Good time to be a lawyer?

There is a certain irony  that the  Bar Standard Board could be forced to abandon plans to introduce a compulsory aptitude test designed to reduce the number of people taking the Bar Vocational Course  after The Office of Fair Trading ‘dubbed it’ anti-competitive earlier this week. (The Lawyer)

Far be it from me, a blogger who spends a lot of his time with his wine supplier, to suggest that the OFT may actually have got this wrong. But…  I think the Bar Standards Board have got it right by introducing an aptitude test to give students a realistic idea in advance of spending a great deal of money as to whether they have a realistic prospect of making a decent career at the Bar.  There are far too many people chasing too few tenancies.  This is unlikely to improve in the current climate and may well not improve at all given that we are unlikely to return to the heady days of the past fifteen or so years bull run. While law schools will solemnly give students warnings about the difficulties they face, it is a bit like asking turkeys what their plans for the Christmas holidays are to leave entry to a Bar exam course to the law schools.  I would make the same point about LPC providers. 7000 LPC students taking less than 6000 training contracts is not an ideal situation for students in the bottom 1000.

By the same token – full marks to The Law Society for taking a pragmatic approach to the current difficulties by launching  a campaign warning students to think twice about embarking on a career in law (The Lawyer).

That said – the law has always been a competitive profession and if a student believes that he or she  possesses the qualities (the aptitude test will assist here) and knowing the risks, they are prepared to take the risk – the profession will benefit from that attitude and we should be wary of warning students off.  The public and private interest is best served by maintaining standards of excellence – and we do not want to see diversity or risk issues bring in a culture where no-one loses and there are no prizes.  Equality of opportunity to compete for the best education to allow competition for the best opportunities should be our goal – not some artifical construct where people are weeded out to cap numbers and control real markets.

Frankly – an idea few will like,  is to make the examinations for law a lot more difficult. That would weed out those who have little prospect of  a career in law and raise standards in universities… Oh… and get rid of this ludicrous idea where everyone should get an Upper Second or a First.  Degree inflation is a farce…..  I’ll get my coat.

8 thoughts on “Good time to be a lawyer?

  1. What a hoot. These barrister types. One could say piss ups and breweries but, ironically, arranging a stormingly good piss up does rather appear to be the only thing the Bar can do with any efficiency.

    I suspect that the more skeptical would say that the aptitude test would achieve very little anyway. Q1 – have you got £15K ? Well done, you’ve passed. If the OFT is correct in their finding, then will the BSB now find the gumption to take the alternative route of upping the minimum qualifying degree class to 2:1 ? In any event, six years of consultation, steering groups, working parties and committees will get it sorted.

  2. BarBoy… my first reaction to this story was uncontrollable laughter… but one does feel, sometimes, that the Bar just gets the spade out and digs…. did no-one ‘predict’ the possibility that the OFT might have a look at this ‘plan’?

    You may well be right… on the efficacy of the aptitude test – buut if it does save a few people from their own (or their parent’s unrelaistic aspirations and subsequent very real disappointment then fine)

    I do, however, prefer the idea of open markets and treating everyone like adults – there is, after all, quite a lot of information around – it is called legal news and there are many sources.

    Thanks, as always, for posting with a touch of acerbic humour – always appreciated and always welcome.

    You really could not make it up though…. BSB slapped on the wrists by the OFT… whatever next?

  3. The impression one gets of the aptitude test is that is nothing more than a watered down equivalent to the GMAT which has been used by business schools for a decade plus. To the best of my knowledge, no one has complained about the unfairness of the GMAT, and that is commonly viewed as a tough entrance exam.

    I am very much in favour of saving people from themselves, particularly when the levels of debt that some of the aspirants are racking up is truly worrying. One fears, though, that the commercial interests will prevail until such time as there is transparency through published results and stats.

    There will be around 400 pupillages offered shortly. Why, on an anonymised basis, cannot the stats of the successful candidates (age, uni, degree class, ethnicity, BVC provider etc) be published. Possible entrants to the process could then readily see what criteria really count.

  4. I am not sure that the OFT is wrong. How do you define and measure aptitude? The skills required for success in say tax are quite different from those required fir success in defamation. Also, the market for legal services is changing. Forensic skills are less in demand than they were 10 years go. Skills in handling mediation are more in demand. Surely it is better to leave it to the market to decide who should practise and who should not. The law does not exist for the enrichment of lawyers but for the smooth running of society.

  5. Jane – the real difficulty over the past few years is that quite a few students have read for the Bar with university qualifications and results at degree level unlikely to appeal to Chambers. These students have been given warnings about the the difficulties they face by the law schools – but, nevertheless, go on to do the BVC, at great expense, and then find inevitable disappointment.

    The BSB is trying to reduce the pool of students who, despite advice, go on to spend money in pursuit of a career without any realistic prospect of success.

    I agree with you on market forces – but I also feel that the Bar is at least trying to give students an assessment of whether they would be suited to a career at the Bar in advance of their spending a great deal of money.

    Of course – it is is possible to argue quite properly that students are informed adults and they should be free, whatever the quality of their qualifications at degree level (subject to meeting the minimum 2.2 standard), to read for the Bar and compete if they can.

    I have some sympathy with the idea of raising the bar by requiring an Upper Second.

    Another difficulty is that degree inflation has been a serious issue in recent years with Upper Seconds now being almost a norm. Students have not suddenly got brighter – the truth of the matter is that the benchmark standard of First and Upper Second has been devalued. It is rare, these days, for thirds to be given.

    Ironically, even if the Bar raised the entry level to Upper Second – it would probably not work. The universities would, ineluctably, over time, give more Upper Seconds. I remember only to well the jump in Lower Second degree awards being given when the Bar raised the entry level to a minimum of Lower Second – hey presto! – more lower seconds.

  6. The problem with your argument is that academic prowess is not a good indicator of success at the Bar. Some of our greatest judges got appalling degrees. Many did not even bother to attend university. In the future, new skills and new aptitudes will be required.

    I think the answer is to follow the example of Scotland and some other jurisdictions where counsel come to the Bar after they have acquired some experience of advocacy in the lower courts as solicitor advocates. They would be paid on the job and they would learn some of the realities of handling clients and running a business of which most barristers are blissfully unaware.

  7. One of the simplest and easiest ways to cut back the numbers of dreamers and no-hopers is to resurrect the idea of deferred call to the Bar. People might not be so keen to fork out £14K if they faced the prospect of coming out with only half a qualification and no professional title at the end of the course. At the moment, I think too many applicants say to themselves “Oh, well, even if I don’t get pupillage, I’ll still be able to put ‘Barrister’ on my CV and business card, and that (a) looks pretty cool, and (b) will help me get a decent job elsewhere.”

    It seems the OFT consider, in pursuance of their rigid ‘free-market’ dogma, that it is acceptable for a profession to continue to train 5 or 6 times as many aspirants as there are places available to them. Que? Surely any fool can see that there ought to be some sort of pre-filtering process to, it would be hoped, hand out a few reality checks BEFORE the starry-eyed wannabe barrister (a) signs on the dotted line and (b) ends up going forth into society entitled as ‘barrister’ after only barely scraping through the BVC, and thereby devaluing the coinage or (c) trying in vain to gain pupillage and winding up with a huge chip on their shoulder.

    And here’s another thought. Has anybody at the OFT worked out why their mantra of “increased competition = lower prices” doesn’t seem to apply to the BVC, where fees have gone up yet again?

  8. Just taking this subject in a slightly different direction, is the current lack of jobs a result of the economic downturn or more to do with the increase in the number of graduates?

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