Life at the Bar · Oxbridge · Qualities Required · University · Which Chambers?


news-graphics-2007-_647977aAs the question of Olpas rears its ugly head again, I thought I would try and inject some reality into the perennial ‘do I have to have an Oxbridge degree?’ debate.

The Answer is ‘No – but it helps’.

I can say this with some confidence because I have actually done some research. The reason for taking the figure of 7 years call is that it is regularly used within the profession to denote junior members. I have taken a 2001 call date as the cut-off. I have assumed that everyone who went to Oxbridge will say so – there is a margin of error here but not, I think, a significant one. I am reasonably confident in my figures – national polls purport to show the nation’s attitudes by polling 1,000 people out of about 65m. I have looked at 612 barristers out of a total figure of 12,050 (per Bar Council website). Here it is:

  • My own Chambers has 62 members. 13 are 7 years or less. 2 went to Oxbridge.
  • No 5 Chambers in Birmingham has 206 members. 34 are 7 years call or less. 7 went to Oxbridge.
  • Red Lion Court Chambers in London (a good criminal set) has 80 members. 14 are 7 years call or less. 5 went to Oxbridge.
  • Fountain Court Chambers in London (a good commercial set) has 63 members. 5 are under 7 years call. All went to Oxbridge.
  • 11 Stone Buildings in London (a good chancery set) has 45 members. 9 are under 7 years call. 5 went to Oxbridge.
  • Brick Court Chambers in London (a good commercial set) has 66 members. 12 are under 7 years call. 9 went to Oxbridge.
  • Doughty Street Chambers (a set in London with a strong emphasis on human rights) has 90 members. 17 are under 7 years call. 6 went to Oxbridge.

Overall I surveyed 612 barristers – about 5% of the profession. I deliberately slanted the survey I did to Chambers with a good reputation (including 2 of the ‘Magic Circle’). 104 barristers were under 7 years call – about 16%. 39 of those went to Oxbridge – about 38%. Both of those ‘Magic Circle’ sets have fewer members under 7 years call than the average – about 15%. About 85% of those people went to Oxbridge.

Removing the 2 Magic Circle sets alters the figures in this way. The survey is of 483 barristers (about 4% of the profession). 87 are under 7 years call – about 18%. 25 went to Oxbridge – about 30%.

I reckon this is about right. Obviously if your idea of being a barrister is being at one of the commercial sets in London then Oxbridge is pretty well a must. I find that personally disappointing – the work certainly requires real intellect but the thesis that 85 out of 100 people with that quality have Oxbridge degrees is one which not even those Universities would propound. If you are one of those who changes the mould, please let me know.

For the vast majority of the Bar – and of you – becoming a barrister is perfectly possible without an Oxbridge degree. Interestingly, the provincial Chambers I looked at comprise 268 barristers (still over 2% of the profession), have 47 members under 7 years call (19%) and 9 of those went to Oxbridge (20%). The lesson would appear to be clear – and the provincial bar is a happy place compared to London.

Of course, I do not know any figures for applications. It may be that provincial chambers get fewer Oxbridge applicants. Although, if that is so, unless those people are desperate to live in the most crowded area in Europe, experience 2 hours travel a day and ultimately make a choice between a family home a commuter distance from work or a ruinously expensive mortgage (if they can get one) to buy a flat in town, it does not say much for their intellect that they are not applying to provincial sets.

Seriously speaking, the figures suggest that, before committing to London (with or without an Oxbridge degree), it pays to consider very carefully what work you want to do. Nowadays I would say that only international commercial, shipping, patent and intellectual property are confined to the capital – and I’m not sure about IP.

This is your opportunity to be part of a trend. When I came to the Bar I was told that you could not do commercial work of any sort outside London. As a junior, my practice was a minimum of 33% commercial work, and there were years when it was 60%. Best of all, I didn’t choose to make it any higher – I always wanted a mix and took steps to ensure I had it. Nowadays the pressure to specialise is greater, but that simply makes a good provincial practice easier. And, if you genuinely have a choice between London and the provinces, remember to ask about Chamber’s expenses. These can vary between about 15% and about 40% of your earnings – and guess where most of the 40%s are taken…


38 thoughts on “Oxbridge

  1. Thank you Simon for the information, it is interesting that those under 7 years call has a small percentage of those who went to oxbridge, however I wonder what the results would be if you surveyed the whole bar, and would there be a drastic difference in the older members??

  2. The city versus provincial aspect is, I feel, one worthy of more scrutiny. Being a Londoner in any event, and on a London based BVC, I was surprised to find just how many students (especially the younger ones) had shifted their entire world to London (sometimes with it being their first exposure to the city) in the sincere belief that this will improve their career prospects. People more knowledgeable than I would have to comment on whether their prospects will be genuinely enhanced. But, for many, this will leave them with huge debts which might not otherwise have been incurred (or at least to such an extent) and, in essence, leave them scant choice but to remain London focused on the ground that the potentially higher earnings are needed in order to best service their liabilities. In short, students who might, on a professional and personal basis, be better off in the provinces will find themselves locked into the London environment out of financial necessity. The level of debt being racked up by some of the 22 year olds on my course is, quite frankly, alarming in any circumstances but is all the more so given the less than brilliant prospects of career progression in a city which is also one of the most expensive in the world.

    Much is said about the failure rates, but this does perhaps need to be added to with a consideration of the financials, especially as, through no fault of their own, many students have been offered outrageously irresponsible lines of credit by the banks over past few years.

    To try, and fail is one thing. But for people to fail to enter the profession only then to walk way with study related debt of £50K (which I am told is not unusual) is not something which reflects well on anyone involved in the process.

  3. Nice to see you back again, Simon.

    I thought I would add a brief comment about the provincial vs the London bar. I should preface my remarks with the caveat that I have only ever practised from London, so I won’t be giving a balanced view, but my reading of your post is that you have always practised from the provinces (I hate that word, but can’t think of an alternative) so perhaps we are both a little biased.

    I come from a rural area and was not set on practising from London from the off. I did, however, want to practise in a fairly specific area of law (employment). My research – which was by no means thorough – suggested that the best regarded employment sets were in London. Since I have been in practice, I have done a lot of work for solicitors outside London – often in tribunals around the country – and have been told on many occasions that they prefer to instruct London counsel. This is purely anecdotal – and there may be an element of ‘of course they would say that to London counsel’ – but I have heard it said enough for it to make an impression on me. This doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination mean that London counsel are better – simply that in some firms there seems to be a *perception* that they are better.
    Which may mean that some of the more cutting edge work is going to London sets.

    As I said, purely anecdotal and not based on any statistics. Also, at the moment, I enjoy life at the London Bar – but I am fully aware of the work/life benefits that seem to be offered by sets in the “provinces” and when I start thinking about having a family, my priorities may well shift.

    Just to comment on the Oxbridge side of things – I am interested to see the statistics and (despite being an Oxbridge graduate myself, albeit one who went to a comprehensive school) I am glad that the percentage is slowly starting to shift downwards. The % in the commercial sets remains somewhat depressing, though.

  4. The provincial solicitors that regard themselves to be good enough for their clients should apply the same approach to the provincial bar. Of course their attitude is it to a great extent evidence of their inherent snobbery. (Granted that where there is need for a particular expertise then it is more likely be found in specialist sets which are generally based in London). If the logic of those solicitors who will only instruct “proper London counsel” is followed through then they as law firms are simply not good enough for their clients as they are not based in London.

    There is good evidence to suggest that the regional civil Bar will flourish as have law firms which over the last 20 years have begun to provide services once only available in London but at less cost. I am optimistic about the future.

  5. Simon,
    I do IP and I’d say, confidently, you were right; there is no significant work in any set outside London. One might dabble in it perhaps, as a hobby, but it won’t pay the rent.
    However on the plus side an Oxbridge degree is far less important than the near mandatory science degree.

  6. There is, without doubt, a feeling amongst some solicitors that their own dignity and the seriousness of their practices ‘deserve’ London counsel.

    That is sad. But it is up to the Provincial Bar to change attitudes. We have an opportunity now. I have practised through 2 recessions thus far (although this is set to be the most serious) and on both previous occasions the clients have suddenly wanted justification for the additional fees and expenditure.

    Which leads me on to the second point – in answer to Bar Boy. Do the sums people. I think you will find that £100k (to take a nice easy figure) in the provinces is worth about £150,000 in London.

    Why? Well, assume tax at 40%. Londoner earns £166,000 (66% more). He pays 35% in expenses. That leaves him with £110,000 of which the Government takes £44,000 leaving him with £66,000. Loiner pays about 15% in expenses. That leaves her with £85,000 of which the Government takes £34,000 leaving her with £51,000.

    Then look at the discrepancy. Add the cost of travel. The cost of a house. The cost of a night out.

    Then look at the time spent travelling and ask how Loiner might spend her free time. Getting her work done and to bed before midnight? Partying? But not standing strap-hanging on a sweaty tube train so that she can walk 20 minutes home from the station at 830pm.

    It’s not as clear cut as you suggest is all I’m saying.

    1. Very well put!

      I am a northerner and, unsurprisingly, I hate the capital. It is too crowded, too dirty, too unfriendly, too stuck up about the fact that it IS the capital, and most of all too damn expensive by far. To be quite frank I even resented having to go there as many times as I did for dining during the BVC, as agreeable as dining itself actually was of course.

      That said, given the vast fortune that the BVC and the legal education that preceded it cost, and the impending repayments for those that are rapidly approaching, like most others my attitude is that pupillage is pupillage is pupillage, and therefore like the great prostitute to pupillage that I would be, if it were offered even in the East End of London, I would go. Silently resentful at it being London but grateful to not be one of those cast aside after every application round as a merely meal for the paper recycling bin.

  7. i think i buck the trend in almost every conceivable way…

    a northerner who now feels tied to london as i have kids at school here (our area is one of those that i believe are rare in london where you can walk down the street and almost guarantee to see 3-4 people you know – and that kind of community is important to me as it is one of the few things that i believe gives kids any frame of reference for how they live and who they are).

    i would love to return to the north east and may well do so.

    as an oxbridge first and scholar i have no pupillage (doing bvc). i am in my 40s and that may be relevant.

    my london routine does not involve partying, living it up or strap-hanging (a very fortunate 30 mins to work), but it does involve a vibrant multi-cultural area with lots of places i can take the kids or the partner when we can afford a babysitter. so there are pros and cons even for a different lifestyle from the one you imagine londoners to lead. you are certainly right though that our money would go further in newcastle – i reckon your 50% uplift is pretty fair. i also reckon the chances of my earning £100K in lonodn or anywhere else are zero! and i don’t want to. i want a job i love and to exist in a society i’m not ashamed of. being at the bar might just be a part of that (and of course i refer you to your own very sensible piece on ‘why i want to be a barrister’).

    guess i’m just odd (see also old).

  8. guess i’m just odd

    Yes, you are 😉

    I think the position if you are already settled is obviously different. I was really addressing myself to those who are in their early 20s and without permanent ties.

  9. Having gone to a shcool whose mission was to get students into red-brick universities, thank God I never got caught up in this Oxbridge stuff.

    No chambers in the provinces would have me. That’s why I finished up in London. No regrets here!

  10. Oh … and I live 10 minutes’ walk from the Temple … and a night out at the Royal Opera House costs less if you live in London than if you live in Newcastle …

  11. A few comments from an Oxbridge graduate who now practises in the North (Leeds mainly, Simon please note) and in commercial chancery.

    There is a reasonable amount of good commercial work outside London, and I get some in London. Though of course the mega-cases are confined to London sets. I even do a little IP (but copyright and trade marks, rather than patents, for which a science background is certainly an advantage). I have a varied commercial and corporate practice, with good quality, interesting work. I also manage to live within 30 mins of three very attractive cities – Leeds, York and Harrogate – and not far from the Yorkshire Dales. I did work in London at an earlier time in my life (though not at the Bar) and would not now go back for anything. And I do not believe that an Oxbridge degree is anything like essential, even in the most successful of provincial chambers.

  12. I hope the email address I entered in order to post this is not displayed. I wish to address simplywondered’s gripe about the Oxbridge dominance of the bar, and I apologise for what might be construed as a hijack of this thread. In mitigation, s/he started it.

    I agree that the argument that an Oxbridge education is an arbitrarily-conferred advantage is tenable. After all, many thousands of stellar applicants are turned away each year, while a few thousand applicants are admitted, and very little separates the upper (say) quintile of the former group and the lower (say) quintile of the latter. Three people from my (comprehensive) school upper sixth of about 150 applied. One got in. There was nothing really to separate us. If the interviews were held another day, the result might have been different. That doesn’t seem fair, especially as all were certainly brighter than one subject colleague I could mention whose school used to be regulated by an 1868 Act of Parliament. ( [Anyone know how to do hyperlinks?]

    I should point out that I give my time freely, dare I say enthusiastically, to schools in my local area. I seek to encourage bright 16 year olds to consider applying when the time comes, and help them with the process by giving mock interviews and tips. Often, the thing holding back a state-educated candidate is a lack of confidence discussing weighty matters with an adult stranger; I don’t know why but privately-educated 17 year are typically better at it. A newspaper column I read recently hypothesised that it was all about dining as a family around a table rather than around a TV, but I am reluctant to make a causal relation of a journalist’s hobby-horse. Unfortunately, discussing weighty matters with an adult stranger might as well be the generic job description for a barrister. I also try to educate the teachers about the realities and myths of my university; sadly this is often a harder task than preparing their students.

    But, (based largely on the my experiences and the anecdotal evidence of my school friends and my brother, as well as talking to fellow Oxbridge students about their friends’ experiences) the demographics of the student body at other Russell Group (RG) / top 10 / insert-favoured-university-reputation-metric-here universities is not dissimilar to that of Oxbridge. Be it parental income, educational background or perceived social class, students at Oxbridge are not that different to students at other institutions at the top of the RG. The best RG students were probably not that different from the Oxbridge cohort academically at age 18 either, although there may be a longer ‘tail’ at RGs. This hypothesis could probably find support if anyone wants to dig through the HESA website, I would say that the likes of Durham, Exeter, Nottingham Warwick, LSE, UCL, KCL and others are as socially exclusive as Oxbridge, especially their law degrees which typically have AAA/AAB entry standards. So, what is it that makes graduates from these institutions harder to find at the Bar than Oxbridge graduates? I would suggest that even if given exactly the same intake as the rest of the RG, Oxbridge produces graduates better suited to life at the bar than other universities do.

    The arbitrariness in the Oxbridge admissions procedure does not automatically render the supposed Oxbridge domination of the bar (which I think must be conceded if you focus on the commercial sets, but may be challenged if one looks away from that area) unfair. Once you are at Oxbridge, you are forced to work harder than are students at other RGs. The volume of work is greater. For law, and the arts/social science subjects that most GDL bar aspirants study, the typical workload is two essays of 1,500-2,500 words per week, generally requiring substantial reading in preparation. My friends at other well-regarded institutions produced a similar piece only every term. This work is reviewed in a supervision/tutorial of 1-3 students where covering for lack of preparation is difficult to say the least. You get detailed feedback on your essay, so your academic writing style improves over time. The compulsory (i.e. stuff set for tutorials, rather than ‘further reading’ mentioned briefly at the end of a lecture) work itself is probably more demanding. The reading lists for my Oxbridge undergraduate subject (non-law) were uncannily similar to the reading lists for masters courses in the subject at some other RG universities. The first year economics textbook at Cambridge is the second/third year textbook at many other institutions. Law students are expected to have a thorough knowledge of the cases in each week’s topic; the expectation might be the same at other institutions but because teaching groups are larger and often meet less frequently, there is not the individual pressure to absorb as much. One of my friends is doing a masters at a well-respected, top ten, institution whose alumni are reasonably well represented at the bar. She is copying and pasting first year undergrad essays and getting high marks for them. I’m being devil’s advocate here, but given how much harder the average person who gets to put BA (Oxon) after their name has studied compared to the person whose postnomial is BA (Lond.), might it be unfair to award the pupillage to the London graduate?

    Even if the admissions system fails to select the most academically-promising applicants, the process of the Oxbridge education means that their average 2.1 grad is more adept at
    – writing tightly argued prose
    – defending a position against experts orally
    – managing a heavy workload
    – absorbing complex concepts and large amounts of empirical information in a short space of time
    than the average holder of a 2.1 degree from any other UK university.

    That is not to say that a given holder of a 2.1 from a redbrick does not have those attributes in abundance. It simply means that they are less likely to do so.

    The solution is not to moan about Oxbridge. Rather, the solution is to compete and to show that you are competing. The longer term solution is for RG universities to make the same demands on their students that Oxbridge does, and crucially to demonstrate that they are doing so.

    1. This is a ridiculous argument. It is completely irrelevant how hard your degree is compared to other name brand schools. Are you joking and saying it is significantly easier anywhere that is non-Oxbridge? That is patently not true.

      The issue is brand and perception. The people at the top commercial sets are people. Let me tell you something. People like people who are like them. Tall people are friends with tall people. Short people are friends with short people. The guys at the top commercial sets will hire people like them without any deviation. Law is a staid conservative industry. It is not creative, very few people are anomalies in profile.

      You have accept that is the reason for it. Nothing else. Don’t give me any crap that a degree from Oxbridge is harder and even fi it is. That makes zero difference in the real world.

  13. No one will read this but…

    Simon’s analysis whilst instructive is lacking in one crucial respect: the degree class.

    I would suggest that there are countless sets, typically the London ones below the ‘magic circle’, where to get invited to interview one needs either an Oxbridge 2.1 or a first from somewhere else. That’s where the huge advantage is. If you get a First from elsewhere that you should be OK, academically, at all but the pickiest of sets. If you get a 2.1 from elsewhere, you’re struggling from the off.

    1. From my university, a 1994 Group member, 1 person out of my year achieved a first. I can identify with my experiences concerning marking and degree class and the poster from the following discussion on LegalWeek concerning Oxbridge:

      The poster states, “I went to one of the top Russell Group unis and it was quite clear from day one that almost nobody would get a first.

      A first was only handed out if exam answers perfectly matched the styles that each examiner wanted to see, but what they were looking for was never communicated to you.

      Couple that with some horrendous teaching, a lack of interest from tutors and lecturers as well as a dreadful selection of modules and you can see why most people can’t get a first”.

      -29 Mar 2010 | 16:29

      Incidentally I don’t think the problem is rooted in Oxbridge itself. Candidates do get in there on merit and are very well suited to the bar. What I do think the problem is primarily the rest of the universities doing enough to produce candidates equipped for the bar. There was scarcely an acknowledgment that the bar even existed as a career option amongst lecturers and tutors.

      Secondly, I think one has to appreciate the massive advantages private schools have over the state system in preparing students for an Oxbridge education and further ahead, the bar.

  14. SM- as we know numbers can be made to read anything we like. However if we look at the commercial bar we see a very different story to the one you show above or that is reflected in the Wood report and I think to be fair we should look at the commercial bar and criminal bar separately and even London and out of London Chambers separately to get an idea. So lets look at London and some commercial bar chambers and take the last ten tenants which I can assure you are from the last 10 pupillages granted:
    Chambers Oxbridge Other
    4 Pump Court 9 1
    Essex Court 10 0
    One Essex Court 9 1
    Brick Court 10 0
    One Brick Court 7 3
    Monckton 8 2
    20 Essex Court 10 0
    Wilberforce 10 0
    Fountain Court 10 0
    Quadrant 10 0
    11 KBW 8 2
    Falcon Chambers 8 2

    Remember Falcon is the Chambers of Mr. Wood QC the same Mr. Wood who produced the report into pupillage for the BSB, the same Mr. Wood who says all is fine and only 28% of places are filled with Oxbridge students. Clearly not at Falcon Chambers or any other commercial chambers in London.

  15. SM- once posted the message lost formating so here it is again . last 10 pupillages granted:
    Chambers ————–Oxbridge————-Other
    4 Pump Court————–9 ———————1
    Essex Court————— 10 ——————–0
    One Essex Court————9 ——————–1
    Brick Court —————-10 ——————–0
    One Brick Court ————7 ——————–3
    Monckton——————-8 ———————2
    20 Essex Court ————10 ——————-0
    Wilberforce —————-10——————–0
    Fountain Court————10 ——————–0
    Quadrant ——————-10 ——————–0
    11 KBW ———————8———————-2
    Falcon Chambers ————–8 ——————–2

    Remember Falcon is the Chambers of Mr. Wood QC the same Mr. Wood who produced the report into pupillage for the BSB, the same Mr. Wood who says all is fine and only 28% of places are filled with Oxbridge students. Clearly not at Falcon Chambers or any other commercial chambers in London.

    1. But so what? You have omitted to note that all these people got 1sts and most got the BCL as well. It’s utter nonsense to suggest that they are related to people in the Chambers in which they got a pupillage and you have not produced a shred of evidence for it. It speaks remarkably badly of you that you permit yourself to speculate like this for no better reason than that you dislike the result.

      Equally the only complaint you can have about these people being Oxbridge is that you believe that in some way they are otherwise unworthy of their pupillage. Your proposition involves the suggestion that these sets of Chambers would deliberately compromise their reputations in order to take a weak candidate. One need only state the argument to see what bilge it is (incidentally I checked Fountain Court and your numbers are wrong – not by much but they are wrong).

      As I have repeatedly stated Oxbridge helps. I personally feel that the Bar places too much weight on it and I worry that people subconsciously look for an image of themselves. But that is a fault which can be cured and it is a criticism with which people can legitimately disagree. It is a long way removed from your allegations, made without evidence in the apparent belief that nasty speculation about people’s motives and achievements is both legitimate and a persuasive argument.

      1. SM-It would seem that I have touched a nerve or it is a case that “he doth protest to much” You prove my point for me in “…most got the BCL…” where else save for Oxford do you get a BCL? A BCL is an Oxford LLM. Can you imagine saying “well we ^gave that pupillage to Mr. X because he had an LLM and the others only had a BCL” It would seem from you statement on the BCL that we agree, most of the pupillages were offered to pupils from Oxford, actually I am more generous than that I did say Oxford and Cambridge. As for Fountain Court my apologies it is 9 to 1 Oxbridge. You assume that I believe these pupils were unworthy of their place and in this it is you who has no proof and it but speculation and false. In order for a Chambers to compromise their good reputation they would have to undertake some unacceptable practice and my argument is there are no commercial chambers, at least, who find it objectionable in selecting almost exclusively Oxbridge students as pupils. Your assertion that I suggested in the posting above that the pupil received pupillage because they knew someone in Chambers is pure fantasy and does not even appear in that posting. In closing your comment below when I asked you to now ask students for their opinion you say “Again so what? Unless you can show that these are bad choices it means nothing. ” I am sure you are aware you cannot satisfy your request for proof as if other non Oxbridge students are not given pupillage then clearly we cannot prove that giving it to an Oxbrige student was a mistake.

      2. I don’t think you know that the BCL has an entirely separate reputation because you have to be very bright and very successful to be accepted onto it. It adds lustre to Oxford’s image rather than the other way around.

        You have now retreated from allegations of nepotism and you accept that giving pupillages to these people is not a mistake. So what’s the complaint? It sounds to me like a moan about other people possibly doing as well or better. As you don’t know this and can’t prove it, it appears that we must accept your word for it.

        But you have no qualifications to rely on in your assertion that other people (I assume it means you) can do as well or better. You provide no detail about yourself or your achievements. So why should anyone be persuaded by what you say?

        I suppose you might be arguing that there should be some sort of quota system for non-Oxbridge students at commercial sets. If that is so then I regard it as a thoroughly bad idea. Other than that and the aforesaid moan, it is difficult to discern what you are actually saying.

      3. SM- I have retreated from nothing as there was nothing to retreat from. Just to put you straight about something behind my name is BCL so please before making assumptions that are both unfounded and untrue take some time to listen, something that is I know is out of your comfort zone. As to me and who I am well I was on a pupillage committee until last year when I refused to accept a pupil just because she was from Oxford. I have more experience of chambers, pupillage and educational matters than most on your blog. I understand the difference between “A” levels and an IB, I understand the difference between a student who has an LLB, LLM or even your highly rated BCL I have lived it not just placed the BCL on a pedestal because it is from Oxford. I have employed more people and placed more students than you have posted blogs. So in short I am at the sharp end of pupillage and have fought every closed minded attitude that is killing our profession we are becoming like inbred’s we need new blood with new ideas not cookie cutter students.

      4. Mmmm – you say so. Just send me your name and Chambers address and I will be happy to make it clear that you have experience.

        Let me explain my scepticism. I have not come across a pupillage committee from which someone resigns because they don’t want a particular candidate, chosen by a majority of their fellow members of Chambers. Not to say it couldn’t happen but it’s odd. Next, I find it odd that an experienced barrister and long time member of a pupillage committee would present their credentials by first and foremost arguing they know the difference between A levels and the IB and then by asserting with pride that the understand the trite difference between undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. Next, I find it even odder that the knowledge so proudly asserted doesn’t encompass the BA (given by both Oxford and Cambridge and therefore right at the heart of this debate). Next, it is odd that you have misunderstood my argument about the BCL (see above), especially as you have apparently done it.

        Finally, I have yet to come across an experienced barrister who has employed people and placed students and been on a pupillage committee, who writes so poorly and utilises such poor arguments.

        But, as I say, please send me your name and Chambers (privately and not for publication). One email to your professional address and I will happily eat humble pie. Time to put up.

      5. I prefer to shut up as it seems like because I do not agree with your lofty ideals of Oxbridge I am treated unlike anyone else on the site and must divulge everything. You can believe what you like as it makes no difference really however knowing that 38 points in an IB is worth 4 A levels, and that the BCL is just another name for the LLM is also important. You see unlike yourself I look at the whole picture and am not blinded by BCL or Oxbridge. So as strange as you may find it, it really does not matter.

  16. Now ask student what they have experienced. I bet my numbers are correct! I would suggest upwards of 75% maybe 80% of pupillage in commercial sets goes to Oxbridge students. Ask students what guidance or support they get from anyone, Chambers, BSB, barristers etc. I would think less than 20% I hope I am wrong but I think not!

    1. Again so what? Unless you can show that these are bad choices it means nothing.

      Students should get support from their University. Individual barristers certainly offer support to those students they meet. It is not Chambers’ or the BSB’s job to support anyone. I am not sure I understand the point you are making.

  17. Simon,

    I think your instincts on the Judge’s background are correct. I’ve seen him posting similar views on “”. On that site, he states in relation to his qualifications, “To answer the burning question you have. LLB (Oxon) BCL (Oxon) MBA (Harvard) I eat no sour grapes!”

    First-ever LLB (Oxon), profuse congratulations in order.

    1. Ha! How sad that a useful resource put together for none other than altruistic purposes is hijacked by someone for what would appear to be little more than a fantastical ego trip! Top detective work Anya, your exposure of ‘The Judge’ as a fraud has really made me laugh this morning.

  18. What about Blackstone. The profiles seem to be all Oxbridge firsts. Everyone looks the same apart from the odd token ethnic minority.

  19. What are you s’pposed to do if you are a Londoner, with a family in London, and a partner with a better paid job in London, but don’t have an Oxbridge Degree? Degrees are all accreditted by the same people anyway.

    I studied with the Open University, in my spare time, whilst working full time. The students who under took this first LLB (hons) offered by the OU were told that the College of law were going to be very hard on the degree inorder that they could maintain standards; after almost 20 years out of formal education I managed to get a 2.2 after 6 years study, and at my very first pupillage fair a Chambers informed me that (a) I could not demonstrate the required intellectual resilliance and (b) the required committment for the bar!

    I have 20 years work experience that involves public speaking, I have done hundreds of hours of voluntary work as an appropriate adult, and I have studied spare and partime for 10 years to get Called….and so far I have had one interview for Pupillage.

    For all the talk of diversification and opening up the profession, the only thing that matters is class and your background; yes there are exceptions….but they are exceptional for exactly the same reasons. If those on the Pupillage Committee do not see their own reflection in your OLPAS form (which discriminates against working class and older applicants), then forget it.

    The big problem is that the Bar as a whole is one of the few professions that does not use recruitment professionals to make selections for pupillage.

    It is sad and fristrating because I would make a bloody good criminal Barrister, and I have worked harder than any Oxbridge type….I would never advise a talented working class kid to go to the Bar, especially if they wanted to ‘do crime’; become a solicitor, and you will do the same kind of work anyway. I wish I had been given that advice.

  20. Just looking back at the posts left by SM and the Judge; I think the point is that if you come from a particular background with particular resources, you get channelled more easily into a position where you appear to be more intellectually suited for a particular career. Thus the profitable and (more importantly for me) interesting work is confined to the privileged.
    This is a fact and it is illustrated by cold statistics and my life experience.
    You can be a mediocre advocate but still get on if you have the right background….you have to be exceptional if you are unfortunate enough to have been born to a working class family with ambition and drive.
    I apologise to come back to me again, but I doubt that those whose pupillage (and other opportunities) have been handed to them on a plate would complete the LLB and the BVC (as it was) if they had to work a very stressful and competitive job in media sales to support themselves and their poor old mum.
    I have not at the advantage of being able to take 6 months off to carry a barristers cases at a war crimes tribunal at The Hague, and the only debating we did at my comprehensive (closed down by Sir Keith Joseph in 1984, just as I was about to start my O levels) was with the school Skinheads in an attempt to stop them beating us up.
    This is all relevant, and especially in regards to the Criminal Bar, lay clients and justice are being let down.

  21. I think it is more likely to be the similar expectations of Oxbridge and pupillage interviewers than a vast difference in the quality of education that drives this trend. Both demand a CV that is awash with extra-curricular activities and they both look for people who are rather more rounded than a ‘study box.’ For the vast majority of chambers, I would suspect that someone of a similar calibre who chooses another university would in no way be disadvantages whilst someone from Oxbridge who threew in the towel at 18 and took to a routine of propping up the bar and watching Countdown would have no chance, irrespective of grades! Dare I say it, I just think of the Oxbridge students who are successful this is because they were brighter and had more get up and go in the first place!

    I don’t speak with any real experience but as a part time mature student desperate to find ways to bulk out the CV around a full time job and a family I’ve spent a lot of time reading CVs. The only trend I have found amongst barristers is not Oxbridge but a strong desire to learn their trade through pro bono work.

  22. i have 6 years experience as a secondary school teacher a (but only gained a 2:2in my first degree) I am currently studying the GDL and working really hard so I can be awarded a first on completion of both my GDL and either BVC or LPC with distinction. I really want to become a barister rather than a solicitor and in a Liverpool based chambers but my main problem I think will be that by the time I have finished my BVC I will be 34. I’d really appreciate some advice, anecdotal or otherwise on what you think my chances of success in gaining a pupilage might be. I didn’t go to Oxbridge, neither was I privately educated but I like many others from my class have worked bloody hard for this and I will continue to do so. Any pointers?

  23. I am undecided as to whether it is a bad thing that statistics suggest a preference for Oxbridge candidates. If I were to look at it negatively or cynically, I may deduce that chambers (and law firms too if we want to look at the wider legal profession) selected candidates from Oxford and Cambridge because they were a ‘safe pair of hands.’ At the very least, there is an assurance that they have already been through an equally gruelling selection process when they applied for university and there is little doubt as to their intellectual ability. They may not be the best candidates to come through the door but on paper there is a strong indication that money won’t go to waste; they are not a ‘wild card.’ Given the lack of professional recruitment in most chambers I suspect this may be partly, although not wholly, the case.

    However, I think it is even more likely that there is a heavy weighting in favour of Oxbridge for the simple reason that they are better candidates (and I say this as an Open University graduate with no envy or bias). The likelihood is that they have broad extra-curriculars on their CV and a strong academic track record. Conventionally and in interview I would expect that they come across as the best candidates and go on to prove that to be the case.

    On the whole, I think a lot of faith can be placed in the existing pupillage committees. However, I would be concerned if pupillage committees did not take into account the circumstances and education preferences of their candidates, as I note Mr. Myerson has pointed out before (for example, in the potential discrimination aganst female Asian candidates).

    With admitted self interest, I would find it a pity if chambers did not consider why someone chose to do their legal study by distance learning (excluding them from conventionally high ranking universities). In my own case, there is an admitted lack of judgment at age 18 when I quit my full time History degree to work in back office investment operations and completed my first degree part time (thus at a stroke denying myself a good History degree from a solid top 20 university and the means to study a GDL full time) but in many cases people will have better reasons for their circumstances!

    This will become more important in the advent of higher university fees that will see many students carefully avoiding debt by choosing cheaper universities or studying part time.

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