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.
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:
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.