snark-barristers-dream1I have been thinking about this for some time (whether I have got it right is another matter).
The BVC doesn’t work. It costs far too much and it takes on too many people who have no chance of succeeding, thus depriving them of a lot of money they will never recoup. It teaches far too mechanistically and at a level which produces very little of value to the student. All pupil supervisors are familiar with the process of starting again or, even worse, ensuring that pupils unlearn some of the ‘skills’ they have been taught.
Dump it.
Abolish funded pupillage as a necessity and replace it by selection on merit, supplemented by scholarships. Make two different categories of scholarships; one based on need and one on academic ability. Allow people to compete for both. Put the money in the pot labelled ‘need’. The other shcolarships will attract the prestige.
The worry about unfinded pupillage is that it puts middle-class applicants with parental or other support in the box seat. This is a bad thing. Prevent it by making Chambers publish their scoring systems for pupillage, subject them to random pupillage interview inspections, insist that discussions as to selection are fully minuted and subject the pupils to competitive examination (see below) leading to a judgment about what added value Chambers is putting in. If Chambers are not adding sufficient value, or are not embracing diversity, discipline and publish the names of defaulters. Supervisors are supposed to teach. If they do not, then they should not be protected.
Pupillage should start in October and April. Pupils should attend the BVC for a month prior to starting. There they should be taught the basics of drafting, opinion writing, ethics and nothing else. They should be taught by practitioners or others who are subject to random inspection with the results being published. Barristers are subject to exactly the same regime (read the law reports). Why should those teaching barristers be any different?
There should then be 6 months pupillage during which the supervisor and Chambers should provide experience in drafting, mock-trials/pleas/applications. Ethics should be reinforced, with practical difficulties being built in to the training. There should be a programme of further education (as all Barristers now undertake such a programme) which concentrates on substantive subjects identified by the pupil and the supervisor, with a view to getting the pupil up to speed on Chamber’s work. At the end of that period the pupillage should continue only if the supervisor and the head or deputy head of chambers are prepared to jointly sign a certificate of competence. To prevent this being the charade it can currently be, the signing of the certificate should be an acceptance of personal responsibility for the pupil for the next 18 months in terms of any further training identified by the BSB or a Judge. There should be an appeal system to prevent abuse. This can run via the Complaints Committee of the BSB.
Pupils should then take a further month to develop court craft, conference skills, diversity training and drafting techniques at the BVC. These subjects would be taught by practitioners and would fit around their practices. Judges would accomodate days out of Court. Every Chambers who wished to take a pupil would have to ensure that a fair proportion of its membership went on this rota. The rota would be quality controlled. Chambers who could not provide people of sufficient quality would not be allowed to take pupils. Nor (and this is the sting in the tail) would they be permitted to take further tenants of below, say, 5 years call. This would deprive them of a sufficiently important income stream to ensure they took training seriously. Judges would be expected to assist and their participation would count as a sitting day.
Then back for six months more pupillage as presently, with added training and an agreed plan to develop the pupil’s skills. Then a competitive exam leading to two scores – an overall one as at present, and a score reflecting progress made in the second six months, on which Chambers would be judged.  Then tenancy. Of course, a tenancy could not be guaranteed, but Chambers would get a reduced or eliminated payback if pupils were not kept on. That might get rid of the current unfair system where many pupils are taken on to compete with each other.
How would this be paid for?
Each pupil would pay £10,000. They would thus save money, compared to the current arrangements. The money would be paid over 2 years at the Bar by deduction from their earnings. Their Chambers would inject that sum up front in order to pay for the teaching required. If the Chambers taught the pupil properly then the money paid by the pupil would go back to Chambers. If they did not, then the money would go into a general fund, from which proper training would be paid for. Chambers would be deducted money or fined for breaching diversity policies, not applying fair selection procedures, failing to train properly etc.
Pupils who needed support before they earned for themselves would be entitled to an interest free loan from Chambers, set at a rate which provided basic accomodation, food and travel. That loan would be repayable within 5 years and would be capped at a maximum (which might encourage some sets to apply diversity rather more enthusiastically than at the moment and encourage applicants to focus on things other than the size of the pupillage award), but could be taken as and when the pupil wished. Chambers could afford this because they would not spend any money on pupils, save the cost of lending, providing they gave proper supervision. They could thus afford to pay a small sum per annum (say half the current minimum award) to a central pot which would be sued to ensure that the system was affordable. The BVC as it currently is would end. Pupils would be taught in London, Manchester, Leeds (it’s my plan, alright?), Cardiff/Bristol and Birmingham. That would mean that very small premises were required and it is possible that an arrangement could be made to utilise court buildings – many courts don’t sit every day.
The profession would be able to teach properly. Chambers which were good at teaching would attract the most able applicants. Those bad at teaching would be discovered, and pupils and junior tenants protected from them. Pupils would save money. So would the profession. People without hope would not pay out.
Thoughts welcome.