Routes to the Bar


The powers that be are currently considering the operation of the pupillage portal. Your comments will be passed on.


  • Does the portal assist equal opportunities?
  • Do you think the redesigned form is fit for purpose. If not, why not?
  • What are your fears about using the system?
  • Do any of you have a better idea about how to design the form and the recruitment procedure. This is not a question about the BVC. It is focussed on the issue of a central application house.

People are actually listening to you. I hope you think it worthwhile to make a contribution. I will respect anonymity, but if you say something particularly telling it may help if you provide me with an email address so that I can contact you. This need not reveal your true identity.

Thank you.

78 thoughts on “Help

  1. This year was my first applying for pupillage. What follows in no way compares this Pupillage Portal to the old OLPAS system.

    The application system is fundamentally flawed in that it invites candidates to select target sets. Until this is altered then any improvements in the efficiency of the form or questions asked amounts only to pointless, impotent tinkering around the edge (much like the proposed aptitude test, in fact). Let’s grasp the nettle while it’s still there to be grasped.

    Under the current system I select twelve sets from the hundreds listed based on some research that cannot possibly inform me sufficiently about what any one chambers is actually like. This is not the fault of chambers: as a collection of self-employed individuals living in a relatively small and impenetrable bubble the only way to find out whether I would enjoy their pupillage would be to spend time with them, and this is simply not practical for every candidate at every set. So instead we all play this lottery, half informed by lack-lustre in-house websites and a couple of decent independent directories. We do this in a culture where pupillage anywhere is all-important and no guarantor of a tenancy at that same place.

    I would prefer to use the portal to build up my profile in much the same as is already catered for. I would specify a hierarchy of the areas of law I was interested in, why, and what I can offer in each area. I would select the geographical regions I was prepared to work in. I would specify the minimum amount I was willing to be bought for (above a preset threshold).

    I propose a model that removes the artificial choices currently on offer. Chambers would be presented with a bank of candidates from which to select interviewees. A consideration period between close of applications and sending invitations would exist as a buffer zone to ensure all chambers have a fair time to consider applicants. No candidate could accept invitations from more than twelve sets, and acceptances would need to be made in a set period of time. By an iterative process of acceptance or rejection of a chamber’s invitations to interview, the less attractive candidates to sets will filter down to the less attractive chambers from a pupil’s point of view. All would find their level.

    This is, after all, how the modelling industry has worked for years, very successfully too. And at the end of the day is there really any difference between them and us?

  2. With this being my first year, I have no knowledge of whatever was said regarding the old OLPAS system but, from what SMQC states, is it correct to infer that the change from OLPAS to PP was undertaken without the BSB first undertaking a survey of users of the kind which is now being suggested here ?

  3. Simon,

    From a technical standpoint, the portal is highly flawed.

    1. In order to apply to any set, you must choose one set first, and send off your application to that set. Only once you have done this can you apply to the other 11. I don’t think (and I couldn’t find) any way of changing this first choice once you had selected it. This is problematic as for example I chose a set as a test as I wasn’t aware of how the site worked when I began. I therefore had to send off an application to a set I didn’t want to apply to (and then withdraw it) in order to apply to the ones I did want.

    2. The Bar Council are still in denial about the popularity of the bar as a career path for students. This is reflected in the lack of investment in the kind of bandwidth needed to cope with the traffic which eclipsed the site the night before the deadline, the day of the original deadline, and the new deadline. In fact, those people who were still unable to connect to the site during those times risk being prevented from their applications being considered because the site went down.

    3. The manner in which users select sets to apply to is cumbersome and awkward. I would suggest that Chambers do not need blurb profiles on the portal- candidates should do their research prior to application and should pick sets by name/location/types of pupillage offered only. This is not show and tell. This could be presented in a much more simple fashion.

    4. I did not find the search function for sets to be very intuitive to use- which should be the main aim of any application site.

    5. I did like some of the content of the application form, but this needs redesign as save points, especially on the pages where there is a lot of answer writing to be done, should be more frequent so as not to lose information unnecessarily.

    6. I can see that the Bar Council have tried, and they have spent tens of thousands. But what was needed was a similar system to CVMAIL which law firms use. As I understand it, CVMAIL is a central portal which can be used both by firms and applicants. Each firm uploads its particular information and has the option to customise its form for applicants applying to it. There is absolutely no reason why chambers cannot do this also, and then they can tailor the olpas form so as to cater to issues important to them. The applicant logs into a central system, chooses the firm to apply to, and is directed to the firm’s form. This is a much more simple method of application, even if it is just as time consuming, but would lead to a better quality of application.

    7. This year, the form was modifiable after the first application but only for certain fields which had to be refilled to be tailored to each chambers. A better way of doing this is what the Portal has attempted to do by saving general information and allowing changes in other parts of the form per application. However, what is made more cumbersome is that one has to go back through the awful search to find the firm for applications 2-12.

    8. The portal is unfortunately a triumph of style over substance. And I don’t think that the developers should shoulder all of the blame for that, I feel that perhaps there is a lack of understanding about several key points.

    a. The portal is a massive resource, badly supported, which is in essence only a resource for 4-500 jobs in total. So I doubt whether it meets any cost benefit ratio.

    b. It also only supports 12 applications per year which is the bar council regulation. I appreciate that chambers are groups of self employed people. I appreciate that there is concern that there is not enough work at the bar to go round. But I also appreciate that some of the fees paid by students who come out of the 50% who never get an interview go to the bar council. So I think 12 is too restrictive a number, especially to justify the spend on the portal, and in general. 20 might be a fairer number of applications per year if bar student numbers are whittled down.

    And lastly…

    The bar must embrace technology more enthusiastically if it is to keep up with similar professions. There are pockets of IT proficiency, and some chambers are really advanced in how they are using technology. But this message must permeate throughout the bar, or the lag will drive business to other fora.

  4. I think Andy’s idea is absolutely spot-on. That is exactly how things should be done.

    Re lawandlife’s final point, about IT proficiency and the Bar, I think this needs a big strategic push from everyone. I believe there are huge, genuine efficiencies to be had easily within the legal system, and I am sure they will be in unexpected places. Ironically, I would be able to make a positive difference since I know a little about both law and IT. Will anything happen? That “remains to be seen”. I am not convinced that the Bar has the confidence in its ability to take the lead.

  5. I’m very much in agreement with the views expressed by others concerning the ICT message. Whilst I acknowledge that the majority of the big noises at the Bar were born into a very different culture, and I accept that they might not personally be expected to understand modern technologies, and their practical applications, there is no reason why they should not do the same as other sectors have done for a decade or more, and call in their young to earn their keep over the summer holidays. The youngsters get to learn the “business” and the business gets the benefit of the knowledge and new ideas etc.

    What is remarkable in this regard is that the Bar is unique in having an annual talent pool which gets Called and then has no proper job. Anyone who was, perhaps, a bit more attuned to the real world, would take ready advantage and give short term employment to any number of the pupillage seekers and put them to good use in the Inns and in Chambers.

  6. I have lots to say on the form, but I would write a dissertation so I will desist.
    Suffice to say I don’t think it is any better than it was, save for allowing a more tailored application, which is good for applicants with mixed interests.

    I would completely overhall the application system and use the portal in the same way I perceive clearing will theoretically be used. IE the candidate uploads their application on to a database and chambers come to them.

    The application would be simple.

    1. There would be a general detail form with tick box selections where candidates would pick the area of law they want, location etc.

    2. Candidates would then be asked to load up their CV. It would not have a format but would be a maximum of 2 pages and contain all the specific information education/qualifications, work experience, membership, hobbies etc. Younger candidates would have a lengthier education section, listing A levels etc, older candidates would have longer experience sections etc.

    3. There would then be 3 short (150 -200 word) essay questions eg Why the bar, what area of law and why, a question about a current topic etc.

    I realise this means that chambers would have to trawl through 5000 applications so there would have to be a degree of sophistication built into a search ie allow candidates to tick certain traits of their desired set in section 1?

    Failing that if an application form has to be used then the Lamb Building application is a pretty fine template. Whoever wrote that is a genius – it is not like any other application and among my peers we all believe it is the most friendly and fairest application form of any set.

  7. Simon Brashaw

    Your point 1 is actually not correct (which doesnt help you now, and is symptomatic of the fact there were no guidelines!) you just had to search for another set, click apply and the new set replaced the old, with all the data entered thus far saved. I changed my initial choice three times.

    I vthink this is symptomatic of the fact that no information on use of the portal was available, or even the fact that it was changing, before it did. For example a lot of bloggers filled in clearing as they thought they had to, before the deadline (and i had a heart in mouth moment where I thought I had missed out), again because it must not have been clear.

    If nothing else, going forward proper information should be available.


  8. … Is the whole idea of a central clearing process, with all its pitfalls ( rubbish launch, perpetual system crashes0 actually worth the time effort and expenditure to begin with? Is there anything wrong with postal applications to chambers, throughout the year, rather than with one utterly FRANTIC season, pressurising pupillage committees to conform with a short sharp and snappy timetable while stressing out would be pupils who have to conduct their applications as if it were a military campaign? Whats wrong with a first come first served basis for application, thereafter opening out to a proper and central clearing if pupillages aren’t filled after chambers own closing deadline, rather than the joke ‘clearing ‘would presently seem to be?-
    Ho Hum………

  9. just read the minx – do away with synchronised start of pupillages. let chambers decide when they are ready for a pupil, how many and on what basis.
    sets should be able to do recruitment their way. just as we compete for them, they compete for (some of) us.

  10. My thoughts:

    1. The form as a whole seemed to be very similar indeed to the central BVC application form which most of us submitted only about a month or so ago. Could these forms be conflated, or perhaps information from the latter (e.g. about A-levels taken) be carried over?

    2. I disliked the ‘you must select one set before filling out the form’ option: maybe it’s just me, but I made the decision of which sets to apply very late in the day. Because of this, I didn’t actually get to see the application form itself until I made this choice – and didn’t realise, for example, that the ‘pupillage questionnaire’ section had been expanded from a single personal statement.

    3. Biggest complaint: almost all the questions on the pupillage questionnaire were just variations on ‘Why do you want to be a Barrister?’ ‘No, really, why?’. The last two questions in particular were hard to distinguish.

    4. On the plus side, the portal is a million times better than some of the non-OLPAS application forms I saw. Crown Office was the worst: imagine someone attempting a clever, clickable box form who meanwhile still thinks that indentation is achieved by just hitting the space bar over and over again… I have never had actual nightmares about a Word document before.

  11. @R: you are so right, those last two questions were ridiculously similar. I remember reacting in a fairly sweary and enraged manner when I first saw them.

    I suspect that the more discursive questions are by the by if you don’t have very good academic qualifications and only come into play when they have several applicants with similar qualifications.

    That’s my relatively uninformed view, though, and I’d be interested to hear what more experienced voices have to say.

    In general, it wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. A real nightmare scenario would be different sets having various application forms.

    CV + covering letter would be my choice, although I suspect the diversity police would have something to say about that, since it wouldn’t allow you the space to state that you’re a pan-ethnic, one-legged, transgender cyborg, none of whose family ever went to university.

  12. @lurker – even if you COULD say that you are a pan ethnic one legged transgendered cyborg none of whose family ever went to university, I suspect it wouldnt make much of a difference in any event.

  13. Some excellent points have been raised by all – particularly on the technological aspects: using the Portal is not a very fun experience. Here’s my five pennies:

    1. After you send your first application, most of the form becomes ‘locked’. If you find a typo in the section about mini-pupillages, this is unbelieving soul-destroying because there is nothing you can do except send out a less than perfect form 11 more times.

    2. The ‘Legal Experience’ section (i.e. mini-pupillage bit) had a box for ‘achievements or responsibilities’. Most of the minis I did, I simply ‘observed’ – you’re not meant to have an responsibilities. And is it an achievement to say that “I saw a trial at Inner London Crown Court”?

    3. The combined length of the ‘Pupillage Questionnaire’ boxes is STAGGERING. 350 x 7 + 500 = 2950 words! It used to be 3 x 150 = 450 words. It is 6.5 times the amount!
    When I went to a set for an open day and when I told the head of their pupillage committee her jaw dropped.
    And whilst we know brevity is a virtue, it is difficult to lightly skip over the boxes or even – dare I say it- leave one out.

    4. Most worryingly, is the lack of consultation with chambers about the changes. Most of them don’t have a clue it’s changed and will get a nasty surprise when 400+ ENORMOUS forms land on their desks. These are busy practitioners and they will only have the time to skim the form – whatever they say to the contrary.

    5. If there had been better consultation with chambers we wouldn’t have had to spend ages considering answers to moronic questions like “What do you think you will contribute to chambers?” which is hardly the most incisive question.

  14. I completely agree with the two previous suggestions of either:
    1 – Using CVMail which means chambers can create their own application forms, or
    2 – Go back to good old CV and cover letter.

    I would also like to highlight the completely ridiculous choice of month to set the application season. The vast majority of candiadates are still in education and will be revising for their final year exams or BVC assessments. In a proffession that prizes academic acheivement so highly, it becomes a question of either working yourself to death, or letting one slip.

    Would it really be that difficult to move it back a month or so? Or as someone else has suggested let chambers advertise when they want.

    On another note, I would be completely happy for the Bar to once again offer unpaid pupillages.

  15. To reiterate my point 5 above, though the Pupillage Portal is undoubtedly flawed, I found some of the homemade application forms used by non-OLPAS sets to be vastly more grating.

    Perhaps the BSB could come up with a ‘precedent’ or template non-OLPAS application form for chambers to use. Chambers would be able to insert their own text (e.g. the specific questions they want to ask which aren’t on the OLPAS form) into a nice, neat Word document, rather than one that goes haywire as soon as you start typing into it, with your text randomly changing font, or pushing other parts of the document onto new pages, or indenting weirdly, etc.

  16. Charon,

    Only that it’s an idiot tax on those willing to pay for something they can get for free at the Bar Council website. It is a very poorly made site that appears to offer no way of browsing positions, at least as a non-member (makes sense I guess), which is a shame as it could serve as a salutary warning for which sets not to give a cut of your earnings to.

  17. @R
    I agree completely, especially about being able to import your education etc. from the BVC application system, since it was obviously designed by the same people. It would be nice if it stored your application from year to year so that if you do have to apply again, the basic info is still available and you don’t have to re-type.

    I also agree that the pupillage questionnaire questions were occasionally hard to differentiate and didn’t seem to be particularly useful in helping sets distinguish candidates. There was also a lot of overlap with different sections asking about responsible positions held and areas of extra curricular activities. If you completed the form over several days it was hard not to accidentally repeat yourself or leave things out that you were sure you had already put in a different section.

    I also agree with several posters that the whole way you selected chambers was counter intuitive. It would have been better to have an interface like the BVC where you select all the providers you want to apply for on the same page and then can write a short message to each about why you want to apply there.

    I am amazed to read other posters’ comments that the changes were not consulted on to chambers, but maybe they will demand changes next year when they gets lots of ridiculously long applications. I wasn’t close to the word limit on most of my questions (except the why do you want to be a barrister one and the one about how my skills suit me to being a barrister).

    I also think the form is not wildly friendly to mature applicants. It’s hard anyway to figure out how much emphasis to give to university achievements over a decade ago, but the form doesn’t make it any easier!

  18. As for equal opportunities, it has always seemed to me that the biggest inequality caused by OLPAS / the Portal is that it privileges a very orthodox type of candidate: straight through the system, consistently strong academics and scholarships, throw in a bit of work experience and extra-curricular stuff, maybe a year of legally relevant work post-BVC. Perhaps this is because these are the candidates that chambers are looking for and need; but I feel it is relevant that the Portal may make it harder for non-standard candidates to present themselves.

    For example, what does someone who has been an accountant for ten years write under ‘positions of responsibility’, especially if their only two responsibilities through that time have been work and family? Of course, they can invent something that will fit. But it is ultimately a question aimed at capable students; it adds to their applications (‘look, I can combine academic success with other interests’) but may detract from those made by others (‘umm… best make up some twaddle to go here’). The powers that be should consider whether a standardised form – even when augmented with customisable bits – inevitably displays a status quo bias through the general questions which it asks everyone to answer.

    I venture to add, however, that problems over equal opportunities and access to the profession may be problems which a website alone cannot cure. One of my difficulties, for example, is that although I did well at school, it was a state school and just didn’t give out any scholarships. The Portal deadline comes a few weeks before my Inn’s scholarships are announced. So, for a straight-through-the-system candidate, private education buys an advantage as far as that box is concerned, even though there is nothing in the slightest bit wrong with having a ‘scholarships’ box.

    Would it be too much to ask to co-ordinate between Portal and Inns? And, for that matter, between Portal and BVC providers, as others have pointed out? And possibly even with chambers? All of these people are asking essentially the same question, i.e. how to identify good candidates. They should be able to come to a fair degree of consensus about what is relevant to that, albeit with scope to ask their own specialised questions as needs be (in other words, a bespoke CVmail). If a centralised clearing house is worth having, it should surely be designed to maximise any efficiency gains which can come from centralisation.

  19. Like Wednesbury, I was caught by the spelling mistake being locked.

    Just how do you spell Barristor?

    Apart from that, I quite liked the experience. It seemed to be just another step to take, fill it out as advised, click to submit, sit and wait.

    With such a wide diversity of potential pupils applying, how on earth can anyone find a perfect solution that suits everyone? If it works, if interviews are granted, if pupils are employed, then whats the problem?

    You might not like the process, but nothing in life is perfect, except maybe Law Minx.

    Some people may want to make it as easy to fill out as an MP’s expenses form, but come on guys, you want to be a Barristor don’t you? show you are worth it, make some damn effort in life, stop moaning and deal with what has to be dealt with. Unless when you get there you only want easy clients with easy cases that are all innocent and you don’t have to prepare.


    ps I do really know how to spell Barisster.

  20. The (absurd) way to fix an error discovered after an application had already been made was to withdraw all applications made so far and set up a new account using a new email address and start again from scratch (as the helpful chap at the website helpdesk callcentre informed me).

    It would have been much more helpful to have been able to input all 12 chambers and all 12 sets of answers into the system at once, so as to make it possible to flick between them and check them all at once, rather than going through an error-inducing succession of 12 ‘copy, paste and submit’ exercises.

    It seems to me that, faced with extended written sections of ~3000 words, chambers will just be encouraged to base their initial thinning-out selections on headline points (probably university and degree class). Probably bad for broadening access and getting away from the Oxbridge first stereotypes.

    Also, having to say something good in 150-200 words can be much tougher, therefore more useful for chambers seeking to sort the gems from the dross.

  21. I also got caught out by the “generic” bits of the form locking themselves after one application. Not because I’d mis-spelled “barrister”, as Swiss Tony conjectured, or made any other typo, but because the first chambers I chose to apply to were a set where I’d previously done a mini-pupillage. Thinking I was being clever, I mentioned this in the requisite box, planning to do the same when I applied to the other places where I’d done minis; “I had a mini-pupillage with chambers N months ago, it was very rewarding; I shadowed counsel X who was junior counsel during a month-long murder trial, helped counsel Y with some research on a simple tort case, blah blah blah”, submit.

    Instead, that bit is one of those which is locked forever, so there was no choice but to submit the form to 11 other sets who now have the pleasure of reading a nonsensical bit in the form talking about how rewarding it was doing a mini-pupillage at a totally different set.

    The crowning turd in the water pipe is that ont only will those 11 sets immediately think “cuh, he’s just pasted that in carelessly from applications to other chambers, what a chancer”, but it also seems highly unlikely that the chambers it DOES actually refer to will note the specific reference to them, know the form locked itself after the first application, and thus infer that they were my first choice. Damn and blast.

  22. I have not had time to thoroughly peruse the other comments here, so apologies for undoubted repetition. I will try to keep my thoughts brief an organised.

    1) The logon system. This is clearly counter intuitive. Registration should be undoubtedly the first step. It should be a clear section of the first page, and be registration BY NAME, attached to an email address and defining characteristics of the person. To attach registration to an email address allows potential abuse; simply re-register and start again. In theory one can either register for more than 12 pupillages (clearly dishonest), of simply choose to withdraw from all 12 to re-register and start again if one discovers a mistake in one’s generic application sections (again dishonest, but still within the 12 application limit).

    2) Layout in general. I do not like the design – the layout is far from aesthetic, nor is the site design clear. I see the clear links to the BVC application in the overall design, but it is executed with a lack of clarity and grace. Considering the cost put into the system, hire a website designer who can make the visual interface less grating.

    3) Single application at a time. Again, I find many elements of this unsatisfactory and do not make for the best application. The average applicant will want to make 12 applications so as not to squander the opportunity. Thus I would propose that

    A) all 12 applications can be edited in tandem with one another. I.E one has twelve (clearly separated, for instance when each application is selected the page contains a “frozen pain” similar to those in Excel containing the chambers name) applications running in tandem. All sections for each new application should be BLANK. If one seeks to copy and paste from a previous application, then that is the applicants choice. Having a blank application form prevents any accidental failure to change one section when sending to another chambers. In regards to the “locked” sections; this can be problematic where someone has a very wide range of experiences and wishes to tailor them to a particular set. It makes sense to allow optional changes; these sections would be carried over by default, but not “locked”.

    B) All 12 applications are not “submitted” until the deadline. This allows each user to edit any section of any application at any time up until the deadline. Individual applications may be “locked” (i.e. submitted) if the applicant so chooses, but this is not a requirement. Instead the system automatically submits all applications at the deadline. This will eliminate the frustration of being stuck on single applications waiting for them to submit in the face of multiple errors due to site overuse close to the deadline.

    C)If the current single application system is kept then the following changes: Each new application (or at least, the currently changeable questions) should be BLANK as suggested above. If not blank, then each box should be highlighted to illustrate it remains unedited from previous chambers, which is either accepted or cleared depending on user preference.

    4) The current questions. In general, most of the questions are acceptable. However, I feel the lengths of maximum answers are perhaps too great. The form becomes too time consuming. I would amalgamate the “area” and “type of practice” into a single, longer question for greater flexibility. In some situations there will be great overlap, or at least significant difficulty in fleshing out (in a productive manner at least) both questions adequately.

    5) ALL CHAMBERS should be required to provide a thorough amount of information about pupillage. Whilst some do this superbly, others fail almost totally to provide adequate information. All information should be readily available on-line, as the PP is itself a child of the web. Chambers that fail to do so should be subject to a penalty of some form.

    6) On the matter of equal opportunities: the from provides the capacity for an insight into applicants. What MUST be recorded is which applicants are successful in pupillage. More importantly, this must be actually reported by on a yearly basis, that is available and always up to date.

    7) Clearing: Adjust the questions so that they are more accurate to the situation. For instance, keeping the “why this chambers” questions if frankly, lazy. The question should be retitled to encompass the fact that it is clearing. I.E. what characteristics are you looking for in a set? This is a more generic (and therefore applicable) question for the clearing process. The separation of “area” and “practice” questions is compounded in clearing; I would submit it is more important they are amalgamated in this part of the form.

    8) Guidance: The guidance section needs to be written and (crucially) tested against people with no computer literacy. This applies to the website itself. The testing ground should NOT be the application round. A ‘beta’ should be made available for all chambers/a selective number of prospective applicants to test and offer constructive feedback.

    9) Disseminate information. I attended the national pupillage fair in London which coincided with the launch of the new site. I spoke to a number of chambers who had no idea of the changes. I also questioned someone from the Bar Council who (amazingly) knew nothing of it.

    The changes I have proposed would make the system more appropriate for those with less computer literacy as well as generally more clear.

  23. 1) I felt uncomfortable detailing what type of school I attended. I feel that the more of these types of questions which are asked could have a negative impact upon equal opportunities. Near total anonymity would work – perhaps keep the name of the candidate hidden until after interviews have been decided upon and identify forms though a numercial ID.

    2) The length of the questions are more appropriate. 150 words was simply not enough.

    From a userbility perspective the site was not that easy to navigate. Numerous suggestions could be made, but an obvious one is the layout -it is awkward and cluttered. The page should be larger on the screen for a start and the navigation bar down the side should remain the same no matter which page you access.

    The fact that there is such a great deal of guidance suggests that the process is unclear. Even with the guidance I didn’t know when the clearing date for submission was, or indeed what was really involved in clearing.

    Another point is that the information about each set listed the areas of law they did using the old A,C,D,E, etc code and yet this wasn’t explained anywhere else on the site. Or not that I could find at least.

    I see no reason why part of the form was locked and part was not.

    The legal experiences part was dumbed down, and did not this year as for lessons learned. Last year this caught many people out and was probably a good way of distinguishing between those who read the question and those who did not.

    Overall, the site was fit for purpose but it could certainly be alot better. I wonder whether the changes were consulted upon with students. If not, they should have been and should be in the future. Some students/users should be invited to a working group.

    3) I did not have any fears in using the form. Perhaps, as stated above, I felt uncomfortable about stating what type of school I went to. I don’t know if this information goes to Chambers, but if it does I don’t see why it is needed. I would be surprised if this complied with the Data Protection Act?

    4) A standardised form is the best way of recruiting. It levels the playing field and should ensure equality. An online system is also best. The form would be good if it was more user friendly and functioned without mishaps.

  24. @Pupilpedia – why didn’t you just leave the equal opportunities bit blank if you felt uncomfortable?

    I left it, as I didn’t see how it would help my applications.

    If this makes me a less attractive candidate then so be it, I’ll fill it in next year if it turns out to matter.

    @LawMinx – apologies for the offence (a few days ago); needless to say, none was intended.

  25. the applications are opening again for 2 weekends to allow futher applications. Way to bog down the already f*cked system.

  26. Problem 1: The form was too wordy. In the end I decided that chambers didn’t want to waste time reading box after box so I ended up only writing c.100-140 words in each. I’m not sure this was wise, but there’s only so many things you can say which aren’t cliched.

    Solution 1: Why not cut it down to the simple stuff: why barrister, why would you be good at it, why us? Everything else can be saved for interview, if they like your form enough.

    Problem 2: The academic section was OK – but again, it went on a bit. Do Chambers really want to know that I got a B in PE GCSE but only managed a C in Drama?

    Solution 2: Why not have just one line with the number of subjects at each grade? Same with your degree and professional qualifications. This would mean less waffle, and better-presented stats.

    Problem 3: Poor design and spelling. On the equal opportunities section, one of the options was “hetrosexual”. The fact I studied a “Liberal Arts” degree is also new to me. Who exactly wrote and checked the form – an American? It doesn’t give a good impression when there are obvious mistakes like this.

    Solution 3: The form should be proof-read and less dogmatic.

    Problem 4: Reopening the site after the 30 April deadline was unfair on those who had got their applications done on time. We all have degrees/work/revision/family commitments, but submitting a form in good time should be common sense.

    Solution 4: Rolling applications. Open the Portal on 1 April. Start accepting applications from 1 April. End 30 April. It would promote efficiency. Get your form submitted early to get a better chance of interview (and improve your personal organisation skills). If you snooze, you lose.

  27. frap sim
    while agreeing with many of your ideas, solution 4 strikes me as madness. why should being able to get your application in close to april 1 be a virtue? it is of no help to chambers who surely will wait until closing to pick the best-looking applicants anyway. why would they want to miss somebody good who applied at the end of the month? they will schedule interviews in a group anyway, so there is no benefit to them administratively. we are trying to move away from the current absurdity of applicants running round like headless chickens.

    re-opening after 30 april created minimal unfairness to those who (like me) had already submitted. failure to re-open would have potentially screwed the career of people who legitimately believed they had a chance to submit on the last morning and were denied by the utter inability of the system to cope with the numbers. leaves on the line i’m afraid…
    the law aims to work along ‘fair just and reasonable’ lines rather than mindless adherence to the letter of a law. the application process should seek to mirror that.

  28. simply wondered

    Ok, my solution was fuelled by grumpiness, and you’re right to pick at it. In retrospect perhaps it would do more harm than good. Some applicants would prepare their forms beforehand and then submit as soon as the window opened. This could be unfair on those who truly hadn’t had the opportunity to research chambers.

    Then again, good candidates would have thought about this already. Chambers could start their decision-making process earlier and pick off those candidates who made the effort to get clued-up.

    My problem remains… what’s the point of a deadline if it’s not final? The certainty of a deadline should encourage applicants to manage their time. Unless chambers refuse to consider applicants who will be applying late, re-opening means my forward-planning counts for nothing. I’m annoyed about this. It was a level playing field, and now, it seems to me that it’s not.

    I don’t think the fair, just and reasonable approach applies here. Or perhaps it does, but it still doesn’t avail the latecomers. Most people knew – or reasonably ought to have known – about the Pupillage Portal game… when it starts, how it works and when it ends. It’s the same date every year, and it’s publicised everywhere, which is fair. It’s a deadline, not a start-time, that’s just common-sense.

    When the whistle blows for full-time, that’s that. It’s not fair, just and reasonable to allow others to carry on playing.

  29. Well, Frap Sim, I’ll put you a different case.

    I deliberately left my application late until the last days of the window, because I work for a firm of solicitors and I found I was often picking up new and relevant things to add to my application form; it would be pointlessly contrary to submit my application on day 1, knowing that I was then due to attend an interesting court hearing on day 2, attend a lecture on a relevant topic on day 8, have a conference with counsel from Chambers X on day 20 and so on. That wouldn’t make me “well-prepared”, it would make me an idiot.

    Also, my home Internet connection isn’t to be trusted (it’s dropped once already during me writing this response), and so I drafted up my answers in Word and then did all the actual Pupillage Portal form submission bits at work, either first thing in the morning or after office hours in the evening. I left the actual submission until the last day – wisely, as it happened, because at the start of the week I got to do something I’d never done before, and could amend one of my answers accordingly.

    Now, as it turns out, the Portal site was in fact working well enough early on the morning of the deadline for me to submit my applications in time that morning (with a few refreshes of timed-out pages), but if it hadn’t worked, I’d have been sorely irritated that I’d adhered to the published deadline only to find out it was fictitious.

    Your “whistle” analogy is flawed, unless the whistle blew after day one. Play to the whistle, but make sure it goes after 90 minutes, not 83. Would you have agreed if your LLB coursework submission box was actually locked six hours before deadline, with the argument that all the properly organised students had already had ample time to finish their work?

  30. nixon radio, this detracts from the main points I initially raised, because the main issues about Pupillage Portal are its poor design, structure, and wordiness. But anyway…

    If I have to submit coursework by 12pm on a specified date, which is known weeks if not months in advance, on a course with 200 students, I’d be a numpty to turn up at 11.50am and expect things to turn out OK.

    A deadline should be just that. It should be final. You don’t plan to meet it, you beat it. You expect there to be hiccups, but you make sure your end is OK. You factor in the improbable, and you make sure you get things done (as you say you did).

    Imagine… you’re in your second six at a set in London. (The precise facts are somewhat immaterial.) You have your first trial on Monday. You’ve spent ages preparing it. You’re trying your best to impress because you so desperately want tenancy, and you don’t want anything to go wrong. Slight issue: it’s listed for 10AM at the county court in Preston. Do you:

    a) Take the 7AM train from King’s Cross, change at Manchester, arrive at 9.45, and run to court from the station since it’s only 13 mins away?

    b) Take the 6AM train from King’s Cross which involves a couple of changes but is almost certain to get you there around 9.30? You can even afford to get a taxi to court, since you have quite a heavy bag with your papers and courtgear.

    c) Sack any plans for your Sunday evening, wake up at 4AM on Monday, take the 5.30 train, being 100% guaranteed to get to Preston station by 8AM? This way you’ll get a decent breakfast, have a chance to rifle through your papers, and you might even be able to meet your client before the hearing.

    d) Use your common sense and get there the night before. (That’s the 4pm Sunday train.) It’ll hurt your pocket – a lot… too much, considering Chambers won’t be paying your expenses – and an overnight stay in Preston isn’t your ideal cup of tea.

    As I’ve said, good applicants – with the same commitments on their time as everyone else – wouldn’t be leaving things to the last moment, scratching around with such little time to spare.

  31. frap sim: I think your analogy is a little flawed. Whilst I understand your gripe about the deadline, the problem is that the deadline is that the system cannot cope with demand, despite this demand being the same every year (and as we know increasing). In your court house analogy, whilst turning up 15 minutes before the trial is perhaps less than ideal, (nigh on asking for trouble), if the court house is 13 minutes from the station, why not? Surely as long as one actually arrives on time, you have made the criteria? The problem with the PP system was that it crashed; it would be like turning up to discover that they had removed the roads around the court house 3 hours ago and it was in fact impossible to reach it. This is the crucial issue; the system did not cope with demand thereby making it impossible to function to the deadline.

    Were the system functioning effectively there would have been no extension; with the farcical one-application-at-a-time approach, it left you stuck. The deadline should be final; provided ONLY that the system can cope with high last-minute demand and work perfectly right up to the deadline.

    If the pressure was on first come first serve style applications, wouldn’t this encourage as many bad applications by rushing them through, and really set the opening date as a virtual deadline?

  32. Ginge is the portal REALLY opening again for a further TWO weekends? Forgive me for whinging but how seriously bloody UNFAIR to those of us who successfully managed NOT to mostly f**k up our apps the first time round?!?! Do we get a shot at ammending those little faux pas that may have initially escaped ?
    AS IF.

  33. I’m extremely irritated about the fact that the portal is opening yet AGAIN. It is clearly unfair to those of us who were forward sighted enough to realise that submitting our applications at 13.59 on the day of the deadline was probably not the best idea…

  34. I wasn’t going to comment further, but come on you lot: why so mean spirited? I did get my applications in early as it happens but if others chose to go right up to the wire that’s up to them. If when they got there they found that the service wasn’t able to deliver, that’s unreasonable towards them.

    Sure, I’d sell my soul to the devil for a pupillage if he didn’t already have it, but I don’t particularly want to rely on other people’s misfortune to get there. Judging by some of the finger-wagging and lack of compassion going on here I’d say that maybe the public’s perception of us is more warranted than I’d like it to be.

    Law Minx’s point is well made though: the rest of us should be allowed to take advantage of this extra time too for un-f**kage purposes.

  35. … but I don’t particularly want to rely on other people’s misfortune to get there.” Well said, that man.

    Having belonged to various student cohorts in my time, Bar aspirants do appear to display, whether consciously or otherwise, a glee at other people’s failure that is hard to find elsewhere. Even in the super charged alpha male, appendage measuring, world of post grad business school, you get nothing like the pervasive meaness of spirit I have experienced among the student bar community.

  36. I dont believe I am being mean of spirit – I’d like to think that many of you with whom I correspond in the ether would have slightly better regard of me than that. But the fact remains that leaving it all to the last possible minute – and then getting away with what appears to be howling blue murder – is profoundly unprofessional

  37. With respect, minx (can I call you minx?), the PP promised to be available up to a certain time. It wasn’t meaningfully available up to that time. PP is now taking steps to fulfil its broken promise.

    How is that a problem?

  38. It’s a problem because the vast majority of us chose to get on and submit our applications well before the proposed deadline in any event and chose not to rely on a promise that the two days or so on which the site was down would be restored to applicants – after all, promises can be broken.
    I still believe that this is an unfair let off in any event.

  39. I agree with Minxy ENTIRELY. However I think its unlikely that many of the apps will be coming from particularly strong candidates.

    If you realy wanted it you would have done at least the night before the deadline.

    Also there is no guarantee chambers will download the new ones. Apparently 3 Verulam Buildings is already interviewing so who else has made the descision already.

  40. The fact remains that PP was available for 6 and a half weeks – four extra days for the procrastinators is and will remain grossely unfair to those responsible enough to have submitted their applications before the deadline.

  41. I got mine in days before, but the fact remains: their site went down and it shouldn’t have.

    The fact that people chose to procrastinate is no excuse for the Bar Council’s shoddy website.

    When you build a site, you build it so that it will cope with demand – in cases like this, it is entirely foreseeable that there will be a spike in demand, and you plan for that. I speak from experience.

    People who procrastinated did so with the assurance that they would be able to submit at the last minute. That’s their prerogative.

    It’s right and proper for the Bar Council to try to remedy their failure, and probably a wise move given the potential claims under S.13 Supply of Good and Services Act.

  42. Sorry Lawminx, before my time – this is my first go..

    IMHO they should have taken similar steps last year.

    Perhaps they were sued last year? 😉

  43. No Idea, I’m afraid, Lurker – I applied properly for the first time last year and was dismayed to find that the only thing that’s changed is the complexity of the application form; the general unereliability of the system continues. I have no idea whether they were sued last year, but my guess is probably not – surely otherwise would have resulted in a thorougly dependable application system.
    That said, while procrastination may be one’s personal prerogative, are we not aspiring to enter a profession where time management, and adherence to deadlines are somewhat important?
    Perhaps we have all become too reliant on spoonfeeding, nursing and general nannying through every stage of the process of securing pupillage.

  44. Android: Many thanks for the sarcastic smiley face!

    The answer to your question has to be “possibly”. I’m not on a pupillage panel, you’re not on a pupillage panel, neither of us has pupillage, so the only possible answer is “possibly”.

    Maybe the (hypothetical) “lecture” example was stretching it a bit, but after the window was open I did get to do a particular type of hearing I’d not previously done, and I thought it significant enough to be worth noting; I believe the application I submitted was stronger for being able to include it. Not a great deal stronger, of course not, and I’m not suggesting that. But I worried that my application might have been a tiny (tiny!) bit weaker without it, and when you’re dealing with odds of hundreds to one, why run that risk?

    (I know how ludicrous it sounds, but by definition, something has to make the difference between the “bin” and “keep” piles at any given stage of sifting; if we knew what that determining thing was going to be at any chambers, we’d all have pupillage already.)

    So: Would it turn a weak application into a strong one? No. Would it make my application incrementally stronger? Yes. Do I believe it would “determine” whether I got an interview? Possibly. Who knows? Not me. So I wasn’t prepared to leave it out just to boast about how punctual I can be. I have references for that.

    Forget me, though. How about if you were due to do a mini-pupillage during the window? How about if you won an advocacy prize? What if you started a new job? There are many, many reasons someone might choose, given forty days to do something, not to do it immediately after one, and they’re not all lazy procrastination.

    I just don’t understand why so many people are demanding a virtue be made out of their having submitted their applications twenty days early for no gain whatsoever. It’s not evidence of inherently better organisation, as has been suggested. I filled out the forms early and then deliberately waited in case anything came along to change them (which it did), worked out how much time I feasibly had available for submission, and then got all my applications all submitted and in on time; I’d argue that shows me to be just as “organised” as anyone who submitted it on day one.

    The Portal explicitly stated that chambers wouldn’t be able to consider applications until the expiry of the deadline; if it had so much as suggested that the order in which applications were received would be any kind of factor at all, I’d have been poised like a hawk at one minute to midnight on the first day of the window.

  45. I agree with what you say about time management and self-reliance; we are all adults and leaving things till the last minute is seldom wise, especially were fragile websites are concerned.

    The fact remains, though: if people are told they have till X o’clock on day Y, they are entitled to plan and act accordingly.

    By allowing the site to go down the BC is effectively moving the goalposts and scuppering applicants’ plans, and my view is that it would be unjust for them to not remedy that.

    And all this is without considering the other hypothetical candidate, who is working full-time at the same time as studying, perhaps with family commitments, who genuinely did not have the time to apply early.

    I don’t think that we can get away from the fact that the BC dropped the ball in a big way (how many sport metaphors can I cram in I wonder) and now have to try to remedy this unfairness – I don’t see any other way they can do this without extending the deadline.

    The long-term solution is clearly to build a better website. There are numerous possible improvements in this comment thread, but the top priority has to be to ensure it can cope with the traffic. This is very easy to simulate in a testing environment – there is no excuse for getting this wrong again.

    I hope that all these comments are read by people in a position to make things better next time.

  46. Lord above it’s like lord of the flies round here! Dog eat dog!

    They moved the deadline- unfair to those who got their act together.

    However, this would be a moot point if the portal was fit for purpose.

    Organisation is irrelevant- a deadline is a deadline and those applications submitted before the deadline are valid. Those who were unable to submit through no fault of their own prior to the deadline, as the site’s problems started 24 hours before, should also have the chance to submit- a very black and white way to look at it, but there we are.

    As for me, I got some of my applications in early, and some were delayed due to the site problems. However, I don’t begrudge those who have what seems to be the extra opportunity- they will take it sure as eggs is eggs. Wouldn’t you?

    Our distress and frustration should be properly directed- to one more debacle by the Bar Council. I hope they will learn from this episode to make some constructive and efficient changes to this whole process. As if obtaining pupillage wasn’t hard enough!

  47. Oddyseus: option (d) is being anal or on the edges of paranoia. Option (b) is cutting it fine. I reckon most of us sane folk would choose (c). If you honestly choose (a), then I worry for you.

    The system dying was totally foreseeable. Googling OLPAS and doing the tiniest amount of online research tells you this. Pupillage Portal itself advised you to do research early. Legal Week said the same and warned about the fraught history of online pupillage applications. All the signs were there.

    lurker: I don’t think the SGS can apply here, since we have no contract with the Bar Council. If it does, I don’t think the Bar Council would be such a friendly litigant this time!: Edmonds v. Lawson [2000] 2 W.L.R. 1091.

    nixonradio: I did a mini-pupillage in April. I learnt lots from it, and I did things I didn’t get to do on other minis. However, I was organised enough to do several others in the right areas well before April. So excluding it in order to ensure my applications were timeous hopefully won’t drop me any brownie points.

    Furthemore, if as you suggested someone started a new job during the application period, I reckon they’d have to be quite creative and pretty desperate to make those six weeks work wonders for their form.

    As others have said, our disagreement over how organised people should be detracts from the common ground. That is, Pupillage Portal is a poor excuse for a web site.

  48. Unfortunately, I think you HAVE to be organised precisely BECAUSE the Pupillage Portal is such a poor excuse for a website. The only thing thats changed about the system is its name.

  49. I submitted my application on time. All twelve of them.

    In the meantime, I have been awarded a rather significant five-figure sum from my Inn of Court.

    I can’t communicate this to the twelve chambers in question as I can’t retrieve my form 😦 Yet, at least “officially”, the application cycle remains “open.”

    1. anonymous of may 18 – as lawgirl says, you really should get in touch with chambers about the award. many well-prepared (see what i did there?) chambers actually email and say you should keep them up to date, so you can’t miss telling them this. your skill will be in the judgment used as to method and presentation of the point. go for it and good luck.

      i have to disagree with the dog eat dog comment above – i have had almost nothing but kindness, fellow-feeling and genuine good wishes from those against whom i am competing (the minx is a very good example of this) and i try to return this.

  50. Minx- You’re absolutely right, you should be organised. And for those who weren’t so organised they got a lucky reprieve this time round. I am one of those who does the planning before, but I leave the submission to the day before or thereabouts just to proof read, tweak etc. There is always a spelling mistake or format mistake that you miss- just as has been pointed out.

    All- Those who are career procrastinators (and I do admit that procrastination and I have had a long relationship but are in the process of an amicable divorce) will learn their lesson at a point that will teach them the biggest lesson- being late for court, not fulfilling the needs of their clients on time or worse etc.

    This would not need discussing if, to put it frankly, the Bar Council could organise a piss up in a brewery where pupillage is concerned. The opening of the Portal for two sucessive WEEKENDS, where there will be more web traffic, where they are NOT going to provide technical support, is quite simply, madness.

    It does not represent the fairest way of allowing those who couldn’t send off their applications to submit them against those for whom this privilege is denied. But I don’t begrduge the applicants, I begrudge the Bar Council. One weekend or a monday-friday of one week may have been sufficient. I wonder how well this late development has been communicated to Chambers? If they have already started considering applicaitons then the extra chance to submit becomes an empty gesture, in which case any perceived advantage is not real.

    I sat for two hours pressing the send button the day before and got my applications off. Lucky me. But if I had not been so lucky I would be on the other side of the fence happy to get my second chance. So I tread carefully. It isn’t fair. But there are bigger injustices than this. What happens when you lose a case you should have won because the judge takes a dislike to you, or your opponent stiches you up? When that happens, this will seem like a long way away.

    To the anonymous poster who recently received a major award: many congratualtions, that is fantastic. You should contact chambers to see whether you may add this piece of information to your application. Thats not to say that we should all bombard chambers with extra info, but if a predicted degree result becomes confirmed for example, or someone wins a major inn award, that is a piece of information I should think chambers would want to know. It only takes a phonecall to the clerk in charge of applicaitons to see whether it would be acceptable or not and in my experience I’ve never met or spoken to an unhelpful clerk.

  51. Lawgirl – great post. I agree with most of this although feel that the timeliness issue cannot exclusively be branded ‘procrastination’. Yes turning up late for court is a hangable offence, and being late for clients is just downright unprofessional, but an all the mini-pupillages I have attended time has been treated as a practically sacred resource. I didn’t work with one barrister who didn’t take everything right up to the line, squeezing as much productivity out of the agreed time periods as possible. Spare time at the end equalled, for them, potential wasted opportunities to make their work even better. I don’t think they would consider their work ethic akin to “spoonfeeding, nursing and general nannying” as some might suggest.

    Isn’t that perhaps what some of those who got tripped up with this application process were mirroring? Whilst I agree with the Minx that “promises can be broken” it may be that the Bar Council would be keen to not break promises to its membership and instead deliver the levels of service they would like to see being adhered to by the people they represent.

    Fairness, luckily, need not be a consideration for the barrister, who’s job in court is merely to provide the court with the best possible representations on which to base its decision. What the judge or jury choose to do with that information is, thankfully, incidental to us provided we have represented our clients as well as can be.

  52. Well I agree with Minxy. Being a Barrister is all about being organised and meeting deadlines. Life will be an endless stream of deadlines, and anyone making an application through PP will have already been given deadlines throughout their academic life, assignments, assessments, exams. Deadlines don’t get extended.

    I also see Lawgirls point. I prepared what I needed to do and sent it off on April 15th. If I wanted to hang on and do it at the last minute then thats my choice. I will say though that as it was so important to me, I made sure I didn’t leave it until the last minute. Maybe thats just being prepared, as I was taught in the boy scouts.

    If the deadline is at a certain point, then the mechanism should have been working, and if it was, then my personal opinion is that if you can’t hit the deadline then you are not the sort of person I would want.

    I also accept that most people applying past the deadline are probably losers anyway and no competition, but I do think it makes a mockery of the whole system to extend the deadline. if anything, all it has done is to undermine the whole system, which according to the critics didn’t need anymore undermining.

    I will phone CofL in a minute and ask if they will extend the deadline for my legal Research project. I will let you know what they say. (I suspect i will bea short sentence using the words ‘Prioritise’ and ‘No’ and ‘&^%”£*’

    Bottom line is, nothing anyone else does will significantly affect whether I get a pupillage or not. I am me, I have the experience and qualifications I have. If that floats someones boat, I will be made up. if not, then I am not what they want. Tough luck Swiss old chap.


  53. Simply Wondered- sorry if the dog comment offended, I was reading the thread the other day and just burst out laughing because this image came into my head of us all eating each other to get pupillage!! It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously at all, was just trying to be witty so I shall hang head in shame of failure of wits!

    As for everyone, I really love some of the law bloggers, minx android and Charon especially. This community wouldn’t be what it is without their writing.

    My real complaint is to the bar council as above. That said, I sign off now.

  54. I too was somewhat amazed when it transpired that PP is to be open for late apps. Yes the site went down but the deadline was extended by a day to allow for this, so to re-open it again seems quite OTT.

    As regards the original question, I’ve come out of the Pupillage Portal experience feeling slightly confused as to why it isn’t open all year and just lists pupillages as and when chambers have a vacancy, it’s all a bit odd. Yes there are the non-olpas apps, but I’m with Lawminx and SW and co on this one, ie. make it a bit more ‘normal’, CV, covering letter, perhaps a short written essay (let’s face it, filling in the application form was very time consuming), so a short essay or something along those lines would perhaps show off potential skills more effectively and would serve as a way of perhaps reducing application numbers per set, in that only those truly keen on a particular set would go to the effort of producing a piece of work for them.

    Having not applied for pupillage before, I have nothing to compare it with, but I don’t think the questions posed in the form allowed for the applicant to shine through as a person, but maybe this is normal for job application forms in general?

    And yes it was too long and too synthetic and some questions did seem to require duplication from previous answers, all in all I found it quite awkward.

  55. lawminx,

    I don’t see what the problem is. Your chances of pupillage may have been reduced by a percent or two and you have been deprived of some schadenfreude. This doesn’t seem such a big deal.

  56. On reading the last few threads, and the comments thereto (a feat akin to hacking through both vols of the White Book), the only conclusion one can reach is that the tail end of the Bar is in one almighty mess. Given that responsibility for this must rest with the Bar, one supposes that the upper echelons are also in no better shape.

    It’s not much of an advert for the Bar. The next time I’m up for GBH with intent, I think I will be better off defending myself.

  57. @james c – I take no pleasure in the misfortune of others, as your comment seems to suggest ( I would like to think that those who ” know” me as a blogger have better opinion of me than that) as to the reduction of my own pupillage chances by a percent or two, in an application season as tight as this one that IS a big deal.

  58. every piece of microcosmic stuff in an atom of a percent counts in this race! The real problem is that the bar is so worried about it’s own survival that it really has no idea how hard entry to the bar has become. My friend is a barrister of over 16 years call. Friend says regularly that if he were trying for the bar now he would never get in. Keeps telling me pupillage will fall in my lap. I tell him he hasn’t a clue!

    I think that this years olpas round has been a shambles- and even though they won’t do it I think they should halt the process and start again. Because people have paid to much money for this chance which has been so poorly administered. It is this insular, technophobic, protectionist, and old-fashioned, superior than thou mentality which still prevails in many parts of the bar (that other parts are desperately trying to chance) is the reason why the bar looks in fear of dying. Change is scary but it means survival. And it may also mean an application system that works as it should.

  59. every piece of microcosmic stuff in an atom of a percent counts in this race! The real problem is that the bar is so worried about it’s own survival that it really has no idea how hard entry to the bar has become. My friend is a barrister of over 16 years call. Friend says regularly that if he were trying for the bar now he would never get in. Keeps telling me pupillage will fall in my lap. I tell him he hasn’t a clue!

    I think that this years olpas round has been a shambles- and even though they won’t do it I think they should halt the process and start again. Because people have paid to much money for this teeny tiny chance which has been so poorly administered. It is this insular, technophobic, protectionist, old-fashioned and superior than thou mentality which still prevails in many parts of the bar (that other parts are desperately trying to change) and is the reason why the bar looks in fear of dying. Change is scary but it means survival. And it may also mean an application system that works as it should.

  60. I disagree about starting again.

    Sets have started to interview. Presumably because enough people did manage to submit high enough, quality applications.

    I am pretty average as a candidate – very good degree but from poor university, but lots of relevant experience etc, and managed to understand the portal, fill out the application on time and have now been invited for an interview.

    I am not a rocket scientist but I filled out the app and got it in in time. I think its a poor system, but it is what it is. Thats life. That is the only test there should be.

  61. A further problem with the new system seems to have arisen with respect to notification of progress, or othewise of applications; with OLPAS emails would arrive prompting one to go and check one’s status vis a vis specific chambers. In the absence of such a prompt, one is compelled to make repeated checks which for some has resulted in the somewhat disconcerting discovery that they have been rejected. Rejection is bad enough – but this new way of handling it seems a bit, well, offhand to say the least.

  62. Dear Simon,

    As a member of a pupillage committee who has just had to wade through the new forms, here are a few suggestions and thoughts about the new application and how it might be improved:

    – Length
    The new, extended word limits are much too long. I know that students have complained for years that there is not enough room to express all they want in 150 words however clarity and brevity of expression are two skills which are essential at the Bar and if you cannot express yourself succinctly on an application, how will you write a skeleton argument? This extra length does not add anything to the applications and, honestly, means that the readers are more likely to skim read than carefully read the whole thing.

    – It is helpful to have a section for extenuating circumstances however there is no need for this to be in the form of a ‘covering letter’ which misleadingly suggests that applicants need to write ‘Dear Sir’ and set out their answer like a formal covering letter. The purpose of that section should also be explained clearly in that section rather than only including this in the User Guide which was not available when the form was first launched.

    – The Areas of Law/Practice Areas questions could be made into one ‘Which area/s of law do you wish to practise?’ question. If the User Guide explanation is followed (i.e. to say ‘tort’ in areas of law and then ‘PI’ in practice areas), this adds nothing to the application and if you develop your answer, risks repetition. Barristers are more than aware which areas of law translate into which practice area.

    – I would take out the question ‘what do you hope to gain from pupillage’. Students obviously want to learn, get their higher rights and ultimately obtain tenancy; asking them to spell this out doesn’t really help anything. Further, if they are honest about these intentions, particularly about getting tenancy, it looks like they are running before they can walk; if they do not mention tenancy, it looks disingenuous.

    – Asking about responsibilities and achievements under work experience should be changed back to asking what you learnt. As some wise soul above has said, on mini-pupillages you have no responsibilities and probably don’t achieve anything. Chambers want to know what you learnt but if you write that, you risk looking like you misread/didn’t read the question.

    – At present chambers can see the forms as you fill them out (from the moment you register) which I don’t think really assists either side.

    – In previous years students have been able to see a sample form before registering which I think helps and should be reinstated.

    – The IT skills section doesn’t really add much – realistically all you need is basic knowledge of Word and maybe Excel and PowerPoint to be a barrister. If you can complete the OLPAS form, you are probably sufficiently competent.

    – Judging by the number of untailored forms (‘I have applied to various chambers which do xyz’ rather than ‘I have applied to X chambers because you do abc…’), it isn’t sufficiently clear to applicants how the form works. I have relatively little sympathy with this as I know that the User Guide, when it eventually came out, deals with this point however there were so many untailored forms that I think this is a problem with the Portal.

    I hope those thoughts are of some assistance and do not sound overly critical. I know that trying to redesign the form must have been a time-consuming, expensive and totally thankless task and I am grateful that the matter is being considered afresh. I would ask that the Bar Council does consult chambers about the form in future as I think that there is a risk that many chambers will leave OLPAS following the shock of such an increased volume of forms descending upon them unannounced this year and that, surely, is in no one’s interests.

    Many thanks.

  63. I’ve not had time to read all the 77 comments above mine, so apologies for any repetition.

    I went through the pupillage application process in 2007 and again in 2007. I completed the BVC in 2008 and in Aug 2008 I was offered pupillage at a non-OLPAS common law set to commence in Oct 09. If the form was significantly different this year, please forgive me.

    I have this to say about the OLPAS portal (as it then was).

    (1) There is insufficient space for a non-standard applicant (ie: someone other than the usual school-uni-bvc treadmill fodder). I worked for 15 years before going to the Bar (including 10 years at the same firm), and had great difficulty trying to sum up 10 years progression and promotion at that organisation in 150 words.

    (2) One cannot use text formatting such as italics, bold or underlining. This makes it difficult to demarcate clearly such things as headings and sub-headings within blocks of text.

    (3) The requirement to set out one’s “areas of interest” in the core form causes problems for those such as myself who were interested in several and often very different areas of law. I applied to common law sets, but those who were purely civil sets may well have been put off by my expressions of interest in criminal law.

    (4) Likewise, when I first applied in the 2007 I was very interested in provincial Chambers, but I was also very attracted to a number of London sets. However, as the “work experience” section (which incorporates mini-pupillages) was part of the core form, I was caught in a bind whereby if I tried to stroke the fur of the provincial sets by only including my provincial mini-pupillages, I would alienate the London sets, but if I put down both the London and provincial mini-pupillages, then I looked extremely unfocused. Therefore, after trying to be all things to all men in 2007 (with only limited success), when I went through the 2008 season, I focused entirely on London sets.

    In respect of (3) and (4), in summary, there should be some way in which the core form can be tailored for inividual sets.

    (5) Limiting applicants to 12 applications is severely limiting. It is hard anough to get pupillage as it is without forcing applicants to rule out several hundred sets at the start line. I realise that there might be a need for some cut off, because otherwise there would just be a scattergun approach to the application process, and sets probably do not want to receive thousands of applicants, but perhaps applicants should be limited to 30 applications rather than 12.

    (6) Autumn OLPAS is a waste of time. Obviously Chambers scramble for the summer applicants for fear of being left with the last turkey in the shop if they waited until autumn. Either scrap it, or find some way of making Chambers use it.

    (7) The application/interview season is slap bang in the middle of the exam season. Why not move it to after the end of term (mid-June deadline, interviews July, offers mid-August)? I was woking full-time, revising for BVC assessments, completing application forms and prepping for interviews all at the same time.

    Anyway, it’s now lunchtime and I intend to enjoy the ones I have remaining before I am pitched headlong into the world of reading briefs whilst hurriedly cramming a sandwich down my neck, so I’m off! I haven’t proof-read this missive either, so please accept my apologies for any glaring errors….


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