Publawyer has done some research on the vexed question of further degrees about which I posted at the beginning of July. The fact that research has been done is a huge step forward – I have not been able to find any equivalent exercise. The results can be viewed here.
Once one removes the BCL, the doctorates (a quite different level in my view and one that qualifies the holder as a genuine academic) and those MA’s which represent a qualification from Harvard or the Sorbonne etc, it seems to me that about 90 of 350 barristers surveyed had a ‘standard’ MA – about 25%. I would dearly like to know what those courses represented and who provided them.
As you will see, about half the pupils from sets offering large pupillage awards had an MA. But I suspect that the BCL, Harvard et al are included within that figure (a quick search of top tier London Chambers’ websites confirms this view). That would mean that of about 180 people surveyed from Chambers with a pupillage award of greater than £30,000, perhaps 40 had a ‘standard’ MA – about 20%. Again, I would very much like to know who the provider was and what the actual course was. All help gratefully received.
For the time being I remain of the view that a ‘standard’ MA offers no assistance to getting a pupillage unless directed squarely at the area of law in which Chambers specialises. On the other hand, it clearly doesn’t hurt either. And the BCL, Harvard etc are plainly of huge assistance.
Publawyer’s take is below: my comments are in purple (I have simply posted his/her last comment below because I have no email address to ask for permission. If I am asked to remove this bit then, of course, I will. In the meantime – many thanks).
“If people think it would be helpful then I’m happy to try and expand on this a bit and separate out the various courses and institutions. One potential problem, from my random sample anyway, is simply that some qualifications are not accurately described. It’s tempting to conclude that any such qualification simply isn’t relevant – I can understand why some non-relevant qualifications might be included to bolster an online CV (which is effectively what these profiles are), but I can’t see any reason why anyone would downplay a BCL or a Harvard qualification, etc.
You’re also quite right to point out that figures for the various levels of pupillage awards include all postgraduate qualifications lumped in together. From a quick look at my raw data there are 26 ‘regular’ MAs from the 181 highest paying chambers. That is about 15% rather than the 20% I postulate above. The breakdown is:
24 BCLs
26 LLMs
26 MAs (may include some LLMs simply labelled as “Masters”)
8 MPhils
9 PhDs
Things that surprised me included:
1. Almost half those who took on an advanced research course finished with an MPhil and did not progress to a PhD. I am not so surprised. A legal MPhil is only relatively rarely a waystation on the way to a PhD.
2. Some people feel happy to describe their university education as “x College, Oxford” without the merest clue as to the course or class of degree. Probably not Law and almost certainly an indifferent classification…
I suspect all of this isn’t going to offer much solace to some of the people who originally asked these questions. If they wanted an extra qualification to boost an unexceptional first degree then a BCL is going to be closed off to them. I would also have thought, but may be way off the mark here, that an extra qualification on it’s own is only useful (if it has any merit) in getting past a sift and through to interviews. Once the decision has been made to interview then the eventual decision is surely based more on interview performance. Not my personal view, but certainly tenable.
This is perhaps where an MA might be useful – if you can take enough from the course that you are a better speaker and more accomplished interviewee then it will be of benefit. If you register on a course simply to inflate your CV and fill a gap on the OLPAS form then it isn’t going to improve a poor interview performance. This might also explain the high quantites of BCL graduates – the course simply makes better lawyers than a standard MA so they consequently interview better.” In my opinion the BCL demands a particularly high intellectual standard and the people who have done it also have the reassurance that such attainment provides.