Charon Reports: Cheating or taking professional advice?

Listen to the Podcast: Charon Reports: Cheating or taking professional advice?

There has been a fair bit of coverage in the blogosphere and the dead tree press about the services offered by Oxbridge Training Contracts,

Legal Week reports: “A controversial company which provides model essays to university students has broadened its services to help prospective lawyers complete training contract and pupillage applications…… The move has provoked anger from some lawyers since the blog Android’s Reminiscences brought it to the wider attention of the legal profession last week when Simon Myerson QC of St Paul’s Chambers claimed in his blog, ‘Pupillage and How to Get it’, that it equated to “cheating”.

Today I talked to John Foster, spokesman for Oxbridge Training Contracts about the legality of his service, his view of the ethics and exactly what Oxbridge Training Contracts is actually offering to students who wish to use their services.  We also talk about the provision of model answers, tailored to specific questions put by the student client, and the problems that could arise if a student submits these model answers as their own work for coursework assessment.

I am a firm believer in the old adage that there are two sides to every story. I asked John Foster some difficult and direct questions and told him in advance of the podcast about the warning placed on the Bar Council OLPAS site this afternoon. Listen to his answers, make your own mind up, and if you wish to comment – please do so in the comments section below.

The Bar Council warning on the Olpas site

Bar Council Warning
The Bar Council is aware of companies operating via the internet who offer to write pupillage applications and provide other services to assist with applications and interviews. We strongly advise applicants that it is likely to be detrimental to their applications to use any service containing customised model entries or answers on application forms or for interview. We have warned chambers about their existence and to be alert to their use.
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14 thoughts on “Charon Reports: Cheating or taking professional advice?

  1. Thanks, Charon, for putting some very tough questions to Mr Foster, and in the interests of fair hearing, allowing him to put his point.
    However, I must say that I found it most uncomfortable listening; Mr Fosters justification for the services his companies provide continue in my eyes, to remain ethically suspicious; the bespoke essays written for undergraduate students have been passed off as original work – some have been caught, but I’m sure that many more have sucessfully evaded detection. What then? The award of an undergraduate degree predicated on dishonesty?Will it stop there, or will it carry on into the professions and beyond?. This may be just the tip of the iceberg……

  2. Goodness, what an interesting podcast. It certainly must be the case that spoon-feeding should be discouraged and having attended a law school where the teachers adopted a laissez faire attitude, it was definitely a double edged sword: we had paid (sometimes with blood or organ donations) to get our guidance on how to pass the exams, but were in part not too impressed with the level of service we paid for.

    That fine balance between giving the students the tools they need to assimilate information and use it and actually giving students the answers is not something that Oxbridge Training Contracts should perhaps be carrying the can for alone.

    Some law schools also flirt dangerously with the model answer syndrome and having had friends who went to other law schools, I heard this first hand from them.

    So, who is spoon-feeding who and where does one draw the line? In a world where the playing field is not equal, a friendly barrister uncle, commercially driven law school or corporate essay writing company all contribute to the inequality. Perhaps commerce has once again worked its way into a system which should by all accounts be impervious to pecuniary pressure. But how does that work in the real world?

    There may be a strong argument for a return to the Guild Style method of employment, where students are taken from secondary education and placed in Chambers or firms to learn the ropes based largely on their spontaneous performances during interview.

    After all, does academic achievement always equate to a stellar career in law or in any other industry for that matter and perhaps by focusing on raw talent, the legal industry might just benefit from the lack of cerebral window dressing a great education and a paid for pass to law school and beyond can sometimes create?

    (Ok, you can all shoot me now. Please count to ten first, so that I have a fair chance of not dying immediately).

  3. Charon, interesting podcast, and your level approach paid dividends. But, as in my encounter with a considerably more blustery specimen of this species on Nearly Legal, the one point that the apologists fall down is their refusal to make the ‘model answers’ available to Universities etc. or the plagiarism checking services. The answer I got was identical to the one you got – why should we when the Universities refuse to deal with us? As you suggested, the counter argument is clear – that it would be a logical component of their claimed ethical (and contractual) stance on plagiaristic use. It would in fact go hand in hand with their claim to be providing model answers. Their refusal is the clearest indication that they know full well what the impact would be on their business. I have called such answers hypocrisy before and see no reason to change my mind.

    That one step would remove – although certainly not all – of my objections to these services. But they will not take it, insisting that the Universities blink first and remove their objections to the essay factories, or even promote them.

    There is a lot more to say about these set-ups (and of course about problems in higher and professional education), but I’ll leave it at that point for now.

  4. ‘Altruistic advice’

    So what they’re doing is a public-spirited campaign to give underprivileged students a leg-up to the legal profession: a sort of intellectual wealth redistribution.

    After all, the poor lambs only see their tutors ‘once per term, or not at all’.

    Glad that’s all cleared all that up then.

  5. A stellar podcast. Whilst I would have preferred a director to have mustered the gumption to account for his companies’ activities, I feel it is only fair to say that Mr Foster equipped himself very well considering.

    All told, I am finding it hard not to conclude that the existence of this company and, equally, the demand for their products, all points to the failure of education in this country.

    Each side can argue their case but, perhaps, that suits because it detracts from the wider issue; being why the market exists in any event.

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  7. Charon,

    This would not happen with a properly designed selection process. Screening applicants on the basis of an application letter is pretty stupid.

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