Further Degrees · No Pupillage · The BVC

Filling in Time

3136852517_afd1690d0dBelow is an email (published with the writer’s permission), which reflects a not uncommon problem. A selection of interviews pre BVC, which suggests that there is a reasonable chance of an eventual offer, but the prospect of a post BVC year to fill before beginning.

Dear Simon

I’ve been reading your blog for a while and it did say we could get in touch…

I finished my law degree this year, and have just been through my first OLPAS round. I was put on one reserve list, but ultimately got no offers. I know this is not uncommon, and should really have been expected, but it still comes as a bit of a blow. I do think I have a reasonable chance of getting pupillage eventually, and will not just be wasting my time and money on the BVC, but it appears that I will probably have to have a ‘gap year’ post-BVC now. I think I would feel a bit better about it if I had some idea of what to fill that year with – I would rather get some sort of relevant/interesting work than just get any old job, but I do need to do something that pays the bills; I thought you might know of some options. I believe paralegalling is the standard option, but I have heard of people struggling to get paralegal work as they are ‘overqualified’. A friend has recommended the Law Commission, but I’m not exactly sure what that would involve.

In a sense, of course, the answer is that if you have pupillage it doesn’t matter and you should simply make as much money/have as good a time (delete as appropriate) as possible. Or your Chambers-to-be may have some recommendation or requirement. But there is also the possibility of another season in which you make the play-offs but don’t get promotion, as all Leeds United fans know.

On the basis that what you want to achieve is to shine up the CV it would be sensible to consider where you are applying. Paralegaling is fine providing it is relevant to your pupillage. Working as a commercial conveyancer isn’t going to help if you are doing personal injury work. You would not be overqualified if you already had a pupillage – sometimes this seems to be an excuse for not taking people on in case they never leave. But unless you really think that you need to prep yourself up to know the technicalities of your chosen area or that the firm for which you work will brief you, I don’t myself see that paralegaling has much to offer. It seems to me to be the default choice because it is (or was) relatively easy to get a job and that the job is vaguely legal. Most paralegals are anonymous to anyone with a brief to give away to a junior tenant.

The Law Commission is a good idea but your academics need to be good. It concerns legal research and policy, which always helps to broaden a CV. Because it is a competitive appointment it looks good. It is not currently recruiting, but keep an eye out here.

A temporary post with the government would also appeal. There are some of these around and they can be accessed here.  You could also try Justice (go here) and Liberty (nothing currently available but keep an eye on it here), the CAB etc. All of these would look good on a CV because the organisations are broadly respected (yes, even the Government) and the work is likely to be interesting and challenging, at least in the perception of an outside observer.

Working abroad would be good if you could do some human rights work – death row, or even the UN. This shows a commitment to the law and its processes and – as the vast majority of Barristers recoil from the death penalty with an almost visceral disgust – it also speaks well to the reader of the CV. Probably the best known organisation is Reprieve and they can be found here. The UN page is here.

If you are interested in crime you could always try the Legal Services Commission. Most lawyers have certain views about them but the inside track would always be helpful and, providing you don’t spend your pupillage interview defending the reason why Barristers are not officially allowed to be paid to think about a case, you will be ok.

Finally there is that good old-fashioned standby – ushering. The pay isn’t great but you get to meet loads of people, you learn a lot about the job and it’s interesting. It gives you something which is just as important as substantive knowledge – an idea of how the system impacts on those who have to use it and an ability to talk about the law as if you were on the inside. It should also get rid forever of some of the airs and graces to which certain members of this great profession occasionally become prone. See your local court centre for details.

I have not dealt with post graduate degrees because I have already posted about them here and here.

The original correspondent – who would prefer to remain anonymous – got a sneak preview, which seems only fair.

29 thoughts on “Filling in Time

  1. Thanks for the advice once again Simon. As someone facing the inevitable (minimum) year out, I have been pondering how to fill the time. Whilst I too would like to think I have a reasonable chance of securing pupillage (as I suppose all making this journey must before they embark on it given the risks), I readily acknowledge the benefits of CV/experience enhancing work. I am however torn by the realities of real world need and enhancing my attractiveness to pupillage committees.

    To probe the topic further, does a non-legal job negatively impact application chances? Of course, I have to accept that there are limited opportunities to get a job that is both CV enhancing and pays enough for me to live off. At the end of the day, if it comes to it, I will work wherever can find it. I am concerned only that ultimately financial need must come above the CV, particularly with the mountainous cost of the BVC and undergraduate education following behind like the proverbial Albatross. From a personal perspective “I couldn’t find a legal-related job fast enough, and I needed to eat and pay my bills” seems not an unreasonable justification in my eyes for having taken ‘any old job’. What, though, of pupillage committees?

  2. Apologies for obvious idiocy in failing spelling of yours truly. The battle with the dissertation does dull the blade of the mind after another long day’s fight.

  3. Hello Simon,

    Thanks for all the great work you’ve been doing with the site–I referred to it often during this pupillage season. I was wondering if I could contact you by email for an opinion on the pupillage choice I made and the area of law to which I had committed. Granted, my ponderings are of little practical consequence at this point, but I’d love to hear your opinion regardless.

  4. My heart goes out to those who have ability and yet cannot obtain pupillage on account of lack of breeding and/or absence of money (the older the money is, then so much the better). I’ve employed barristers who have subsequently used their experience and contacts within a solicitors firm to obtain pupillage. Others have, simply done the two exams and ‘crossed over’ to the other side. They have then returned to the Bar as solicitors, without the neede to do pupillage and have been in a position to promise Chambers that they can be self sufficient and a source of introduction of work. Some (one in particular) had initial difficulty because his ‘friends’ at the Bar regarded him as a source of briefs. But even in his case, perseverence paid off in the end with assurances from my partners and I that we would ‘feed him’ with work. And, while he was waiting, he got paid AND continued to obtain experience in complex cases. It’s possible, of course, to simply exercise higher courts rights as a solicitor but, with the warned list system, it’s pretty nigh impossible to do that without a ‘barristers-type’ chambers set -up

  5. It is unlikely to be anything to do with lack of breeding. Otherwise we have a situation where a period of employment with a solicitor magically creates that which was lacking before 😉

    The lack of money isn’t often the point either. All professions require an investment before qualifying. Whether that should be so is another matter, but it hardly distinguishes a barrister from a solicitor.

    The cross-over, cross-back route has been discussed here before and can work. You do still need a period of pupillage in most cases, but it is easier than a PP application (although more exams, more expense, more time and no certainty).

    To answer the question above. Providing you do something interesting I don’t think it matters if your job is non-legal. You may be able to combine the income with an internship in the summer or at Xmas. Barristers do understand the need to live and you won’t be penalised for trying to do so.

    Minx – I know, honestly. But quite a lot of people find a way or want to know. There are, unfortunately, relatively few paid jobs like this because most require qualification. However, the Law Commission does pay and the Government does as well. I think the CAB does in some cases too.

    1. Simon

      You do need more money to qualify at the Bar then become a solicitor. Most decent law firms pay for the LPC and provide a contribution towards living costs during the LPC. The recruitment process schedule often allows a prospective trainee to have all this sewn up half way through their undergraduate degree. Then during training, trainee solicitors are paid a good salary.

      There is no equivalent system for prospective barristers. You need access to finance in order to fund the post graduate education. Then whilst a pupil, and unless you are in a handful of commercial sets, you must survive on much less than a trainee solicitor’s salary.

  6. It concerns me that advice such as this, over which I have no doubt as to its sincerity, is possibly the wrong advice to be taken at face value in the current climate.

    I am sure it is fine and dandy for those with a rich daddy, a trust fund or a lottery win, to fanny about for a year as fodder, but is there any evidence to support the assertion that these activities materially enhance an aspirant’s prospects ? As best I can glean, any improvement in one’s chances is marginal at best. And just a year treading water ? How about, two, three or four ?

    For many, it is not just the problems that come with racking up even more debt (and not even at subsidisied student rates any longer) but the risk of rendering themselves unemployable elsewhere if the dreams do not materialise and, as a consequence, the aspirant has to enter the wider job market with what will then be an unattractive CV.

    Everyone is free to do as they choose but, as unpopular as it might be, more people should, I feel, keep one eye on what will happen if they do not make it into the profession. The only one certainty is that the Bar proper won’t give a toss that your career prospects elsewhere are rank and you have life crippling debts.

  7. Simon,

    I apologise for the ratty sounding comment, but even now that the pupillage season is practically all over and done with, I am still a bit raw – indeed now verging on the cynical and trying my hardest not to.
    Despite this, the very sad thought that the Law Commission is only for the likes of russell group graduands, coupled to the fact that all my local CAB have volunteer waiting lists well over 6 months in length, does not elude me. I sincerely wish this was not the case, but at the moment it screams at me……..

  8. Barboy – I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but it wasn’t the question I was asked.

    I’m afraid that there is an issue about when to call it quits and decide that you are actually going to do something else. I really do think that, unless something has altered very substantially, you should say to yourself that it’s 3 tries and out. Assuming the first application is made at University, that leaves 2 years. These are issues for each person.

    Is the effect only marginal? I’m not sure. I know people to whom one of these jobs has made all the difference. Like it or not it shows commitment and a willingness to hang in there. Without detailed financial information about every applicant, that may be an unfair conclusion, but there it is.

    Ultimately you have to be realistic about whether you really have a chance or not. Looking at your other options is sensible. The decisions you then make about how to spend a year or two will be different for each person. Money isn’t the only factor, but it plainly helps. This is the same for every profession (save medicine perhaps). So sure, get a plan B and stick to it.

  9. Filling in ‘time’ is something I have also worried about.

    On the BBC Barrister programme one applicant was told that working in a furniture shop, was practically not acceptable because it didn’t show enough commitment to law. I know a few other bloggers have had tricky dilemmas with trying to actually making a living, whilst wondering if it will make a rather nasty mess on their otherwise perfect legal cv.

    I have also been reliably been told that on the other side of the profession, people who are currently paralegals even after a period of up to 5 years, are STILL waiting for training contracts.

    I’m not sure how transferable this knowledge is to pupillage, but as a lot of wannabe barristers do become paralegals(as a short term fix), it does appear to be a dead end.

    Also to add to your list, the Court of Appeal advertises for clerks for a period of 3-6 months, that is paid quite well, next application season is in December, and it appears that you can do it pre pupillage.

  10. It is actually not that difficult to get paralegal work. Register with some of the legal agencies in London looking for temporary paralegal work. Most of the big firms only take paralegals on a temporary basis, but although temps, they actually work almost full time for the firms. This is how a lot of the antipodeans lawyers get jobs in the big firms, by starting as temps first and then being taken on as associates.

  11. Easy – spend your gap year in London and do as much FRU work as you can afford to. You’ll get excellent advocacy experience – by the end of your year you could have several multi-day discrimination hearings under your belt, and if you’re lucky an EAT case or two. Here are just some of the reasons why it’s a good idea:

    1. If you already have pupillage lined up in a set where you’ll be on your feet in your 2nd six, it will be good to have got past the worst of the feeling of having large red L-plates on your back before you start accepting paid work.
    2. If you have pupillage lined up in a specialist civil set where you will get little or no advocacy of your own during pupillage – all the more important to get some live advocacy experience before you are taken on: if the large red L-plates are embarrassing when you’re a pupil, think how much worse they are if you’re still wearing them as a fully-fledged tenant.
    3. All the more again if you’re going somewhere rarefied where you won’t get let loose in court on your own for years – the L-plates get more embarrassing with every extra month’s seniority.
    4. Lots of sets do advocacy exercises for their pupils – it will be easier to take these in your stride if you’ve done plenty of live advocacy in your year ‘off.’
    5. If you don’t have pupillage lined up at all – this is your best possible opportunity to demonstrate a real interest in and aptitude for advocacy.
    6. You’ll get much more out of watching your pupil supervisor conduct conferences, cross-examine witnesses, make submissions etc. if you’ve done it yourself a few times first.
    7. As a FRU rep, you do the solicitor part of the job as well as the advocacy, so you’ll pick up useful insights into the pressures on your future instructing solicitors.
    8. Total beginners make mistakes and ask basic questions. Who would you rather helped mop up your mistakes and answered your basic questions – one of FRU’s kind, patient and caring legal officers, or your pupil supervisor who (however kind, patient and caring) is bound to have a major say in whether or not you’re taken on?

  12. Afterthought having read some of the comments above: time is money, and volunteering, especially in London, is expensive. But many have combined a useful amount of FRU work with outdoor clerking or paralegal work, so although this option is easier if you don’t have to earn a living as well, it’s not impossible if you do.

  13. I understand that paralegal jobs are proving rather more elusive this year; apparently some of the firms that asked incoming trainee solicitors to defer TCs offered them paralegal jobs instead, so cutting demand. Certainly, a survey of the paralegal job boards shows that most of the positions on offer demand significant practical experience of litigation or specialist work in the relevant field.

  14. Because, in the Real World, things aren’t so simple.

    Last year the deadline for confirming attendance on the BVC (and paying for the bulk of the fee) was set just before the earliest date that pupillage providers were allowed to make offers. So, with the exception of those with no interviews at all, nobody knew if they would have pupillage when they signed on.

    I understand that this year things were meant to be different, with a later deadline for confirming BVC acceptance. But then the Pupillage Portal has just moved the goalposts again, with the window for offers now extended until early September, i.e. just before the BVC terms starts!

    Furthermore, most aspiring BVC students will have done their research and realised that a large portion of pupillages are awarded during or after the BVC. From my observations of both my BVC provider and my Inn, at most 20% or so of BVC students have pupillage at the start of the course. For 1500 or so home BVC students (the overseas ones are generally not in the pupillage competition) this is around 300 of the 550 pupillages annually awarded, so nearly half of pupillages must be going to people who are on the BVC or have finished it. Many of my fellow students had no intention of applying until they had accumulated a couple of years’ further experience or additional qualifications; remember, the BVC is valid for five years, so there are plenty of further opportunities to apply.

    The idea of making BVC admission conditional on pupillage has been kicked around before. Amongst the most fervent opponents are the BVC providers, because it would probably mean that all but one or two of them would have to close due to vastly reduced student numbers.

  15. Just a question to Simon Bradshaw: “the overseas ones are generally not in the pupillage competition” – care to elaborate? Being an overseas student, starting my sec year in september and hoping to make it to the Bar, I’m interested in your opinion about overseas pupils/BVC students etc.

  16. You’re right – I overgeneralise. What I meant was that there seems to be a fair number of BVC students each year who come to England to do the course with the primary intention of returning to their home jurisdiction afterwards. Equally, though, there are many who are intent on gaining pupillage here. But my numbers are of the arm-waving variety, so I’d be interested to see better figures on how many such students there are and what their eventual destination is.

    From what I’ve seen, overseas students (by which I mean students without long-term leave to remain post-BVC) face particular problems if they cannot secure immediate pupillage, because they may find it very hard to get work in the mean time if their visa does not allow it.

  17. I just wrote out a long response but then lost it… Apologies if this is a near duplicate.

    Simon Bradshaw- Thankyou for your response.

    However, I stand by my question. Though, I will now qualify/explain… This is all, of course, mere opinion.

    The people you speak of (those now waiting on Reserve Lists) have, by definition, done extremely well in the application season. (And fingers crossed for those still waiting!) These people have reached the very final stages and should, rightly, feel encouraged by their applications, and pursue the BVC with the (now slightly more realistic) hope of obtaining Pupillage next year.

    However, the people I speak of are those who knew their fate many weeks (even months!) ago. Those who fell at the initial hurdles.

    Let me illustrate with my fictitious Candidate – He’s called Barry Make-Believe. Let’s imagine Barry is at University and has a place to study the BVC in September. Barry applies to 12 PP Chambers. He receives 9 rejections without Interview. He went to 3 First Round Interviews and was then rejected from all of those without recall to the Second Round. Barry was unsuccessful in his Scholarship application and will need hefty loans to commence the BVC. He already has £10k of debt from his Undergraduate degree. It is mid-June and Barry needs to confirm his BVC place and fork out the fees by early August.

    What should Barry do? (No, really? I’m actually interested in your opinions.)

    In my opinion, a candidate like fictitious Barry should defer his BVC place and have his “application years” (the lost years!) pre-BVC, pre-Debt, and pre-expiration period. A “Gap” year is now inevitable for Barry anyway.

    A candidate like Barry is struggling to survive the Paper Sift – and being on the BVC is, in my opinion, unlikely to alter this. Barry will have his Degree Result next year, which may assist him in surviving the Paper Sift, but if he still fails to break through year after year, then, (and I hate to say it), maybe Barry is simply not good enough. He can easily discover his fate without plummeting into debt.

    My way – if fictitious “Barry” never actually obtains his Pupillage the only thing he has lost is his time.

    And possibly some of his hair.

    This is just my opinion. Thoughts?

  18. Barry should do the BVC Part-Time and use the spare time to turbo-charge his CV.

    I honestly believe that doing the BVC part-time is the way forward. Doing the BVC is a prerequisite for Pupillage (obviously) which means that every single applicant will have it. So, in relative terms, the BVC adds almost nothing to your CV.

    A better way to avoid the time-constraints of this derivative but necessary course is to go part-time and start ticking all the boxes again: FRU, minis, mooting, essay competitions etc etc.

    If you get pupillage after Year 1 of the BVC, Year 2 becomes easy. In a very real way, the full-time BVC actually inhibits one’s path to pupillage.

  19. Can I also suggest the judicial assistant scheme? I believe that it can be done before or after the BVC, although most candidates probably apply after Call.

    Excellent boost to the CV and a wonderful opportunity to hone legal research skills, observe appellate advocacy and forge contacts.

  20. Do not assume that you will get a pupillage because you managed to get on a wait list. I was in the same position as you and only managed two wait lists the following year. You are quite right to start planning the gap year (s) now.

    Definetely do FRU work. You may face a judge and decide its not for you.

    I certainly would not wait until you complete the BVC to do some of the things that have been suggested. As a full-time student, you should be able to find time to work at least 16 hours per week. Your CV would really improve as most full-time students do not seem to bother to work whilst studying.

    Good luck!

  21. I will be starting a pupillage at the end of this month, which was secured at the end of my BVC year. I have just been through the post-BVC ‘gap year’ that the original poster anticipated.

    The first comment I would make concerns timing. Although you will start whichever enforced gap occupation you choose after you hear whether you’ve been successful in obtaining pupillage chambers will still be interested in your plans and will raise an eyebrow at any lack thereof. They will know that if you are doing the BVC at the time of your interview, you will have a free year before you start your pupillage with them. I was asked in countless interviews about my plans and was fortunately able to provide them with details, some firm, some in outline, about my plans. Having a good plan for your year out can be a massive boost to your application. Having nothing planned can show a lack of forethought and organisation.

    Second, I am perhaps fortunate not to be one of those people who attract so much vitriol for being funded through their studies by their parents. This meant that I had to relegate 12 months in London working free for FRU to a backup plan. Just because you do not have limitless funds does not mean you cannot have an interesting three-months, you just have to be a little creative.

    I looked at what my Inn of Court had to offer and was able to spend the first three months of my year in Europe on an internship, funded by an Inn scholarship. Such placements are competitive but what on this career path isn’t? This led to a further three-months back in England researching for a law faculty on a related subject matter. Thirdly, I took a slightly more well-trodden route and did death penalty work for three months. This left me three months for a holiday and time to prepare for pupillage. Two of three of these activities provided funding, coupled with some advanced pupillage award I was able to avoid accruing additional debt.

    Making plans for a year-out is hard work, but the original poster is doing the right thing by starting early. Use your BVC year to volunteer and get involved in legal activities beyond the BVC. This can provide you with a contacts for the type of year out you desire and the material for your CV to get you the placements you want.

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