Mini-Pupillage · Qualities Required

Here Are the (Frankly Bizarre) Results of the Blog-Readers’ Jury

A whole year’s worth of students have now been able to vote in the polls to the left of this post. The results are statistically irrelevant (139/144 votes out of 17,000 visits and, I assume, less than 17,000 visitors) but are worth analysing anyway.

On the BVC question, 48% of voters wanted the bar to be raised to require a 2:1. Why? You are unlikely to obtain an interview without a 2:1 – therefore, the proposed alteration would, in fact, alter nothing. What’s more, the pressure would then be on the Universities to lower standards so that a 2:1 was obtained by more people – otherwise why bother to pay for a law degree? This was a truly bizarre vote. The 8% who voted to leave the system as it is were at least being intellectually consistent. Having said that, Anya has put an alternative view in the comments section to which I direct you, because it is worthy of attention.

28% wanted a barrister sift. Why so few? You cannot get pupillage or tenancy without a barrister sift. Why would anyone want to delay it for a year just so that they could shell out £12,000 all of which is absolutely irrecoverable?

I am afraid that there is a strong whiff of inability to receive bad news here. It sounds to me as if the lemmings are voting not to have a signpost at the top of the cliff, in the hope that this means that someone kind has put a trampoline at the bottom. No doubt the legal education providers are cracking open the Bolly even as I write.

60% of those without an offer wanted another go of some description. I can understand that result if there has been no barrister sift. After all, if you have blindly ploughed ahead with the BVC it must be dispiriting when reality finally kicks the door in.

I have real sympathy with those 27% who wanted just one more go – the system is so overwhelmed with candidates who are astonishingly similar that being overlooked is all too easy. But the 33% who believe that multiple applications prove commitment are in a different category. How many people are going to say “this is my ninth year of applications and so far I have failed – but just look at my commitment!”? And, if you aren’t going to say that, then why on earth did you answer the question as you did?

A further 24% were prepared to do a job they didn’t want to do on the off chance that they might be able to find a way to be a barrister by doing it. Why? This is your life – if you can’t be a barrister that’s sad, but why on earth not look for something else that you want to do? Even if I grant that half of people answering this way felt they might quite like being a solicitor (and why not?), that leaves 17 people who ought really to be looking for a job in the field of professional masochism – shame there isn’t going to be an election then.

Hats off to those who said they would happily join the CPS. At least they know what they want.

This is not meant to sound discouraging. I hope you all succeed and I am absolutely positive that, if I were allowed to speak to each and every final year law/CPE student for as long as I wanted, I would only select about half of those who ultimately succeeded. But I also think I would select 70% of those who would not succeed no matter what. And they would include most of the people in the voting majority on this site.

Please: do mini-pupillages – more than one and in more than one place; look up the junior tenants where you went and compare your academic record to theirs to see if it stands up; compare your real-life experience to theirs (particularly important for mature entrants); try and find someone who will disinterestedly tell you if you will make it in their Chambers (every barrister will tell you that you will make it in someone else’s Chambers) – try the person who you did the mini-pupillage with and ask yourself what it means if they don’t say yes; ask yourself how hard you are prepared to work to look up the law, discover and arrange the facts, look up your opponent, look up your solicitor, look up your Judge, look up your client, discuss your opponent and your Judge with a colleague, discuss your best point and your worst point with another colleague and if the answer isn’t “24 hours straight if necessary” then think again.

After that, if you think you have a decent chance, apply for the BVC.

I can write the “you unsympathetic depressing bastard. What about encouragement and good cheer?” comments myself. But the reality is that there are about 550 pupillages for the 2,500 or so of you BVC students out there. How many of there are you? I don’t know for sure because the last figures I have seen on the web relate to 2003. The BSB website says that the provider websites tell you how many places there are – but as far as I can see they don’t (something I shall be raising). And the above assumes that you are already on the BVC (see above). However, thanks to ‘Anonymous’ I can now point you all here and, having done the maths, the numbers are 1816 full time students, and 324 part-time students, making 2140 in all. Given that Anon says that the College of Law regularly exceeds its validated numbers (anyone from there care to comment?), 2,500 looks like a fair assessment.

I believe that the chances are about 1 in 3. That is because the remainder of the candidates have no genuine chance at all. If you are one of those then neither I nor anyone else does you a service by encouraging you to chase a dream without prospect of success. If you can identify yourself as such a person then I am sorry but the Bar is terribly unlikely to be for you.

Ok, thank you for listening. You can all start shouting now…


20 thoughts on “Here Are the (Frankly Bizarre) Results of the Blog-Readers’ Jury

  1. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…

    Sorry, couldn’t resist the invitation to start shouting. But honestly, this statistical analysis is just a little bit beyond me on a Sunday evening – I’m sure it makes sense really!

    S 🙂

  2. “It sounds to me as if the lemmings are voting not to have a signpost at the top of the cliff, in the hope that this means that someone kind has put a trampoline at the bottom.”

    Nominated for Best Metaphor in Blawgging Award 2007.

    (And I glad to see you’re of the same opinion as I, following the telling-off I received from various “anons” in the replies to your post on “What is a Good University?”)

  3. ‘28% wanted a barrister sift. Why so few?’

    The sift could be seen as a less formal version of places for pupils only (which I personally prefer). It gives strong reson to think again/perserve to the wise, and the foolhardy/brave can do as they wish. Hence, there was perhaps some splitting of the vote (e.g. my second choice would have been the sift; there is no equivalent for the exams answer. The two added make 44%, which may make you think we are all a little more sane.

  4. Good point. I agree. However that still leaves 56% who I simply do not understand.

    Perhaps it’s me (sigh)…

  5. Short experiment, minimal keystrokes: the BSB website under File Downloads / Contact Information reveals how many places each Provider is validated to offer. Random pick – Nottingham Law School: website confirms that it is validated to offer 120 places and states that it offers between 90-100 places each year. I have it on good authority that it has been “near validated numbers” for the last 2-3 years. College of Law regularly exceeds its validated numbers …

  6. Thank you and I have amended. However, there may be minimal keystrokes, but you actually have to type “File Downloads” into the search box (and therefore to know such a category exists) unless I am missing something.

  7. Click the link Qualifying for the Bar, then What is the Vocational Stage. You’ll have to learn hard and fast for the BVC Review!

  8. I think Providers have to furnish the BSB with stats (by 31st October?) broken down into total numbers, degree class, gender, ethnicity etc. If so, it will provide the info (ammo?) you require and more.

  9. Excellent post. I am in total agreement, I would much rather have a sift at the beginning of the BVC, rather than possibly making a mistake and wasting a lot of money.

    I am a mature student and think that this blog should be compulsory reading for all those considering a career at the Bar. I don’t think that it is pesimisstic, it is merely being honest and realistic. The sooner people realise that becoming a barrister is hard, and that only the very best and most determined will succeed, the sooner people will stop using the excuses of not being oxbridge, not being middle class, and not being male.

    I will link this post to my next post if that is ok. Please feel free to drop by my blog and comment.

  10. To be honest I am kind of confused – I haven’t looked at this page for a while and you seem, with the greatest of respect (!) to have completely changed your tune! Certainly I know people with very little hope of pupillage who have felt considerably better about their chances after reading your page…I agree with you incidentally, but I think you have masked your view a little too well in the past.

    As for your comments on the polls, I have two problems:
    1. Now maybe I’m stupid, but I was not 100% sure what you meant eg by “short sift – let the bar tell me my chances” so I didn’t pick it…I didn’t know what you meant by “short sift” so had I had to guess I would have thought you were saying that we should allow the BVC to completely open its doors!
    2. I don’t see how making a 2.1 a prerequisite is stupid in the way you say – certainly it is arbitrary, but I don’t think there’s no merit in making it a requirement in that while it may be the case that people with less than a 2.1 won’t get interviews, they still get on the BVC, and surely the whole problem is having people forking out for something when they have very little chance? Also very poor students (NOT saying 2.2 always=very poor student) have a negative impact on the class, with everything needing to be simplified, the pace slower etc. I really don’t see what’s so illogical about saying 2.1s only need apply!

  11. Just to add I also didn’t get what you meant by “it’s the CPS for me” as an option where pupillage is not forthcoming- a friend of mine is there and as far as she is concerned she has got a pupillage just like the rest of us, no? Or did you mean work in the CPS in some other capacity? I really think you should put things like polls in more simple language to avoid the risk of stupid people like me ruining your statistics!

  12. I am a 26 year old mature student and have a good 2:1 from a red brick university.

    I was offered a place on the BVC but decided to do a LLM in the subject area of law that I wish to practise. This is because I do not think it is worth investing £12,000 taking a course that only gives me a (statistical) 1 in 5 chance of getting a job.

    I very much see the Bar as turning into something that you do after you have done something else (if that makes any sense).

    I am going to apply for training contracts with a view to doing 5 years as a solicitor then trying to go to the Bar with a pupillage exemption.

    Sounds nutty?

    Perhaps…but so is paying £12,000 for the privilege of working as a paralegal and calling yourself a non practising barrister.

  13. Anya,

    I’m sorry you think I have changed my tune. I wasn’t aware of it, but this is a blog so it reflects how I feel on an ongoing basis. I take your point on the wording of the polls and have amended to point people to your comment – thank you. Have you got a pupillage? That’s good work.


    Providing you won’t hate being a solicitor it doesn’t sound nutty at all. Particularly as the BSB has just launched its consultation on diversity which should help mature entrants into the profession. Good luck.

  14. I can certainly see why the idea of sifting is so relevant in the current climate,given that the BVC costs you an arm and a leg, and you might be half way through before you realise it isn’t for you (do hope that those words don’t turn out to be prophetic in my case.)

    Perhaps more Chambers could offer assessed minis, and offer some form of formal feedback at the end?

  15. Don’t mean to sound bitter but what really frustrates me is when the Oxbridge crew send off their OLPAS forms and get 8 interviews.

    There are some great candidates out there who simply cannot get into interview rooms because they didn’t go to an “approved” university.

  16. So, is the CPS considered a kind of back-up, a place of last resort? I always thought it was a worthwhile career in itself, possibly more than going to a commercial set, for example, because you’d be motivated less by ‘greed’ than by ‘desire for justice’ (maybe I’m being naive….)

  17. Andi,
    The CPS is no more a back-up than being a solicitor. Both are thoroughly worthwhile careers in themselves (and Mrs M works for the CPS and is a solicitor) – but only if that is your first choice. This site predicates that you want to be a barrister in private practice.

    In the end the market decides who is a great candidate. I agree that the Bar is relatively unimaginative about it – and that we are prone to look only at where a candidate has been rather than where they started from. But if your CV does not say Oxbridge then it needs to say other things and you need to make a correspondingly greater effort.
    As you will see if you read the site, I do not believe that Oxbridge should equal pupil. However, nor do I believe that interviewing an Oxbridge candidate is unfair or in some way morally wrong. I know that comments do not give much space, but I think this is about nuance.

  18. Can anyone shed more light on exactly what having an Oxbridge degree does for you in terms of the Bar? Granted, I’m asking a simplistic question, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who can give me an informative straight answer. Are Oxbridge graduates generally more independent in their thinking, for example?

  19. Whilst I agree with Simon that it is definitely not this simple, one musn’t forget that Oxford and Cambridge are the two best universities in the country. Surely anyone when recruiting would take that in to account, not only in itself, but also because you presumably have to be pretty good to get in there, and so will likely be a good candidate in your own right.

    People (like me) who didn’t go to Oxbridge may simply have to accept that we are a couple of points behind in some people’s eyes, and perhaps with some cause. Of course, there are many other ways in which we can make those points up and prove our worth (this site is good guidance). In fact, SOME people (and a barrister actually said this to me with no knowledge of my own educational background) may prefer non-Oxbridge candidates. They may have gone to your university and favour you. This, however, is completely beside the point. Chambers are, on the whole, looking for the best candidates for pupillage: at the end of the day they want the best tenants to grow their reputation and business (as far as a chambers has a business in its own right). If you want a pupillgae, you have to prove to chambers that you are better than everyone else that applied. It really does seem that simple to me.

  20. I didn’t go to Oxbridge, but I will leap to their defence for a minute. As a general rule (although I know of several exceptions), Oxbridge graduates tend to be very intelligent and personable people. The vast majority of them have straight A’s at A-level.

    On the other hand, it seems to me from people I’ve spoken to that you’re more likely to get an interview with an Oxbridge 2.1 than a Redbrick 1st.

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