For the sake of fullness, I will briefly address the relentless argument on BVC graduates struggling to find pupillage.
It is correct to say that before commencing the BVC I knew the odds of attaining pupillage. I also was aware of the costs associated with the course, and the potential earnings I could receive thereafter. But I refused to be deterred – as are, regrettably, several passionate and talented individuals. Why? Not through ignorance or delusional, but because this is – as you say – a vocation, and I simply was not willing to accept anything less until I knew I had explored all avenues. My acceptance onto the BVC course gave me the opportunity to pursue my passion and I was not about to turn my back on it. I set out to beat the odds.
Since graduating, I have sought to express neither bitterness nor self-pity (I agree with that). I simply take issue with this radical undermining of the problem.
It was at this stage, still trying to pursue my passion, that I sought employment which would enable me to save sufficient funds to finance a twelve month pupillage. Let me lay out the hurdle I was trying to overcome in no uncertain terms. I was looking to save enough to meet the differential between my predicted monthly outgoings during pupillage and my potential monthly earnings. Whilst I was paying closer to £620 per month in rent at the time – to live somewhere I felt secure, and with friends rather than strangers – I would happily have reduced my outgoings if it were to have made a difference, so I will use the figure for minimum outgoings as I have estimated above – including, of course, my obligatory loan repayment. This, of course, pre-supposes that alternative sources of income – a loan for example – are not available.
As for earnings, since nothing above the pupillage award is guaranteed and since, in any event, cash must be available on a monthly basis for bills and no additional income is available in the first six months, I was forced to calculate on the basis only of that income which is guaranteed.
So the yearly differential would be the estimated outgoings of £15,624, less the potential £10,000 guaranteed income. Thus, it would be necessary to accumulate £462 monthly in savings over the course of one year’s alternative employment. I would be interested to know if the only applications made were to sets which gave only the minimum award.
During that year, my minimal outgoings would continue to amount to £1384 per month, including the added wage-dependant £100 SLC repayment. So my total minimal monthly outgoings, plus my saving for pupillage, would need to amount to a monthly net income of £1846 – or a yearly gross income of £28,077. And please bear in mind that’s the absolute minimum required income.
Well, you certainly can’t earn that sort of income in an entry-level paralegal role. Or, for that matter, any attainable role which would enable the candidate to remain in the field of law.
For my own part, I looked outside of the discipline to attempt to increase my temporary earning potential. Graduate roles would have required a false commitment and were not, of course, immediately available. As for commercial and financial roles, it would seem that BVC graduates face an uphill battle in the struggle to convince employers that they are worthy of an opportunity and have a wealth of valuable, transferrable skills – to the extent that it had been suggested I remove the qualification from my CV altogether.
I was lucky in that, following a temporary assignment, I was offered £27,500 per annum to undertake a non-legal office role. I struggled with the decision, but ultimately accepted the offer, hoping that by the time the twelve month contract expired I would have made some progress in saving towards pupillage.
I struggled to save for months. But – and here’s the extent of my knowledge of economics – if outgoings equal earnings, there’s nothing left to save.
I have a good interview record, and I think my experience speaks to my abilities – but I don’t have delusions of grandeur. I’ll be the first to admit that I may never even have progressed past the interview stage of pupillage rounds.
That does not alter the wider issue, though – that, if I was capable of attaining pupillage, and capable of being an outstanding criminal advocate, the profession would not have benefitted from my talent because I simply do not have the means to undertake a career at the criminal bar. I promise you I am not the only person in this position.
Following a wasted year gaining little valuable legal experience, I finally accepted that I am unable to pursue this avenue and decided, rather, to seek pupillage in a more lucrative discipline or perhaps a solicitor’s training contract. I intend to submit my applications this summer.
You have stated that you “have not heard anyone seriously suggest an alternative way to success than simply being good at it”. No, there is no alternative to success. But without providing the means for young people to support themselves, there are no guarantees that those who are good will be successful. I have sympathy with this, but the reality is that being self-employed is a risk. This exercise was approached on the basis that you needed to be rock solid certain that you would not have to spend more than you earned. Is there not something to be said for taking the risk (always assuming that someone would lend you the money) on the basis that the second year would, at least be better than the first?
The lack of funding at the junior criminal bar is choking the profession’s access to the brightest and most talented pupils. Do I have the answer? No. But I have to say it sickens me to read articles such as this:
And that, supposedly, is to attract candidates who would otherwise not even consider the bar.
You say that pupil-masters give their time “happily” to pupils. Yet, despite criticising the very notion of seeking to acquire riches at the criminal bar as despicable (I think that is a bit overstated), you seem to be seeking some sort of accolade on behalf of your peers in asserting that a pupil’s measly award “comes from the earnings of the barristers in chambers”. Surely it is a privilege to invest in the future of the profession, to support such a “worthwhile and deeply satisfying” vocation, which serves to assist those who would otherwise “be outrageously disadvantaged”? Certainly it is – which is why so many barristers gives their time for free. This is not an idle point. I don’t earn unless I am working. Spending 2 hours going through my pupil’s pleadings isn’t working. But we happily do it. Not to mention those who lecture, supervise, advise, teach on courses, administer the profession, go to schools. All of this is done for free – which means the barrister in question is paying to do it. That is the balance here.
If you truly believe in the worth of the criminal bar, as you plead so passionately in your article, prevent its erosion through not only the increasing numbers of solicitor advocates and CPS advocates, but also the abundantly obviously draining of the best talent into other areas of practice. Campaign for better funding for pupils and junior criminal barristers.
I hope now you can appreciate why these sweeping statements you have made have ignited such condemnation. I don’t think that is accurate although I accept that some people didn’t like it. But I agree the statements were sweeping – it was a 600 word (as I recollect it) article and nuance is tricky.
I have, with my correspondent’s permission, sent this article to the Chairman of the Bar with a request that the Bar Council consider it when setting minimum pupillage awards. In my view the awards may need to be increased, differentiated between London and the provinces, supported by a Chambers’/Inn loan scheme, tailored to individual need and otherwise reviewed.
I have received an assurance that the Bar Council is enquiring whether the review of pupillage by Derek Wood QC includes funding arrangements. If it does then I will ensure that it considers the points raised in my correspondent’s posts and the comments they attract. If not then I will try and find out when and how funding is going to be addressed and I will tell you.
In fairness the Bar Council told me that they had, the same week, received a complaint that compulsorily funded pupillage reduced opportunity. If that became an excuse for inaction it would be inexcusable. If it serves to show how there are no perfect options and to encourage debate about the least worst option then that would be helpful.