14 thoughts on “The unfairness of the pupillage process

  1. Two factors lead to the absurd position junior entrants to the Bar face today.

    The first is that far too many people are encouraged to go to the Bar. It is a job that suits some people but only some. Not long ago university law schools took great trouble to advise against the Bar unless they felt the individual might have a chance, there seems to be little if any such advice these days because a vast number of people who would not have a hope in hell of gaining a tenancy are spending a bucket of cash on the BVC.

    The second is that the compulsory bureaucracy imposed on sets of Chambers makes it enormously difficult to go out on a limb and take someone who seems to have what it takes but does not have the finest academic qualifications. How can they justify refusing an Oxford first in favour of a former Polytechnic 2:1? Of course they can, but there will be endless questionnaires and flak.

    When I dealt with pupillage applications it was a difficult process. The applicants’ whole future is in your hands and anyone who thinks it’s taken lightly by any set of Chambers does not live in the real world.

    If you have twenty applicants you can interview everyone. It takes time but it’s manageable. Sixty applicants and it’s a different game, you weed out half on paper and interview thirty; it takes half as long again as the previous year and becomes unduly intrusive. A hundred applicants and you remember how difficult it was to fit in thirty interviews, you weed out seventy five on paper. There is no malice in it, it is purely a matter of practicalities.

    The real problem is that far too many people take the BVC and dream of a life practising at the Bar when they have no aptitude for the job. The poor buggers end up with tens of thousands of pounds of debt, it really is a hopeless situation.

  2. Rather ironically, while I was in my early years at university it was suggested to me that I should seriously reconsider my plans to go to the Bar given that I am a mature entrant and did not do my degree at a ‘top’ university. I ignored that advice, accepting that the risks were significant. I took the view that the person giving me that advice was in no position to do so given that they were not a practising barrister and had no first hand experience of the Bar. The same is true of many university lecturers and it is only a minority of universities who have close ties to the profession and who would be in a real position to know what would make a good candidate for tenancy or not. There are, of course, far too many people studying to get to the Bar, but that is something the BVC providers or the Bar Council should be encouraged to address, rather than the universities who should simply be expected to put information about all the options open to law students in front of them, together with some statistics about success rates which would probably speak for themselves.

    Your point about the compulsory bureaucracy intrigues me. Who imposes the need for chambers to explain to someone why they have chosen one candidate over another and to whom does such explanation have to be given? What questionnaires and flak will chambers be subjected to if they offer a pupillage / tenancy to someone with a poly 2:1 in preference to an Oxbridge 1st? I would be really interested to know the answer to this one…

    AD 🙂

  3. For a number of reasons the ex-poly 2.1 might be better than the Oxbridge first. I too wonder to whom an explanation has to be given , unless it be to the ‘idiot public’ (as the working class historian A L Rowse called them) or their demagogic representatives. There are already too many people seeking paces at the BVC and the truth must be that the Bar still looks like an exciting career. There may be US TV series about attorneys but whist we have have the appalling Judge John Deed and the far better Kavanagh QC, how many programmes deal with the delights of being a solicitor.

    Only a week ago I had a young lady who will get a 2.1 from the ex-poly where I teach and she had decided to try for the Bar , having just completed a mini-pupillage. If the Criminal junior Bar is so bad and morale so low, why does anyone enter it at all, except as a side-line. The Bar still looks glamorous and very few of its practitioners seem to have given up, f the steady increase in numbers — from about 2,500 in the mid 1970s to over 10,000 today — is an indication.

  4. Not much training but a great deal of practice.

    I think a Devilmistress is an entirely different, though equaly lucrative, profession.

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