Thursday, 29 March 2012

Into the gaping jaws of my doom

As I write this, the Portal has been open for about an hour.

As far as I can see, ALL of the questions are exactly the same as last year. Even the word limits are identical. A man more brazen than I would be tempted to merely tinker with the responses from last year. Sadly, I'm meek and so feel the need to start from scratch. To be honest, it will probably result in a better application, so I can't moan.

As far as I can see, only four criminal Sets have taken the opportunity to upload their own question. Thus, at the very least eight of my applications will be on the minimal, bog standard application form.

The extra questions I've found so far are:

1) 187 Fleet Street - Please argue both for and against the proposition that Social networking websites and the internet are rendering fair trial by jury impossible (500 words)

2) 4 Breams Buildings - Please give examples of things you have done which demonstrate an interest in criminal law and advocay or puplic speaking (750 words - the two major typos are NOT my own, they are as submitted by the Set)

3) Three Raymond Buildings - Your pupil supervisor gives some advice in conference which in the light of your research you think is just wrong. What do you do and why? (150 words)

4) 25 Bedford Row - What do you see as the key challenge facing the criminal Bar and how would you propose the Bar meets this challenge? (I neglected to record the word limit as they're a defence-only set, so didn't pay them much attention)

Four perfectly answerable questions - but how many people will be put off from applying to these Sets, just because of the extra question?

I've previously written about some of the mistakes I made in my applications last year, my next post will detail some of the steps I've taken to give myself a fighting chance this year.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Tomorrow is a Big Day

Capital B and D very much deserved.

Tomorrow morning I get to investigate this year's Pupillage Portal and see what the new questions are. Exciting times.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Professional Ethics

Today was the first centrally set exam of the BPTC. This year the BSB has taken responsibility for drafting the Ethics exam, alongside Civil and Crime. It was tough. Really tough, actually.

I was expecting the exam to be a mixture of realistic ethical dilemmas. Instead there were some very tightly drafted, overly specific, questions from minor parts of the Bar Code of Conduct and its associated appendices. I can't moan, though, there was nothing outside of the syllabus, it was just drafted in a way I wasn't expecting.

Here's hoping that on July 5th my results will show that I've done enough.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Last year - Part 3 - The results

So, in the last few days I've had the joy of sitting nearly eight hours of opinion writing and drafting exams. I'd never sat down and hand-written a full opinion under exam conditions before, so this was a brand new experience for me. Believe me when I say that I have never been more sure that Chancery and Tax are not for me.

And now for the results of my pupillage endeavours last year. If you've been reading this blog from the beginning you'll know I wasn't successful - now seems as good a time as any to fill in the gaps.

As I said last time, by the 2nd August I had been rejected outright by eight sets, three sets had offered me a first round interview, and one set seemed to be trying desperately to ignore that I exist. Of the three interviews, in two cases I wasn't offered a second round, but at the fabled "Set 3" I was called back for the final 5. The second round seemed to go pretty well, so I was just waiting for results day to find out my fate.
Results day is a horrible, horrible time.
I have previously alluded to a few webpages that I found particularly useful:
First up is the "The Pupillage Interview/Acceptance/Rejection Thread 20xx" on the "Student Rooms" discussion board. Last year's thread is 238 pages of hope, triumph and despair. The thread seems to be the place that applicants for pupillage will hang out to discuss where they are applying, interviews, application forms and anything and everything in and around the whole process. On results day, from 9am, the place goes nuts. There is a complete vacuum of information - people are desperately trying to find out if they're still in the game. There is a steady stream of questions and announcements, and the constant refrain of: "Well, I haven't heard anything yet, so I guess it's not my year." You can quite literally watch people's dreams being crushed in real time. It must be like catnip to sadists. This year's thread can be found here - at the moment it's still in the post-application euphoria stage. Soon it will become a barren wasteland.

Next up are "The Pupillage Pages". They run a forum called "Have You Heard?" which has a separate page for every Set. You can click on the name of your chosen Chambers and find out how excited everyone else is to be getting called to interview while you're sat there feeling glum. Like the Pupillage Thread, it can be a place of misery on results day.

Lastly, you have the Pupillage Portal itself. It can be a great source of information to see how far you've got, and whether or not any given set has yet rejected you (if they've not bothered to email you), so on results day I'm sure applicants check it every few minutes.

Last year, on the night before the Big Day, I tried to get some sleep. I couldn't sleep. I hoped that I might sleep through til 9 or 10 and thus not be a complete wreck all day. Well, that didn't work either. At 8am I found myself sat in front of my computer, all three websites above open, desperately searching for information on Set 3.

And I found nothing. At all.

No one was discussing Set 3, no one had any information to share. My phone didn't ring all day, and I was descending into lunacy. At about 4pm I received an email informing me that I had a private message over at the Student Rooms. It was one of the final five from Set 3 telling me that she had been rejected the day after the interviews.  Her assumption was that this meant good news for me, as I hadn't heard anything. After a day of constantly decreasing hope, I finally allowed myself to think that maybe, just maybe, I might get some good news.

At 5pm the phone rang.

"Hi, is that Mini?"
"Hi, it's soandso from Set 3, can you talk?"
"Of course"
"Okay, here's the situation. Two weeks ago we rejected three candidates, leaving you and one other person. The original plan was to offer both of you pupillages. Last week the finance committee decided that we would only offer one pupillage this year, and this morning we offered it to the other candidate. You are the first, and only, reserve. The other guy has two other offers, so you've got a good chance of being lucky - I'll be in touch".
"Oh, great, thanks."

And then the waiting began.

I heard absolutely nothing from the Set for a week. In the end I bit the bullet and called them.

"Any news?"
"Yes! The other chap turned us down so, subject to sign off from the finance committee, the pupillage is yours. It shouldn't take too long, just dot some proverbials"
"That's great news, thanks so much - I accept, of course, so just let me know when you need me to come in"
"Will do, speak soon"

And then the waiting began.

A week later I'd heard nothing more, so called them again.

"Any news?"
"Still nothing, sorry, won't be long now"

And then the waiting began.

A few days later I tried calling again, but the head of the pupillage committee was never available, and he didn't return my calls. As we reached mid-September I was trying every other day, but it became obvious that the head of the pupillage committee didn't want to speak to me. In the end, the clerks gave me his mobile number. I left a couple of messages, and he never called back.

On the pupillage portal website your application status is listed next to every chambers. There are a number of versions: Under Consideration, Invited to First Round, Offered Pupillage, Rejected, etc. Before sets can offer a pupillage your status moves from "Invited to Final Round" back to "Under Consideration". This means that the next move will either be "Rejected" or "Offered Pupillage". The Pupillage Portal keeps an archive of your status from last year. My applications still show as "Rejected" (eleven times) and "Under Consideration" at Set 3. They didn't even bother updating the status on the website. 2 or 3 mouse clicks.

The end of September marks the end of the window for offering pupillage. For the last couple of days I was trying desperately to get hold of someone, anyone, to put me out of my misery. And no one ever called. The deadline passed, the Portal closed, and I knew I was without pupillage.

It was a truly, truly horrible experience - frankly I'd rather get 12 rejections pre-interview rather than go through something similar again. Suffice to say, I won't be reapplying to Set 3 when the Portal opens again on Thursday.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Last year - Part 2 - Interviews

Tomorrow morning I have the pleasure and delight of sitting down for nearly 5 hours, and knocking out a hand-written opinion. In celebration of the fact that we're not allowed to use computers, I thought there was no better preparation than typing up a blog post on last year's pupillage interviews.

After submitting your applications, the wait is almost unbearable. Whenever you are alerted to any kind of communication (whether the postman, an email or a phone call) your heart skips a beat. After a couple of weeks, though, you learn to calm down a bit. And then you get your first pupillage email. I recently rewatched Godfather III, and never before has Michael Coreleone's anguished: "Just when I thought I was out of the water, they pulled me back in!" been more appropriate. Just as you're getting over it, they get you all excited again. Worse still, the first email I received was a positive email inviting me for interview.

"But this is a good thing!" I hear you cry. No. No it's not. They get you all excited, they get you feeling all positive about your chances, and then they hit you with seven rejections in a row. If I fall over, I want to fall over when I'm firmly on the ground. Falling off a ladder hurts more. Getting a positive response puts you on a ladder.

My first pupillage interview was horrendous. When I arrived in the waiting room, there was already another candidate there ahead of me. I made a huge mistake by speaking to him. He was a 35 year old Army Major, with a first from Oxford, who had been working the last 5 years on Courts-Martial and had the quiet, softly spoken authority of someone born for the Bar. I immediately felt like a child in a fight with Mike Tyson.

Things went from bad to worse when I got into the interview room. A man on the other side of the table said: "So, I see you used to work at the Financial Ombudsman Service, that seems like a complete waste of time. Please do take a seat." The rest of the interview didn't go particularly well. I tied myself in knots over a question about the recent death of Osama bin Laden. Basically, I was completely unprepared for the whole thing. Interviews in the past were pleasant experiences: I was asked questions, I answered them, I got the job. Pupillage interviews are war. You are being tested by men and women who spend all day, every day, exposing lies and half-truths. Charm is pointless as they see straight through it. I, quite literally, had no idea what to do.

I hadn't taken up opportunities to have mock interviews, I hadn't listened to stories from others. I felt, honestly, like a complete amateur - and I was right.

At this stage, I must give some advice in the strongest possible terms: Even if you don't think you are yet in a position to win pupillage, apply anyway. You will get practice at filling in the forms, and, should you manage to scrape an interview, you will get invaluable experience of interviewing with barristers. With every interview I attended last year, I became better at it.

So far I had received one interview followed by seven rejections. Emails nine and ten were invitations to interview.

Interview number two was my first experience of an advocacy exercise. Half an hour before my interview slot, I was given a bundle of papers and told that I would be making a bail application. In my mini-pupillages the longest bail-application I'd seen was defence counsel saying: "Your honour, can I assume that bail is to continue under the same terms?", and then receiving a positive reply.

I had no idea what I was doing. Luckily, the set did give us some guidance (commission of further offences, interfering with witnesses and failing to surrender), but I was still woeful.

I made a better stab of the the second half of the interview (questions about me and my form), but I wasn't hopeful of getting a second round interview.

In response to the advocacy exercise, I went to a local magistrates' court for two days and watched dozens of full bail applications and pleas in mitigation (defence counsel attempting to reduce sentence). Having the opportunity to see how it was done in practice made me feel much more comfortable about the possibility of it coming up in interview.

And so on to interview number three. Yet again, there was an advocacy exercise, and it was again a bail application. This time, I knew I was doing well. 'd seen how it was done in practice and I was able to bring those experiences with me into the interview. I'd also learned to fight back against interviewers. They don't want you to doff your cap and act the deferential serf - they want people who will state their case, stick to their guns and defend a position. As I said earlier, pupillage interviews are war - panels seem to want someone who will fearlessly represent their client, but also someone who may be worth sharing a pint with.

I felt as if the interview had gone well, and I was quietly confident of getting through to the second round.

My predictions, in both cases were correct - Set 2 said no, Set 3 asked me to come back. So, I was in the final 5, competing for 2 pupillages. My chances had risen from 0.5% (1 in 200) to 40%. Good times.

And so, in late July (having received a rejection from set number 11), I turned up for the second, and final round, at chambers number 3. I was told in advance that there was going to be a plea in mitigation, some general ethical questions and there would be an interview panel of NINE people. Nine, all sitting round a table staring at me. Lovely.

I arrived at the set, was given my brief and started my preparation. I was the last up and it was approaching 9pm, so I was worried that the panel would already be tired and bored of seeing idiot-candidates. However, they could not have been more welcoming. they cracked open a bottle of wine, offered me a glass, and we got on with a bit of a chat. The plea in mit seemed to go well and we all got along swimmingly - certain members of the panel even ridiculed me for my choice of football team. Lucky me.

I came out of the interview feeling good, and not entirely depressed about my chances when the results were to be announced on August 2nd.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Last year - Part 1 - Application Form

So, here's the first of three posts about the pupillage application process last year. As bright sparks will have noticed, the topic of this post is the application form. The second and third posts will be "Interviews" and "Results".

So, this time last year, I was completely unprepared for pupillage applications. I could barely spell pupillage. My days were spent temping in various mind numbing jobs, and two evenings a week I would head up to Bloomsbury for my GDL classes at the College of Law. I knew that pupillage applications were a couple of weeks away, and I'd heard all the statistics about how hard it is to get pupillage.

As an aside, when you apply for the BPTC, the first page of the form is petrifying. Effectively the page lists all of the pupillage statistics and finishes with something along the lines of: "You probably won't get pupillage. You will probably waste £16,000 on this course which will provide very little more than an ordinary masters. You are probably deluded in thinking that you're good enough to get a pupillage. You will probably die a resentful, bitter old fool." Okay, that isn't the exact wording, but it's as near as makes no difference. You then have to tick a little box that says you understand that you're an idiot, and you then get on with the form. Well, at least the Bar Council tries.

On that happy note, pupillage applications.

The pupillage form is an untamed beast. The Pupillage Portal - the central application system run by the Bar Council - used to be known as OLPAS ("The OnLine Pupillage Application System"). Many people still call the system OLPAS, and it's hard not to fall into the same habit. Chambers can choose to recruit via the Portal ("OLPAS sets"), or they can run their own application system (predictably "non-OLPAS sets"). Through the Portal you can apply to a maximum of 12 sets - for those who remember it, think of it as a sort of UCAS for legal recruitment. The Portal opens at the end of March every year, and closes at the end of April; there used to be two recruitment round a year, summer and winter, but that has now been abandoned in favour of a single, consolidated, session.

In the four weeks that the Portal is open, some twenty to thirty thousand applications will be submitted. Concurrently, non-OLPAS sets will also be running their own application systems. And here, dear friends, was my first mistake. Last year I did not apply to a single non-OLPAS set. I had no idea what I was doing - I'd heard about these non-OLPAS sets, but had also heard vague mutterings that they were mainly civil sets, so (as a crime geek) I didn't consider them worth investigating. This means I missed out on another 5 criminal sets. Well done me!

When the Portal opened in late March I looked over the questions, things like:

"Please provide details of your interests and any non-work related involvement. If relevant to your proposed area of practice, please explain in what way" (150 words)

"Brilliant!" I thought "I do loads of theatre in my spare time, that's got to count in my favour. Shows I'm not afraid of performance".

So I knocked out 150 words about how much I loved theatre and considered that to be great progress. I then forgot about the form for two weeks.

By the time I remembered that the Portal actually existed I had two weeks left to get everything done. I'd finished the BPTC application form in an hour or so, and so didn't think too much of the task ahead.

When I actually looked at the form properly, I realised just what I'd let myself in for. Two minutes later I'd called my temp agency and told them I wasn't available for work that week.

The OLPAS form, to quote Elvis, is a Devil in Disguise. The work that needs to go into it, even before you write a single word, can be daunting for a first time applicant - it certainly was for me:

Firstly you need to actually choose the chambers you're going to apply to. Yes, you can filter sets by area of practice and location, but in the case of London, that still leaves over 30 sets who say they do at least some crime.

Some crime. Not exclusively crime. Without researching the set properly, you have no idea how much crime they do. For instance, 1 KBW comes up as a crime set on the system despite being mainly a family set (albeit with a fair chunk of crime). Frankly, I'd be wasting my time applying to a set like that because I can't demonstrate any kind of interest in their other areas of practice.

Even looking at exclusively criminal sets, there are still around 20 to choose from - which is when you have to get tactical. Are your academics good enough for a top set, would you be wasting your time? Even if you got a pupillage at a bottom end set, would you be able to make a living? What is the award like at each of the sets? What sort of work do they do within crime? Fraud? Sex? Where do their pupils work in the 2nd six, mags or crown? Or at all?

Lots of questions to ask yourself, and, in the end, a heavy reliance on common sense and gut instinct.

I ended up applying for a mix of criminal sets. One or two top end, one or two at the very bottom, but mainly solid 3rd of 4th tiered criminal sets where I could make a career, if successful.

Next up you need to sort out your referees, find your old exam certificates (if you can't remember all of your grades - was it an A or A* in GCSE music? Or was it a B? God knows!), answer a load of equal opportunities questions, calculate your current level of debt (scary) and calculate your anticipated level of debt at the end of pupillage (spectacularly terrifying).

This is before you write your employment history and any legal work experience (mini-pupillages etc), with an explanation of why this will make you a better barrister, and what you've learned. And then comes the form itself, 5 or 6 questions, with fairly restrictive word limits, in which you have your chance to show off.

Over the next few days I gave it my best shot, and contacted friends for advice. The number one piece of advice I received was that the Portal normally crashes on the last day due to the number of people leaving it to the last minute, so try to get it all sorted out a few days in advance. This is still good advice.

The same friends also agreed to look over the form, having been through it all themselves. I didn't realise it at the time, but these friends were the difference between gaining interviews and suffering complete rejection.

I emailed off copies of my form to my friends and within a day I'm sure many of those friends were reconsidering our acquaintance. Although my form wasn't littered with spelling or grammatical errors, it was littered with bad jokes, idiotic comments and seeming immaturity. Within two days the form was completely rewritten. I couldn't believe the transformation. Gone were superfluous, unwieldy adjectives (still a feature of my style, as you'll see from this blog, sadly); and in their place was a tighter writing style that managed to convey a great deal more information in the limited space available - exactly the skill the form is testing.

A week before the deadline, my applications were ready to go. However, there was one final obstacle. If they choose to do so, sets can add an extra question to the form. Until you actually start the process of applying to any given set, you can't know that the extra question is there. Luckily, most sets don't use this feature; but 3 or 4 of the sets I was I'd chosen had decided to do so. This can actually put you in a tricky situation - do you spend the time writing more gibberish, or do you take the path of least resistance and find a set which does not have an extra question? I decided not to be a complete layabout, and to actually spend the time answering the questions properly - I'd chosen the sets for a reason, and so I should at least make the effort to apply to them properly.

Interestingly, a friend of mine who is on the pupillage committee for a civil set told me that one of their main reasons for adding the question is to actually deter applications from time-wasters.

So, 5 days before the deadline I sent my applications off into the ether, and the anxious wait began.

In the next 5 days I have both my opinion writing exam (4 and a half hours) and my drafting exam (3 and a half hours). I hope to get the next part of this series up soon, but forgive me if there is a delay.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Pupillage Fair - Panel Videos

Have received the link below, people were right, some of the talks are really quite interesting - especially some of the practice area related ones.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

T Minus 14 Days

In two weeks (give or take a couple of minutes) the Pupillage Portal will once again open its jaws of doom and admit its latest flock of lambs to sacrifice on the "Altar of OLPAS". I'm going to copyright that term and write a film one day.

Anyhow, the next two weeks will be the last chance I get to relax and not think about the application system. In two weeks time I'll be thrust into crafting 12 applications: the 12 applications that could determine the course of my entire career. If you've read me for more than a few days you'll know that I'm prone to flowery language and overstatement. On this occasion, I assure you, I'm not being overly dramatic. 

Looking back at my attempts last year I was painfully under-prepared - I had not researched Chambers properly, I thought that the system would be easy, pupillage would be easy to get, the same way that everything else had come to me fairly easily in life. I was a complete dumbarse.

What I got right last year I got right by fluke - speaking to other, more experienced, friends who had been part of the process, or who had actually achieved a pupillage, I realised just how far behind the curve I was.

This year I hope not to make the same mistakes, but we shall see.

In the next two weeks I have three exams: Opinion Writing (4 and a half hours), Drafting (3 and a half hours) and Professional Ethics (2 hours). I'll, of course, let you know how they go, but in the mean time I'll also try to post about what I did last year, what I think I got wrong, and what actually happened to my applications: how I was effectively offered pupillage, and how I then never heard anything from that Set again.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Inner Temple Pupillage Application Advice Evening

Posting the other day about the Pupillage Fair reminded me of the above titled event, held a couple of weeks ago on 15 February.

The evening was split into two - firstly a panel discussion about pupillage applications, what to write, what not to write, and secondly a drinks reception.

The first half was "sort of useful". I imagine that if you are, at all, interested in a career at the Bar, you will have found all sorts of application advice pages online, as well as a couple of books on the process. A good website, for instance, is The Pupillage Pages. It's a great site with lots of information for applicants, including a section called "Have You Heard?" (which was the bane of my life last summer - more on this later), and another, tellingly, called Application Advice.

There was nothing, really, from the panel discussion that you couldn't have found elsewhere. It was, I suppose, a useful tool for those who had never looked into the process before (lucky devils), but not quite so useful for those of us who had already experienced the peaks and troughs of "you're invited to interview" and "the quality of applicants this year was incredibly high... sucks to be you" emails.

The second half, however, was an entirely different beast. Waiting in the next room were 50 or so junior and pupil barristers - each of them with a name badge colour coded by their area of practice. Yellow, that brave colour, was assigned to crime, so off I went in search of custard coloured names.

Whereas the stallholders at the pupillage fair seemed to be going through the motions, the barristers at the reception seemed to want to be there (ignoring the fact that you don't have much money during pupillage, and there was lots of free wine). A couple of Eddie's opponents from the mini-pupillage were in attendance, and so I immediately had some people to talk to.

Amazingly(!), after a couple of glasses of wine, the barristers were much more willing to talk about their sets, their application process, and what sort of person they look for. One person from Tooks chambers said to me: "You seem passionate about a career at the criminal bar, and fairly bright, but you have work for a Tory MP on your CV, so I wouldn't waste your time applying to our set in case your form is reviewed by one of our more communist members". Invaluable advice, of course. Conversely, practitioners from other sets were more encouraging.

The majority of sets recruit their pupils through the central "Pupillage Portal". With over a hundred sets to choose from, and a limit of 12 applications, you have to choose your sets carefully. It's important to choose not only on practice area, but also on other esoteric factors - such as the "personality" of the chambers. Although you can get a lot about the set from its website, nothing actually beats speaking to its members in a relaxed environment.

The pupillage fair was too hectic to achieve anything useful, but the odd drinks reception here and there, alongside mini-pupillages can give you a firm idea of whether or not you'd fit in.

I think I know which 12 sets I'll be applying to when the applications open, but more on that later.

Monday, 12 March 2012

I am told...

...that the panel talks at the pupillage fair were actually quite useful. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to see them, but they were all recorded and will be published online, so when I find the link I will be sure to post it here.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The National Pupillage Fair

Last Saturday, the day after the REDOC exam, I went along to the National Pupillage Fair (apparently sponsored by Target Jobs), at Lincoln's Inn.

Firstly, Lincon's is an absolutely stunning venue. It really feels like an ancient seat of learning, and if you've never been there (lawyer or not) it's definitely worth a visit on the tourist trail.

Secondly, the Pupillage Fair itself. The fair, belying its name, isn't exclusively aimed at those seeking pupillage. Don't get me wrong, dozens of Chambers have stalls at the fair where prospective applicants can go along and chat to the current members; but a significant portion of the fair is actually aimed at those who are considering a law degree, or a career at the Bar. This side of the fair has stalls from several law schools and universities, alongside the BSB, legal volunteering organisations and other important sources of information. It was actually in this capacity that I went along.

A year ago I was studying for my exemption GDL at the College of Law. They had offered me a place on their BPTC, but I had also received offers from BPP and City Law School. As I was already at College, it seemed a simple choice to stay there for the next stage in my training. But, just to be sure I spoke to a number of friends  (both on the BVC as it was then, and baby-barristers), and the overwhelming response was that I should investigate BPP more closely. One of these friends, who in the interests of fairness I shall call "Muppet", was half way through her pupillage at (probably) the number one Family Law set.

She completely sold BPP to me (despite having no reason or incentive to do so other than her own experiences), and largely made my mind up for me. To be honest it's probably one of the best pieces of advice I was ever given.

So, being the complete fruit-loop that I am, I thought I would pass this good turn on to others, and asked the BPP BPTC course directors if they needed a current student to help out on their stand.

There was, of course, an added advantage - those on stalls arrived two hours early to set up, so I had exclusive access to a number of criminal sets ahead of the arrival of the hordes. Which was nice.

The main part of the day, though, was about chatting to potential BPP students and telling them why it was the place to go. Frankly, there's very little to separate the major law schools - they all turn out some top quality lawyers, and they have similar facilities. So, much like all sales jobs, you're selling exactly the same product as everyone else, but you need to make it sound completely different and superior.

The real selling point for me, though, was just how much fun I've had. The student body is bright, interesting and diverse, and the tutors (with very few exceptions) are all experienced practitioners who have decided to turn their talented brains to teaching. Many of the tutors still maintain thriving part time practices, and just teach a couple of days a week. Yes, I'm sure this is the same as every other law school.

It was a tiring day, we had hundreds of visitors to the BPP stall, and I'd like to think that I successfully passed on Muppet's good advice to others who are a few years behind me.

The pupillage side of the fair, though, seemed to have no real purpose. Sets have absolutely no need to advertise. They will have a couple of hundred applications even if they are the nadir of their practice area, and they can afford to cherrypick 2 or 3 top candidates from the thousands in the potential market. So what's their incentive for being there?

Many seemed to resent losing their Saturday, as if they were forced to be there by some new marketing-enthusiast clerk (or practice manager as some sets call them now), and didn't have a great deal to say about their sets.

The visitors to the stalls, all hoping for some titbit of advice on how to succeed in their applications, hope gleaming in their eyes, can only have come away disappointed by the recurring advice of: "Try not to have spelling mistakes on your forms, and tailor each application for the set in question".

Perhaps my experiences of the event were tempered by the fact that I only had a few minutes here and there away from the BPP stall, but overall I'd say that it's by no means the "must-visit" that many law schools paint it to be.

NB: I was not paid in any way, shape, or form for my time on the BPP stall, I was there purely because I believed it to be the right thing to do.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


So, to the REDOC exam.

BPP uses the ExcCel centre in the Docklands (near Canary Wharf) for many of its exams, so several hundred of us piled on to the DLR bright and early last Friday in anticipation of our first written assessment of the year. I'm a Season Ticket holder at a not-very-good Championship level football club, and my younger days I had a couple of experiences of the (thankfully now cancelled) "football special" train journeys: a service with no seats, that smelt distinctly of urine, beer and vomit, that would take hundreds of football fans directly from their home town to some distant location. Everyone on the train was there for exactly the same purpose, and you were herded like cattle from the station, to the train, to the station, to the ground, under the watchful, caring eye of HM Constabulary.

This is what the DLR felt like.

In December we had exams in Advocacy and Conference (speaking and chatting): 12 minutes each, stick on a suit, go into a room and pretend to be a proper-grown-up-barrister.

This, however, was an entirely different prospect. We had had a grand total of 6 lessons for REDOC, and the general advice seemed to be: read the text book, pass.

The exam itself was 20 multiple choice questions (MCQs - four possible answers per question), followed by three short answer questions (or "SAQs" - ten marks each, broken down into sub-questions, probably take a page and  half each to answer).

Heading into the exam, many people were worried about time-management. I didn't really see the problem. The way the exam is set out, if you want to spend equal time on each of the sections you have 3 minutes per MCQ, and 20 minutes per SAQ.

The Phantom seemed largely unconcerned as well ("20 mins for the MCQs, 15 mins each for the SAQs, out in an hour" - well done him). West Country Bob was slightly more worried ("Don't you even check your work?!"). My view was somewhere in the middle. 3 minutes to read and answer an MCQ seemed like aeons, although 20 minutes for the SAQs seemed about right.

As it turned out, Phantom was pretty close to the mark.

Although I didn't get through the MCQs in the 20 minutes, half an hour was not an unreasonable target. The SAQs were a strange beast. I was expecting the odd question about tactics in negotiation, how you would approach a certain scenario, that sort of thing.

Instead, we had three 'compare and contrast' questions. The first question compared mediation with negotiation, the second mediation with arbitration, and the last was a comparison between arbitration and litigation.

We were actively encouraged to answer with bullet points. Amazing scenes.

I saw the Phantom leave at the promised one hour and five minutes, and I followed him out about fifteen minutes later. We soon found ourselves in the Wetherspoons on High Holborn enjoying their burger deal (£5.49 for a plate of grease and a pint, can't go wrong), wondering if all the other exams would be equally passable.

Let's see, eh?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Back to school - REDOC

So, after a fairly restful reading week, I found myself back at BPP.

The main change this term has been the addition of a "REDOC" class. What is this mysterious acronym, you ask? Simply: the REsolution of Disputes Out of Court. REDOC, eh? Geddit?

The course covers negotiation, mediation, arbitration and a whole host of seemingly other pointless dispute resolution methods. I'm being glib. Of course they're not useless, but the way they are taught and assessed is beyond useless.

I mean, BPP does its best. It makes sure we know the syllabus, but the tutors' hands are tied by the fact that an area which is very skills-heavy is assessed in a purely academic way.

In previous years the REDOC course was simply knows as "Negotiation" and was examined in the same way as conference or advocacy - the providers would hire a whole bunch of actors, and you'd sit in a room and scream in their face for 12 minutes about all the money they owe you.

Now, you get given a text book, you're told that every page is examinable, and then you sit a two hour paper (half multiple choice, half short answer questions). You are taught about very practical things in very abstract ways.

Instead of using your experience and intuition to negotiate, now you need to be able to demonstrate that you understand BATNAs and WATNAs. Two more entirely useless acronyms.

They are the "Best (and Worst) Alternatives To a Negotiated Agreement". Effectively: what's the best result for my client if we go into court, and how much can they lose. And then you use these artificially constructed figures to estimate a reasonable settlement. Seems effective? No. Because in our text book we're told that we should take litigation risk into account when estimating the best result, but not when estimating the worst result.

In other words if you think you have a 70% chance of winning, you multiply the best result by 70%, but leave the worst settlement as it is. It doesn't make sense mathematically or practically. It's just nonsense. But we're examined on the nonsense, so learn it I did.

The exam itself was a few days ago, on Friday 2 March. I'll tell you all about it in my next post.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Mini-Pupillage - Day 3 15/2/2012

So, the third and final day with Eddie came around. As he had expected to be in the middle of a two day trial it came as a surprise to both of us when we were back at Kingston for a one day robbery trial. The information I didn't have was that it was an 11am start - so my turning up at 8.45 to enjoy more 'costa' from the robing room was entirely pointless.

Eddie (prosecuting again) arrived, introduced himself to the witnesses, the usual rigmarole, and we went into court.

Our jury was selected, sworn in, and got ready to hear the indictment.

It was the first time I had ever seen a jury burst out laughing.

You see, the defendant was charged with robbery, in that he took ONE POUND from the victim.

Frankly, if I hadn't read the facts of the case, I would have burst out laughing as well. On first viewing, it seems bizarre that the CPS would think that it was in the interests of justice to proceed over a matter of £1. The costs of the trial, the barristers, having everyone turn up to court, and all that jazz, would easily cost several thousand pounds - all for an offence over a one pound coin.

But the papers disclosed a very different story. The vast majority of people reading this will, I imagine, already have some kind of legal education, so I apologise for being dull:

Robbery is effectively "theft with force". Basically, it is separated from a simple theft by virtue of the fact that the perpetrator used some form of violence, or a threat of violence, in the course of the theft.

In this case, the robber had attacked a teenage schoolboy at a bus stop, pinned him up against the bus shelter, and then went through his pockets. All he found was a £1 coin - the change from the boy's lunch money. The boy wasn't badly injured, but he certainly got some bruises, and experienced a thoroughly rotten time.

When this was explained to the jury by Eddie in his opening speech, their laughter soon turned into disgust. Frankly the rest of the trial was unnecessary at this point, Eddie's opening speech meant they would have convicted the Pope. Eddie painted the picture of innocent boy, on his way home from school, attacked, frightened, hands going in and out of his pockets as he was pinned to the side of the bus shelter. The defendant didn't leave the scene, instead he just stood there waiting for a bus. Eddie painted him as violent, a threat to children, and (frankly) callous for just standing there with his victim.

Thankfully someone had seen the attack from the other side of the road, and the police were there within minutes.

What the jury didn't know, as it was ruled inadmissible in the PCMH, was that when the police turned up, the defendant whipped out his todger and pissed all over their shoes. Lovely chap.

The trial went without a hitch, the evidence was overwhelming, the ID evidence from the victim and the other witness was impeccable, and the defendant's defence (I was begging he gave me the money willingly, honest) was looked upon with scorn.

Trial was done and dusted in three hours, the jury was done in thirty minutes, and we'd finished for the day by half 3.

The three days with Eddie were the perfect start to reading week, and a useful perk up half way through the bar course, to keep my eye on the prize. I love mini-pupillages, but every time I just feel incredibly jealous of the people who get to do it, properly, every day.