I think the distance travelled issue requires some explanation. Pupilpedia has commented on the post below:
If I understand your point about being driven the distance as opposed to walking it, then I, like James C above, strongly disagree with the sentiment. I would appreciate you outlining further what you mean (apologies if I’ve overlooked it somewhere), because the arguments against seem overwhelming. I can only assume that I have missed something if the following example is a result of your suggestion:
my parents are successful, and send me to the best possible school, I then go to Oxford to study law (coincidentally the same place that my father studied law) and apply for pupillage. Someone else, who has been to a terrible school and got to Oxford to study law, despite his father not attending university at all and currently being on jobseekers, also applies for pupillage. I turn up to interview knowing and understanding things to a similar degree as the other candidate. I am not favoured because I haven’t travelled as far as he has. The logic being that he has worked harder, used more brain power, whatever, to get to the same position as me.
This is not quite what I am saying. This suggests that the distance travelled is the only issue. I do not think anyone is suggesting that. What is being suggested is that distance travelled should be a factor. So it should. The logic is not that the other person has worked harder or used more brain power. The logic is that he can be justifiably regarded as having more potential. Why? Because without any advantages he has got himself to the same place.
My father was a Judge. I know for a fact that lawyers’ children grow up with an instinctive knowledge of intangibles. They know how the relationship between a solicitor and a barrister works. They know how Chambers tend to operate. They know a bit of the jargon. They have met other barristers, solicitors and Judges and feel comfortable round them. They know what A levels to do, what Universities to apply to, that mini-pupillages are a requirement and so forth. These things apply to a lesser extent to those who have gone to good Universities and had middle-class upbringings. It is foolishness not to recognise it and, once it is recognised, it needs to be factored in. Otherwise, the risk is that potential is not measured – all that is measured is comfort levels. The Bar is a career in which you are only within the your comfort zone if you have stalled. It’s how you do outside it that matters.
Pupilpedia goes on:
Quite apart from the fact that it would be absolutely impossible to measure the relative distances travelled, it would be waging a class war. Couldn’t you look at it conversely and say that it is ME who has been disadvantaged because I have not, by unhappy chance, been given the same opportunity to demonstrate that I am equally as capable of coming from a deprived background and being successful? I may have the same potential as this other candidate, but I have not been allowed to show it, yet. And what if a close relative of mine died just before I took the exams? Or my very successful father who sent me to the best school used to abuse me? How would that be taken into account in measuring distance travelled? As far as I am concerned, that model of distance travelled should have absolutely nothing to do with assessment. It seems to be nothing more than discrimination.
I don’t regard the distance travelled as demanding a precise measurement. It is one factor to be taken into account. It no more requires a precise measurement than whether the Oxford student went to a decent college to read law, or a less popular one to read theology (although the chances of entry are very different).
Nor, in my early middle-age do I see myself as a class warrior. This is about equalising things. If you cannot show your potential in terms of academic achievement (and I must say that a first class degree would show exactly that in my book – they are hard to get regardless of background) then find another way to show it. Climb Everest. Organise a successful charitable project. A death in the family is obviously a different issue and academic tutors can and should speak to it.
The question of a different system has largely been dealt with in the comments but I want to just pause for thought regarding Managechange’s suggestion:
Psychometric profiling has been used extensively in the commercial world for recruitment, selection and development for many years; particularly for professional appointments requiring high calibre candidates.
I would also suggest ‘People Specifications’, ‘Job Specifications’, ‘Personal Attribute Requirements’, ‘Chambers Profile’, ‘Chambers Requirements’, a published ‘Interview Structure’ etc, etc.
The BVC students are already complaining about cost. Who on earth would pay for psychometric profiling? People specifications is a nonsense from an office based world (where it might – although in my experience as counsel for quite a lot of commercial enterprises over 23 years, it does not – have some meaning). Job specification is something that the prospective pupil presumably knows. Personal attribute requirements sound like people specifications but otherwise they mean you ought to be able to work efficiently and get on with people. If you didn’t know that was necessary please don’t do the BVC. Chambers profiling is something we already do – otherwise pupillage applicants don’t know who to apply to.
Chambers requirements are a good idea and so is a published interview structure (I would also publish the assesment structure so people know which things matter most). Finally Managechange:
Most importantly I would suggest training for interviewers. How much training does the average Bar interviewer have on how to interview? (nil) How many times will a Barrister apply for a job after qualifying? (once or twice after 15-25 years) and yet they are the ones conducting the interviews!
I am training barristers twice this year between now and pupillage interviews on how to interview and how to approach equality and diversity issues. That is organised by and for my Circuit by a man (presumably one of those out of touch barristers so famous on this blog) who has just become a Judge. Moreover, every application for panel work now takes the form of a formal application so if any barrister wishes to work for the government or a local authority or go up a CPS grade s/he will have applied in writing. Moreover, any barrister will have asked questions in a formal situation whilst looking for specific points on many occasions. Many senior members of a pupillage committee will, whilst sitting, have assessed people for honesty, accuracy, ability to deal with issues and overall impression – a job which the public trusts them to do well even though they do not know one end of a Personal Attribute Requirement from another. I agree that these things are not interviews but I’m not sure that interview training adds a lot to the experience gained from examining a witness.
These “solutions” are expensive. Chambers do not pay any member to do this. Maybe they ought, but until that happens it is a labour of love. Proposing expensive solutions from the commercial world – however snappy the titles – is simply unrealistic. The cost would have to be passed on to those applying. Nor are they necessary. There is no evidence that the Bar consistently picks people who are no good.
Once one acknowledges that the Bar’s choices are consistently acceptable we are talking about improvement. I simply do not understand how people can simultaneously advocate expensive professional assistance, whilst rejecting a straightforward assessment of potential based on distance travelled as a factor.
Improvement would involve extending fairness and ensuring that those without hope were adequately warned (and ideally rejected) before they spent their money. It involves transparency and better feedback from interviews. It also involves applicants acknowledging the risks they are taking and accepting failure with the same grace with which they would accept success.