Careers at the Bar July 30, 2012Posted by Jeff Riley in : Law, The Careers Group Blogs , add a comment
Originally posted at Getting into International Development
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 an astonishing 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 ‘bad 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 progress might not be such a good thing after all.
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 are especially proud of their 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.
ScholarshipsThe 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 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/
Blawgs – get an inside perspective on law December 15, 2009Posted by Helen Curry in : Law , 5comments
****Be aware this content is over two years old****
I follow a number of blawgs purely out of general interest, but I thought I would share this selected* list of UK lawyer-authored blogs here too because I think they provide a great insight into the world of lawyers and their views on the latest hot topics (useful for interview preparation too…).
Charon QC – commentary and humour – http://charonqc.wordpress.com/
Head of Legal – to explain developments in law, and the law behind the news - http://www.headoflegal.com/
NearlyLegal – housing law news and comment – http://nearlylegal.co.uk/blog/
PSL Blog – commercial law from a professional support lawyer - http://www.pslblog.co.uk/
Barmaid - BVC and all that – http://bar-maid.blogspot.com/
Pupillage and how to get it – http://pupillageandhowtogetit.wordpress.com/
* These blogs have been selected on the basis of what I personally find entertaining, as much as quality and currency. As such this list is unashamedly biassed. If you want to find more on a particular area of law you find interesting, then find other blogs by: using this directory at infolaw; browsing the Insite Law pages on Netvibes; or see the extensive blog links on the Nearly Legal blog.
Choosing a legal career – 6 ways to get work experience March 17, 2009Posted by Helen Curry in : Law , 2comments
****Be aware this content is over two years old****
If you are considering a career in law, it is essential that you get work experience. You will need this both for applications to firms and chambers, and for your own benefit to make sure you are making the right choice (before you shell out for all that extra training…).
Today’s tips relate to work experience you can get prior to applying for vacation schemes and mini-pupillages.
6 top tips for getting work experience
- Use contacts in friends and family to get a week of work-shadowing.
- If you don’t have contacts (and many of us don’t), try to get paid or un-paid work as an administrator or receptionist in a police station, court, high-street solicitors’ firm, barristers’ chambers, or legal body such as the Legal Services Commission. Even if you are photocopying and getting coffee, you will have the opportunity to observe how people work, how they spend their time, how they handle clients, what legal resources they use and ask pertinent questions. Try visiting in person with your CV.
- Visit the courts – useful for both aspiring barristers and solicitors. Follow a case and you can talk about it in interview.
- Join your university Law Society for access to talks and debates.
- Check with your careers service to find out when legal firms are coming to talk on campus and have networking events. You might not feel confident at first, but if you keep on networking it does get easier! These conversational skills will help you sound professional and knowledgable when approaching firms in future.
- Voluntary work is available in legal, civil rights and social justice areas. Search for it using Directgov – select voluntary work, and search in your area for Legal Aid & Justice (you are more likely to find long term opportunities than one-off events). Opportunities include prison befriender, witness support and Citizen’s Advice Bureau work. See also Vinspired.com for opportunities tailored to 18-25 year olds, and try your university volunteering service or society.
Remember competition is very strong for legal careers:
And some say the recession is heightening this as well-qualified students who would have gone into finance, choose law instead as a ‘safer’ route to high salaries.
What are you going to do to ensure you stand out?
For more information see:
Law careers for non-law undergraduates January 19, 2009Posted by TCG Info in : Law , add a comment
*****Be aware this content is over two years old*****
We have a new guide in called Launchpad to Law 2009: A career in law with your degree, by LawCareers.net in association with The Law Society.
It is written for students in non-law subject areas who are considering a career in law. The guide begins with an introduction to what lawyers do, timelines for applications and descriptions of courses. However the bulk of the guide is devoted to profiles of lawyers who graduated from a range of subjects, from archaeology to zoology. This will give you an idea of where you fit in, which skills from your course are useful in law and worth promoting in your application, as well as hopefully convincing you that non-law graduates are perfectly welcome in law.
I would also definitely recommend having a good look around the http://www.lawcareers.net/ website as it is full of useful information including:
- Vacation scheme deadlines for solicitors
- Diary of training contract deadlines for solicitors
- Pupillage search for barristers
- Immediate vacancies