the BCL ought to have enough gumption to make the applications to their chosen sets anyway and take their chances. The proof of the pudding is in the eating after all.

  7. I am beginning to wonder whether the “anonymous” commenter who has taken umbridge at Simon’s remarks is, in fact, the aforementioned BCL Tutor.

    In all seriousness, I do sort of agree with anon’s comments. If we’re talking about the top chancery/commercial sets, then a poor result in the commercial BCL exam will, in all probability, be a bad thing indeed. There are enough candidates out there with outstanding academics that those with merely excellent ones will not stand a chance.

    But the same cannot be said for the entire commercial bar – plenty of sets would be happy to have a BA, BCL student in any shape or form (as long as they have sufficient gumption, of course.)

    As anon said, it really does depend on the context in which it was said. If your caller said, “I’d love to go to Brick Court or Blackstones or 20 Essex, but my tutor told me…”, then I have little sympathy.

  8. Martin – I agree. My informant is not talking about Brick Court etc. Further than that I cannot go – it was as anon fairly acknowledges, an anecdote.
    I was taught contract law by the now Mr Justice Lloyd-Jones. I knew he was bound for the top when he sussed the Myerson tactic of really genning up on an issue in the thick of the current topic in the hope that this would persuade him that I had read everything.

  9. I have just started the BVC at BPP Leeds.

    This years fees are £11,000. So far the course seems ok but it is really too early to comment.

  10. On Monday BPP was granted permission by the Privy Council to award degrees. This means that those on the BVC this can will be able to convert to an LLM (Legal Practice) by doing four instead of two substantive modules in Trinity.

    What do people think of this? Does it justify the high fees and the extra money (which will presumably charged)? Do people think an LLM (Legal Practice) will be of any significance?

  11. When I started off at ICSL (this time last year), I was told, if I remember rightly, that the stats for people winning pupillage as a proportion of the BVC pool for a given year-group (in recent years) was something like 1 in 3.

    Which is pretty good really, esp given that ICSL has a very large proportion of commonwealth lawyers who have no intention of practising in the Bar of England & Wales…

    If you actually want to bother finding out the correct figure, then the person to e-mail and ask is probably Keith Simpson at city.ac.uk, as he does the ICSL careers stuff…

    P

  12. There are currently about 550 pupillages a year. I don’t know how many people are at the ICSL but that should give you some idea of their statistics. I have, however, followed up your suggestion – thank you.

  13. As someone who has a LLB and is in the proces of taking a LLM I have serious reservations about BPP offering these qualifications.

    “Bums on seats” and “degrees for sale” are two phrases that spring to mind.

    Still, so long as BPP made a shedload of cash will anyone really care?

  14. I agree with “Anonymous” that the value of the LLM (Legal Practice) being offered at BPP will be minimal (and I say that with one notional MA in jurisprudence under my belt already).

    However, the advantage for me is that I want to study more than the two allocated substantive modules later this year and the LLM extension will allow this. Whether or not I then use the letters after my name will be a different matter.

  15. I am a current BVC student at BPP. I for one am happy at their decision re the LLMs as given that I have paid £12k to do the course, it is a welcome bonus.

    In my position, I could not possibly afford to complete an LLM independently. If it broadens the access for people like me, then the comments about ‘degrees for sale’ mean very little.

  16. The way I see it:

    Someone who graduates with a BA or BSc can take the GDL at BPP, do a few “bolt on” modules can also graduate with a LLB. They can then do the LPC, some more “bolt on” modules and get a LLM.

    This person would have spent two years at BPP and left with three qualifications: A LLB, LLM and their LPC.

    A university Law graduate spends three years doing the LLB and a further year to do their LLM. It would then take them a further year to do the LPC meaning five years in total.

    So BPP are offering five years worth of study in two, if this isn’t degrees for sale then what is?

  17. College of Law have just published statistics for their first GDL / LLB graduates. 14% graduated with a 1st class honours.

    Compare this to around 5% at a “proper” university.

  18. I am currently in the process of deciding between the BVC at BPP in Leeds and in London. I have a scholarship from my Inn that will cover the whole of my fee in Leeds and most of it London so the financial side is not really a strong determining factor for me, however I currently live near Leeds and it would cost me around £8000 in living expenses in London. I am willing to speculate to accumulate if it is indeed worth it, I guess I am in a better position than some people that are having to pay for it all themselves.

    I went to university in Leeds and did all my mini pupillages at Leeds chambers and eventually hope to obtain a pupillage and tenancy in Leeds, however due to the fact that on average there are only around 8-10 offered per year (I have managed to locate only 6 commencing in September 2009) I envisage that I will have to apply to London too.

    BPP in Leeds accepts only 50 (as opposed to 250 in London) which to me is an advantage. The considerable disadvantage of the Leeds programme however, is that it has only been running for the past two years. I am wondering what is the perception amongst the profession about the BVC course provided in Leeds. I am aware that the London programme is quite highly regarded and I am conscious that it may affect my chances of obtaining a pupillage if I choose it’s regional offspring that has not yet established a solid reputation.

    Is staying in Leeds for my BVC really just false economy and will I get better value for money in London? (a lot more money of course)

    Does it in fact really matter where I do my BVC?

  19. The next time I read a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I imply, I know it was my option to learn, but I actually thought youd have something attention-grabbing to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you may repair in case you werent too busy searching for attention.

    1. You may certainly be as disappointed as you wish. However, the inability to make any sense makes me think this is spam. For the time being I am giving you the benefit of the doubt. Next time, not.

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