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