Pupillages and tenancies are being hurled around like confetti for those lucky few – to whom we (all of us being nice enough to rejoice in the joys of others) extend our congratulations: and the Bar is drawing its feelers in for the unlucky many.
These are interesting times – as most of you know, this is an ancient Chinese curse. Numbers of pupillages are down – it looks to be by about 50 when non-Olpas Chambers are factored in. Thus, there may be 450+ pupillages on offer, but it won’t be many more and could well be many less – perhaps as few as 410. This is a drop of about 140 in 3 years. Meanwhile, the Wood report suggests that there were about 3,700 applicants for the last year in which figures were available.
The difficulty is that existing practices have more of a voice than practices-to-be. Theoretically, everyone can agree that people not doing so well ought not to hold back brilliant and worthy new arrivals. It’s dog eat dog and the weak go to the wall. In reality, it’s hard to say that to your room-mate. So, when the pressure is on – as it is at present with criminal and family fees down and the credit-crunch starting to bite – it’s easy to decide that the best course is to let the current junior tenant consolidate their practice for a year. Net result, as Mr Micawber would say, misery.
This means you have to even better and luckier than previously. It is important not to think that you can’t do it, just because you didn’t get a pupillage this year. As usual there will be brilliant people who got in, brilliant people who didn’t get in (fewer, but still there), good people who got in and who didn’t (roughly even numbers) and some appalling choices which Chambers will come to regret, but it seemed good at the time.
There will also be a lot of people whose expectations were hugely inflated and who, frankly, were never going to get a pupillage even from their Mother. These people form a large proportion of applicants for any Chambers that I have ever heard from. They have indifferent academic qualifications for no good reason, they have done nothing of particular interest, they are often not terribly good at expressing themselves in writing or orally and display the range of vocabulary of a gnat. They are always terribly enthusiastic. I am afraid that they are wasting their time.
I have been banging on about this for a while now but the Wood report agrees, so it can be said again. The point is important because there is a risk that the no-hopers drag down the standard of teaching and discussion at the BVC, and they definitely screw up the statistics. In reality I reckon the chance of pupillage is not – as it appears to be statistically – about 1 in 8. Rather it is about 1 in 5 and maybe 4. These are still not great odds but they are a damn sight better than might be the case at first blush.
Before you go to the BVC, put your ambition aside and take a long, hard look at your abilities. Have you got really good results? If not, why not? Can you name a single achievement – of any kind – that stands out? When you measure yourself against the person you think is bound to succeed are you up there with that person? If not, think hard. You are about to spend a lot of money and it may be without any prospect of return. Alternatively, find a barrister and ask them to tell you truthfully whether they can see you succeeding.
Then go to work on your English. Learn a word a day. Practice actually writing; learn where to put an apostrophe; eliminate exclamation marks. Express yourself as simply as possible consistent with what you wish to say – contrary to what seems to be the view of many, it is not impressive use of English to adopt an orotund and prolix manner of expression. Such methods tend to put you in the pompous and boring bracket of a discriminating reader.
I am not trying to discourage people unduly. But the BVC is becoming cluttered – and I use the word advisedly – with those who will not succeed, ever. For those who are not in the market for a UK pupillage that is not a problem. For everyone else it is and a bit of realism would not go amiss.

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