The last few posts have dealt with the help the Bar should give applicants, the way in which applicants should be assessed, the faults of the current system and the merits of unfunded pupillage.
Unsurprisingly, there is little consensus – although it would be fascinating to know the ages of those asserting that ever more sophisticated and expensive systems will improve matters against those saying that ultimately good interviewers can judge the right candidate.
There is, however, consensus about 2 things. Firstly, the current system isn’t working. Secondly, knowing whether one had a pupillage before starting the BVC would be a good thing.
As far as the first point is concerned that is rather taken as a given. I acknowledge that the system benefits the providers at the expense of the students, but repeat that no one forces students to take the BVC. The points made about research and evaluation of your own chances are valid and the pressure to change the BVC is dissipated if comments appear to be as much self-interested whining as genuine concern. On the blog it’ s easy – I allow anonymity and I have no power to change anything. If I were looking to seriously evaluate some of the comments below, I would insist on knowing what chance the commentator has of pupillage before I took the comment on board.
There is a tendency for two issues to be wrapped up together when people talk about the BVC. The first is what the BVC should teach. My own preference is for an approach which asks the profession what those coming out of University lack by way of skills and knowledge. The BVC should fill the gap – unless it appears that the Universities are not delivering on key areas. The second is how the students who have completed the BVC are selected for pupillage. One option might be to make the BVC much, much, harder. Those graduating from it would then have an imprimateur which would stand them in good stead – and much reduced competition. Just as University results make a huge difference to prospects, so too would the BVC grade (at present it barely matters). Of course, the risk of wasting money would be sharpley increased, but I wonder how long that would last. Once word got round that you may actually fail the BVC, I have a hunch that not so many people would apply to do it.
As to the second matter, I don’t know when the system slipped. When I was called, pupillage before the BVC or to start the year the BVC finished was the norm. Now the pupillages awarded tend to be for the September or October the year after the BVC finishes, leaving a number of people with a year to fill. As many of you have pointed out, it also leaves the gamble as to whether to do the BVC to be made without any idea of your chances.
I think the Bar should do something about that. However, the difficulty is that in order to interview BVC and pre-BVC candidates without preferring the former one would have to strip out of the interviews anything covered by the BVC but not at University. That renders the question of what the BVC teaches either irrelevant or – depending on your point of view – so taken for granted that it isn’t worth asking questions about. That was, of course, one of the complaints about the old system and is one of the reasons why I am an abolitionist. A practical way of achieving this, however, would be to move the interview period back to September, for pupillages the next September. Of course, that may be unnecessary if the BVC were made more difficult. The BVC would then add real value and people may not want to apply for pupillage until they knew their chances. Moreover Chambers would, perhaps, not want to risk being left without a pupil. But it may be that a smaller cadre of potential pupils would not mind filling in a year.
As to interview techniques, the discussion in the posts below is exhaustive – or has exhausted me. I don’t know a single barrister who doesn’t do the best they can. I believe that we can learn more about how to interview effectively. I don’t believe that there is an effective replacement for a decent interview by the people actually doing the looking.