Routes to the Bar

Words From One Who Knows

This comment has just been posted on the ‘Help’ post below. Because it comes from someone who plainly does know what current thinking is I have copied it here.

The OLPAS form is something which I have raised with both the BSB and the Bar Council. Finding out who developed it and who approved it is proving slightly difficult. It does seem clear that neither Chambers nor any BSB Committee to do with pupillage or recruitment had any input. This is depressingly useless and it is to be hoped that the next one is better constructed and consulted about. Not that I speak on behalf of anyone, but sorry.

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.


13 thoughts on “Words From One Who Knows

  1. This very helpful comment serves to point out what a disaster this year’s application season has been , a process of mutual frustration rather than ( hopefully) a meeting of minds, with aspirants left with little guidance as to how to go about completing the incredibly lengthy form , while chambers find themselves beseiged by irrelevance.This is to say nothing of repeated system crashes when uploading applications , the moving of deadline goalposts, and the general lack of support from those running the scheme ( having accidentally deleted an application, I was fortunate in as much as the largesse of the pupillage committee concerned permitted my application to remain ‘live’; as far as the portal is concerned, its as dead as a dodo, and will not now permit any further communication by this route)

    That chambers have never been consulted about the content of the form, is, in all honesty, incredible. Perhaps some of their frustrations could be circumvented if they were, to a set, more transparent about their selection criteria. Most are – but not all.

    Either way, its time the BSB took a firm grasp of the situation . That its pupillage and recruitment arm had nothing to do with the form – or that no one can be found to be held accountable – is truly, truly shocking.

  2. I completely agree with the original post (including comment). The new form has been extremely unhelpful to us as a pupillage committee. We involve all members of chambers in marking, and each application is double-marked. The new form has resulted in more discrepancies (and thus more re-marking by the pupillage committee) than ever before, even though we have a detailed and comprehensive marking scheme. Many markers found parts of the form irrelevant, which I think probably had the knock-on effect of markers ‘skimming’ forms in an effort to find the relevant information and thus sometimes missing points which had to be picked up on the re-mark. I personally feel that the ‘what do you hope to gain from your pupillage’ and even the ‘what do you hope to contribute to chambers’ sections added little or nothing to my assessment of the candidates and simply extended my reading time (not to mention applicants’ writing time).

    In short, this is the first time I have ever heard members of chambers suggest that we should leave OLPAS. I personally am not in favour of this, but we do intend to write a letter to the BSB and the Bar Council as a pupillage committee, expressing our views about the new forms.

    Just to add insult to injury, we have just found out that the pupillage portal did not (for some reason) send out the interview invitations we posted on Monday and they are only now getting through to the candidates. The whole thing has been a total shambles this year.

  3. while i am sad to hear that anna’s chambers (and presumably others) have had more work created for them by the portal, it is at least reassuring that it isn’t just those of us who had to use it as applicants who hated it! i was shocked at the number of words a pupillage committee would have to read – that was why i wrote only about 100-150 in each. whether it helped me or not, i don’t know.

  4. A small (but psychologically important) change is to move away from the rather cruel REJECTED word that is plastered across our much slaved-over applications… (I can still make it out, even through the blood, sweat and tears…)

    Surely “Unsuccessful” would boost morale? 😉

  5. I think the failed applications should be stamped “LOSER” with that WW2 stamp like “Top Secret”.

    pah – don’t mollycoddle us, ed – stamp the foreheads of the failures in indelible ink. serve us right for aspiring.

  6. The Bar Council didn’t respond to my suggestion that after a 3rd failed application, pupillage applicants should be converted into biofuel.

  7. a moderate proposal and very green, ed. bc are stick-in-the-mud old fuddy duddies with no idea of progress. i fear it will be down to the 2 of us to drive them into the c19th in a horseless carriage (powered by chopped-up would-be barrister pulp).

  8. LawMinx, now that your blog has gone private, avid readers without blogs can’t get in, myself included. And as your blog had the best links to other blogs I can’t view those either, as I don’t have the addresses bookmarked and they aren’t internet searchable. My entire blog habit has crumpled in a matter of days. Would you let a non-blogger have access?

  9. “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”.

    I am confused – I thought chambers could only see your application once you had submitted it ! ? can anyone clarify this ?

  10. Anon,

    Apologies. I closed my blog because I was out of the country -my blog was hijacked under the same circumstances last year, and couldnt take the chance that the same thing would happen this year.
    Its open at the moment, because I’m back in blighty for the week. It will be closed again on Saturday, when I dash off to try and finish my hols!!

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