I don’t so this very often, but I am posting a comment left on the previous BVC thread by Becky. Firstly, I think it’s exceptionally well argued (the fact that she supports a sift is only a small part of that – honest). Secondly, it exemplifies what total idiots some bright, well qualified people can be – and how lacking in basic good manners and empathy.
For what it’s worth I think that London lags behind the provinces in this area. I am also less inclined to be kind than Becky. There is a degree of like chosing like. But there is also a need to see what one considers vital to professional success reflected back at you by the candidates. That is why diversity is such an issue and why people need to understand it. You don’t actually need a brilliant degree to be a good barrister. You don’t need to have understood business since you were 5 either – we don’t ask the criminal bar to demonstrate its knowledge of how to jemmy a window. And self-confident people with an eye on what is best for the profession shouldn’t need to see themselves in a candidate for pupillage.
Anyway, here is Becky’s comment. She didn’t leave an email address so I couldn’t ask for permission. If she wants me to take it down, I will. So catch it whilst it’s hot.
“For all the noble ideas that are being thrown at us by members of the Bar today, is there really the will to do anything about this particular chestnut? Your point about ½ day selection would be a victory for common sense. I would like to see the selection taken out of the hands of BVC providers (merciless, money grabbers that they are) and put back into the hands of the professionals. Full day workshops and a proper interview to decide on a person’s aptitude combined with a written exam and a bit of advocacy alongside the paper sift. That way at least it could be guaranteed that those who are making the cut do have some prospect of success in return for their money. Only then is the competition genuine for the pupillage afterwards (within the sterile confines of the concept admittedly).
However, this does cause me to itch all over. Allow me to indulge in a moment of comment on my situation. I have a good degree from a top 10 university with an excellent law department. I have interesting experiences (involving actual read life advocacy, none of your mooting for me). I got big scholarships from my Inn and university (based on merit I should add). I get interviews. I suspect it’s not my attitude because I have had no negative feedback (there were people who more committed than you, that’s all…how? No really, HOW?)
I am not barrister-bashing (although the more removed from the profession I become, the more I do), but dear me, it is an old boys network isn’t it? I could make you gasp in horror as I recount my favourite interview story (its better with my impression, honest), from an unnameable London Chambers, where I was asked what my parents did for a living and had to endure a gasp and a round of ‘they must be so proud’ (incidentally, they are both cleaners and they are very proud).
What can I do in the face of such attitudes? And that’s the problem for most of us. Whatever we do with BVC entry numbers, further training, re-educating the selectors, you cannot get past the attitudes. Completely without blame, the vast majority of those who make the decisions are public schooled, privileged. Like chooses like, bless ‘em. I can understand that. We chose friends for our shared characteristics, be it sense of humour or common experience.
This does throw up a problem though. The Bar is becoming endemically worse. The competition is tough, therefore those getting chosen are from largely the same backgrounds (broad brush) because they are perceived as those most likely to be successful based on old stereotpyes. When I was at Bar School last year, the 7 people who had pupillage were Oxbridge bar one. To be frank, with a notable exception, they were no better than many others and a lot worse than some. The Bar can’t change society. It can’t do anything about inequality in education, distribution of means or any of the other variables that hamper the selection for pupillage. It can do something about levelling the playing field based on aptitude, as discussed, and I think this would inevitably trickle down to the profession. If the profession trusted the selectors at Bar School, they would be assured that those coming at them for pupillage must have some modicum of ability and then they could make decisions at interviews based on, what I consider to be the important things: relevant experiences, knowledge of the area, etc. Depressing.
But as my grandfather says, the percentage of those from different backgrounds now is better than it was, and that’s an encouraging thought, isn’t it? And I for one know I will be there for all of my precious 5 years trying my hardest to impress.”
UPDATE: Lawyer 2 Be has discussed this matter at http://lawyer-2-be.blogspot.com/2007/07/calculating-risk.html. It is an interesting post and gives food for thought. The comments are also worth a read.