Life at the Bar · No Pupillage · Routes to the Bar · The Future

Bit of a Kicking Part 2


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.


33 thoughts on “Bit of a Kicking Part 2

  1. Dear Simon,
    Thank you so much for your praise – I’m truly flattered!
    Some notes in response to your comments:
    1. It is roughly correct to say I lived on £13,000 in my BVC year, although it’s worth noting that I had no regular travel expenses. Beyond the essential rent, bills and food, I probably had dispensable funds of around £30 per week.
    2. I appreciate your point that this is a self employed profession and so income is never guaranteed. I’m not looking for a salary, but I don’t think I’m being over cautious in seeking some reasonable prospect of earning enough, on a month by month basis, to cover rent, bills, food and not default on the loan repayment – so, around £16,000 a year. Still a risk, but with better weighted odds.
    Also, it’s a bigger risk when you consider that these things have a habit of snowballing… Supposing I borrow (from a financial institution) enough to undertake pupillage and commit to repaying this in my first year of tenancy, alongside my other financial obligations. I already assume the risk of defaulting on those payments and taking on further loans simply by being self employed – which is fine. But there is also the risk of having to undertake a third sixth which would guarantee the accumulation of more debt; and the risk of not being offered tenancy and being out of work for sixth months; which potentially incorporates the further risk of not being able to make repayments or to take another loan.
    I agree there is something to be said for persevering regardless, but these risks are real, and not insignificant. Is there really a case for saying that on top of demonstrating worth in all the other necessary ways, it’s fair to expect young people to leap into some sort of financial abyss to show the strength of their commitment? At what point does persistence become blind stupidity?
    Is it any wonder, when faced with these prospects, people turn to other areas of practice? Maybe I’m just too introspective, and the criminal bar are satisfied that there are enough talented people out there who can afford these risks.
    3. Not all pupillages I applied to were offering only the minimum award, but as far as I recall, of those that offered me interviews, the vast majority gave an award of £12,000. (In answer to a previous comment, my recollection is that these sets were guaranteeing £6,000 award in the first sixth and would guarantee £6,000 earnings in the second.)
    In my calculations above I used absolute figures to demonstrate a point – in reality I tried to save £410 a month in order that my loan repayments were guaranteed for the year. I assumed I would be guaranteed £12,000, and that I could make this cover my other outgoings – but I wanted to ensure the loan repayments were safe. Even with a net income of £1,600 per month, this proved impossible.
    I hope this doesn’t undermine my point – but please bear in mind the calculations above focus upon absolute minimum essential costs – I had to be realistic.
    4. I may have become a little aggressive towards the end of my email – I did say my blood had boiled!
    Anyway, I do take your responses on board and I don’t claim the matter is black and white. I also agree – conversely – that there are few enough pupillages available without limiting them further, although it’s worth noting that this was always a hugely competitive area, even prior to compulsory awards being implemented.
    But I do think the situation is one worth reassessing. I’m grateful you’ve given me the opportunity to have an impact in that and I thank you for pursuing the matter.
    And incidentally, I think your idea of a Chambers’ / Inn loan scheme is excellent.

  2. I can understand your situation. I recently graduated from a law school. I know how difficult it is get a training contract after Law practice course and for pupillage after BVC.

    Wish you best of luck.

  3. Could I just state for the record that it is possible to earn money in your first-six. I am currently in my first-six and have been doing a number of ‘Noting Briefs’. These are paid at a daily rate of £100.

  4. The point that appears to be over-looked is that chambers are groups of self-employed lawyers while solicitors at a firm are employees or partners.

    The whole compulsory funding of barristers while they get qualified as practitioners is ill conceived and wholly counter-productive.

    Generally speaking, only Champions League level chambers can afford to fund pupils. Back in the day, a pupil could make their own arrangements and work for free. Is it really a surprise now that funding and OLPAS are compulsory that the number of pupillages as significantly decreased? Come on.

    The result is few pupillage possibilities with pay v more opportunities without pay. It should be MY choice, not the Bar Council’s, if I want to work for free at a bread and butter chambers to get qualified.

    Many self-employed people work for free to get their businesses up and running. Why shouldn’t pupil barristers have the same choice?

    The Bar Council’s didactic paternalism is killing the profession.

    You tell me. Who’s going to do the non Champions league work in the future? Caseworkers at the CPS!? Solicitor-advocates? Anyone? Bueller?

  5. I think the problem is twofold. Firstly, to work for free you have to be able to do so. Some people can’t. That amounts to a socially dictated policy which isn’t a good idea.

    Secondly, although the number of pupillages is reduced, you don’t hear cries that there aren’t enough barristers do you? Which suggests that recruitment isn’t an issue. Why then would you change things to make it easier for rich people?

    I am simply putting the questions. I think the bar is poor at picking its pupils; but I don’t think the bar is under-staffed.

  6. No, the Bar is not understaffed now – because you guys got in during the open access era. The Bar may not be understaffed when you guys retire either – because the bread and butter will be dealt with otherwise (“case-workers”, solicitors etc).

    “The Bar” wrings its hands about accessibility and the need for funding – but let’s get real – how many kids from the Estate and London Metropolitan University are going to get Champions League chambers?

    Honestly, how many NEW pupils come from somewhere other than Oxbridge? How many Estate kids have been able to fund themselves in the States to work for free on Death Row or in a Harvard LL.M. programme so a pupillage committee will pay attention? Come. Off. It.

    With the rare exception, you’re funding the people who are in the least need of support – the people who’ve already had every advantage. Gosh, I feel like Alanis Morisette because I want to belt out “Isn’t it ironic”.

    Nobody’s addressed the point that Barristers are self-employed – and like other self-employed people will have to sacrifice. Would you like to give us all subsidy?

    Maybe the unintended consequence of the Bar Council’s tinkering is we’ll end up with an Australian system where people start out working as solicitors – and later in their careers, when they have developed their knowledge and advocacy skills, then move to the independent Bar.

    Manybe that’s not such a bad thing after all – but the least the Bar could do is to be upfront with people and not let people pound away at doors they know are highly unlikely to open.

  7. Sorry Kris but this is rubbish.

    Of course the Bar expanded when times were good. To talk about this as if it is a fault is ridiculous. Equally, now times are hard the number of people who can make a living from the Bar is more limited. What do you think should happen? Compulsory retirement?

    You can obsess about ‘Champions League’ Chambers if you want, but in my experience the issue is pupillage or not – not where it is. I don’t think many sets spread their net wide enough but that isn’t this debate.

    How many new pupils come from elsewhere than Oxbridge? Most. If you are going to raise this issue then do it responsibly. Don’t ask silly questions and leave no answer – inviting people to assume the worst. That is hack advocacy of the worst kind. If you have evidence then contact me and I’ll post it.

    I agree that ‘estate kids’ (your phrase, not mine) are unlikely to be able to fund their own programmes. Nor are most pupils. It’s about scholarships and doing what you can. This is pointless moaning about which the Bar can do nothing.

    It is nonsense to say that the people being funded are least in need of it. What evidence do you have for that apart from your own prejudices and what you would like to be true. That amounts – if it amounts to anything – to an accusation that the poor are deliberately not given pupillage. That’s wrong. It reflects your concerns, rather than reality.

    Barristers will obviously have to make sacrifices. The point at which we differ is that I get the impression that you would like to chose what sacrifice I make and how. Free societies (which is what I defend) don’t work like that.

    If doors don’t open it is not because of some deliberate policy or institutionalised racism/classism. It’s because we aren’t perfect at the efforts we make. You can’t make a grandstanding speech out of that but it is true. I think you are parading your prejudices – sorry.

  8. at the risk of parading my own prejudices, i believe many of the difficulties of who gets pupillage are indeed down to institutionalised classism, racism, sexism ageism blah blah blah.

    i don’t say the bar is alone in this – it simply mirrors society. i also think they are trying hard to address it because i believe most people at the bar like you simon wish the process to be as fair as it can and to result in picking the best people for the job.
    without wishing to make vague generalisations i have to say i see some truth in kris’s point about the kind of pupils at ‘premier league chambers’ (not sure what they are but let’s say those offering the highest awards). they generally go to oxbridge. and at what i would view as the most traditional sets (chancery/commercial chancery) they tend to pick em young male and spotty with a law degree from oxbridge. it would be merely scurrilous of me to say that some also seem to have socialisation/personal hygiene issues, but i’m a scurrilous sort of chap so tough. my personal straw poll is that many of them as juniors at least aren’t great court advocates either.

    now if you are looking for ‘a strong academic background’ as all chambers say they do, then oxbridge firsts have to considered a fair example of that. this is not to claim that there is no ability elsewhere or that academic ability is the be all and end all. however that’s what sets openly state and that’s what they reflect in selection. so it’s a bit much to accuse them of anything underhand.

    the difficulty is that we are demanding that a system combine the demands of chambers (make a profit) with the system of entry to the bar (be open and fair to all). it’s an unsquareable circle. you cannot serve god and mammon. chambers are comercial bodies and must have the freedom to operate as such rather than be the cure for society’s ills; the only answer is to divorce entry to the bar from pupillage. if it is about social inclusion then let some body with social inclusion among its stated aims be in charge of it. it is neither realistic nor fair on chambers or applicants to expect chambers to run it.

  9. Simon I completely agree with your response to Kris above.

    I also agree that the problem with criminal pupillage funding arises from the state of the Criminal Bar, and there are, to put it conservatively, at least as many voices calling for unfunded pupillages as there are calling for an increase in awards. Anecdotally speaking I also think it is a mistake to presume that most of those at the junior end of the Criminal Bar have rich and generous parents – in my experience junior criminal barristers tend to be less likely to have financial backing than junior civil barristers.

    Certainly the Criminal Bar is “losing out” so to speak on many of the most talented barristers who practise civil law but might have chosen crime had it been better remunerated. That’s just the way it is – the world of stage has “lost out” on me because theatre is badly paid and full of risks so I decided to opt for law instead. I don’t hold actors responsible for this, expect them to subsidise me in my first years or claim that acting is elitist.

    I think it was Kris who used the phrase “estate kids” – yes, these “kids” are much less likely to end up at the Bar, because they are much less likely to have the environment they need to succeed at school, and the subsequent support they need to go to uni and succeed there. The Bar cannot be expected to single-handedly right the wrongs of society. There isn’t a competitive profession/area of employment out there where people from disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged. I’m sure there are similarly fewer “estate kids” in medicine. The Bar is doing what it can and offers generous scholarships funded by its members, as well as countless other initiatives Simon has mentioned.

    Simon I’m also inclined to think that the only solution to the now rampant resentment of the Bar among BVC graduates is to make the BVC available only to those with pupillage lined up/those who sign a declaration that they do not intend to practise at the English Bar. Given that pupils are recruited a year in advance there is no real reason why this should not be so (assuming that dining is available to applicants before commencing the BVC). It seems to me to be a situation of crisis for the Bar’s image at this stage. Whereas many people should really know better, there must be a certain number of people who stand a reasonable chance who can’t know in advance whether they will get pupillage and it seems an unreasonable gamble.

  10. I sympathise with the Anonymous Emailer but must add my opinion. (And it is only that.)

    It would be interesting to know if the Anonymous Emailer was awarded an Inn Scholarship? (Or applied for one?) Forgive me if I missed this in the long post. He/she says they have good interview skills and they obviously have the qualifications. The scholarship system is surely designed for students with the potential to gain pupillage who face financial barriers.

    If successful then Inn scholarships can be generous. (Up to five figure sums.) This, in turn, would circumvent the need for the massive BVC loan. It may even circumvent the need for ANY loan at all. Which, in turn, would free-up considerable cash in the Pupillage year which the Anonymous Emailer would be dishing out on loan repayments.

    In my opinion, the award system is sound. A higher amount may see pupillage numbers drop. Any lower and we may start to live in cardboard boxes.

    £833ish a month in Central London is a struggle. But, (if you have received a scholarship in the BVC year and therefore have no professional loan repayments) it is not, in my humble opinion, utterly impossible.

    The award should, in my opinion, represent a “survival” award. Rent, food, phone and travel. Why on earth should a self-employed profession fund my social life?

    Applicants should also note that, at least at my institution, the BVC finishes in early June, and many Pupillages start in October. That’s a long ol’ summer to move back home with the parents (if possible, rent/bills free) and work, work, save, work, save some more, work, work. (Etc) Even the minimum award could be boosted by a couple of thousand pounds in those 4 months.

    So, dont be too tough on yourself Mr Myerson QC. In my opinion you had it right all along.

  11. anon3

    i got an inn scholarship of 5k – it was a bloody generous and much-needed award. nor was it the only practical help i got from my inn. i am very grateful indeed to the system of scholarships and the individuals that decided to give me one. however if you set it against your bvc fees and associated living costs, it looks rather smaller in perspective.
    the suggestion that you return home and live with your parents makes the classic assumption that those who seek to come to the bar are of a certain age. perhaps indicative of the institutionalised ageism i alluded to above.

    james c – i see oxbridge as relevant in two main ways. firstly image: the bar has the reputation for being dominated by oxbridge and oxbridge has a reputation as a bastion of privilege. this discussion is about how those benefitting from various forms of social privilege are felt to have an unfair advantage (real or perceived) over others with equal or greater ability.
    secondly it is at least arguable that the bulk of those who attend oxbridge have got there in some part on the basis of existing privilege. and this discussion is about the perpetuation of privilege.

  12. I want to respond to simplywondered’s issue with the supposed Oxbridge domination of the bar. I have written a (rather lengthy, in retrospect) post on the “Oxbridge” thread here:

    I suggest that the advantage that Oxbridge students get in the recruitment market may be justified for two reasons:

    1. An Oxbridge education is more likely to turn out promising barristers than even the very good non-Oxbridge institutions of the UK. This is because of the teaching methods used there as well as the expectations there that students will go the extra mile. I expect this to hold even while controlling for entry standards. This is difficult to test, but one can compare pupillage rates at Oxbridge with those universities which have a large number of unsuccessful Oxbridge candidates who will nevertheless have similar attributes.

    2. Oxbridge students, in general, study harder. So in at least that sense, the average Oxbridge student can be said to be more deserving of a pupillage than the average non-Oxbridge candidate. Our customary moral intuition says that reward should be proportional to effort. Support for this proposition in law may be found (perhaps I’m stretching a bit here!) in the common law doctrine of consideration in contract law.

    See the post I linked to above (I was originally going to post it here, but thought better of it) for more details.

  13. I’m somewhat bemused by the strength of feeling expressed in reaction to my comments. If I’m so full of rubbish, please let’s have an alternative explanation why the Bar is largely a white male last bastion? If my premise is wrong, why is the Bar obsessed with “open access”?

    I have to agree with Simplywondered – of course the old guard look for their own image from back in the day as a measure of what will be successful and who they should recruit.

    It’s not just estate kinds (which you’ve glomed onto) but anyone else who isn’t a nice white 24 year old oxbridge grad. Many of us did our BVCs part-time – only a few in my whole year got pupillage. Do you think people did the course as a vanity project rather than a genuine career change? Hardly. Even their BVC providers, er provided second-class careers assistance.

    I think I’ve struck a nerve – and not because I’m wildly wrong. I’m on target and we all know it.

  14. btw, this attitude that if you don’t figure in our androcentric gaze, you’re just not good enough anyway is so pervasive that it seeps down through the admin staff at the Bar Council. I’ve given up even trying to ring them after I had the phone slammed down on me for having the temerity to ask how I might go about getting some credit towards pupillage for my legal work experience. I told me Inn and they said, “how do you think we feel? That’s exactly how they treat us”.

    Simon may have forgotten, but he used to say if pupillage were a horse, even he wouldn’t bet on it.

    In contrast, I’m found the Law Society to be flexible, accomodating and welcoming.

    “The Bar” supposedly wants to know what the experience is like from the student point of view – and then appears to revert to hissy-fit meltdown when their “blame the punter” M.O. is challenged.

  15. I’m somewhat bemused by the strength of feeling expressed in reaction to my comments. If I’m so full of rubbish, please let’s have an alternative explanation why the Bar is largely a white male last bastion?

    It isn’t. When you look at the whole profession you are looking at social attitudes from the last 40 years +. The Bar is now increasingly female and non-white. The proportions of minority groups very largely reflect the proportions of minority groups on law courses in academically demanding institutions (not enough for some of us but unless you propose enforcing quotas – a point you have ducked – there isn’t a lot that can be done save to allow time to pass).

    If my premise is wrong, why is the Bar obsessed with “open access”? Because some of us are committed to it. Your view seems to be that because people want to open the profession it is possible to conclude (actually, that one can only conclude) that open access does not exist. I think this is an error of analysis.

    I have to agree with Simplywondered – of course the old guard look for their own image from back in the day as a measure of what will be successful and who they should recruit. And this is because the old guard are in charge of recruitment? Really? Your evidence for that is what exactly? In most Chambers the bulk of any recruiting team is 10 years call and below and is deliberately chosen to not reflect any particular outlook. As I said to you, if you have evidence to the contrary then email me and I’ll post it.

    It’s not just estate kids (which you’ve glomed onto). Don’t backtrack from the agenda you set. Those were your words, and you did not mention a single other category of person.

    … but anyone else who isn’t a nice white 24 year old oxbridge grad. This is simply wrong. Your refusal to acknowledge the point, or cite evidence of why you maintain it is why I think that your argument is poor.

    Many of us did our BVCs part-time – only a few in my whole year got pupillage. Upwards of 2,500 people apply for 500 pupillages, including a large number of people going round a second or third time. I do not think this is sensible or moral and I have repeatedly said so. But it necessarily means that only a few in each year get pupillage – wherever and however you do your BVC. However, students also have a responsibility to themselves. Ask your BVC about their success rates. If they won’t answer, then don’t give them £13,000 of your money. The market exists because the consumers make it and the consumers are the students, not the Bar.

    Do you think people did the course as a vanity project rather than a genuine career change? Hardly. I’m afraid that in my experience, each BVC course contains a substantial proportion of people who are not going to get a pupillage and want one. They have not researched their prospects and they represent hope rather than expectation. That does not detract from the fact that there are also a group who are unlucky, or even overlooked. However, when Chambers can reject 50% of applicants on the basis of an academically mediocre CV (in comparison to the peer group of applicants) and a set of dull and predictable extra-curricular activities then some applicants are wasting their time. For the record I have seen quite a few ‘estate kids’ who have a fantastic track record of involvement in their own communities. Such people are generally regarded as interesting, motivated and worthy of interview.

    Even their BVC providers, er provided second-class careers assistance. That may be so, but careers advice starts with the University and can also be undertaken independently. Research skills and judgement are part of the job.

    I think I’ve struck a nerve – and not because I’m wildly wrong. I’m on target and we all know it. I beg your pardon. Because people react to the argument to tell you you are wrong, it proves you are right? And also, it would follow, that those who say you are wrong are deliberately misleading themselves and others? This is such a poor argument that, were it to be advanced in a professional capacity it would immediately demonstrate that you weren’t up to the job (and were happy to cast aspersions on peoples’ motives to big yourself up). I would like you to apply professional standards to this debate too.

  16. As far as your second post is concerned I’ll make you a deal. The route to asking for time to count towards pupillage is through the BSB, not the Bar Council.

    I am happy to check the progress of your application through the pupillage group, on which I sit. Simply provide me a copy of the correspondence. But you must accept that the essence of pupillage is supervision. You aren’t being supervised in your current work as far as I can see from your website. Why then should it count?

    You see, you may be reacting badly to being told, ‘no’, without having any entitlement to be told ‘yes’. If that is so then it is no grounds for complaint – a point which you should realise.

  17. For what it’s worth, I think that Kris may have part of a point, but Simon’s criticisms of Kris’s argument are 100% valid and Kris will need to address and fix all of them if he/she is to get anywhere.

    ps “NotMyRealName”, you’re more than “stretching” the point of supporting rewarding greater effort with contract consideration, you’re committing criminal damage to it with severe aggravation! Also, remember Chappell & Co Ltd v. Nestle Co Ltd [1960] AC 87

  18. notymyreal name (or should i call you ‘notyourrealname’? i am now officially confused). i can’t agree with either of your points. (even if the second is somewhat tongue in cheek – i will be billing you for a new keyboard and cup of tea after reading that ‘oxbridge students in general study harder’ …!?! how would you, i or anyone else know?).
    the first depends on post hoc reasoning. comparing oxbridge and top non-oxbridge pupillage rates couldn’t tell you anything conclusive unless you discounted the notion of oxbridge bias which is what you are trying to disprove.

    world in general
    it’s all very well laying into kris – it’s clear a portion of his argument was invective and while you are entirely fair simon in asking for some justification, it’s a comment on a blog and not a bloody thesis. let an accomplished senior member of the bar dissect any of our points and i fear the result would be messy. this does not mean they are without value and i consider there is plenty of underlying truth in what he says. too many people comment from a position of privilege which blinds them to the effect of that privilege.

    your own first point i don’t accept: the bar will continue to be a bastion of various forms of privilege (and i glean from your argument that you agree it is still infected by historic bias); the polar options of sitting and waiting it out or setting quotas are not the only options for change and i’m sure you would never suggest so. you are very active in finding ways to improve it (and often get deserved plaudits for it). kris had already posted his suggestion that people be able to work for free so he doesn’t seem to be advocating either of the extreme courses you mention. when i entered the acting profession, you couldn’t work without an equity card and you couldn’t get an equity card without work. the pre-entry closed shop has disappeared from the stage and it should disappear from the bar.

    just to be clear on the point which kris drew from my comment, i don’t see recruiting in one’s own image as the preserve of an ‘old guard’; i believe it is what we all do to degrees. it’s as simple as liking things to be done the way we do them; it is always harder to see the value in a method that is very different from our own and the intelligent and opinionated are at least as prone to that as anyone else.

    anya – i agree with most of the points you make in your first post, but i don’t know that shrugging our shoulders and accepting that life ain’t fair (true though it is) is how i’d want to react to it. and i think we’ve covered this one before but i don’t accept the ‘i’m not from the traditional background and i did it’ argument as evidence that anyone can. i admire your achievement and the ability, determination and luck (we all need luck) that i presume led to it, but it isn’t proof of a level playing field.

    a final apology for the length of these submissions – i am clearly on one!

  19. I am really confused. Kris are you asking the bsb to take the work you do on your website into consideration for pupillage? Is this service practical legal practise?

  20. Simplywondered: I did not set out to deny the phenomenon which you describe as “Oxbridge bias”. Rather, I set out reasons why pupillage committees might choose Oxbridge students over students who had studied at other universities.

    My aside about consideration was tongue in cheek (and perhaps ill-advised), however I was making a serious point when I claimed that THE AVERAGE Oxbridge student who gets a 2.1. will have worked harder than THE AVERAGE non-Oxbridge student with a similar grade. Please refer to my post at for analysis of this claim.

  21. @notmyrealname

    Didn’t work very hard at contract law, apparently. Or perhaps just didn’t understand it?

    Isn’t all this talk of rewarding people for simply having done a greater volume of labour careering towards the “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch?

  22. In the spirit of this discussion could someone help me with the below?

    Had a mini this week and spoke to a young chancery tenant and he said that on his first day at city 5 people had pupillage already.

    The vast majority get pupillage during or post the BVC.

    The question is: is this because they are ‘better’ then [more time to do ECs etc], or is it because chambers somehow prefer those who are on the BVC / have completed it [perhaps just because that’s the group they usually recruit from].

    The problem is, if it’s the latter reason it’s very hard to assess one’s pupillage chances pre-BVC.


  23. Wary Applicant, I suspect you are posting on the wrong part of this excellent site.

    But for what it’s worth, my experience is that many able candidates for pupillage fail to realise that they need to be going at full throttle in terms of their pupillage campaign in the year pre-BVC. When they start the BVC they pull their socks up.

    If it’s not too late for you, start your campaign as early as possible. I use the word campaign deliberately. If you are serious about getting pupillage, you need to be more dedicated than (nearly) everyone around you.

  24. notmyrealname – sorry if i misconstrued your point re oxbridge bias. i read your comment on why you think people at oxbridge work harder. i remain unconvinced. well done on attempting as scientific an approach to the question as you could, but i just can’t see that there is any way to prove it. it’s a series of straw polls.

  25. Response to various comments.

    “The scholarship system is surely designed for students with the potential to gain pupillage who face financial barriers.”

    Unfortunately, not. For example, Gray’s Inn:

    “Scholarships are available to all, irrespective of background, to support and encourage students to become barristers.
    The Inn is able to give scholarships and awards to the value of over £700,000 a year. Most of these awards are for those undertaking their Bar Vocational Course, and the remainder go to those in their CPE and/or pupillage years. In general, when assessing applications, the Scholarships Committee pay particular attention to:
    i. Academic achievement
    ii. Intellectual and personal qualities
    iii. Extra-curricular activities and achievement
    iv. Potential for successful practice at the Bar
    v. Temperament and motivation
    vi. Mooting and/or debating experience”

    While I see the virtue in awarding the best and brightest, Inns scholarships are NOT means tested and do NOT set out to support those who might well be successful at the Bar other than for lack of funding. To assess the competition for scholarships, take a look at the qualifications, experience and list of awards of the recent intake of any Chancery Set. You’re right – I’m not that good!

    Also, the majority of scholarships are actually quite small, and even the 5000GBP one poster mentions would not even cover the BVC fees, let alone supporting oneself for a year – so would not, I’m afraid, negate the necessity for a loan.

    As for failing to attend interviews (a comment on Part I), interviews were cancelled owing to:
    1. Concerns that my attendance could unfairly limit the opportunity of another. I.e. – maybe someone else could take that interview slot, or maybe, if I had been offered a second interview, it would have been ahead of an otherwise worthy candidate who DID intend to undertake pupillage that year.
    2. Concerns about being in the awkward position of being offered pupillage I was then unable to commence for reasons of which I was already aware.
    (I had enough regret, for these reasons, about applying in the first place.)
    3. Precisely because I DID intend to take a year out to muster up funds, as outlined above.

    Anyway, I’m not saying I don’t have regrets about my handling of the situation. But for fear of this becoming a debacle examining my personal history, let me explain that I merely set out to establish reasons why Simon’s suggestion, that pupillage awards at the criminal bar are sufficient, needed further critical analysis.

    The manner in which I conducted myself is not really a matter for debate. I am one of many. The fact is that asking young people with significant commitments to student debt to live on 10,000 to 15,000GBP, and expecting that this amount provides sufficient support, is misguided.

    The situation does limit the access of some otherwise worthy candidates.

    Finally, it is true to say there is better remuneration available if practicing in other areas – which is where I am now focussing my attention. But Simon’s article is about the criminal bar and, therefore, so is my response. I think it is noteworthy that it is with regret that I am not pursuing my career in this field. Nevertheless, if the criminal bar are happy enough to say “Certainly the Criminal Bar is “losing out” … on many of the most talented barristers … that’s just the way it is”, who am I to argue?

    And a note about the debate that seems to have arisen on Oxbridge students and privilege:
    The most intelligent and the most academic graduates, whoever they may be (and from whichever university), are likely to be offered the best places and highest rewards in any discipline. This is the way the world should work. Whether those individuals are “the people who are in the least need of support” is neither here nor there – if they are the best, so it be. But whether pupillage funding is compulsory or otherwise, certain Chambers will always be offering high awards to attract the most suitable candidates. Failing to offer sufficient support to those who fall short of superstardom, but who nevertheless are talented and committed advocates, has no impact whatsoever on this situation. And trying to justify the latter by reference to the former is, to me, just twisted logic.

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