Careers at the Bar July 2, 2012Posted by Jeff Riley in : Law, Uncategorized, career information , add a comment
An idyllic summers day, perfect for a visit for Careers staff organised by The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple – one of London’s four Inns Of Court. The Temple area, which also is the location for Middle Temple, is an astonishing ‘village’ sandwiched between Embankment and Fleet Street. I’ve cycled past it hundreds of times but only recently realised what a wonderful place it is. Inner Temple Hall where the careers event takes place is all wood panelling, oil paintings and Molton Brown soap in the gents. Inner and Middle Temple together with Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn are a key part of the regulatory system of the Bar. They are involved with recruitment, distribution of scholarships, supervision of ‘pupils’ (the term for trainees).
Lunch – The afternoon starts with a splendid lunch in the inner temple building known as ‘The Treasury’. It used to be the case in the ‘old days’ that the need to attend a number of dinners was all most careers advisers knew about the process of becoming a barrister. Anthony Darsi, our wonderfully suave host, was concerned that we understood that these legendary ‘dinners’ that aspiring students attend were no longer old boy networking but serious career, development and training events as well as ‘collegiate dinners’.
Our lunch, though, was so fabulous it rather made me think that not everything about the old days was bad.
Having said that despite the stained glass windows, the family crests on the wall and the uber-venerableness of the place the Inner Temple really considers itself as the Inn for ‘Commoners’. Over 40% of those gaining pupillages originally went to colleges outside of the Russell Group and 28% were from ethnic minorities. Diversity is a live topic for the profession and the Inner Temple is especially proud of its work experience access scheme called Pegasus http://www.pegasus.me/
Routes to the Bar and the Inns of CourtAfter either a law degree or a postgraduate ‘Graduate Diploma in Law’ (GDL) students have to choose between pursuing a solicitor or barrister career routes. Solicitors have to take a Legal Practice Course (ideally sponsored by a law firm) and aspiring Barristers have to take a Bar Practice Training Course (BPTC). With me so far?
A couple of catches to the BPTC – firstly you also have to take a Bar Course Aptitude Test and secondly they are eye wateringly expensive. We are talking over £10,000. But wait a moment here comes the Inner Temple cavalry with news of their scholarships. These can be up to £20k but lots of students get awarded smaller sums (eg £7k)
The other ameliorating news was that everyone who applies for financial support gets interviewed and at least a third of those who apply get some award.
After completing the BPTC and becoming a member of one of the four Inns of Court students are then ‘Called to the Bar’ by their respective Inns and spend a year as a pupil. Following these ‘pupillages’ and being issued with a practising certificate you are then able to practice as a barrister in England and Wales. Simple eh? Oh, except you need to be offered a ‘tenancy’ with a ‘set’ of Barristers, typically the one you have done your puppilage with. These ‘sets’ or firms are associated with the Inns of Court and much of the Temple area is made up warrens of streets of Barristers Chambers.
Scholarships The Inner Temple is giving away £1.3 million pounds from its scholarship fund in 2012. This includes support for those on the GDL, money for Duke of Edinburgh entrance scholarships, for internships and disability grants but the bulk of it is earmarked for students undertaking the BPTC.
Other inns have their own scholarship funds but you are only allowed to apply to one Inn and if you get an award you are then committed to joining that Inn subsequently. The deadline for applications in 2013 is November 2nd.
Now students will be interested to hear how they can maximise their chances of getting an award. And yes, the rarer £20k awards are the top prize. The comparisons with ‘Deal Or No Deal’ ends there because the game show is just dumb luck, nerve, greed and Noel Edmonds while the scholarship process is about
• Intellectual qualities – 50% of awards go to those with 1st class degrees and the rest for those with 2.1s You will find the occasional Barrister with a 2.2 but they will have had a successful career doing something else.
• Motivation – a very high level of determination
• Relationships – An ability to get on with a wide range of people. Barristers previously used to have very little contact with clients but a modern Barrister will be dealing with a wide range of people – those involved with crime or with health issues, people who have been tortured (or even those who are accused of being torturers)
• Character – calmness under fire, long hours, deadlines and integrity. One of the speakers in the day pointed out that Barristers first loyalty is to the Court and if a client tells them they are guilty then the Barrister has to have the integrity to withdraw from the case.
• Impact – you will need to be persuasive, confident and articulate. More bluntly as one speaker put it – can you dominate a court room?
The Scholarships Process – Whether its scholarships, Puppillages or places on the BPTC course (12.5 top quality applicants per place) there is fierce competition. The Inner Temple were frank about this and provided figures about the difficulty of securing pupillages that would give any aspiring Barrister pause for thought
2010 Figures on securing Pupillages
Enrollments in BPTC 1793
Completing BPTC 1432
It occurred to me during the day and afterwards in conversation with colleges that there is a stark difference between law and other professions. There is a reasonably close match between those studying teaching qualifications and jobs in education. Those studying for professional qualification in accountancy are already in employment usually. With law, however, there are education providers out there who are offering legal education with no necessary reference to opportunities to practice professionally. The Bar Council – who have a key representative function for the profession – recently gave a health warning to those considering embarking on the BPTC without substantial scholarships (or a casual attitude to money, I guess). The bottom line here is that if you aren’t suitable for a scholarship you may not be suitable for a pupillage. A forthcoming review of the profession may recommend wholesale changes in this area but for now it really is ‘buyer beware’ as the figures from the Inner Temple illustrated. Incidentally it is also true that those who are good enough to get on and pass the BPTC course will have demonstrated a great set of academic and general skills and they will undoubtedly be in a good position to make careers elsewhere.
Maximising your chances• Be interesting! Lots of applicants have been very focused on securing work experience or ‘mini-pupillages’ as they are known. These are necessary but not sufficient. One speaker cited an applicant who had taken around 20 mini-pupillages but still couldn’t make headway because they came across as too one dimensional. More powerful applicants are those who have done something distinctive. This could be anything from volunteering with an anti-death penalty charity in Texas to running a marathon. Things like looking after an elderly relative or succeeding despite dyslexia can also be relevant sources of evidence of key qualities such as determination. During the interview make sure at the very least you are clear of one thing you have achieved that you are most proud of and why.
• Motivation – why The Bar rather than the solicitor route – and focusing on ‘advocacy’ or client access is no longer enough because Barristers are increasingly able to do this.
• Application Forms – be succinct and use clear headings. The readers will all be practioners and don’t have time for long winded answers but one word answers are no good either. Don’t inflate your expected grades because if you are contradicted by other evidence – including your references then it will be an immediate ‘reject’
• Research – you will be asked about contemporary legal and current affairs. The Inner Temple have free newsletters and blog that can help you track these – so no excuse
• The Case Study – interviews are likely to involve being asked questions about a recent unreported legal decision. You can choose the broad area the case can be drawn from eg criminal law, family law or general civil law and after 30 minutes preparation you will be asked to summarise the following
o What did the case decide
o What were the competing arguments on either side
o What was the court’s main reason for deciding the case in the way that it did.
This kind of exercise isn’t common on law degrees and it can take applicants by surprise and so they are recommended to get some practice in. Those who really make an impact are those that take the opportunity to demonstrate a wider knowledge of law. For example they may be asked whether they thought the Judge’s decision was the right one. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer will not suffice but an answer that backs up the yes or no by referring to previous cases and decisions will score much more heavily. By the way if you find yourself being given a good going over in the interview its really good news – it means you are sufficiently good that they are testing to see if you are worth investing a top scholarship in rather than a lower award (known as an ‘exhibition’)
The Changing Landscape
Nicholas Green QC – At one point in the afternoon we had a very interesting talk from the Head of Brick Court Chambers, one of the most successful commercial chambers in history. Nicholas was a Rolls Royce personality – all quiet, powerful velocity.
He pointed out some of the key changes affecting the profession. The cut backs in government funding which makes for limited options in local and national government. The government acting as a monopoly purchaser that is making a priority of driving costs down. What limited work is available is paying less than it was a few years ago – a daily rate of £600. On the other hand liberalisation means commercial chambers and barristers are able to bid for work that was previously the domain of solicitors. He gave the example of bidding for work for all the work generated by a single police station and how the chambers would outsource significant amounts of case analysis work and even witness interviewing to para-legals rather than solicitors. The way the Bar is organised means it is well placed in a tough economic landscape. Over 12,500 of 15,00 Barristers in England and Wales are self employed – a ‘brain on a stick’. In other words very few administrative people in chambers with most members earning money directly but supported by efficient clerks who are dealing with issues such as VAT.
The Bar also has a powerful international reputation. It’s no accident that Russian Oligarchs choose to slug it out in London because it is seen as a level playing field where justice can’t be bought.
Further Information• On October 15th 2012 Queen Mary will be hosting a Barristers Networking evening. Details will be published in due course on our Facebook site – search for QM Careers
• Become a Barrister www.become-a-barrister.com/
• We also have a web site dedicated to law career issues
The Inner Temple is at www.innertemple.org.uk/
There is also a useful ‘health warning’ produced by the Bar Standards Board at http://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media/1363162/final_health_warning_for_bsb_website_24_jan_2012.pdf
How to get rejected in 7 easy steps* May 18, 2012Posted by Jeff Riley in : Careers Advice, Graduate recruitment, Uncategorized, career information, careers help, interviews , 2comments
With more applications than ever from graduates being considered every year you would think the last thing the accountancy profession needs is more brilliant applications but recent figures from High Fliers points out that marketing and teaching remain more popular than accountancy – but the accountancy profession has more jobs to fill
Consequently the title of the talk ‘How to get rejected in 7 easy steps’ by Angus Farr (www.employabilityskills.co.uk) was strictly ironic. Angus was talking as part of an event for careers and academic staff by the ICAEW, one of the professional accountancy bodies.
Incidentally Angus disproves a couple of myths about accountancy. Firstly you don’t have to study accountancy to be an accountant (he studied medieval history) and secondly he was really funny and interesting. I hasten to add I never bought into these myths in the first place – accountants rock as far as I’m concerned.
1 “Don’t bother trying to understand recruitment from an employers’ point of view”. Oh dear, says Angus and points out that employers don’t intend things like assessment centres and application forms to be intimidating and tedious. Essentially they are trying to find out three things about you
Can you do the job?
Will you do the job?
Will you fit in?
Application forms can appear awkward to applicants but employers like them because they know where the information they need is on their own forms. In addition forms aid objectivity in a way cvs can’t. For those of you complaining about the stress on A level grades he pointed out that this form of assessment – sitting in a room on a wooden chair with a wobbly desk exactly mirrors the ICAEW exams in a way that the continuous assessment style of degrees simply doesn’t. Interestingly later on he also pointed out that there may not be an easy correlation between passing the ICAEW exams and being a good accountant. At an ICAEW event this was like letting off a small hand grenade
2. “Don’t try and play the game – its not fair on other candidates”. Rubbish, says Angus. He says DO play the game and make sure you try to beat the other COMPETITORS
He pointed out that candidates don’t make it for distinct reasons
1 Applicants are sometimes not good enough. This doesn’t mean they can’t make themselves good enough but candidates may need to improve or find something they are more suited to. Getting more commercial awareness or buffing up your team work are areas easily improved on. Why so glum?
2 Employers can make mistakes. A tumbleweed moment from those of us to whom this had never occurred before. Angus pointed out though that employers are human and accountants are often human too. Consequently they do things like choosing the wrong selection criteria or often giving a role in graduate recruitment interviews to inexperienced managers as a way of getting practice.
* Show you are good enough. In other words make it obvious. He drew a comparison to taking a driving test – don’t just look in the rear view mirror but make it obvious to the examiner that you are looking in the rear view mirror. The equivalent in assessment centres would be not just being a good time manager but take your watch off as a pointed gesture that you are looking after the time. Admittedly, Angus said, the other candidates will think you’re a ‘git’ but the assessors won’t have missed it either.
* Show your good enough by being ruthless in excavating your experience. Angus cited someone who had worked in a petrol station but had mainly flagged up its customer service element rather than the accountancy skill involved in till reconciliation – auditors like both these skills but the latter gets them really excited.
3 “Don’t waste time proof reading your applications employers will just look at qualifications . . . .won’t they?” Er, no, Angus says. Don’t make it easy to get rejected by following this foolish advice. Chartered accountants use more words than numbers and this is true from the moment you first apply. Numbers of applications for accountancy jobs are going up but fewer people are employed to filter them. Spelling mistakes in this situation are a quick and objective way of filtering. Angus pointed out that as a selector the second spelling mistake in an application meant he could stop reading it – game over.
A great metaphor for this level of carelessness. Consider that candidates haven’t been properly taking instructions from their internal risk departments – if you can’t be trusted to follow simple instructions and count the number of words in an application would you be trusted, for example, to not pile into the Bolivian cocoa butter market when instructed by a risk department not to do so? Angus was able to point to one recruitment round in which one third of applicants broke the word limit.
4 “Don’t bother with mirror checking you look fabulous all the time” On the contrary, says Angus the ‘non verbal’ is important. Many applicants can say the right things these days but how they say things and their body language often betrays them.
* Web to web handshake. This is an uber handshake that goes beyond palm to palm. Get a grip says Angus. And get to the assessment 30 minutes early so when others arrive you are already installed, as it were. Then go greet them with your uber web to web handshake . Unsettle them because they are your competitors! I boldly put it to Angus that you could equally be authentically friendly and see them as future colleagues rather than competition. He wasn’t buying that and in fact went further – make sure you read their names, he said, so you can strategically ‘name check’ them in the group discussion. Angus carries his alpha maleness very lightly.
5 “It’s only the interview that’s important - forget the before and after”. No and a thousand times no, says Angus. Employers inflict heaps of different recruitment tools on applicants because it helps them get a more rounded picture so ….
* Practice numerical and critical reasoning tests. There is a really high failure rate with those whose first attempt at these is at the actual assessment. Work through the practice booklets. There aren’t that many organisations designing these and you may even remember the questions and or even the answers. Incidentally Angus feels students who ‘talk’ well sometimes confuse ‘Verbal reasoning’ with speaking English. They aren’t the same and you need to practice verbal reasoning.
* Having said all that second interviews are VERY important. Often they are conducted by senior people and human resource staff are less likely to contradict them when candidates are being discussed and scored. So don’t blow the second interview folks.
6 “Don’t ask for feedback it’s never useful”. Students says Angus , are aware of the importance of asking for feedback but they don’t actually do it. It is also true that it’s a pain for employers to give and they are nervous about doing it because of potential legal complications. So instead Angus suggests asking a different question – not ‘why didn’t I get the job?’ but ‘what did the successful candidates do or say that helped them get selected?’
7 “Don’t waste time researching sites like ICAEW or talk to careers or tutors – you’re busy applying for jobs”. Oops, says Angus. Another big mistake. It is an expectation that you will know the company. Not just the web site but go beyond the minimum by checking out profiles on LinkedIn for example. Sign up for company emails as well. Companies use these to reach out to clients and this would provide helpful insights and might even make you aware of senior people who might interview you. This isn’t about blagging but brings us back to making sure you can convince employees that you can do the job, will do the job and that you will fit in.
In the same spirit you might also like to read ’5 sure-fire ways to blow your internship’ ‘ at http://www.youtern.com/thesavvyintern/index.php/2012/04/17/5-sure-fire-ways-to-blow-your-internship/