Mature Entrants · Other Sites · Qualities Required · The BVC · University · Which Chambers?


Counsel Magazine has an interesting article by Andrew Neish QC, dealing with the lack of diversity at the so called ‘magic-circle’ sets. I’d like to link to it but Lexis-Nexis thinks I should pay to do so and, as I get my paper copy anyway, I won’t. If  you or your institution has an account then this is the link to the click-on.

The proposal is not one I like – to choose additional random candidates for interview. It strikes me that this is not so much diversity as tokenism. But at least the problem is being looked at, which is better than ignoring it, and an email address is provided for comments and contributions. However a more focussed, more interesting and more thoughtful examination of the same issue is Lawminx’s letter to a pupillage committee. Minx’s idiosyncratic style isn’t to everyone’s taste, but the Bar ought to read decent points made by non-traditional students. We might learn something.

Meanwhile, as the time arrives for the Portal gates to creak open, I cannot stress the need to research your choices too much. It is not enough to want to be a pupil at the particular set, or to want to do the work they do. Get on the website, look at the cv of every tenant under 7 years call and compare yourself. If you don’t match up, don’t apply. This will have the consequence that you won’t waste an application – the sets which are weighting their selection system to prioritise 1st class degrees from 10 Universities (of whom 2 are preferred) need not be troubled by you.

If there is to be a debate here, then it should be an honest one. As Andrew Neish points out, it isn’t really arguable that only people with 1st class degrees from 10 Universities can handle the complexities of commercial law (although – as he doesn’t say – it is hugely flattering to believe that this is the position). He may be wrong about that – I am not qualified to comment. But, if that qualification isn’t necessary then sets who find themselves unable to recruit different candidates should be explaining why.

If you are in doubt about whether to make an application, contact Chambers and ask them how they score the different qualities they seek. There is a world of difference between a Chambers giving a 1st 20 points out of a 100 and a 2.1 14 points and a Chambers giving a 1st 55 points and a 2.1 20 points. Both might say that a 2.1 is a minimum requirement but only one of them is offering you a real chance to let your extra-curricular activities catch up.

In times of recession people pull in their claws and barristers are no exception. Chambers are less inclined to take a chance on what they don’t know and less inclined to offer pupillage at all. It makes it even more important for you to match yourself with the right set. The debate about whether we approach diversity adequately is for another day as far as your application is concerned – although comments are welcome as always.

Meanwhile, if you are a “non-traditional candidate” (this normally means that your A levels – if they exist at all – were a long time ago and not brilliant, and that you have actually succeeded in a real job since then) then try and correlate your real life successes to what you perceive as necessary to success at the Bar and relate one to the other. Somewhere out there – if you do it properly – there might (just might) be a set of Chambers which is prepared to back you, rather than to take what is – let’s face it – a chance on someone fresh out of the BPTC. Just make sure that you emphasise your intellectual flexibility: I know of very few Chambers who believe that the BPTC turns out a product which is fit to practice and it therefore follows that we need to teach you. Don’t fall into the trap of allowing the pupillage committee to wonder whether you are able to learn.

Interviews · Mature Entrants · Recommended Reading · Routes to the Bar · Which Chambers?

The Path to Pupillage

3259575881_d6bfaf2fb3You will all have bought this, of course. If not, it is available here –

However, if you have not bought it and you have a little time to go, then you may want to hold off for a while because the authors are planning a second edition. Having both been taken on (Vol 2 – The Trials of Tenancy?), and put on their respective pupillage committees, they would like to know what you would like to know. If you have an idea to contribute please email them at which is an address created specifically for the purpose.

The new edition will be updated and will have additional chapters dealing with how to convert from being a solicitor, the bar as a second career, how to deal with more than one offer (I assume this is not only about getting ecstatically drunk and losing all your friends), third sixes and alternative careers. If you can think of anything else you would like to know about, email and tell the authors. The same applies if there are people from whom you would like to hear – the book has a number of quotes from practitioners and the judiciary. Whose words of wisdom would assist you?

I don’t normally do puffs, but this is a genuinely useful book and if you are thinking of the Bar then you should read it. You can help make it even more useful. My own two pennorth is that I would like to hear from two people, both of  whom had a standard degree and a standard CV and one of whom got a pupillage. Was it just luck that made the difference, or is there something that can be done to make every applicant stand out to the right Chambers? I would also like to hear from people who didn’t make it and who would not now go through the process, about why they didn’t stop when the odds were so obviously against them (I don’t simply mean numerically speaking). There are a lot of you out there saying something like, “I know I haven’t really got the grades or the CV but I’m sure that it will come right for me”. Most of the time, I’m afraid, it won’t. When those people have spent £12,000 and 3 years of their lives and are not barristers, what advice would they have given their younger, more optimistic, selves?

Finally, given the debate that has been raging here, I would like a Chapter about how to make the most of modern application procedures. Chambers may not adopt them, but I wonder if, even so, a candidate could make more of themselves by utilising the latest knowledge. There must be professionals out there who would be willing to be quoted.

Alex and George tell me that they will update the Chapter on OLPAS and the PP. I advise the printers to use acid proof paper.

Mature Entrants · Qualities Required

Mature Entrants

The question of whether a mature entrant has an equal chance of obtaining a pupillage has been a fairly frequently asked question, so I thought I would address it in a post.


That answer applies generally to the three main classes of people who ask it – those who have done a non-law first degree and worry about falling behind those who read law; those who have taken a number of years out and those who have actually had a different job first.

By and large Chambers are not terribly bothered about your previous history (although if it involves an extended stay at HM Pleasure then that generalisation may not apply to you). They are certainly not worried about a non-law degree and some specialist Bars (such as the Patent Bar) almost require it. However, the same guidelines apply to non-law degrees as to law degrees – the result has to be good and the University has to be good. Moreover, just as some sets are starting to look at your chosen options within a law degree, so it may assist you to stress the use to which your first degree can be put. If it is Management Studies and you are applying to common-law or commercial sets, this may be simple. If it is the Aromatherapy and Therapeutic Bodywork course offered by the University of Greenwich, then you may need to be little more inventive. Perhaps this course has taught you the aromatic preparation required to ensure that witnesses tell the truth?

If you have taken a number of years out, you will have to be prepared to say why. Needing to find your inner child or taking time to chill are not necessarily going to recommend you. Becoming an Olympic Bobsleigher might. Voluntary work, Student Union sabbaticals, sailing the world all seem not to damage prospects. The only point to which attention should be drawn is that these are supposed to be maturing experiences. So more may be expected of you.

Changing job is more difficult. There are people who simply had to go out and earn a living at a time when the Bar was a risk. Now, in a much improved financial position, they are returning to what they always wanted to do. There are also people who just wanted a change and, having been successful in one career, now desire success in another. Both categories have the capacity to obtain a pupillage, but it is normally necessary to show exactly why now is the time. Wide eyed enthusiasm is not as convincing a reason as it is in the recently qualified, because people who have already succeeded in something know that the world is not always an oyster, and even if it is, what’s inside is often just sand.

The other reason why a job change can often be difficult is the category of applicant broadly defined by the following statement: “I was doing really well in human resources and had just been promoted to vice-deputy assistant in charge of cleaning staff. I thought, ‘that’s just the push I need’ and everyone always said to me that I could talk the hind-leg off a donkey so when I told my boss that the promotion gave me the confidence I needed to be a barrister, she said she thought I’d be brilliant so I decided to go for it. I am the person you need to enthuse all your clients with the desire to get out there and win that case”. I exaggerate, but you get the point. You do have to demonstrate why previous success means that you will succeed at the Bar.

Finally, professional advancement, although not terribly age-dependant, is an issue. You have to be at the Bar 10 years to take silk or to sit. In practice that is closer to 20. That means that, if you come to the Bar in your 30s you won’t be sitting until your late 40s and silk may be unattainable because, at 50+, you may not feel like the risk. Normally, Chambers are unconcerned by these matters – but it may bother you.

As for applications, I would suggest asking the basic questions without frills (why be a barrister; why here; why now). When you’ve got the answers straight in your mind you can ask what your previous experience allows you to offer which others may not offer. But it is that way round. As the Bar has just discovered, being a successful TV Producer does not mean you will be a successful barrister. The Bar allows plenty of individual scope – but it is still about serving the public.

Mature Entrants · University

What Is a Good University?

Hoo boy. I am sure that no one ever advised me to sail straight ahead into the trouble that I see brewing. However, I have been asked (by ‘Anonymous’ – it’s all right for him/her) to give a list of good universities. I am doing so because it may help. As will become clear, the sooner this list is assembled on different criteria to peoples’ current prejudices the better.

Can I make it clear that this is not a judgement on the Universities. Nor is it a judgement on the students. It is simply a list of what most pupillage committees would, in my view, think was a good university. I may be wrong. I have left out Oxbridge as being self-evident. They are in no particular order.

Kings London
Sheffield (in Yorkshire anyway)

To which Martin (who has his ear close to the academic ground) adds:

And removes York. I certainly agree with the Scots and Irish choices although you don’t see too many Scots law degrees in England.

I ought to add that, personally, I always rated Keele as well. They teach law slightly differently and I always found that the people from there had independent minds.

And, after further representations:
Cardiff (better in Wales I suspect)

This is clearly what people would expect. It takes almost no account of non Russell-Group institutions and no account of new universities. But that is how it is.

There are two things that make a difference. Firstly, if you are applying to provincial Chambers then local is almost always a help, even if it is a new university. Secondly, if you have a first I would regard that as more important than where you went. That may not be true of the ‘top’ commercial sets, although it should be. And I think that a 1st is a 1st, regardless of the breakdown of marks. If that’s what your degree certificate says, then that’s what you’ve got. Anywhere that says, ‘Not a very good 1st’ is to be avoided because the people are likely to be deficient as people.

This list will, hopefully, be out of date soon. As a new generation comes to the Bar I suspect that they will change the perceptions and be on pupillage committees which have different priorities. Where you went to University reflects your A level results. Your A level results reflect your school. Your school reflects the advantages you started off with. We do not, in other words, yet have a reliable method of measuring raw talent. But the sooner we (and indeed Universities) start to look at distance travelled rather than current point, the better the profession will become.

One last point. This list, in my experience, indirectly discriminates against one particular category of applicant, namely Asian women. For reasons that my Mother and her parents would understand perfectly, traditional Asian families are less than keen for their daughters to go away from home. Thus a disproportionate number of good female Asian candidates seem to attend universities (new or old) close to home. Comment from those who really know would, as ever, be helpful.

Scribbler, in an excellent comment which I entirely accept, and urge you all to read, points out that mature students are discriminated against in the same way, often having ties which limit their movements. I agree.

Mature Entrants · Other Sites · Routes to the Bar

Becoming a Solicitor First? (hat-tip B2B)

Whether to do this is just about the number 1 question and, as chance would have it, I have a cunning plan ready to hand. It is NOT mine – it belongs to Barrister2Be who has kindly given his permission for me to publish it.

Now, I do not warrant that this will succeed and it demands dedication. But I can’t detect any obvious flaw. Further reports are welcome. So, thanks B2B and here it is:

“No Pupillage – What next?

If you are reading this then you have no doubt passed the Bar Vocational Course and
have not found that elusive pupillage. Most people I know have been totally
demoralised by the whole pupillage application process and either end up doing ad-hoc para-legal work in the hope it will enhance their c.v. or give up any dream that they once had of becoming a barrister. Lets face it, the system sucks but we knew what the odds were when we started the BVC, the people who make a success of bad situation are the ones who don’t give up at the first hurdle. So stop feeling sorry for yourself and read on.

Do your own research

In life you get out what you put in and I am not therefore going to quote every applicable Law Society / Bar Council regulation in respect of this document. These are available on the relevant web sites. You are trained in legal research, so if there is anything you are not sure about, then you are well qualified to do your own research, lets face it you paid just short of £10000 for the privilege of calling yourself a non practising barrister, almost a bit like cash for honours.

This is not legal or Career advice

This is not meant to be legal advice or otherwise, it is provided in good faith only, it may contain errors, for which I will not be held responsible. You are an adult with a legal mind which is no doubt far superior to mine, so don’t rely on anything I tell you.

The Bar Council / Law Society

After looking at the Bar Council and Law Society Regulations in respect to qualification, it transpires that there is a solution to this problem and that it is possible to become a practising barrister without having to find a pupillage.

The Solution in a nutshell

You become a solicitor wih higher rights

You then have two options

You can then transfer back to the bar and apply for a waiver of pupillage from the bar council and they will more than likely grant it, if you obtain higher rights in both criminal and civil proceedings. You will then need to find a set of chambers to take you on as a probationary tenant.

Continue working as a solicitor advocate and enjoy the same rights of audience as a barrister, although you don’t get to wear a wig, it could be argued that you are saving yourself a couple of hundred quid, however if you are anything like me, I want the bloody wig.

How do you go about it – that’s elementary my dear Watson !


The first thing you need to do is apply to the law society for a certificate of eligibility to sit the Qualified lawyers transfer test. This form is obtainable from the law society. You send the completed form with a certified copy of your degree or GDL certificate, Certificate of admission to your INN and BVC certificate along with a nice fat cheque for £400.00. Don’t moan that you have no money, if you are hungry enough you will find a legal way to obtain it. If you have been a naughty boy in the past and have a police record, then you need to be aware that the Law Society perform a mandatory CRB check prior to admission. Lets face it they dont want a convicted fraudster running off with all grannys money do they?

The Law society then write back to you and tell you that you need to sit the Solicitors Accounts and Professional Conduct element of the Exam. The exams are open book and you can resit as often as you want, so if you are grey matter challenged or an old bastard like me with a crap memory, it wont matter, you will pass in time.

You then need to enrol with an approved provider in order to sit the test. This will cost you £250 which will register you for three attempts at the test. Each attempt will cost you in the region of £90. BBP and Central Law Training are approved testing organisations. They can also provide distance learning and face to face tutoring if required, the fees for this will vary between £250 and £900 depending on what option is taken. I would recommend the distance learning option with BPP as the materials are concise and go and do a book keeping course at your local college of further education if you don’t feel confident in this area.

If you have reached this point, you should now be at the following stage
■ Have obtained your certificate of eligibility
■ Have registered with a course provider
■ Decided on your mode of study
■ Brush up on accounts at your local college if required

You sit the QLTT and pass.

You now need to obtain 24 months legal experience and cover three areas of law which is a mixture of contentious and non contentious areas of practice. If you have prior experience you can apply to the law society for a reduction in this period. You will now need to start job hunting, ideally look for temporary contracts, these can be found on web sites such as totally legal. I suggest you work in areas that reflect the area in which you finally want to work. As you will be at the bottom of the pile, you will no doubt be meeting Council on a regular basis, this is where you have to shine and impress them with your hard work and knowledge.


As soon as you have your certificate of eligibility for the QLTT you must then apply to the Law society for a wavier in order to start the process by which you obtain higher rights.

There are various routes to higher rights but the route which is applicable to a non practising barrister is “development route”. The law society will exempt a non practising barrister from having to have training and assessment towards higher rights. The only requirement that you will have to adhere to is the requirement to create a portfolio, you will need a mentor to assist you with this who can either be a Solicitor or a practising Barrister. Examples of portfolio’s can be found on the law society website along with what is required by your mentor.

The Waiver that you apply for will allow you to start building your portfolio prior to been admitted on the solicitors roll. To apply for the waiver you must write to Paul Harrison, Solicitors Regulation Authority, DX 19114 Redditch. I could have made you sweat for this address but i am not totally heartless..

You must complete 4 of chapters in the portfolio prior to admission on the Solicitors roll (or you will have delays later on), the final chapter you can only do when you have your rights of audience as it is a requirement to have completed an advocacy exercise before a real court. Just keep your mentor sweet during your time with him or her, even if it means baby sitting on a Saturday night. They are helping you remember not vice versa.


You are now at the stage where you should be:

l You have passed your QLTT exam (if you fail just try again)
l Working during the day gaining the required legal experience
l Completing one chapter of your Higher Rights portfolio at least every 3 Months.


Once you have completed your 24 months experience you then apply to be admitted on the Solicitors roll,

Assuming you are admitted you are now a solicitor with rights of audience in the lower courts, you now must complete the last chapter in your portfolio with the aid of your mentor and send off your application for higher rights along with the portfolio. Full details are on the Law societies web site.

If all you meet the required standard in respect of the portfolio then you will be given your higher rights and you are now a solicitor advocate, with the same rights of audience as a practising Barrister.


Work as a solicitor advocate

You can apply to transfer back to the bar and you will be given the following exemptions

l If you have civil higher rights then you will get a 6 month reduction in pupillage

l If you have criminal higher rights then you will get a 6 month reduction in pupillage

l If you have both then you will be exempt from pupillage

l All you now need to do is find a chambers to take you on as a probationary tenant, remember all the contacts you made with Counsel when doing your legal experience requirement, if you impressed them I am sure you will find your tenancy.


The whole process should take two years or less depending on your exemption for previous legal experience. I think you will agree with me that you will be more attractive to chambers as a probationary tenant then a pupil who has to learn on the job at Chambers expense.


How many people are up for pupillage each year? To many to mention

What are your odds of getting a pupillage? If pupillage was a horse I would not bet on it.


There is always more than one route to a destination

Good Luck in your quest”

For more from our man in the law society corner trying on his wig and gown – go here: