Routes to the Bar · Tenancy

Unfunded Pupillage

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RM commented on this topic below, and I asked him to outline his thoughts on it so that I could post them up. Here they are. I do not, myself, think that unfunded pupillage is the way forward, but I am persuadable. Given that one of the country’s most senior Judges recently told me that he did think they were the way forward, there is a debate to be had.

Be nice to RM. He is doing this as a favour. If anyone would like to write the speech for the other side, please email me…

I decided to do the BVC knowing that there was a very good chance that I would never gain a pupillage. I went to a “poor” university and did not obtain the best degree result. The first pupillage rejection letter still hurt though. You may ask why I still did the BVC knowing that it was next to impossible to obtain a pupillage. Very simply, I assessed risks, costs, future options and the potential rewards. I went into this whole process with my eyes wide open as to what the current pupillage selection process is at the Bar. Therefore this post is not meant to be Bar bashing – merely my view on what could be done to improve the Bar and its selection process.

Competition

I believe that the best way to improve selection process and as a result to improve the Bar is to increase competition at entry level. Competition generally drives up quality, improves customer focus, increases diversity reduces cost and increases innovation. I am sure that some people will say that the Bar is competitive. Whilst I agree there generally is healthy competition within the profession, I believe that there is a lack of competition at entry, due to the barriers to entry. There are only a certain number of pupillages available and pupillage is the only way to get tenancy.

Access to the Bar is set at the wrong level, and only a select few are able to apply for tenancy. I am quite amused when I hear some fellow students say all they want is a pupillage. I want to be a barrister. It does seem flawed to me that pupillage has become a filter to the Bar. Further I have heard from a number of people that one needs a degree of luck to obtain a pupillage (even SM appears to indicate this in his post). This seems to me a sad acknowledgement of the state of the Bar with regard to recruitment. The Bar should want the best people to become barristers, not the luckiest. I am sure at least 50% (if not more) who obtain pupillage are the best. There is still however a percentage of people who given the chance could be just as good and if not better.

I look at my circumstances – I have not gone to the right university purely due to fate. I dreamt of going to universities such as Oxford but due to family circumstances I was unable to go to university full time. I did not receive the greatest degree results – I cannot blame anyone for this unfortunately. These two facts severely hamper my future at the Bar, regardless of how good I would be as a barrister. I want the opportunity to prove myself. I doubt that I will be the kind of barrister who graces the corridors of the RCJ on a regular basis, but I know I will do a good job within my own limitations. I have some friends on the BVC who have the potential to be very good barristers. There is a very strong chance that none of these talented people will gain a pupillage. It seems a sorry state where people with so much ability, determination and commitment to the Bar may not have the opportunity to prove their abilities during a pupillage. The Bar is losing good people…

I believe that the filter to entry to the Bar should be shifted up to the Tenancy stage. To do this the number of pupillages on offer needs to be doubled (if not more). This will enable a more level playing field and will assist in ensuring that the best people make it through to be barristers. There is also a real possibility that the number of tenancies will increase. During the first few years of tenancy, the barristers who are good will survive: those unable to build their practice will fail. I think Chambers would welcome a far broader choice of candidates for tenancy. I recognise that some chambers already have 4 pupils for every one or two tenancies available. This needs to be spread throughout the Bar.

There is also a positive outcome for the Bar and the pupils who failed to obtain tenancy. Having qualified as a barrister and received invaluable experience will open doors for a pupil who fails to get tenancy, such as job opportunities at the employed bar, overseas, in-house law, business, teaching, and solicitors. Qualified barristers going into these professions would help strengthen the Bar as an organisation, as the skills gained will be used, improved and retained in most cases, and potentially in the future such skills may be imported back into the Bar.

Funding

The question of how to fund any system of pupillage is a difficult issue. We all seem to broadly agree that there needs to more pupillages on offer. Funding hampers this.

An obvious starting position is unfunded pupillage (or should this be unfunded first six?). I know that SM is against this proposition. I come from a not so well off family myself. I know what it is like to not have much money. However I would much rather have the opportunity to have an unfunded pupillage than have no pupillage at all. I would not be able to afford an unfunded pupillage, but I am fairly sure I would find a way to make it work. Perhaps a way forward would be for the Bar to negotiate with HSBC to extend the current Bar loan scheme to cover pupillage in addition to the BVC. Perhaps more support from the Inns for people who run into financial difficulty. I know that people will argue that this will put students into even more debt. To counter this I would repeat what I said above about those who fail to get tenancy – they will be further qualified and should be able to slot into fairly high paying jobs. This to me seems the easiest way to increase the number of pupillages on offer.

As to other ways how pupillage could be funded, I am intrigued why the minimum pupillage award is set to £10,000. A way to increase the number of pupillages would be to reduce the minimum pupillage award. My rationale is that a pupillage is in effect vocational training and could be treated like a student loan. I know from my own experience it would cost about £600 a month to survive. The first six months of pupillage could be funded at this level. Thereafter for the second six nothing but expenses such as travelling should be paid by chambers. Any income should come from work done on the second six (or perhaps given an advance by chambers to counter any initial cash flow problems). Furthermore, the Inns/Bar could provide support to pupils on low incomes instead or in addition to providing scholarships for pupils. This would hopefully allow chambers to increase the number of pupils that they have. One of my concerns is that there are chambers who offer huge pupillage awards (£30,000 +). This may not help with levelling the playing fields. Perhaps there should be a maximum award?

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85 thoughts on “Unfunded Pupillage

  1. I will address this post to you RM, but I don’t mean it personally – the general, plural ‘you’ is intended.

    You say that you want an unfunded pupillage (or first 6) rather than having no pupillage. Broadly speaking, there can only be 2 reasons why you would be left with no pupillage.

    – Either it is that you are not good enough for pupillage. If that is the case, then you will be no better after a 6 month opportunity to prove yourself, and will not get tenancy or a further 6 months pupillage. This is the same whether you are simply not up to scratch, or you are up to scratch but there is only enough work to require a certain number of tenants.

    – Alternatively, you are not getting pupillage because the people selecting pupils are not choosing the right people. A 6 month unfunded pupillage provides you with the opportunity to prove their prejudices wrong (about education, race, background, ability, whatever it may be).

    If it is the former, a 6 month unfunded pupillage puts you in no better position at the end of it, but you will have given up 6 months pursuing something which was not going to work out and which you could have known at the application for pupillage stage.

    If it is the latter, and there is indeed a problem with recruitment practices, then why should applicants give up 6 months of their time and energy (particularly those, you and me included, who would have difficulty affording this) in order to show the Bar that it is going about recruitment the wrong way? To use a legal cliché, that seems to be putting the cart before the horse.

    If the problem is, and I suspect it is, that there is a problem with the way in which recruitment happens and people are being discriminated against on the grounds of educational background and class, then this problem needs to be dealt with directly – by educating and training the recruiters. Things weren’t any fairer when unfunded pupillages existed, after all.

    The third alternative, and this is unpalatable for me to admit, as an aspirant to the Bar, that there is no problem with access. There is simply competition such that only a few of those who wish to make it, ultimately will do.

    The idea that the Bar is like being a pop star, or a dancer, or a prima ballerina, or a writer, or media guru, sticks in the craw because with all our various credentials we would expect to walk into jobs in banking, law firms, consultancy, accountancy etc – the other respected graduate professions. We are used to achieving things, academically and otherwise.
    We expect, on the basis of our talents and previous experiences, to be able to realise our ambitions because wanting to be an advocate is not like wanting to grow up to be famous, or a platinum-selling musician.

    The numbers, suggest otherwise though. A more respectable dream perhaps, than wanting to be a pop star- but increasingly, the numbers suggest each of us have about as much chance. If those numbers are a product of supply and demand, and nothing else, then no amount of retraining, consultation or working groups and white papers will change those stats.

  2. The suggestion is that there should be unfunded pups in addition to those which are funded. I believe that, presently, all pupils have to be funded to the minimum of £10K unless chambers receive a dispensation from the BSB. There was one such unfunded pupillage being offered by a provincial set, which got a mention on Android’s site recently.

    Whilst undecided myself over the merits of funding, or otherwise, I do not see that there can be any merit in having a mixture. In the current climate, this will, I am guessing, lead to nothing more than an increase in fodder pupils who will shore up predominantly the lower band crim sets, but with there being little prospect of tenancy for those pupils. This would exacerbate the problems already present in the current system and shift the over supply of aspirants from BVC to pupillage.

    My own preference would be for all pups to be unfunded by chambers, but for chambers to contribute the equivalent to the Inns. The Inns could then make bursaries or loans to pupils with the sole criteria being financial need. Personally, I favour the idea of loans which would only be repaid when pupils subsequently secured tenancy and established a successful practice. If not, the loans should be written off.

  3. Unfunded pupillage = More Pupillages
    More Pupillages = More Barristers

    Do we need more Barristers? Is there a shortage?

    The current “funded” requirement may actually be concealing a supply:demand situation?

  4. Mel,

    You seem to say that the current selection procedure for pupillage, being application, then interview, by barristers, is the ideal way to get the best people.

    First I would note that unfunded pupillage for all comers has been the way the Bar worked for centuries. The gatekeeper process mimicking the rest of industry’s selection process is only a recent change.

    Secondly I would say that the barristers doing the selection process are by definition good at doing the role of barrister. That is not the same as being good at spotting others who will do the role well.

    Thirdly the stated objective for requiring funding for all pupillages has been (put crudely) to improve access for poor people. Speaking as a scientist, I would like to see data for how many people were entering (and staying with) the Bar from various backgrounds before the requirement for funding, and since then. In other words, I want objective evidence on whether the intended outcome has been achieved.

    Finally, and on a separate point: Simon, concerning the comments RSS feed point, should I email you? I am keen to provide any assistance to make it work, and I am absolutely certain it will be very easy since the system you have in place has that capability.

  5. I’m not in favour of unfunded pupillages. It feels like a step backwards and undervalues the academic and vocational studies that a student has undergone in getting as far as the pupillage stage.

    The most junior of admin assistants earn more than the minimum pupillage award, to pay a pupil nothing devalues their role and must feel very demoralising.

    Years ago I taught YTS students, who came into college 2 days a week and spent the remainder of their time with their employers. They received £25 a week for this and their employers were able to reclaim this sum from the government. The scheme worked well in the first year and most students were kept on. Come the second year, things started to slide and by the third year it was pretty awful. Students knew that they were just being taken on as cheap labour, felt used because they knew that there was no job for them at the end of the year. The scheme was eventually scrapped, because employers abused the system.

    I imagine that some chambers would also adopt this ‘cheap’ labour policy and somehow convince themselves that they were providing a service to the bar, despite the fact that there would be no vacancies for new tenants at the end of the year.

  6. Anno,

    If there are more pupillages, there would be more people applying for tenancy. I personally think that this is a good thing. I believe that it is a weakness of the Bar that only a select few as it stands now (i.e. people who have obtained pupillage) have a shot at tenancy. How can the best people be coming through? My basic view is that if you have more competition at pupillage, it will enable equal opportunity for people to succeed. For example in 2nd six, 4 pupils going for 1 tenancy in same chambers, the best pupil in most cases will go get tenancy. In many chambers at the moment it is 1 or 2 pupil(s) going for 1 tenancy. Having a more competitive approach also will help (to a certain degree) allow a more diverse profession and open the system up to ability based selection from a broader pool of applicants.

    When the funding system was brought in, I am told (I am not 100% sure if this is true), that the amount of pupillages on offer halved overnight. The amount of tenancies stayed the same. There was not an explosion in the profession then. I doubt there will be one now if the amount of pupillages are double. As I stated, even if one fails to obtain a tenancy, at least one would be more qualified for other careers.

    From what I have heard, chambers could do with more pupils (I have heard this myself from a number of benchers at my Inn). Whether as per Barmain, they would be cannon fodder is another question.

    Mel,
    Whilst some people are clearly not good enough to obtain a pupillage, my point is that the Bar is losing people who range from capable – exceptional. Say the amount of pupillages are doubled, the people who are clearly not going to make it will still hopefully get filtered out.

    If there is work only for a certain amount of tenants (and indeed tenancy), the barristers/pupils who are good at their job are more likely to survive. To a degree, competition forces this even more. I am sure you have come across Barristers/Solicitors/Companies and though, “goodness, how do they survive as they are hopeless?” Therefore if the better barristers/pupils survive, the Bar as a profession itself grows stronger as quality increases. It’s typically what competition does – drive up quality. (Goodness, I just realised I sound like Thatcher!)

    On your second point, as I already said above, having a pupillage would be an invaluable experience regardless of what you end up doing. At least you are actually fully qualified at something. You can go overseas, there is the employed bar, in-house law, business, teaching, solicitors etc. I don’t think people realise how what you learn can be applied in many different fields.

    On your third point, I doubt training selection committee’s will make much of a difference. I am perhaps a but cynical though.

  7. unfunded pupillages? Absolutely not!!
    I can’t think of any other profession where you enter as a trainee and get paid nothing.
    The idea in my view is slightly backward.
    Even £10k for some pupillages is too low in my opinion.

    Ed makes the point – funded pupillages for poor people.. I don’t understand why or how anyone would want or be able to go technically into a trainee position and not receive some sort of renumeration, at least in terms of a salary for pupillage.

    Funded pupillages for “poor people”, is not even remotely a nice idea, this basically assumes that the majority of wannabe pupils are in the upper-middle class and have parents that will continue to support them forever or have a small fortune in inheritance that will ‘do’ them until they make a reasonable practice at the Bar.

    Like Ed I would like to see some stats as to how the intended effect has been realised.

    If you took away funded pupillage, it would most likely deter quite a few applicants, based on the fact that they wouldn’t want to get into debt.

    I always thought that the amount of pupillages should be kept very close to the amount of tenancies people can offer.

    For if you have unfunded pupillage, which then allows more people to be taken on as pupils, does this then not mean that when it comes to deciding whether or not they get tenancy you will essentially be rejecting the same amount of people as you would when it came to pupillage applications? Unless the number of tenancies being offered changed, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me..

    You might also end up with a lot of pupil-barristers floating about who after having completer their BVC and pupillage can’t get tenancy, because they weren’t good enough for pupillage in the first place…

  8. Whilst I too would be interested to see the statistics on socio-economic background of entrants since the pupillage funding requirement was introduced (although I think we need a few more years to let it filter down), I am instinctively opposed to unfunded pupillages.

    I take on board what RM says – about his/her own feelings, having come from a less wealthy background. Of course some individuals without wealthy parents or other sources of income will be so determined that they will be prepared to run up the enormous amounts of debt (assuming loans are available to them) it takes to live whilst doing an unfunded pupillage, having already done the BVC and a degree. But my instinct is that most won’t. Most will go for the safer option of a paid training contract, or will avoid the law altogether for a decently paid graduate job. And yet again, the people who will take up unfunded pupillages will be those who can afford to do so because they have wealthy, supportive parents. In the absence of full evidence, it seems to me that this is the most likely outcome.

    The suggestion of placing the ‘entry point’ at the tenancy stage also seems fated to take us back to the ‘bad old days’ of ‘pupillage factories’ where chambers would take on 8 or so pupils and give tenancies to only 2. I don’t really see how that helps anyone. Quite apart from anything else, it requires pupils to go through a year of unpaid training, with a dribble of 2nd six income at the end, with a much lower chance of obtaining tenancy than most have at present.

    It is quite possible – indeed probable – that most chambers (mine included) could improve their selection procedure. Perhaps assessed mini-pupillages are the way forward, or at least a full day of interviews such as those conducted by some investment banks. But I can’t think of any profession that would spend money and time (because even an unfunded pupillage is very far from cost-free) fully training more than twice the number of employees they ultimately need. Solicitors don’t do it (they tend to take on a far more significant proportion of their trainees). Banks don’t do it. Consultancy firms don’t do it. I think it is unrealistic to expect the Bar to do it.

  9. Ed,

    Hello- I wasn’t suggesting it was the best way, really. I think it’s better than unfunded pupillages for all – with all the potential problems of access/ cheap labour that that entails, and indeed high costs for Chambers for little return.

    Unfunded pupillages for some isn’t any better, whether it’s because they can afford it or can’t get a funded one. It runs the risk of not looking like a ‘proper pupillage’. I believe that where Chambers are forced to pay someone, and are regulated in this it forces them to consider their processes and needs more effectively.

    I don’t suggest that application, selection and interview by barristers is the best way. But, to misquote Churchill on democracy- it’s probably the best of a bad lot. Would you prefer to be intervied by HR people, with all their management speak and list of ‘capacities’ that they look for? Surely someone who does the job that you are applying for is better.

    The risk with this form of application is that people hire people who are like them. Like prefers like. The old boy network etc, lack of diversity, etc etc. These problems are endemic to society and will improve as society hopefully moves on.

    I don’t think radical changes to the system of pupillage application would help. Clearer, more open systems help- and the better sets do seem to be more business focussed in this respect. They recognise that good people do not all come in one form, and that the future strength of their practice relies on their people assets. I can only hope that the pompous, sexist, racist, or elitist are driven out over time, and by business need.

    I do not think the filter should be at tenancy stage, as in the olden days. Why waste an extra year of your life? The number of tenancies has not decreased in the same way that the number of pupillages has- the end need is the same.

    So, as far as I can see the things you can do to improve access and fairness are to improve the BVC and make it a better reflection of what is needed of a barrister, rather than the very low test of basic competance it is at the moment (but then where would BPP et al make their money?) and improve training for those interviewing.

    Maybe if people were paid for interviewing people, and more interviews were offered, people would feel they had a chance to show what they were made of. Perhaps this:

    – Chambers states basic requirements for applicants
    – Applicants pay a fee to Olpas/Pupillage portal/other. In return they are guaranteed interviews at places where they meet the requirements set by Chambers (or Chambers can choose not to interview, but must give a reason why).
    – The fees pay costs of interviewers.

    Just an idea, came up with it now. May be unworkable. You’d have to get the balance right between what you charged applicants and paid interviewers (low enough not to create an incentive to set the bar too low and needlessly interview no hopers). But this suggestion has the benefit of making it very clear what Chambers requirements are.
    I note that Middle Temple interviews all applicants for scholarships, and Lincolns interviews a large proportion (in practice, I’m told if you have a good 2.1 you’ll get an interview). Improve interviewing, give people more shots at interviews, and more feedback – and maybe people would be happier with the system. Crucially this would take a few weeks rather than an extra year of working for free on the offchance they’ll hire you.

    More assessed minipupillages would be a good thing too, and achieve many of the same objectives- but at a cost to chambers.

  10. (Further to my comment directly above- and to clarify anyone who happens to be interested- as far as I am aware Baby Barista IS based on fiction and therefore anyone tempted should put their chequebooks away!)

  11. I am going to try to go easy in view of Simon’s comments but frankly there are hardly two words in this post that I agree with and I think much of this is clearly not thought through.

    I’ll just address the major points:

    1. “Competition generally drives up quality, improves customer focus, increases diversity reduces cost and increases innovation.”
    What do you mean “improves customer focus”? What do you mean “reduces cost”? For whom? What do you mean “increases innovation”? Or are you just using meaningless “buzz words” to support your argument?

    2. “Further I have heard from a number of people that one needs a degree of luck to obtain a pupillage (even SM appears to indicate this in his post). This seems to me a sad acknowledgement of the state of the Bar with regard to recruitment. The Bar should want the best people to become barristers, not the luckiest.”

    In every exam you have sat, has there been no difference at all in the opportunities the candidates had to prepare for it? Is it never the case that the exam questions may, by chance, suit the topics that some people have chosen to study and not those chosen by others? Does nobody ever have a bad day, or a particularly good day? Is it impossible that the person who is actually best in the class might not come first? Do these elements of “luck” mean that the exam results are worthless? Isn’t there an element of luck in everything in life? Indeed, isn’t the extent of your natural intelligence and aptitude a matter of luck? Does it matter at the Olympics that the person who wins the race has not trained as hard as the person who came second? Should the person who comes last get the gold medal because they want it more than the person who won? Should the fact that on another day someone else might have won invalidate the results of the race?

    3. “I look at my circumstances – I have not gone to the right university purely due to fate. I dreamt of going to universities such as Oxford but due to family circumstances I was unable to go to university full time. I did not receive the greatest degree results – I cannot blame anyone for this unfortunately.”

    Is it honestly and sincerely the case that you would have got into Oxbridge if you had been able to go full-time? If you didn’t get great degree results at a poor university, doesn’t this suggest that you may simply not be good enough for Oxbridge?

    4. “I want the opportunity to prove myself. I doubt that I will be the kind of barrister who graces the corridors of the RCJ on a regular basis, but I know I will do a good job within my own limitations. I have some friends on the BVC who have the potential to be very good barristers. There is a very strong chance that none of these talented people will gain a pupillage. It seems a sorry state where people with so much ability, determination and commitment to the Bar may not have the opportunity to prove their abilities during a pupillage. The Bar is losing good people…”

    But isn’t whether you could manage “a good job within your own limitations” entirely beside the point? The Bar has a finite number of places, it’s not a question of whether you can do the job but whether you can do the job better than the great majority of applicants.

    The Bar almost definitely is “losing good people”. But as there is a finite number of places, this doesn’t matter if it doesn’t need the good people it loses – it only matters to the Bar if it is the BEST people it is losing. Do you know that it is losing the best people?

    5. “I believe that the filter to entry to the Bar should be shifted up to the Tenancy stage. To do this the number of pupillages on offer needs to be doubled (if not more). This will enable a more level playing field and will assist in ensuring that the best people make it through to be barristers. There is also a real possibility that the number of tenancies will increase. During the first few years of tenancy, the barristers who are good will survive: those unable to build their practice will fail. I think Chambers would welcome a far broader choice of candidates for tenancy. I recognise that some chambers already have 4 pupils for every one or two tenancies available. This needs to be spread throughout the Bar.”

    I’m sorry, but I think this is nonsense. What evidence have you for saying “there is also a real possibility that the number of tenancies will increase”? And what makes you think “Chambers would welcome a broader choice of candidates for tenancy”? Chambers can offer as many pupillages as they like within reason, so why do you think chambers currently offering one or two “would welcome” being forced to offer four? They could do this already if they wanted to. The fact is, it is horrible rejecting someone you have trained and welcomed into chambers, and someone who has probably been a dogsbody of sorts for the past year. And the more pupils you take on the more dilute your resources and attention for training purposes.

    The practice of engaging pupils purely as cannon fodder needs to be stamped out, not encouraged. A year of pupillage does not enormously increase your employability as you seem to imagine. A year (on less than the minimum wage, as you suggest) being dumped on only to be kicked out at the end with no tenancy would leave someone a hell of a lot more bitter and in demand of change than the current pupillages selection system. At least you know whether you are in or out with the current system. Pupillage is a hellish time without having the sort of pressure that having a 1 in 4 or 5 chance of a job adds (Or, if it is to be doubled as you suggest, up to 1 in 8 at some sets).

    As to “During the first few years of tenancy, the barristers who are good will survive: those unable to build their practice will fail.” – if there were more tenancies on this basis, it would make the Bar less attractive for excellent candidates (which is frankly whom the Bar should be more concerned about than poor candidates) as even if they were good enough for tenancy they would effectively have to “fight for survival” against poorer candidates with a resulting decrease in work and income (even if another candidate is inferior, they will still take some of the work that the other tenant would have had, plus clerks are under an obligation to distribute work received by chambers equitably).

    6. “and potentially in the future such skills may be imported back into the Bar.”

    ???

    7. “An obvious starting position is unfunded pupillage (or should this be unfunded first six?). I know that SM is against this proposition. I come from a not so well off family myself. I know what it is like to not have much money. However I would much rather have the opportunity to have an unfunded pupillage than have no pupillage at all. I would not be able to afford an unfunded pupillage, but I am fairly sure I would find a way to make it work. Perhaps a way forward would be for the Bar to negotiate with HSBC to extend the current Bar loan scheme to cover pupillage in addition to the BVC. Perhaps more support from the Inns for people who run into financial difficulty. I know that people will argue that this will put students into even more debt. To counter this I would repeat what I said above about those who fail to get tenancy – they will be further qualified and should be able to slot into fairly high paying jobs. This to me seems the easiest way to increase the number of pupillages on offer.
    As to other ways how pupillage could be funded, I am intrigued why the minimum pupillage award is set to £10,000. A way to increase the number of pupillages would be to reduce the minimum pupillage award. My rationale is that a pupillage is in effect vocational training and could be treated like a student loan. I know from my own experience it would cost about £600 a month to survive. The first six months of pupillage could be funded at this level. Thereafter for the second six nothing but expenses such as travelling should be paid by chambers. Any income should come from work done on the second six (or perhaps given an advance by chambers to counter any initial cash flow problems). Furthermore, the Inns/Bar could provide support to pupils on low incomes instead or in addition to providing scholarships for pupils. This would hopefully allow chambers to increase the number of pupils that they have.”

    Why should the Bar pay for the failure of people to succeed when they didn’t want to increase the number of pupillages on offer anyway but were forced to (in accordance with your suggestion), knowing well they would be putting lots of pupils to extra expense they would never recover?

    I come from a not so well off family and I have worked my butt off trying to get the qualifications, experience etc required to get a pupillage. Why should I have a reduced or no pupillage award just so someone else, who has not at any stage demonstrated that they should be in the top 500 of applicants and in fact has not distinguished themselves at all, can come too? What if I can’t afford to do pupillage if it is unfunded or the funding greatly reduced as you suggest? Is it fair that someone who is a weaker candidate than I am gets the chance at my expense?

    8. “One of my concerns is that there are chambers who offer huge pupillage awards (£30,000 +). This may not help with levelling the playing fields. Perhaps there should be a maximum award?!”

    Why?? If the chambers can afford to pay it, why should pupils, already lumbered with the cost of the BVC, who gain these pupillages be penalised? So that people who don’t get them don’t feel hard done by? The Bar IS elitist, intellectually elitist. And it must be so. It is not for everyone to have a go. It is not a level playing field, because some applicants are better than others. You seem to be making an “everyone must have prizes” argument.

    Further, in general terms your argument is premised on the notion that tenancy decisions are wholly unbiased and objective. In fact, they are far less regulated and far more subject to whims and prejudices than pupillage decisions. Plus arguably at least as subject to luck.

    That was rather longer than anticipated! I just feel this stuff needs to be put right, there’s a danger it will get a wide readership, relatively unchallenged…

  12. I would welcome the abolition of the minimum funding requirement for pupillage.

    With respect, the arguments against the introduction of unfunded pupillages do not appear to address the fact that primarily, the function of pupillage is to provide practical training. The sum received is an award; it is not linked to the quantum of services rendered and hence is not commensurate with the minimum wage.

    From what I gather, the first six is generally spent shadowing junior barristers and devilling. The sole purpose of this is to equip the pupil with the skills required in order to gain a practising certificate and, in the event of tenancy, build a successful practice.

    Previously students were required to pay their pupil-master for pupillage. I suspect that the payment was intended to reflect the investment of the time and skill of the pupil-master in teaching the pupil the skills of the trade.

    I would not advocate the re-introduction of such a system. However it seems somewhat bizarre that a pupil should receive such extensive and detailed training from an experienced practitioner, at his own expense, and expect to receive remuneration for it. I, and many others, would embrace the opportunity to undertake an unfunded pupillage, simply to have the opportunity to sink or swim in the legal services market.

    I should add that I am from a working-class background.

    Critics have contended that the introduction of unfunded pupillages will lead to financial hardship and may create a two-tier system of pupillage. However it should be noted that the Inns offer substantial pupillage hardship grants, to which pupils may have recourse. Moreover, the current system, in which some pupils receive an award of up to £45,000, while others receive less than a quarter of that figure, has effectively created a tiered system of pupillage. At least unfunded pupillages will allow greater access to the Bar for talented students who would not otherwise have had the opportunity.

    The abolition of the minimum funding requirement should do no more than restore the Bar to the position it was in in 2003. It is unlikely to generate a ‘flood’ of pupillages.

    Unfortunately I am currently engaged in exam revision, so I will be unable to respond to any challenges to my position for the time being. However I hope my comments will provoke some thoughtful debate.

  13. A question which occurs to me, and which rarely seems to be considered, is should the Bar expand to accommodate the talent?

    It seems that most people accept that there are plenty of applicants who are quite good enough to be barristers but who just don’t make it – that there is wasted talent. The reason they don’t make it is that the existing generation of barristers is not willing to train them (as pupils) or make room for them (as tenants). And why should they want to? Because barristers are self-employed there is relatively little benefit to accepting lots of new tenants into chambers.

    Meanwhile the relative scarcity of barristers means that many existing tenants work extremely long hours and can charge fat fees for their time.

    In most industries the existence of a situation such as that at the Bar would be short-lived; competition would rush in and drive down the cost of legal advice. But because the Bar is a conservative, self-regulating beast, it is able (consciously or not) to control the inflow of new barristers and prevent competition from forcing down fees.

    This is exacerbated by the self-employed nature of the job: in most industries the people with the power to increase recruitment (management) stand to gain from expanding their workforce. Because baby juniors don’t pay a part of their income to their chambers’ silks (although undoubtedly their efforts as juniors are appreciated!) there is no direct financial incentive for senior tenants to welcome more of them in.

    It seems to me that there could be significant benefits to be had from pushing the Bar to expand. Increasing the number of barristers and thus allowing competition to push down the fees which they could reasonably charge for their time would surely do wonders for making legal advice and access to justice more available to the public. A career at the Bar might become somewhat less lucrative for many practitioners, but much more accessible to those talented individuals who really want to pursue this career.

    Of course, the expansion must not be so wide as to lower the benchmark quality of advice which should be expected of a barrister. And rather different considerations may apply to the Criminal Bar, where work and money are in rather shorter supply. But in relation to civil and commercial practice would this not be a good idea? Is the Bar currently operating almost like a cartel in restricting the entrance of new competitors, even if this is done almost by accident?

  14. Mel: I do not think the filter should be at tenancy stage, as in the olden days. Why waste an extra year of your life?

    As opposed to the 4 years or so of “holding pattern” that keen pupil-appliers are in after the BVC now, you mean?

    JK: Your comment was 1892 words. I am not holding myself out as an authority on this, but do you feel your points required that much verbiage?

    Anon #2: I, and many others, would embrace the opportunity to undertake an unfunded pupillage, simply to have the opportunity to sink or swim in the legal services market.

    I feel that you have hit the nail squarely on the head with this.

  15. I don’t have time to reply to the longer comments now. I will try and get to some of the more detailed ones within the next few days.

    I happened to be at the pub recently with five fellow BVC students. They were having a rant about pupillage etc. Out of interest I asked if they had the opportunity would they do an unfunded pupillage. I doubt that this will surprise anyone- all five of them stated emphatically that they would.

    I agree with Ed on Anon #2 comment. Almost exactly how I feel.

  16. Barmaid: Students knew that they were just being taken on as cheap labour, felt used because they knew that there was no job for them at the end of the year. The scheme was eventually scrapped, because employers abused the system.

    I suggest that BVC students have typically already spent on the order of £20,000. Thanks to cognitive dissonance (which leads to, among other things, throwing good money after bad – Machiavelli said that “…it is the nature of men to be bound by the benefits they confer as much
    as by those they receive.”), if not sheer bloody-mindedness, they are unlikely to have the same attitude to the process as YTS trainees.

    I cannot do better on the other point that this raises than “Anon #2”, so I will quote him/her/it again: …the function of pupillage is to provide practical training. The sum received is an award; it is not linked to the quantum of services rendered and hence is not commensurate with the minimum wage.

  17. The idea that the Bar can ‘expand’ to take all the people that wish to ‘simply to have the opportunity to sink or swim in the legal services market’ isn’t a very commercially sensible one.

    How exactly would that work? Chambers clearly don’t like being forced to take on people. You cannot artificially expand a market where there is not sufficient demand. The Bar relies on a particular business model which means that there will be never be that many barristers.

    If you want more places at the Bar, opportunities to sink or swim, then you would have to make it easier to set up your own chambers. As in the states, where I understand I could technically set up a practice as an attorney. Note, this is with my never having had to write a letter, or an opinion for a tutor or anybody in that country. A free legal market has some quite significant consequences for those who need legal services, and the quality of legal services on offer.

    I’m not saying that the Bar is perfect in the size it is at the moment. I’m saying that it is the way it is for historical reasons, but largely economic ones- Barristers provide specialist services, cheaper than solicitors could. That is why they have continued to exist in an age opposed to monopolies, and where most legal systems have a fused profession.

    RM – the opinion of 5 BVC students doesn’t make the case for unfunded pupillages. They have already been through the system, and have paid the price for that. They would take an unfunded pupillage, if it was as a sort of ‘one-off’ for them, an exception to the system- of course. They, rightly, would take any opportunity they could to make it at the Bar. But that is under the existing model.

    It is another thing entirely to say, that as a consequence of that desire, you should change the system and revert back. There would be massive unintended consequences- exploitation of people, costs for Chambers, even more no-hopers on the BVC, and still no-one would really be bettered by it.

    Ed- not everyone applies for 4 years. Even if you do apply for 4 years, applying for Olpas leaves you free to do other things- like build up an alternative legal career (or other career altogether) if you so wish. You do not need to pay any further money, and there is no further opportunity cost apart from the time it takes to apply (and the cost of not filling your time with things which run contrary to your stated ambitions at the bar).

    Lastly, it’s not clear that more pupillages would shorten those 4 years- by any stretch. Would people give up after a year’s pupillage? What of third, and 4th sixes, and squatting?

    It offends and hurts good people to be turned away. The point above is spot on- it’s only an issue for the Bar, and legal services provision if the BEST people are turned away. I go into this knowing that I may not be good enough. Knowing where the bar is set though, I am willing to commit extra time and resources to making myself a better candidate. I still might not make it.

    We are entitled to complain if the system is elitist, prejudiced or otherwise unfair. The fact that there isn’t room for everyone, doesn’t by itself mean the system is unfair.

  18. Ed, I was merely going to write that the sum received is an award for the 1st six, but is pay for the 2nd.

    But, this got me thinking. Might there be merit in splitting the current 12 month pup into its two distinct parts ?

    If unfunded and plentiful pups were made available for the 1st six, far more of the cohort could get into chambers, and thereby get some experience and the opportunity to show what they can do, albeit not in court. There could then be a cull as chambers take on those pupils they want, and with the current minimum funding obligation, for the 2nd six.

    Whilst I dare say this, and variations on the theme, were considered some years back, the landscape has changed considerably since then with regard to the increased student supply. Therefore, might something along these lines have merit ?

  19. Bar Boy – I think the majority of pupillage awards are based on you earning money in your second sixth, so the minimum award is really whilst you are appearing in court.

    Some chambers say that X amount is for the whole year, others say Y amount for the whole year but we expect you will earn Z amount, and this is included in the whole award.

    So in reality I think it is cut into two parts, its just chambers don’t make it very clear from the outset.

    Someone correct me if I have got this utterly wrong.

  20. Lost, regardless of how it is presented, the pupil is prohibited from holding themselves out for reward, i.e., paid work, in the 1st six (the exception is, I believe, for noting). But they can be paid in the 2nd six, be it for court work or otherwise. There is, therefore, a clear distinction which can be drawn.

  21. “The idea that the Bar can ‘expand’ to take all the people that wish to ’simply to have the opportunity to sink or swim in the legal services market’ isn’t a very commercially sensible one.

    How exactly would that work? Chambers clearly don’t like being forced to take on people. You cannot artificially expand a market where there is not sufficient demand. The Bar relies on a particular business model which means that there will be never be that many barristers.”

    The introduction of unfunded pupillages would not ‘force’ Chambers to recruit more pupils. On the contrary, it would simply allow Chambers greater freedom to harness market forces in the recruitment process.

    At present, the number of pupillages a Set can offer is contingent upon funding requirements rather than market demand. A Chambers may wish to offer two pupillages to meet demand for their services, but may only be able to fund one. If and indeed where this occurs, it will have adverse effects for both parties.

    The introduction of unfunded pupillages however would remove this restriction, and thereby restore the link between supply and demand. Chambers would of course retain the liberty not to recruit pupils where it would be inappropriate to do so.

    As I noted in my previous post, the introduction of unfunded pupillages would not lead to a material ‘expansion of the Bar’. It would merely address the contraction of the Bar caused by the minimum funding requirement.

    It is probable that demand for advocates has remained fairly consistent since 2003. The number of people entering the profession however has diminished quite substantially.

    Presently, the general perception (rightly or wrongly) is that the Bar is only accessible to those who may be regarded as truly exceptional. I agree that in every profession ‘good’ people will be turned away, that is surely the risk you take when you embark upon a career path. However it becomes a matter of concern when ‘outstanding’ applicants are turned away simply because compulsory funding requirements prohibit Chambers from offering a greater number of pupillages.

    The minimum funding requirement seems to have introduced an unpalatable lottery element to what was once a sensible system of recruitment. It is perhaps alarming to consider that many practising barristers, by their own admission, would probably have not been able to enter the profession in the present conditions.

    Mental Note: Must exercise greater self-discipline in future.

  22. In my view the correct place for the “gate” to being a barrister is the tenancy decision. The very best selection process for that is not applications and interviews, but pupillage. If you think of pupillage as a 12-month evaluation (and training) process, you will find yourself considering the whole issue differently.

  23. Ed – my comment was 1,868 words. If you had read it, you would note that of these, over 1,000 were direct quotes of the paragraphs made by RM so that I could address them directly. Thus, I used fewer words than RM, and yes, I do believe that I should be entitled to make a comment of almost the same length as the original post, given that I actually have some idea what I’m talking about and I’m not sure the same can be said for RM.

    As you clearly haven’t read my post, I will say again that moving the decision to the tenancy stage is a bad idea as the tenancy decision is itself in practice far more subject to subjectivity and whim and less subject to regulation than the pupillage decision.

  24. Ed – my comment was 1,868 words. If you had read it, you would note that of these, over 1,000 were direct quotes of the paragraphs made by RM so that I could address them directly. Thus, I used fewer words than RM, and yes, I do believe that I should be entitled to make a comment of almost the same length as the original post, given that I actually have some idea what I’m talking about and I’m not sure the same can be said for RM.

    As you clearly haven’t read my post, I will say again that moving the decision to the tenancy stage is a bad idea as the tenancy decision is itself in practice far more subject to subjectivity and whim and less subject to regulation than the pupillage decision.

  25. JK: So good he(/she/it) posted it twice.

    You claim it was “only” 1868 words. OpenOffice Writer disagrees with you. Either is a lot. I have never felt a need to fully quote anything that I have responded to. Perhaps you are wiser than me in this.

    I did in fact read your post. I disagree with your thesis for the reasons I have already stated. I did not feel a need to fully quote your post and reply to every single word. I apologise for any hurt this has caused you.

    (“Ernest Hemingway was never a lawyer. But if he had been…”)

  26. “The introduction of unfunded pupillages would not ‘force’ Chambers to recruit more pupils. On the contrary, it would simply allow Chambers greater freedom to harness market forces in the recruitment process. ”

    Arguably, that’s precisely what they already do. It would be very foolish and short-term thinking for a Chambers, who had the business potential to support another tenant, to not take on another pupil because it couldn’t afford £10k pupillage award (even if the costs of taking on a pupil are actually higher, they do not outweight the future benefit to Chambers if they have enough work to provide them with).

    I disagree that demand had probably remained stable. I don’t know about trends in law generally, but in criminal law at least work has almost certainly been reduced with cuts to Legal aid and increasing use of CPS lawyers.

  27. Ed,

    No, I don’t claim it was “only” 1868 words – you’re the only one who used the word “only”. Microsoft Word disagrees with Open Office Writer – not that it is worth arguing about in my view, though you seem to disagree.

    I’m delighted you have never felt the need to quote. Bully for you. How about you stick to making your own decisions about how to present your own posts. The point is it is disingenuous to accuse me of excessive verbiage by reference to a word count which is constituted mostly of the original post.

  28. “It would be very foolish and short-term thinking for a Chambers, who had the business potential to support another tenant, to not take on another pupil because it couldn’t afford £10k pupillage award.”

    I should confess at the outset that I cannot claim to have any personal experience of Chambers beyond mini-pupillages.

    However I suspect that there are many small Chambers, which are simply unable to fund more than one pupillage. From a mathematical perspective, if a small number of tenants are sharing substantial Chambers’ expenses it is unlikely that tenants would be willing to increase the financial burden by providing additional pupillages.

    I would therefore suggest that it is a matter of financial incapacity rather than mere foolishness.

    In relation to your second point, it is widely acknowledged that demand for criminal law advocates has declined in recent years. However this has coincided an increase in cases of personal injury relating to asbestos-related cases. Taking into account the relative fluctuations across the various areas of practice it is probable that the level of demand for advocates has remained fairly consistent.

  29. Sorry, I should note that the final paragraph of my previous (serious) post refers to criminal law barristers at the independant Bar rather than general ‘advocates’.

  30. Ed,

    You’ve never needed to quote FULLY? Oh right, that changes the entire nature of my response. On second thoughts, no it doesn’t – mind your own business. I have never made a post that blithely ignores all the counter-arguments, but you don’t see me telling you how to post.

    Anon #2 – yes, please. I don’t mind what you leave in as long as it’s heavy.

  31. JK – I have followed your numbering from your previous comment. I have tried to be nice too! 🙂

    1. These are general principals of what behavior occurs when effective competition occurs. They are not meaningless “buzz words”. I accept that in some cases they are not as applicable to the Bar as perhaps commercial business, however I believe the use of the words are still apt:
    Customer focus – Yes, barristers do have “customers”. Very simply an instructing solicitor and even a lay client is a customer.
    Reduce costs – In a fully flowing competitive market, costs (not necessarily take home pay/fees) need to be reduced to enable competitiveness. If you don’t, your competitor will.
    Innovation – This is very important. Competition drives up innovation so that client base is retained/grown.
    2. I think you have missed the point on this. Luck (if you believe in it) does pay a part in life. I am not disputing that you need an element of luck to obtain pupillage, however as the system currently stands, the amount of luck needed is disproportionate. The Bar should try and get the best person (how this is done is where I believe this debate should be), not the luckiest.
    3. I could speculate but there is not much use now. You missed the point though. Due to circumstances (not necessarily mine), people are effectively hamstrung as they may not have gone to the best university or obtained the best possible degree. Whilst I agree that a degree result (and to an extent university) is an important measure, it is not conclusive. Actual ability should be the conclusive measure. This is the problem with the current system – only a select few are able to apply for tenancy. These select few were chosen on one or two interviews – maybe a problem to work on. Can you not see how a vast amount of talented people could be missed based on this process? Even talented Oxbridge candidates will be missed with such a process.
    By poor university, I meant poorly perceived. Not necessarily poor quality
    4. I do agree with you. However the point is how do chambers know who are the best people? Based on a CV and an interview? This is what underpins my argument for more competition at the pupillage stage. Selection for tenancy is then based more so on measured ability from a wider applicant pool.
    5. There is a possibility that tenancies will increase. I should have qualified this statement by saying such an increase will be small. What went through my mind is that if chambers have two very good candidates and there is enough work, they could possibly make both tenants. Smaller chambers that are unable to afford pupils at the moment will probably, given the right circumstances, take on a pupil as a tenant.
    Chambers can currently offer an amount of pupillages that they can afford. Instead of a chambers having say 2 pupils, if chambers had 4 pupils vying for pupillage, it stands to reason that in most cases the best person will obtain tenancy. Chambers I am sure will be thrilled with this as they will have more choice.
    I take on board your point about diluting training etc. However I have never said chambers should be forced to take on pupils. It would need to be based on chambers preference.
    6. If someone leaves the Bar, gains experience in other fields and comes back to the Bar in the future – they will have a broader range of experience. Therefore the Bar benefits as these people will most likely have a wider experience and skill set.
    7. The Bar (did you mean Inns?) already awards scholarships for many people to undertake the BVC who never gain pupillage let alone tenancy. Is this any different? As said before, even if tenancy is not gained, there are more options and in theory you are more qualified than just someone with a BVC certificate. This should aid any recovery of money.
    As in a comment above, the selection process for the top 500 seems, by general consensus, flawed. How do you tell who is a weaker candidate without having a level playing field? I did have some rationale for reducing funding – i.e to treat pupillage as it is – training. Therefore bring it into line with the amount and structure of student loans.
    I take it from your comments you are happy with the status quo?
    8. I do not believe is the argument “everyone must have prizes”. Indeed it goes against my view of survival of the fittest. I was merely acknowledging that there were flaws in my logic as under my proposal someone may get £3600 for pupillage and another £30000. Someone has already commented that the Bar is being turned into a two tiered system as some chambers can afford to pay pupils more (in some cases quadruple).

  32. Mel – I never said that 5 people was a conclusive survey. I just happened to be at the pub whilst they were having a rant so I asked the question. Thought it would be worth mentioning.

    James C – Thanks. Any particular reason? Would you keep the status quo? I accept that I may not have the right answers/views. The reason why I accepted the opportunity Simon offered was no matter what my views or ideas were, at least some form of debate would ensue.

  33. RM,

    Here is my view as a layman.

    The status quo is utterly absurd, mainly because candidates have to spend a lot of time and money before they are considered for pupillage.

    Apart from being a totally inefficient process, it discourages good candidates who cannot afford the cost of entry or the cost of failure.

    That said, your proposal would not change anything for the better. No more positions for barristers would be created, and puplis would receive less money.

    There might also be a zombie class of pupils, employed to do menial tasks, but with no prospect of further advancement.

  34. @james c,

    The difference would be that pupils got what can only be called a fair shake: they’d be evaluated not on a paper application and/or interview, but on 12 months of work in chambers.

    If one asked all prospective pupils whether they wanted funding for pupillage (yes = few available, no = many available), I wonder what they would say. That is another question I want to see hard data on.

  35. Ed,

    That is a fair point. I imagine, though, that the loss of funding would be a major issue for some.
    I do accept that it must be very frustrating for those who feel they aren’t able to demonstrate their talents on paper and interview.

    Remember, though, that any winners under the new system will be matched by an equal number of losers.

  36. @james c,

    Remember, though, that any winners under the new system will be matched by an equal number of losers.

    I disagree. The difference is in people “losing” after a fair game (the 12 month assessment) instead of after an unfair game (your application went in the bin). Which would you prefer?

  37. Quoted from RM’s post above:

    But surely this applies in any highly selective profession? I pointed out in my previous comment that I can think of no other profession in which those already qualified put in time and effort to train up more than double the number of new entrants they actually need. That’s leaving aside the space issues many chambers would have in expanding their pupillage services so dramatically.

    Most professions operate on a CV and interview selection process. It would be lovely if we could have every candidate with us long enough to get a full idea of exactly how they would perform in the job. But it is simply unrealistic. So is taking on twice – or more – the number of recruits you need for training purposes.

  38. For some reason, the quote disappeared from my earlier post. Here it is:

    3. I could speculate but there is not much use now. You missed the point though. Due to circumstances (not necessarily mine), people are effectively hamstrung as they may not have gone to the best university or obtained the best possible degree. Whilst I agree that a degree result (and to an extent university) is an important measure, it is not conclusive. Actual ability should be the conclusive measure. This is the problem with the current system – only a select few are able to apply for tenancy. These select few were chosen on one or two interviews – maybe a problem to work on. Can you not see how a vast amount of talented people could be missed based on this process? Even talented Oxbridge candidates will be missed with such a process.

    1. Quoted from Ed’s message:

      @Anna,

      The big difference is that the Bar is self-employed.

      I don’t understand why that makes a difference to the point I raised. If anything, it means there is a much greater disincentive to spend significant amounts of time away from your practice to provide training for an unnecessarily large number of recruits.

  39. Ed,

    I understand your perspective entirely and would be incensed if I had spent the best part of £40k in fees and waived salary only to have my application thrown in the bin.

    This seems utterly absurd to me as a layman. However, foregoing another £10k and waiting yet more time does not seem the way forward.

  40. @james c

    You don’t seem to have any better ideas.

    You also don’t seem to have personal knowledge of the situation or issues. But you disagree with at least a large majority of people who do. That’s quite brave, isn’t it?

  41. Not really Ed,

    I can’t see how your idea would achieve anything other than pile more debt on candidates.

    My idea would be to select people before they spent money on training, as happens in every other career.

  42. So you don’t see that it gives the aspiring something real, which is both the perception AND the reality of a fair crack at a career as a Barrister?

  43. Ed,

    I have previously said, to much uproar, that candidates would be better off paying an upfront fee (possibly £5k) for an in-depth selection process rather than the current system, where they have to take the BVC before being considered for pupillage.

    The number of £5k is made up, and I don’t see why candidates should have to pay for their own selection, but it would be much better than the status quo. You could even pre-screen with an aptitude test to weed out the no-hopers before they have parted with their cash.

    That would be, in you words, a ‘fair crack’ and the losers would not waste their time and money on the BVC.

    The only losers under this system would be the BVC providers, who would lose 75% of their customers.

    Am I wrong?

  44. I find myself taking James’ side here, and if only because his approach seems to be the more measured one in terms of its objectives. Perhaps that is because he is not a pupillage applicant and is, therefore, less constrained in his views by immediate self interest.

    The reality is that nothing is going to change for any current applicants, even if they are rich or mad enough to want to hang on in there for the max 5 years with a view to (as one BVC is known to say – unsurprisingly) that they will be successful so long as they keep on trying.

    It is, perhaps, therefore a case of not arguing one’s immediate case but only for what might change for future generations in order that they do not suffer from the same deficiencies in the present system.

  45. @james c,

    an in-depth selection process rather than the current system,
    […]
    That would be, in you (sic) words, a ‘fair crack’

    No, James, it would not. It would still be artificial. If it is not 12 months of pupillage (which is continuous training by the pupil supervisor) with an assessment at the end of it, it will not be the same, and it will not be a fair crack.

    the current system, where they have to take the BVC before being considered for pupillage.

    I regret to inform you that you are wrong on this point. Still, I’m sure you won’t let that shake your confidence.

  46. Some posters seem to be getting a bit carried away with their “it’s not fair” arguments.

    The fact is that there is no such thing as a perfect selection process, other than actually doing the job itself and letting clients and your peers judge your performance over time. Even pupillage is an artificial test – better than an interview, but there will still be talented people turned away at the tenancy decision stage.

    Pupillage committees want to select the ‘best’ candidates, but realistically all they really concerned with is getting pupils who are good enough to be barristers and who compare favourably to pupils recruited by other chambers. There is simply not enough in it for them to devise a selection process comprehensive enough to ensure that they get the absolutely very best candidates.

    The same is true of most industries. The difference with the Bar is that there is no obvious second choice for those who don’t make it, and applicants normally have to spend 2 years or more and upwards of £15k just to be told “no” at the end of it.

    It seems to me that to put the Bar more on a par with other desirable professions there should be some kind of early-stage test to prevent applicants who aren’t suited to the Bar from wasting money chasing a dream.

    To some extent chambers already do this – by giving pupillages a year in advance they let applicants know whether they have a good chance of tenancy and whether it’s worth spanking £15k on the BVC.

    If I hadn’t got a pupillage offer by the end of Summer I’m not sure I’d be willing to part with that cash rather than spending the year doing something else to make myself a more attractive applicant.

    Of course it’s annoying, of course it’s not fair, but everyone goes into the game knowing that this is how it works. I don’t think the Bar can be criticised too much for its selection procedures themselves – they are no worse than in most industries. I do think, as I have said before, that it can be criticised for exercising too much control over the number of new tenants accepted and the rate of its expansion, and for allowing the BVC to be overpriced and available to candidates with little hope of making it.

  47. Ed,

    I am not sure what your point is:my suggestion, which you call ‘artificial’ is the similar to recruitment for most other careers.

    You may prefer to have a system where pupils work for nothing and are then assessed on the basis of their performance. It has its merits, as pupils can demonstrate their abilities. The downside is the extra cost imposed on applicants.

    My view is that this cost is too large and that pretty much the same pupils would be accepted as under the status quo.

    Anonymous,

    I agree entirely-as barristers are self-employed their incentives in recruitment are very different from a partnership.

  48. While I should like to point out that I am not part of the ‘its not fair’ camp with respect to pupillage, or the lack of it, I do have to say that this is exhaustive analysis, to say nothing of diametric opposition that makes me both sad, and very tired. We can all talk as much as we like, for as long as we like; it is down to the General Council of the Bar to grow a pair and sort the whole mess out, from provision of the BVC, to the much vaunted aptitude test thereby weed out those who may think they can do the job, but sadly can’t and have been made the poorer for their dreams.It is time to put the cards on the table. The system needs a kick up the backside – that unfunded pupillage is even bieng vaunted as a possible remedy to the glut of supply that far outstrips demand to is unthinkable – so I would suggest an entirely independant review of the situation ( yes, I KNOW we’ve just had a review, but it could hardly be called independant, now could it?) by people not standing so close to the wood that they cant see the trees.

  49. I hate to say it, but I imagine there would be fewer calls for reform if the people who had been rejected had gained their pupillages. Why this is presented as a moral crusade is beyond me.

  50. Terrible idea to increase the number of barristers. Hard enough as it is for the first few years of tenancy. The prospect of being undercut by barristers who aren’t going to last in practice until such a time as you manage to rise to the top would make the whole thing even more prohibitive.

  51. The notion that one must commence the BVC prior to attaining pupillage is simply unfounded. I have always regarded the choice to do so as a spectacularly misguided decision. If plonking down £15k on a BVC before being considered for pupillage is the fault of anybody, it is the fault of the applicant, for whom my sympathy is limited.

  52. I am with my mate Minx except the Bar isn’t going to grow a pair. The Bar will, as the Wood report showed, continue to obfuscate in the hope that no one will notice it is the Bar who is repsonsible for the design and supervision of a system over which the Bar only now exercises nominal influence when compared to others, i.e., the commercial BVC providers.

    To the extent that the over supply in the system is a fault which needs to be addressed, I venture that it will only come about by market forces when curent undergrads take a long hard look at what lies ahead and decide a punt (because that is all it is for all but a tiny minority) is not worth the risk of time and money. That, in turn, will reduce the custom of the BVC providers and, thereafter, reduce the numbers available for pupillage.

    I do not know how big an audience this site gets from the undergrad law community, but suspect it is not as high as it should be.

  53. Anon, you are, indeed, right in saying that the BVC does not need to be commenced before applying for pupillage. But, as the vast majority of readers here will confirm, the fact is simply not known to aspirants who are not already part of the fraternity (i.e., have relatives at the Bar who can hold their hand) and the majority view, albeit incorrect, is that a pre BVC application for pupillage is not possible. The uni law faculties do not impart such information (and probably because the BSB cannot get its act together and tell them) and the Inns of Court do not because students do not tend to join until they have graduated (I am not sure whether it is, indeed, possible to join as an undergrad in any event). The BVC online application facility (being for the majority the only place where they could realistically be informed in good time) is silent on the issue.

    Of the three London BVC providers, two (no surprise which) are also silent in the way of any careers advice until they have the students’ money for the BVC. It is worth mentioning that City does make some effort in this regard by offering its careers facility to their registered propsective BVC students from the first round. This would, for those students able to act quickly, put them in possession of the facts but the limited window is of limited practical use when it coincdies with the third year undergrad exam season.

    All told, I would reckon very few would know, or be expected to know, what is permitted.

  54. Bar Boy,

    Pupillage before the BVC aren’t common but are possible, I always hear rumours that someone has got a pupillage in my uni, I doubt it though. The number of chambers offering deferred pupillage for people in their 2nd and 3rd years was practically non-existant.

    Unlike magic circle firms that you can apply for with your first year results, some of my mates had training contracts before their exams in the 2nd year.

    I agree that the Bar is partly to blame in its formal presence, individual barristers are happy to tell you it is hard, that the competition is fierce, but still you think you would try at it anyway.

    Re: Pupillage portal, did you know that early on if you typed it into google it wouldn’t actually come up with pupillage.com??

    Even things like scholarships etc are not widely publicised, maybe thats a good thing? (if you want one that is )But as what Odyessus says on his website, you have to do a lot of the digging for yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you… and some careers advise people are completly hopeless… better to find a barrister and talk to them instead.

  55. I agree that many aspirants do not seem aware that they can apply for pupillage pre-BVC. Yet I am at a loss as to why this is the case. It is incorrect to suppose that this information is only available to those hallowed few with connections at the Bar or access to the careers services at BVC providers. This information is readily available from the most cursory of research into pupillage applications. It is incredible that anybody would commence the BVC and pay £15k without bothering to undertake the most elementary of research into applying for pupillage – and then blame the Bar for the consequences of their decision to do so.

    The current system may have its faults, but those faults are distinct from the faults of applicants who simply do not do their research in advance. The conclusion that many arguments about ‘entry to the Bar’ are proffered by such applicants who are simply seeking to duck responsibility for their own lack of pre-BVC research seems irresistible.

    As a footnote, it is not my intention to offend. But for any readers who are in the position of having started the BVC unaware of the possibility of a pre-BVC pupillage application – do you honestly think the level of research you undertook in relation to the Bar prior to spending £15k on the BVC was sensible? If so, why? And if not, why not?

  56. Anon,

    There are some of us out there who , despite being aware of the fact that it was entirely possible to apply for Pupillage whilst at university, were in no position to do so, lacking the necessary requirements considered essential for a Noteworthy CV given that Full Time Employment , Payment of a Mortgage and Running of a Household stood in the way ( and, to some extent, still do). Most in this position are well aware of the risk they take in choosng to complete the BVC.They have considered the risks carefully, and believe that they can rise and fall on their merits.
    Generally, I cannot really believe that people actually go into any form of professional legal education in a manner as blinkered as you suggest. Those that are so blinkered – and I have met quite a few -either drop out at the early stages when they realise that it isnt for them, or slog on, only to fail the course in its entirety. The question therefore of what is to be done regarding the mess that post basic legal education finds itself in remains, set as it is against a glut of graduands and a paucity of pupillage. It is one, I believe, that only the Bar Standards/Council can actually answer.

  57. Lawminx,

    Thank you for your response. I fully concede that I did not have such circumstances in mind when I wrote the above comments.

    However – and this question may well reveal my own ignorance on the matter – do such circumstances necessitate commencement of the BVC prior to applying for pupillage? Can somebody in those circumstances not find other means of employment whilst applying for pupillage, and plonk down their £15k only after pupillage is in the bag? After all, if one secures pupillage whilst on the BVC, my understanding is that one will need to find other employment for the year between the BVC and pupillage in any case. If this is the case – viz. that alternative employment during a pre-BVC pupillage search is a realistic possibility – then I stand by my comments.

    I should clarify that my comments are not aimed at defending the status quo, which I acknowledge is far from perfect. They are fully aimed at discrediting the nonsense that the Bar requires an aspirant to spend £15k before even being considered for pupillage. This would indeed be an unacceptable state of affairs; but thankfully, it is not one which subsists in reality, even if it lingers on in the minds of those seeking to pass the buck for their own irresponsibility.

  58. Anon,

    It may be that commencement of the BVC prior to the completion of pupillage is the only route available for some; other means of employment -particularly in areas related to the law – may be difficult, if not impossible, to get depending on geographical region. While such opportunity may be available in London, Manchester, Birmingham or any other major cities, this would entail a move, and increased expense. In the meantime, time ticks by, the pupillage application timetable is very tight and rather limited to certain periods in the year, and remains a competitive process; there will be no guarantee that, even if you are the very bEST candidate, you will secure pupillage, so it goes on, and on and on – until it is etither probably far too late to do anything about it, or the hapless candidate looses hope even if they are more than capable of doing the job.
    It is not necessarily the case that one has to wait a year prior to pupillage – this may be so for some, but others may be fortunate enough to secure pupillage during the course of the BVC, while others secure pupillage just after the end with both such groups beginning in the September or October following the end of the course.
    I must say that I do not understand the idea that one is REQUIRED to spend £15k before being considered for pupillage; it is an exorbitant sum, but one cannot progress to pupillage without the BVC, which, arguably is not actually worth that ammount of money; ergo, it is access to the course and thereafter its content that become the argument, and is not one of the aspirant’s irresponsibility – most of whom, in my experience, have carefully weighed up the risks of their endeavours, fully know the score, and decide to take the chance in any event.

  59. Lawminx,

    Thank you, once more, for your reply. However, I remain unconvinced that ‘commencement of the BVC prior to the [application for] pupillage is the only route available for some’.

    I do not see the relevance of your point that ‘other means of employment -particularly in areas related to the law – may be difficult, if not impossible, to get depending on geographical region’. This may be because I do not understand your statement that ‘It is not necessarily the case that one has to wait a year prior to pupillage’. Assume one is on the BVC this academic year – 2008-2009. No pupillages commencing October 2009 are listed on pupillages.com. The only listings are for pupillages commencing October 2010 and 2011 (though the latter are admittedly rather thin on the ground). You suggest that (some) students securing pupillage whilst on the BVC will commence pupillage ‘in the September or October following the end of the course.’ Can you show me any sets offering pupillage commencing October 2009? (If my understanding that all pupillages must be advertised on pupillages.com is correct, you will probably be hard-pressed to do so.)

    Consequently, anybody obtaining pupillage this season will be sitting out during 2009-2010. This is precisely my point. Even if one does secure pupillage this season, one will still have to find work 2009-2010 – no matter how difficult or inconvenient this may be – in any case. Given that one will have to find alternative work no matter what, I still see no justification for undertaking the BVC first without pupillage in hand, instead of applying for pupillage whilst employed in alternative work (if necessary) and only commencing the BVC once pupillage is in the bag.

  60. Anon,

    I wonder if this might clarify my point:

    It would follow that anyone wishing to become a barrister would want to gain experience of legally related work; this would give their CV/Application substantial weight in the quest for pupillage, but, geographically this sort of employ is hard to come by. Failing that, most undertake some form of post graduate education, such as an LLM, again with a view to improving their CV’s . This work is undertaken typically either just before but more commonly just after the BVC, when one perhaps two rounds of applicaiton have been unsuccessful.
    It may be that the pupillage listings of 2010 are a bit misleading – the new legal year kicks off much like an academic one, with pupils taken on for the year 2009/10; it is the current crop of pupils categorised as ‘ the class of 2009’. The dates posted by the portal are rather misleading.

    Those sets taking pupils a full year in advance tend to be non pupillage portal sets – and that full year means a commencement date of 2011; this stop gap year is again either filled with legally related work experience or with post graduate education. Rarely, it may be filled with the BVC.
    The BVC, rubbish course that it is with poor value for money, does offer one valuable thing the chance to come into contact with members of the legal profession that would not otherwise be possible, who can act as mentors and be of practical help and honest advice through interaction with ones Inn of Court by means of qualifying sessions -personally I have found this of tremendous benefit. Should I have waited to obtain the advice and help I have so far been so fortunate enough to recieve because I should have waited to take the BVC BEFORE getting pupillage?-
    Hell, No.

  61. Lawminx,

    Thank you for your reply.

    1. Is it honestly your understanding that applying to the ‘pupillage year: 2010’ category implies a pupillage commencing in October 2009? I am genuinely concerned for you if this is the case; I can only advise you to double check your sources and prepare for what may be an unexpected further year out.

    2. I am afraid it is just not true that the BVC offers the chance to come into contact with members of the profession. You can join the Inns of Court as a law student and benefit from what they have to offer without starting the BVC. You can do mini-pupillages pre-BVC and meet barristers who are exceedingly generous with their time and advice. I have yet to start the BVC and I find the amount of information available on entry into the profession staggering. Of course, I have had to take the initiative to look for it myself. None of this is due to having ‘family’ or otherwise in the profession – my parents (bless them) live 10,000km away and do not even know what a barrister does.

  62. Whilst Anon is right in what he says, the further question is why do such an overwhelming number of students commence the BVC without having first secured pupillage ?

    One could blame the student cohort but this does not withstand much scrutiny because the numbers suggest very strongly that the vast majority either do not know, or do but fail to obtain a pupillage pre BVC. (I have only ever met one single student who started the BVC with a pupillage and even he failed when an undergrad and succeeded only when applying a second time whilst a post graduate. Having a father who was a QC probably did no harm neither)

    If one accepts that somewhere in the order of 1,500 students, each with the most vested interest in their own success, cannot be solely responsible, then where else might repsonsibility rest ?

    The Bar, as the Wood Report acknowledged, has disengaged itself from the vocational training stage and, by implication, what happens to aspirants pre pupillage.

    Allied to this is the role and, moreover, the commercial interests, of the BVC providers who have been left to run the show as a result of the Bar’s shortcomings.

    It is not difficult to posit that if the providers only had an intake comprised of pupillage holders, the providers would lose millions in fees and the market would shrink very quickly indeed.

    Much as I favour the view that students should not start the BVC until possessed of a pupillage offer, I really cannot see being made a requirement. Both the Bar and the BVC providers would manage to come up with some barely plausible reason as to why such a policy inhibits free choice etc.

    But that would not stop students withhdoling their BVC enrolment of their own accord. It would, perhaps, take merely one year’s worth of potential applicants (say those currently in their second undergraduate year and representing the rump of the 2010 BVC intake) to do this and the current set up could well come to a grinding halt.

  63. Bar Boy,

    I must confess I simply do not understand why so many students commence the BVC without pupillage in hand.

    The current system is not ideal. But that is not to say that it is reprehensibly unacceptable. The system does not force anybody into taking unacceptable risks just in order to ‘have a shot at pupillage’. (Of course, it does force people into taking significant risks just in order to ‘have a shot at tenancy’. That is irksome enough, but it is the way things have been done for centuries and I do not consider myself qualified to criticise it.) It is perfectly possible to operate the current system in such a way that the extent of the risk undertaken for a shot at pupillage is the BVC deposit. (And for the record, I do think the current state of affairs in relation to the BVC deposit is regrettable – you must pay it in April, but will only find out if you have (OLPAS) pupillage for the relevant year in August.)

    I agree that a formal requirement of a secured pupillage for the commencement of the BVC seems unnecessary (if only because of those foreign students on the BVC who do not seek pupillage in England & Wales). But before complaining about the current system, perhaps it would do us good to remember that all it would take to solve many of the problems which the comments on this post have voiced is sensible, responsible and informed decision-making on the part of applicants. I refuse to believe this is too much to ask of those whose goal it is to join a profession that prides itself on its sensible, responsible and informed decision-making itself.

  64. Anon,

    It is my understanding that some pupillages will begin in October 2009. Thank you for your kind concern, but I dont feel the need to check my soucrces. And as to preparing for eventuality, I am sad to say that the only eventuality I am prepared for is disappointment.

    2; While you have a point with regard to the availability of information and opportunity on offer, in my case this was not, and could not actually be, the case; I worked full time ( shifts, nights, weekends, overtime) whilst pursuing my degree full time and had no time to avail myself of those happy situations available to the more conventional Law Student. My Background is much the same as yours, though I would add that I am a Mature Student, and more inclined to conduct independant research with regard to career aspiraiton in any event, but my point is that, for some, the BVC is an opportunity to conduct those small affairs of networking that would not otherwise be available, for whatever reason.

  65. Please read an excellent article that can be found via a google search called the Economics of Pupillage by Dr. Rupert Macey-Dare.

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=967619

    It puts forward a very good case about how the current minimum funding requirement is anti-competitive; leads to the public paying higher legal costs etc.

    An abstract of the article has been pasted below:

    Abstract:
    This paper explores the economics of pupillage and shows why the imposition of minimum pupillage funding significantly reduces the annual supply of pupillages and skews the choice of pupils chosen towards more privileged candidates. The paper estimates the likely knock-on effects of minimum pupillage funding, in terms of reduced population of practicing barristers, increased barristers’ fees and reduced public welfare.

  66. Funny, I was just speaking to Anthony Clarke MR about this very topic at my solicitors’ admission ceremony just the other day.

    Having received my LLB and LLM from London together with some tasty mini-pupillages and some legal work experience behind me, I didnt think I’d be having a problem getting a pupillage when I signed up for my BVC.

    Everyone knows a geezer barrister who went to Westminster U who rakes it in, but ask yourself when they got called. Those days are over. With so few pupillages on offer, chambers can afford to be as choosy as they like. You need to be an Oxbridge and Harvard grad who worked for the ECHR or on the defence team of some genocidal maniac to get an interview these days.

    Jeez Louise. A 2.1 from the LSE and publications and I got one interview.

    So as I was telling the Master of the Rolls, if you want it, you can get it. Follow Simon’s advice and become a solicitor advocate and transfer back if you like.

    AC MR did not see this as a solution for the Bar. Trouble is, all these big wigs’ hand-wringing has been wholly counter-productive. Instead of improving access to the Bar, all they’ve done is made it so only those chambers who can shell out and play the OLPAS game can offer a pupillage – and only those students who can afford top schools and volunteering need apply.

    Bring back the unfunded pupillage. Id sleep on someone’s couch for 6 months for a chance.

    But no, you all know best. I’m in solicitorville now, so I dont want to hear your crying about us taking your bread and butter advocacy away.

    Hey pal: we dont owe you a living.

  67. A non-practicing Barrister is challenging the Bar Council in the Employment Tribunal over compulsory funding of pupillages rule. The Claimant alleges Indirect Race Discrimination against the Bar Council. The Claimant is Black African!
    Venue : London Central Employment Tribunal

    Hearing Dates: 26-28 August 2009

  68. I can see the argument but I don’t buy it. It involves the assertion that it is easier for white people to get pupillage and thus unfunded pupillage is indirectly discriminatory.

    The problems seem to me to be these:
    – I don’t think it is easier for white people to get pupillage. If that was right then the proper remedy is a series of direct discrimination actions.
    – If that is wrong then unfunded pupillage is also likely to unduly benefit white people, thereby providing little or no benefit to black people.
    – The only way it works is to suggest that some Chambers will provide unfunded pupillages, but not funded ones and that such Chambers are likely to be more sympathetic to black people. If that is so then that is also discriminatory. Plus which the BSB has to license Chambers to take pupils and is unlikely to authorise only unfunded pupillage providers because that is a bit too close to asking what the pupil can give the Chambers rather than the other way around.

    I suspect that Mr Opfu will lose, but you never know.

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