OLPAS · Routes to the Bar

OLPAS – The System’s Unloveable Quirks

Welcome to those who have come to this site from LawCareers.net, which reproduced the Help post and made a donation to the Middle Temple scholarship fund for doing so, which was kind. I am grateful to the anonymous author whose post is reproduced below. One the one hand it does rather justify everything that you love to hate about the profession’s attempt to move your applications into the 20th century. On the other hand, at least it may help you to understand that a failure to communicate isn’t necessarily rudeness. Also: fill in your dates to avoid and – although I find it bizarre that this needs saying – fill in your full contact details. After all, you are hoping that Chambers get in touch with you.

I’ve read your blog for a few years and I thought I might follow your invitation to get in touch to offer a few thoughts about the administration of the Pupillage Portal. I think you have said that you are not involved in recruitment in your sets, so I hope this will be of vague interest in explaining why some things are almost inevitably going to be unsatisfactory and why some are more likely to go wrong than others. Assuming, that is, that you have not heard the others in your set grumbling about them already…
A major issue is that the parts of the software which chambers use to run the application process is very awkward to use (I think mirroring the parts which candidates use). To give a trivial example: it is very easy to trip up on its mail-merge facility since it doesn’t have a preview function, making it all to easy to send out messages which start “Dear [name]”. It is also slightly unclear sometimes just how many ‘confirm’ buttons one has to hit before the email actually gets sent, making it quite straight-forward to send out more than one set of rejecting emails. However, that said, if you were rejecting people en masse on the Portal, it did only require the ticking of an extra check box to send them an email at the same time so there is no sensible reason why some sets do not manage to do this, nor change the default Portal text to something a bit more friendly. Equally, for those getting good news, it requires just another tick to send them a text-message; something I think more sets could use.
It also appears that the software which runs the Portal was adapted from one designed for much larger organisations, with rolling recruitment and designated recruitment officers. This means it has dozens of features which I don’t think are ever used for pupillage. One example is that each application is allocated a status which slowly advances through the system. However, because there are so many statuses, to reject someone following an interview you have, for example, first to advance them from “invited for interview” to “interview booked” and then “interview attended” even if you were doing all the timetabling off the system. I think this may explain both why so many sets stop using the Portal to process the applications after the first interview stage and why sometimes someone’s status will mysteriously change (e.g. from “under consideration” to “in screening”) if the person administrating it needs to move everyone up before being able to do anything sensible with the applications.
In terms of pre-interview and first-round interview rejections, it might be helpful to know that the only sensible way of sending out the messages is to invite those who were going to the next stage first, and then (having double- and triple-checked) do a “select all” on those remaining in the current category and “bulk process” (this being the Portal’s rather charming terminology, not mine) them to “rejected”. This is why rejections can end up being sent a while after invitations for the next round, particularly if there are some borderline candidates whose fate must be determined before the main batch can be processed. Although, as I mentioned above, this is no excuse for sending out any information to those rejected once a final list is chosen since it only requires a couple of mouse clicks.
It is also easy to underestimate how much work is required just to keep on top of the applications. For example, when printed out, I think chambers had about 4,000 pages of text to deal with last year, so I can see a strong temptation not to furnish every member of a large panel with every application form before a first round interview. I was also surprised at how extremely keen candidates were: interview slots were booked within minutes of emails being sent out, although surprisingly few had filled in their “dates to avoid” on the form, which would have helped the process enormously. Though not as much as full contact details (e.g. phone numbers where people can actually be reached) and I wonder if a lack thereof might have a detrimental effect on an application if a junior tenant is doing the administration! That said, it was usually straight-forward to accommodate requests to move people around, if necessary, so I perhaps wouldn’t worry about asking (assuming there is a good excuse!) as much as some people obviously do, reading through the posts.

13 thoughts on “OLPAS – The System’s Unloveable Quirks

  1. ” Though not as much as full contact details (e.g. phone numbers where people can actually be reached) and I wonder if a lack thereof might have a detrimental effect on an application if a junior tenant is doing the administration! ”

    Does this mean to imply that a junior tenant might not bother letting you know you’re wanted for interview if it’s quite hard to get in touch? Astounding if so.

    1. Not that astounding really. If they have very very many more potential candidates than there are interview slots, I don’t think that whether they can get hold of you is a vastly worse criterion of selection than many others that will be applied.

      1. Of course it is! If they think you have real merit then they should try to get hold of you.

      2. But there are vast quantities of applicants with real merit – why spend time chasing the ones who don’t understand why they need to make themselves easy to get hold of, when you’re not “they”, you are an individual barrister who isn’t getting paid to do pupillage application work and has more than enough paid work to be getting on with?

  2. I think Barry’s point is the essential one. You are trying to convey an understanding of the profession. Amongst the things that could be helpfully understood is that junior tenants doing the admin are taking time off from making their living. You would, naturally, want to make their task as easy as possible.

    1. Naturally a sensible applicant would. However, disregarding an application for an incorrect email address seems against the spirit of the Bar Council’s advice on how to deal in a fair and equal manner with applicants and their applications (published criteria?); and also rather silly if you’re looking for a truly star candidate among many very good ones. I am aware that an attention to detail is important at the Bar but don’t tell me that you really think fogetting to provide your mobile phone number is a good indication – in a fair and open system – of who will make a good barrister.

      1. Just so I’m sure I understand you: a “truly star candidate” who fouls up putting his mobile phone number and/or email address on his PUPILLAGE APPLICATION?

        It doesn’t compute.

      2. Sorry, Ed, but your skilful written advocacy doesn’t alter my opinion. “Fouls up” makes it sound shocking; your use of inverted commas around my descriptor makes it seem oh-so-absurd; and your use of CAPITALS makes your incredulity appear justified…but in fact, the answer to your possibly-rhetorical-possibly-not question is:
        It is quite possible to be exceptionally brilliant, academically outstanding, an advocate even of Ed’s own quality and still, yes, to foul up a box on Olpas.

      3. Academic brilliance isn’t what makes a good advocate, nor a good barrister. Ask the many judges who have said they would not have made it at the Bar in today’s environment (and yet they were considered suitable to be judges).

        If you are the sort of person who would get something so fundamental wrong, I do not want you representing anybody for anything, ever.

  3. I’m with Ed, Barry and Somerset on this one. I don’t believe that an ‘exceptional candidate’ fails to leave their contact details on the application form.

    As capable as we all are of the odd typo, spelling mistake or other form of human error, a candidate who fails to include something as important as their contact details demonstrates a lack of basic attention to detail. An ‘exceptional candidate’ would have checked and double checked their form to ensure such schoolboy errors were picked up.

    In an application process as competitive as it is at the Bar then a form without a phone number is fair game for the bin in my book.

  4. As the original correspondent, I thought I might just elaborate the contact detail point. Through OLPAS, emails are verified on registration, so I don’t think there is any practical issue of an application being disregarded because of an incorrect email address.

    What I was rather referring to were situations such as when someone asks to move an interview. Here it is often much easier to speak to the candidate on the phone than to engage in long email correspondence. If you never use nor check the mobile phone number you give on the form, or give a landline which is not where you are currently living, then this becomes much harder and time-consuming. I was simply speculating that if someone was doing the administration pro bono he or she may be much less likely to be flexible if it is not possible to sort things out quickly on the phone.

    This also reminds me of one other point: logging into the system and pulling up a candidate’s application is non-trivially time-consuming. If you do email a set to ask for something like a new interview time, then do include your contact details in the email.

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      Thank you for clarification. Your point makes perfect sense, unlike those arguments put forward by some of your defenders on this blog, to whom it might be worth pointing out that you didn’t mean – and I assume still don’t? – what I (and they) believed you to mean!

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