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Barrister - Oxbridge necessary?

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    I have to say the more pupils I meet the more I realise that the whole Bar thing isn't as extreme as I had previously thought. Basically it seems to me that you are in with a shot at most criminal sets and most regional sets with a good 2.1 from a red-brick uni (and no gaping holes/errors in your CV). That said, there are LOADS of people with a 2.1 from a red-brick uni who have no pupillage...but you are in with a shot, ie you should get some interviews and then they are what you make of them. But to get into a top set of any nature, be it criminal/human rights/commercial/civil/chancery/medical law/media law, you need a top CV. Which I guess should be kind of obvious. It's just supply and demand. But there really is a world of difference in terms of so-called "prestige" (which personally I think is a rotten basis for choosing a place to spend your working life), as well as earnings, between being at a top civil set and being at a "bottom" criminal set...at some criminal sets new tenants don't earn enough to support themselves for years, whereas at some civil sets there are income guarantees of at least 40-50k per annum in the first years of tenancy...

    So it's not really the case that a barrister is a barrister is a barrister...and indeed there's a world of difference between the working day of a commercial barrister and that of a criminal barrister. Based on the experiences of my friends I would say that many people fail to get pupillage each year simply because they are unable to assess their CVs objectively - if your uni education consists entirely of a 2.1 from a red-brick and a VC on the BVC and you have no "excuse" for this, don't waste your OLPAS choices on the Blackstones of the Bar! And trust me, there are plenty of other chambers with similarly exacting requirements - look at the websites before you pick them!
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    Julia is saying what I've said all along.

    There is too much hype about how difficult it is to become a barrister. I'm sorry to say this, but it's perpetuated by sites like Simon Myerson's too. Places like Blackstone are for overachieving bookworms basically, and their whole identity is based upon their academic achievements.

    Prestige IS a pathetic way to choose how you want to spend the next forty years of your life.

    The problem is, the Oxbridge students (and it is mostly them) that perpetuate this "too hard to get a pupillage" myth around TSR all think so highly of themselves that they all apply to the very best sets of chambers... fair enough, but they must therefore realise they are dramatically increasing the competition. There is so much out there, that if you're willing to look a bit further afield and market yourself to the particular set you want, then you stand an excellent chance of being taken on. Of course, there are those that have to lose, but I'd love to see a day where the really genuine barrister wannabes get pupillage, and all of the phony David Pannick wannabes are left in the lurch. I see too many. It really pisses me off.
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    Surely it is difficult to be a barrister - only about 1/3 of those that do the BVC actually end up with pupillage.
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    Well some BVC students have a 2:2. Some don't pass. Some do not adequately tail their work experience to their goal. Some are not adept in practice. Plus some are just unlucky i guess.

    It is far from easy, but not as elusive as is often portrayed.
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    (Original post by mariad)
    Surely it is difficult to be a barrister - only about 1/3 of those that do the BVC actually end up with pupillage.
    True, because there are far more people than there are places. But there are some people who won't "settle" for being a barrister at a "weak" chambers. More importantly, a 2.1 and VC are not enough to get you into a chambers, even a "weak" chambers - you will have to shine at interview. The problem is everyone going for the Bar thinks that he/she will shine, and chambers will be bowled over by his/her wit/charm/natural advocacy ability...

    Bottom line in my view is that it is not hard to be in with a shot of getting into a chambers, but it is difficult to be sure enough that you will be in the minority getting pupillage to make the quest worthwhile. Obviously, the better your CV, the better your chances. And it is extremely difficult to get into top sets in any area of law.
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    Age, maturity, and real life experience are also factors- which might also explain why the average age of pupils in some Chambers is going up. The younger you are the more stellar your academic credentials have to be to stand out, whereas if you have a bit more life experience, (even if only 2-3 years that you have used productively) it means that you have perhaps qualified as an accountant, or solicitor first, qualified and practiced abroad, spent time in the army or police (and these are only examples): more Chambers will be interested in you than before than simply based on your academic credentials you had aged 21/22.
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    (Original post by Nana_Julia)
    True, because there are far more people than there are places. But there are some people who won't "settle" for being a barrister at a "weak" chambers. More importantly, a 2.1 and VC are not enough to get you into a chambers, even a "weak" chambers - you will have to shine at interview. The problem is everyone going for the Bar thinks that he/she will shine, and chambers will be bowled over by his/her wit/charm/natural advocacy ability...

    Bottom line in my view is that it is not hard to be in with a shot of getting into a chambers, but it is difficult to be sure enough that you will be in the minority getting pupillage to make the quest worthwhile. Obviously, the better your CV, the better your chances. And it is extremely difficult to get into top sets in any area of law.
    Yes. Glad you're saying this now. Last year you were saying different things.
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    Is it common for barristers to move from a good set to a 'top' set after x years call to the bar? Is is it dis/advantageous?
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    (Original post by Chocca)
    Yes. Glad you're saying this now. Last year you were saying different things.
    Last year I had less exposure to the "other end" of the Bar - but anything I said was always said in good faith and on the basis of my own experience. I never claimed to know everything - I just say it as I see it, and even last year I had more actual experience of the Bar/pupillage applications than most of the people commenting here. You seem familiar...related to Fidelis/Pernell/Adam by any chance?!
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    (Original post by Stealth-Mode)
    Is it common for barristers to move from a good set to a 'top' set after x years call to the bar? Is is it dis/advantageous?
    From what I've heard, no. It is common enough for people to move to similar sets, or I guess slightly better sets if e.g. they specialise in the main area of law of a chambers and are particularly successful...but people don't usually seem to jump from a "mid-range" set to a top set. I've heard of people going to chambers they didn't like as "starter" chambers but if the chambers is bad you're really not going to get enough opportunity to shine in your work and you will be associated with the chambers...also it can be kind of obvious to others in the set that you see the chambers you're in as "beneath you" or a "stepping stone" which will do you no favours...
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    (Original post by PDJM)
    Age, maturity, and real life experience are also factors- which might also explain why the average age of pupils in some Chambers is going up. The younger you are the more stellar your academic credentials have to be to stand out, whereas if you have a bit more life experience, (even if only 2-3 years that you have used productively) it means that you have perhaps qualified as an accountant, or solicitor first, qualified and practiced abroad, spent time in the army or police (and these are only examples): more Chambers will be interested in you than before than simply based on your academic credentials you had aged 21/22.
    Agreed.
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    (Original post by Chocca)
    Of course, there are those that have to lose, but I'd love to see a day where the really genuine barrister wannabes get pupillage, and all of the phony David Pannick wannabes are left in the lurch.
    Is David Pannick not a genuine barrister? If not, he's done a rather good job of pulling the wool over peoples eyes...
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    (Original post by Chocca)
    Julia is saying what I've said all along.

    There is too much hype about how difficult it is to become a barrister. I'm sorry to say this, but it's perpetuated by sites like Simon Myerson's too. Places like Blackstone are for overachieving bookworms basically, and their whole identity is based upon their academic achievements.

    Prestige IS a pathetic way to choose how you want to spend the next forty years of your life.

    The problem is, the Oxbridge students (and it is mostly them) that perpetuate this "too hard to get a pupillage" myth around TSR all think so highly of themselves that they all apply to the very best sets of chambers... fair enough, but they must therefore realise they are dramatically increasing the competition. There is so much out there, that if you're willing to look a bit further afield and market yourself to the particular set you want, then you stand an excellent chance of being taken on. Of course, there are those that have to lose, but I'd love to see a day where the really genuine barrister wannabes get pupillage, and all of the phony David Pannick wannabes are left in the lurch. I see too many. It really pisses me off.
    No.

    51% of Applicants through OLPAS did not get one interview last year.

    There were about 550 pupillages and about 3,000 applicants. If you got an interview, your chance was 1 in 3.

    Certainly, some sets are easier to get into than others. But no pupillage is easily obtained.

    The Oxbridge comments and those about 'genuine' barrister wannabes (whatever they might be, and however defined) seem silly. When I see aspirant barristers I tend to take the view that they are to be taken at their word regarding their choice of profession. The proposition that some are not is odd. On what basis is it said, and what criteria are applied? Or is it merely sounding-off?
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    Well, thank you everyone. This so far, has been a really interesting thread and I am so glad that I started it. Collaborating everyone's thoughts and opinions I am assuming that in fact if you want to be a barrister you do not need to go to Oxbridge; if you want to be a barrister in a top class chamber in the city, you more than likely would need to go to Oxbridge.

    Me, I am a mature student anyway (29) so I would more than happy with a chambers in my local city/towns. Not to say that all mature students would be happy with that, but I am. I have no aspiration to work in a top chambers in London. Quite simply, I am looking ahead and considering my options when I finish uni. I am not sure that I want to be a barrister yet, but it is something I am thinking about.

    I am going to start my degree in September. I will be studying History. Where yet, I am not sure (check my sig, if you want to see where I applied). I think that as a degree, history is a good choice. Not only can I study something I love, but the degree offers so many skills to employers and is highly regarded. So, maybe I will continue down the teaching route as I originally thought, but maybe I will look into law more, now that I know it may be possible.

    It's interesting to read and great too :-) that you guys do not think that a great degree is the be all and end all. Obviously I need to graduate with at least a 2:1, but I know that I was right starting this thread, now in my uni holidays I can arrange as much work experience in both career paths as possible. Hopefully then, I can show other credentials to future employers.

    So, good degree, work experience, good grades on GDL and BVC, interest and passion and more work experience!

    Thanks all......now I've just got to decide where to take my degree....any thoughts on that would also be welcome! LOL...

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    Simon's 51% statistic is possibly the most frightening deterrent I've encountered in the long series of stern warnings that line the path to the Bar these days. Although the first reaction is a 'oh crap am I crazy to try?', the next is inevitably a rather arrogant belief that I am somehow better than the unfortunate 51%. I believe it is the presence of this stubborn streak in Bar aspirants which leads those with little objective hope to subject themselves to the financial and emotional rigours of the quest.

    The problem with statistics, though, is that you have so little basis on which to compare yourself to the 51% (or for that matter, any other frightening statistic thrown our way). I wonder if it would be possible for OLPAS or perhaps a dedicated monitoring group of some sort to assess pupillage applications' relative 'quality'--for instance by awarding 5 points for a postgrad qualification, 1-10 points for work experience etc. This would inevitably be a rough estimate and unsuitable for the decision-making stage itself--but the publication of such data could allow a person to assess their chances in comparison, perhaps on a bell curve of some form. Chambers could then post these set-specific statistics as a means of helping applicants by lowering their expectations/getting them to apply to lesser chambers.

    Furthermore, whenever a statistic such as that just used by Simon is provided, we could see the rough quality of those 51% on the point scale, thus deterring those with disproportionate self confidence and saving them a small fortune.

    P.S. Since the massive presence of Simon's wisdom has been recently spotted within this thread, I will rudely exploit this coincidence by posing a question I have been told is best addressed to you: If, in your capacity as a Pupillage Committee member, you were faced with an otherwise excellent applicant who happens to be foreign (non-EU, non-Commonwealth, non-US, with a tinge of exotic accent), would the applicant be at a disadvantage relative to domestic applicants? What is perhaps of more relevance, actually, is whether you believe a typical Committee member (not endowed with the virtues you so regularly display on these forums) would consider this to be a negative factor.

    P.P.S. To preempt accusations of exploitative flattery, I plead guilty. End justifies the means and so forth.
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    and about 1/2 of those with pupillage will achieve tenancy...

    It is very frightening indeed....

    The BVC is such a huge risk considering (the fees are equivalent to that of a three year degree, and) that it doesn't really seem to have much use in other professions. I wonder what field those those fail to get pupillage/tenancy usually tend to do afterwards...I'm guessing a drastic career change...

    (i know that some the contents of the course can be transfered to reduce the training needed to transfer to be a solicitor, but i'm assuming most people who are truly passionate about the bar, would not see this career path very appealing- and I'm sure that a potential employer at a firm will be curious as to why they should employ you if it is quite obvious that the job is, at most, second best.....)
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    (Original post by Evil_Genius)
    Simon's 51% statistic is possibly the most frightening deterrent I've encountered in the long series of stern warnings that line the path to the Bar these days. Although the first reaction is a 'oh crap am I crazy to try?', the next is inevitably a rather arrogant belief that I am somehow better than the unfortunate 51%. I believe it is the presence of this stubborn streak in Bar aspirants which leads those with little objective hope to subject themselves to the financial and emotional rigours of the quest.

    The problem with statistics, though, is that you have so little basis on which to compare yourself to the 51% (or for that matter, any other frightening statistic thrown our way). I wonder if it would be possible for OLPAS or perhaps a dedicated monitoring group of some sort to assess pupillage applications' relative 'quality'--for instance by awarding 5 points for a postgrad qualification, 1-10 points for work experience etc. This would inevitably be a rough estimate and unsuitable for the decision-making stage itself--but the publication of such data could allow a person to assess their chances in comparison, perhaps on a bell curve of some form. Chambers could then post these set-specific statistics as a means of helping applicants by lowering their expectations/getting them to apply to lesser chambers.

    Furthermore, whenever a statistic such as that just used by Simon is provided, we could see the rough quality of those 51% on the point scale, thus deterring those with disproportionate self confidence and saving them a small fortune.

    P.S. Since the massive presence of Simon's wisdom has been recently spotted within this thread, I will rudely exploit this coincidence by posing a question I have been told is best addressed to you: If, in your capacity as a Pupillage Committee member, you were faced with an otherwise excellent applicant who happens to be foreign (non-EU, non-Commonwealth, non-US, with a tinge of exotic accent), would the applicant be at a disadvantage relative to domestic applicants? What is perhaps of more relevance, actually, is whether you believe a typical Committee member (not endowed with the virtues you so regularly display on these forums) would consider this to be a negative factor.

    P.P.S. To preempt accusations of exploitative flattery, I plead guilty. End justifies the means and so forth.

    I am by no means as qualified as Simon to comment on these matters, however at a glace I do not see how such a numerical assessment can be fairly and objectively achieved; based on the fact that experiences are inevitably individual and thus even two candidates will take different things away from the same 'activity', in the broadest sense whether that be financially gainful or voluntary experience, or indeed simply living. Hence my submisssion would be that these factors are by their innate nature subjective and being qualitative, thus almost impossible to quantify by any kind of fair, useful means.

    Secondly, for such an apprasial to work, since the staple diet of a Barrister is eloquent loqutisation, you would need (strictly from an ability point of view) have to select largely on that basis rather then academic merit. Now differences in background and access to various opportunities would, in my humble opinion irreparably and unfairly skewer such a selection process were it to be undertaken at initial selection as a quantified factor. Although I do concede that this is partially judged in some respects by extracurricular activities and the interview.

    As to accents - some people are just nice to listen to, some voices naturally convey a sense of conviction and authority, and dulcet tones can, with an eloquent argument be seductively persuasive....then again, most the the judgeing will be on the substance of what you are saying as opposed to the accent in which you proclaim your submission.
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    I believe you misinterpreted my suggestion as proposing a selection system, while in fact it is an advisory scheme that I had in mind. I believe you'll have to agree that objections based on fairness are diminished in force when the 'rule' in question serves merely to advise rather than to select and is not at all binding. Thus, even while fully accepting your objections based on the skew resulting from a quantification process, I believe it would not be so significant as to seriously undermine the advisory utility of such statistics. After all, there is nowhere to be 'rejected' from based on the difference of a few points--it would simply form a rough guide as to the probable chances of competative success, if the individual does decide to undertake the BVC.

    As to the quantification issue, it certainly has the benefit of transparency and a similar system is already used by Matrix and Doughty Street for selection.

    With regard to accents, it wasn't its auditory appeal I was worried about per say but the associations elicited by it, namely of being foreign. The Bar does not exactly have a reputation for embracing diversity (although, admittedly, it made strides in including women/ethnic minorities) and what worries me is the potential for (very much illegal) nationality-based discrimination. In a process as highly competitive and unmonitored as pupillage selection, such considerations could eliminate my ability to compete, no matter what grades/legal experience/insane knife-juggling skills I might have.
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    (Original post by Simon Myerson QC)
    No.

    51% of Applicants through OLPAS did not get one interview last year.

    There were about 550 pupillages and about 3,000 applicants. If you got an interview, your chance was 1 in 3.
    What would be interesting is to how many different chambers these 3000 applicants applied to.

    As I said, certain people rate themselves a little too highly...it's mostly Oxbridge types that do this.
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    (Original post by Stealth-Mode)
    The BVC is such a huge risk considering (the fees are equivalent to that of a three year degree, and) that it doesn't really seem to have much use in other professions. I wonder what field those those fail to get pupillage/tenancy usually tend to do afterwards...I'm guessing a drastic career change...
    I know a few people who didn't get pupillage during the BVC or the year after. I think a good number either go into academia [grim] or just get another job and continue the hunt for pupillage. I'd say that if you don't have pupillage when it gets to 12 months after the end of your BVC then you probably won't get it.

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