Interviews · Routes to the Bar · Which Chambers?

Pondering

I have been wondering what Chambers could do to improve the process of applying.

Firstly, they could make clear what they are looking for and how they assess it. If you apply for a Recordership or for Silk you are given a list of ‘competencies’ you have to demonstrate. It seems to me that a list of qualities that a set looked for in a pupil would help the Chambers and the applicants. It would provide a guide to the judgement of the applicants and more information than the PP form. At the same time, Chambers could publish their scroing systems for interview. It would be interesting to see how each set prioritised various skills and it might help people hone their applications.

Secondly, the PP could be adjusted to automatically keep applicants in touch with what is happening. It should record which Chambers meet target dates and send out a standard message when they do not. Applicants would not be in the dark and Chambers would not be able to ignore commitments.

Thirdly, Chambers ought to undertake the internal exercise of measuring up the quality of the pupil eventually chosen against the questions asked and the composition of the pupillage committee. This is a long term programme and it would necessarily be private. But there is no reason why sets should not see how good their own techniques are and start to keep some data so that an assesment can be made.

Fourthly, when Chambers take a pupil on, the first task of the person in charge of pupillage and the new junior tenant ought to be to debrief the new tenant on their interview, their pupillage experience and the weaknesses that are perceived. That is not to say that this is the be all and end all. But it is the one chance a set of Chambers has to understand how its procedures are perceived from the other side.

Fifthly, Chambers would ideally give feedback to rejected interviewees. This is tricky because if you interview a great many applicants it becomes impossible. But the default position should be that feedback will be given and Chambers should have to explain why they will not. Chambers should also ask for feedback from candidates. My hunch is that a number of the complaints made below would not be tolerated by Heads of Chambers who knew that it was happening on a regular basis.

Sixthly, the Bar should try and ensure that the small minority in the habit of dismissing every criticism as whinging do not run pupillage selection processes in their Chambers.

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47 thoughts on “Pondering

  1. Whilst this is all thoroughly worthy and sincere, I cannot help but wonder whether it misses the real point (and I feel sure that a grandee advocate once said that all advocacy can be boiled down to one point only – or was that wishful thinking ?).

    If the objective is to improve the workings of the system, should not attention be focused on the role of the BSB, and not just for the future but in its recent past also ? I am not saying individual chambers, and their heads, should not be criticised or acclaimed but it seems clear that the mechanics of both stages (student to pupil, and pupil to tenant) are centrally dictated by the BSB. To a degree, to round on individual chambers might be akin to blaiming them for failing to polish the BSB’s turd !

    It was, presumably, the BSB who were ultimately responsible for the re-working of OLPAS into PP, but yet managed to launch the new site with either no, or insufficient, trialing beforehand and, remarkably, not even enough bandwidth to sustain the site when it went live.

    At either end of the aspirant spectrum, there are commercial driven enterprises (the BVC providers who run rings round the BSB) and the Bar proper (with the manifold pressures and constraints of being self employed individuals). In the middle, there is (in the context of the student/aspirant part of its function) a quango-esque body run by time servers and administrators.

    I wonder whether the solution to many of the actual or perceived problems for aspirants highlighted by this site might be solved , or at least reduced, by refining the role of the BSB or, indeed, removing it from the process altogether.

  2. Is it not too difficult to have a central electronic clearing house for admissions through which applications are made and offers are issued? Then the entire process could be coordinated properly.The cost of knocking up such a system would be a few grand.

  3. Simon writes: “publish their scroing systems” – finally figured out that’s “scoring”. Apparently I’m having a slow day.

  4. Hey Simon

    I think, if what you have stated was in fact put into practice it would make the playing ground a little bit more fairer indeed!

    Could i also make a suggestion. A quick browse through top chambers websites portrays the fact that, most, if not all are from Oxbridge! It has always been suggested that the BSB is trying to make the Bar as diverse and as accessible as possible. Would it not be much better if it was a condition of the BSB/Chambers that one of the candidates that are taken on for pupillage each year is not from oxbridge.

    Yes, being an Oxbridge graduate does portray a candidates dedication and motivation for the Bar, but conversely it also portrays the advantages and opportunities that that candidate has had in order to get there!

    I don’t know! It was just an idea! I was just trying to show that there are many students out there who are not from Oxbridge but are as conpetent (if not more so) than that of those who are – all they need is a chance to show people what they can do!

  5. I was just trying to show that there are many students out there who are not from Oxbridge but are as conpetent (if not more so) than that of those who are – all they need is a chance to show people what they can do!

    Not spell, apparently.

  6. A bit low, Ed.

    What was more striking was:

    “Yes, being an Oxbridge graduate does portray a candidates dedication and motivation for the Bar”

    How?

  7. Eek – DK really? I would much prefer to be taken on over an Oxbridge applicant because of merit, not pity or some obligation to provide a certain number of pupillages to those outside the Oxbridge circle.

    On a completely separate note I was recently quite shocked by a London set which asked for details about my sexuality…’homosexual, bisexual, homosexual?’. I’m all for equality, but hey isn’t this going a little too far? On what possible basis for considering a person’s merit would a workplace require this very personal information?
    Think I’ll stay in Oz for a while yet where this level of political correctness has not yet caught up…

  8. Thanks Ed, it’s great to know that you can actually proof-read something so efficiently. However, i do think the comment was unnecessary!

    Finnieston Crane – sorry if i was not very clear. Here I was referring to the image that is associated with Oxbridge graduates: that they are motivated, hardworking and possess the skills necessary to succeed (yet, this does not mean that they actually do).

  9. Just an idea but has anyone ever thought of reversing the whole process?

    Candidates would fill in the centralised application form and enter a ‘pool’ – Chambers could then search for their interviewees. (Much like the Clearing Pool now, but at the very beginning.)

    This would reverse the ‘burden’ – with Chambers seeking to be polite and courteous to their chosen choices in a bid to impress THEM – being well aware that the top candidates are likely to be in demand.

    Search variables could be by Legal Area, Desired Location, Specialism, Degree Class, etc etc with the ability to view the application forms online for greater detail.

    This may also go some way to assist candidates who are in need of a dose of reality. Many blame the “restriction” of “only” 12 Chambers – convinced that “next year” their next 12 choices will definitely interview them. If pre-BVC a candidate is not selected from the pool by a single Chambers (nationwide!) for interview then this may assist them in making some very tough decisions.

    Similarly, it would ease the need for Chambers to respond to the hundreds of applications they receive individually in rejecting the vast majority.

    It would be, quite simply – Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You.

    Just an idea – I admit, it needs fine-tuning…

    The weaknesses are palpable, and as an applicant I would be hesitant. People with very individualised achievements or circumstances are likely to suffer from a blunt “search” approach. And the ability for Chambers to search “by University” is probably not going to be welcomed by the applicants. But perhaps some search options could be restricted, and mitigating circumstances somehow included… ?

    Like I say, just an idea with strengths as well as weaknesses… Thoughts?

  10. Yes, I third that idea, Anonymous. I fear the chambers won’t take to it though.

    This isn’t a whinge but I requested feedback after my last pupillage interview and was told they had interviewed to many people (70) to provide it. I can’t see that it takes much effort, given a group of people must have deliberated and given their reasons for not putting me through, to tell me those reasons. I think what you propose takes much more effort on chambers’ behalf and as such wouldn’t be popular.

  11. Anonymous,

    I previously suggested something similar, where applicants and chambers would bith submit data to a centralised clearing house, which either side can interrogate online.

    Recruiters could list all of the Oxbridge firsts, or whatever they want, and pupils could search for chambers according to their own criteria.

    Offers would be made and accepted through the clearing house etc etc.

    Everything would run much more smoothly and the bar could join the 21st century.

  12. Finnieston Crane,
    Thankyou for your response, and for the others who seem to think my idea is a good one.

    I admit it has weaknesses, but I disagree that it would create any more work for Chambers. On the contrary.

    Under the current system, Chambers seem to be receiving a couple of hundred applications for a handful of places. Thus the entire exercise is a negative one. The vast majority of application forms they receive are never going to make it past the first hurdle. My proposal eliminates that… It would be a positive exercise, looking for those candidates with the desired qualities and qualifications.

    Crucially, it would eliminate the need for Chambers to engage in correspondence with those hundreds of people. If you don’t hear from anyone once you enter yourself into the pool, then no news is… awful news. (Move on. Save yourself £12000 etc.)

    The weakness I recognise is the ability to communicate more subtle and less “statistical” information – scholarships, mooting, mini-pupillages etc. But perhaps this would be secondary, with the Chambers accessing the form. Alternatively, perhaps each time you entered a scholarship or a prize you’d get a “point”, and another “point” for each Mini. Chambers could then assess the relative worth of these.

    For example, let’s say Chambers X logs into my super-duper proposed system.
    They would tick the following boxes:
    Applicants who-
    – Have a 2.1 degree or above
    – Or, have ticked the mitigating circumstances box
    – Wish to work in London
    – Wish to commence in 2010
    – Wish to specialise in Personal Injury
    – Have at least 2 “points” for work experience
    – Have at least 1 “point” for public speaking/mooting

    They could then select to organise results so that the following displayed first:
    – Those with First Class Honours
    -Those with a Postgraduate Qualification
    – Those with 1 “point” for scholarships or prizes

    It would be much like searching for your desired holiday (swimming pool and near the beach please) or your train ticket (near the buffet carriage and by the window please).

    I think perhaps we’d have to stop short of a “Compare the Bar Applicant”.com scenario. Although…. THERE’S an idea….

  13. I think Anonymous 1’s idea is excellent.

    However, I think the greatest difficulty is that it will be very difficult for applicants to demonstrate a commitment to any given Chambers.

    Chambers spend a significant amount of time and money training pupils. They need to be certain that their pupils are there because they wish to be there, not merely because they were not offered a pupillage elsewhere.

    The current system (for all its faults) allows Chambers to assess how committed applicants are to a given Set/Circuit through the system of direct application. Applicants generally only apply to the Chambers they are interested in, or in the case of PP, the 12 Chambers they are most interested in.

    Under the proposed system it is likely that applicants will receive interview offers from Sets that they would not otherwise have applied to.

    This would make it difficult for Chambers to establish who is genuinely committed to the Chambers and who is merely seeking a pupillage anywhere they can find one.

  14. Finnieston Crane – I was told the same at a chambers that only interviewed 30 people – so frustrating!

    However, I do think we should all try to remember that the pupillage process is a massive one and the barristers sitting on pupillage panels are often doing so in their own spare time. This isn’t to excuse the many flaws in the system, but it does, I think, support the argument that any changes should be centrally organised and funded by the Bar Council, rather than simply issuing chambers with a list of requirements to meet at their own expense.

  15. Anon 2 – Thankyou for your response.

    I agree with you, that is a difficulty.

    I am also a firm believer in selecting Chambers that one truly wishes to join, not merely one where they THINK they’ll get in. And Chambers deserve dedicated candidates.

    Although, perhaps by entering the pool candidates would be under no obligation to accept or attend interviews.

    I imagine some outstanding candidates would be invited to far more interviews than they could possibly attend and would therefore be selective.

    I would also argue that under the current system many candidates apply to their “top” 12 in their first application round, and many (many!) do not obtain a pupillage at any of them. They then re-apply the next year, often with a new 12. And I have even met people in their 3rd application year -meaning if they have chosen different sets each time they are perhaps up to their 36th choice!! Hardly a true commitment!

    My proposal would at least allow people to apply to all the Chambers at once… Saving candidates the turmoil of repetitive application “years” waiting around for OLPAS to open yet again – and, I now speak personally, giving us a ready-made excuse – “There’s always next year.”

    Though, I do take your criticism as valid. And it is, of course, a factor to be considered. Thank you.

  16. @Anonymous 1

    I believe your idea has been suggested on here in the recent past, but it is still an excellent one, and I endorse it (for whatever that’s worth).

    @Finnieston Crane

    Despite what you may think, I am not interested in combing everyone’s posts and gleefully jumping on minor typos.

    My final word on DK-Spelling-gate is this: Dunning-Kruger effect.

  17. My first thought is simply that this is far too optimistic. Great in theory, but very unlikely to be put into practice.

    DK’s affirmative action suggestion is just silly, in my opinion, as all other affirmative action processes are. Two wrongs don’t make a right – two forms of discrimination do not a meritocracy make.

    Anonymous 1’s suggestion is similarly flawed, I think, in that the top candidates ALREADY enjoy courtesy and competing bids for them. I get the sense that it is the less desirable candidates who experience the sort of things complained about here on Simon’s blog. I actually think that, given chambers’ very hectic schedules, such a system might end up being WORSE, as only the obviously “top” candidates would get much attention. In other words, it might be taken by some as an excuse to make even less effort towards candidates, if you see what I mean?

    On the other hand, a dose of reality is certainly called for in some instances, and the reform of the BVC is already aimed at making people aware pre-BVC that they’re not cut out for the rocky road to pupillage…

  18. Ed

    Did you think that applies to DK? I didn’t find anything particularly objectionable about what he said. Certainly no suggestion that he/she considered himself/herself superior to anyone…

    Now if you’d been having another spat with Troubled Barrister, I might well have been behind you.

  19. Finnieston Crane – thank you.

    Certainly, I just put a suggestion forward, I in no way consider myself (I’m female by the way) superior to anyone else – and I don’t really see how my post would suggest this either!

    I just made a comment, where the subject was open to discussion/criticism – isn’t this what this blog is about anyway! My post was about making the Bar more accessible to non-Oxbridge students, just to make the playing ground a little bit fairer. It may have been incorrect – but I in no way suggested anything else.

    Ed has a right to his opinions, I would have expected him to make a comment about the subject of my post and not me – after all he knows nothing about me!

    Anyway, thank you!

  20. Anarchy.

    Everyone has an opinion and no one can agree on the best way forward.

    Just the way the BSB likes it.

  21. Very good idea actually..well, all 6 of them. But how about chambers devise a set of tests and take on pupils depending on the results? This will save the frustration of those like me who have 2.2 from an average university and utterly convinced they have a brain to succeed in the Bar. If you don’t agree with me a test will be an impartial judge, won’t it?

  22. Alex –
    The difficulty lies in the fact that even if yet another application criteria was introduced (ie: the test you propose) then Chambers would still have access to the degree classification – it would not override it!

    So a 2:2 and a high score, would need to compete against those candidates with a 1st AND a high score.

    Or are you suggesting the ONLY application criteria should be a test? As the sole application? (In which case, please disregard my comment as irrelevant.)

    Regards.

  23. ed – i feel like we’re veterans of the great tb shitfight. cut dk a bit of slack – people will think (wrongly) that you are in the tb mould. and lest anyone thinks ed just attacks others on their mistakes, he did berate himself for his one mistake at the top of this thread.

    it’s a lovely idea, great paradigm shifting, but not gonna happen. i can’t understand why the bar can’t just recruit like the rest of the world, but i’m just stupid.

    ironically oxbridge seems to have become more prone to class when the rest of the world is trying hard to go in the opposite direction. the era of more people getting straight a’s at a level means that maybe more attention is paid to your school and accent. just for the younger people here, you used to get into durham, exeter etc on 3Bs.

    employers and the like will always tend to base recruiting decisions on the arbitrary combination of how well you did in exams one summer when you were around 18 and then the same 3-4 years later. these are determined not only by class and income but just how apt people are to performing in exam situations (partly trained by schools). and while nobody can reasonably say that is a sensible way to judge there seem to be few others.

    those who do well academically aren’t necessarily the best for any job, but it’s a shortcut and people are after a shortcut.

    alex – it seems to be very tough with a 2:2 from an unfashionable institution. i don’t know how you go about telling chambers it shouldn’t be so. to a great degree, our futures are decided by 18. it’s scary, particularly when virtually nobody knows this by 18. if i was in that position, i would not have tried to get to the bar, so kudos to you (or ‘you stupid bugger!’ depending on how you look at it) for persisting. good luck.

    at the risk of sounding like tb, we do have to accept that we don’t have a god-given right to come to the bar or anywhere else. but people do have a right to be treated fairly. quite what ‘fairly’ means may not be the same for everyone, of course.

  24. To all who criticise my criticising DK, I take your point. My view, most neutrally stated, is that commenting on here with poor spelling/grammar makes you look bad, and is disrespectful to your readers. In addition, doing that, while implying that you’re brilliant and only ignoring you because you happened to go to a less respected university, is at best optimistic. That’s just my view.

    @simply wondered

    To be most accurate, at the top of the thread I was berating myself for having such difficulty decoding Simon’s minor typo, and also pointing it out to him for fixing if he should so desire. Thanks for thinking I was being humble, and possibly I should have been, but it was more mixed.

  25. Ok, so I’m away at the moment otherwise I would correct the typos. This is an interesting discussion – don’t let it spoil.

    More in due course but for now a word in defence of the BSB. Of course it’s part time – the alternative is outside regulation which is the last thing the Bar wants or can afford. That means that it needs to be cut a bit of slack.

    I accept that the PP is a disaster. Much of that is due to its design. The BSB did not design it. The real test comes next year when the issue will be whether anyone has listened.

    For now the BSB is doing what it can to ensure that Chambers stick to the rules and properly implement diversity policies. I agree that those sets – however magic the circle which they claim to inhabit – who never look outside Oxbridge are letting down the profession and its applicants. They have been unable to define criteria which look unlike themselves, which is a pretty poor effort.

    However, the aim is that the Bar regulates itself which means a light touch. Ultimately it is better to persuade than to compel, even though it may take a little longer. The BSB is trying to do that and the Bar Council is supporting it.

    Speaking personally, I would welcome a central system, with some pupillages to be centrally awarded as well. But I fear it will be some time coming. The logical place to start would be the Inns. But, if any of you – or a group of you – feel strongly enough about it then write to Derek Wood’s review as well as saying it here. I am happy to coordinate if you would like.

  26. How about if we had some radical proposals for pupillage, as what Edward de Bono called an “intermediate impossible” – a deliberately ridiculous idea designed to inspire practicable ideas.

    To set the ball rolling: Inns are responsible for pupils, and pay them all the same, out of funds levied from chambers. They are pupil-mastered by a rotating crew of qualified barristers from various chambers through their time. They then apply for tenancy at the end.

    Pros: means the Inns have a purpose again, and ties the pupils more closely to them. Costs of funding pupils is more distributed among chambers, meaning that more pupillages overall will be funded.

    Cons: um… actually can’t think of any.

  27. sorry ed – you fall at the first hurdle. it fails to strike me as ridiculous at all – try harder.
    my universal answer is the faintly communist chambers levy – flat rate on all fees (would also impose it on solicitors). that could be used to fund your scheme.
    how much would those poor sods struggling to get by 0n £200K hate that!

  28. Well, I was aiming for an intermediate impossible but I seem to have missed. However, if anyone else has one, let them sing it out.

  29. Ed’s idea doesn’t sound at all ridiculous to me: I can see several potential advantages, including in particular giving both pupils and chambers a wider pool to choose from and more experience when decision time comes.

    My own more loony pie in the sky idea would be similar but bring the BVC into the mix as well: spend say two months on a crash course at the start (focusing on the procedure rules, drafting, and ethics) then do this over two years with (staggered) days at Bar School every week.

  30. “I accept that the PP is a disaster. Much of that is due to its design. The BSB did not design it. The real test comes next year when the issue will be whether anyone has listened.”

    Mr Myerson, who can we write to about PP? I’d rather the test is faced this year, well in advance of the application window. I consider the most egregious act to have been opening the damn thing without the user guide being ready. Quite unbelievable.

  31. Ed,
    Re: Ed’s first proposal.

    The idea of applying to 12 sets via PP, without knowing clearly what the sets are looking for, or how they are marking the applications, is absurd. This does the profession no credit. I am not aware of any other profession that has a selection process so lacking in openness and transparency.

    I can only think that most sets continue to recruit in their own image – either intentionally or otherwise.

    I accept that there are some exceptions.

    I would suggest that the process should not be run over summer because it puts full time students at a huge advantage: I imagine that most part-time students are working and/or have family. But I guess if sets are recruiting in their own image….

  32. “The aim is that the Bar regulate itself which means a light touch”

    If that truly is the case, it is the most lightly touched profession that I know of ( Nursing and Medicine are far , far tighter, and, perhaps the better for it. At least there, aspirants know where they stand, and what they have to do to be admitted to the ranks))

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