Can I still be a Q.C. Barrister, if I didn't go to a top-notch private school? Watch

Evil_Genius
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#21
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If you cut that post, minus the first line, and post it on your website, I think it would be a rather invaluable Papal Pronouncement.

Quite interesting to see you angry-ish---you are no doubt a fearsome sight when aggravated when on the Bench...
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chalks
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#22
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I was about to post a similarly grumpy response to Simon but he stole my thunder on that. Instead I shall content myself with smashing my head against my desk in frustration.

Yes, a good school may mean that you're more likely to achieve good grades compared to a student who attended a less impressive school. Those grades are likely to mean that you can attend a more highly regarded university and, therefore, you may have a better chance than your contemporaries when it comes to applying for pupillages/training contracts. However, the mere fact that you attended that well-known school will not, of itself, give you much of an advantage. The old-boys' network really is a myth.

When it comes to the importance of attending Oxbridge for the Bar, again there is a serious misconception that it's those two universities or nothing. If you take a look at the Bar Council's own stats for 2005/2006 (http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/trainin...ers/Diversity/) you'll see that 69% of pupils attended a university other than Oxbridge. 34% hadn't "even" attended a Russell Group university. Those figures support Simon's personal experience of his own set.

The real danger is that these sorts of myths become self-perpetuating. Potentially excellent lawyers are put off from applying to the Bar, or the larger City firms, because there is this misconception that those parts of the profession are the absolute reserve of white, male, public school, Oxbridge applicants. The figures just don't bear that out.

Oh dear, my post seems to have become grumpy after all.... (but rather fitting for my 1,500th post)
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Takahashi
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#23
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every impression i have recieved of the bar has left me with the impression that it is as close to a meritocracy as any profession, that being said a brief google does reveal that not everyone is as enlightened as simon, though whether this is just vestiges of an old system or still the case is difficult to say. This sutton trust report does deliver the statistics pretty bluntly on a wider scales
http://pdfmenot.com/view/http://www....ackgrounds.pdf
The reported figues do rather speak for themselves:
Seven percent of the school age population in England and Wales attends private schools, a
figure that has remained fairly constant for many years. Our findings show, however, that in our
sample in 2004, over two thirds of the barristers at the top chambers had attended independent
schools, as had three quarters of the judges, and over half the partners at the leading law firms.
Our findings show that in both samples over two thirds of barristers at the top commercial
chambers went to fee-paying schools and over 80 percent were educated at Oxford or
Cambridge, while very few went to universities outside the top 12 – just seven percent in 2004.
In 1984 72% of top barristers under 39 had attended fee-paying schools. In 2004 66% had done so. Almost 70% of the state share was accounted for by selective schools
Conclusion
Our findings show that the top of the legal profession comprises mainly of those who have been
independently educated, and this situation has not changed greatly over the last 15 years.
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emmings
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But those statistics only consider the top of the profession - think about how long it takes to get there. Today's QCs and judges entered the profession at least 20 years ago, when it was less meritocratic. The picture is changing, albeit slowly.
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Simon Myerson QC
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Also, note the report's criteria. The 7 'top' sets used in the report (they say 8 but I counted 7) - are those most likely to demand particular academic achievement. The report says precisely nothing about the state of the Bar, because those sets are not representative of it. Even in those unrepresentative sets the proportion of those attending non-selective state schools had doubled (report p6).

Nor, I might add, are the junior tenants in those sets receiving the training or experience that made the big hitters in those sets into the barristers they now are. Whether those junior tenants will become as successful as their seniors is an experiment still in progress.

Moreover, it is a question of presentation. The Sutton report also shows that the number of barristers surveyed who did not attend the top universities (as defined by the report) increased by 350% between 1989 and 2004! Now, that is actually a jump from 2% to 7%. Which should make all of you a little bit cautious of statistics.

Finally, the data on UK schools comes from about 250 people and that on UK universities from about 340 people. The number of practising barristers is now over 12,000 (per the Bar Council at the end of 2007). I am not saying the Sutton Report has nothing to say. But it isn't definitive and it isn't the last word. For most of the people here it says little to nothing about their prospects of success.
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tinaturnerbunsenburner
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(Original post by Jessaay!)
The critical thinking teacher at my college would put shame on you for basing a definite conclusion from some hypothetical evidence.

But in all fairness, you are correct, however I severely doubt there would be some big ban from you achieving your dreams of becoming a Q.C. barrister even if you weren't privately educated. It could be a little harder though.
:ninja:
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AdamTJ
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Mr Myerson- I obviously am willing to respect your opinion, but do you honestly believe that "knowing people" won't help? Obviously one still needs to obtain the grades etc...to actually succeed. And of course, an impressive candidate is an impressive candidate no matter what his or her background is. But, building a network early (if one isn't already easily accessible to you) is important. It helps you all the way from meeting barristers at a relatively young age, to maybe being invited to conferences and casually dropping your name, to obtaining mini-pupillages and then finally the pupillages themselves. And a key way to network is by its very nature, to attend public school. Now of course, the Bar is of course far more meritocratic than it perhaps ever has been, and I have not disputed that. However, it seems impossible to ignore that this type of thing does go on.

I understand as well that London is not the only place one can be barrister, and that the world does not revolve around the Falcon Chambers, Maitland Chambers and the Serle Courts of this world. However, if one does want to get into one of these, it is often beneficial to go to public school (not in and of itself) but because of the side-benefits that arise from it.
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Simon Myerson QC
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Adam.

No. Wrong.

I don't know why you think the legal world works this way, but it hasn't for at least 10 years. Nowadays Chambers operating as you suggest would succeed only in having their members struck off. Nor would they attract candidates of the necessary calibre to maintain their position.

You say it is impossible to ignore that 'this sort of thing' goes on. That is guessing. Name 3 examples, with dates, Chambers and individuals. PM me if required. But I'd be really surprised if you could...
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Evil_Genius
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Adam, I can't entirely disagree with you on the issue that connections can result in greater success when seeking pupillage--but I believe you are observing an effect (greater success of those with exposure to the judiciary/bar due to family background etc.) and falsely attributing it to a cause (nepotism/corruption). I think it is difficult to deny that someone whose father/mother is a judge/barrister/solicitor or who moves in such circles would be more informed, on average, than someone who does not have this background---resulting in more interesting answers at interview, greater comprehension of the Bar's professional demands etc. This is inevitable and in no way improper---indeed, someone without the benefit of such a background can compensate by pursuing more frequent shadowing/placements etc. I think even in your idealistic view of the Bar, Simon, you should be able to concede the above...

AS an example of how such rumours of under-handed selection arise, I have heard from a friend who was passed over for tenancy that he was up against the son of a very senior Judge. However, when questioned on whether this could have possibly been a coincidence, he was not able to honestly say this wasn't simply down to the other guy's superior skills/understanding of the Bar. To an outsider, though, it may certainly look inequitable.
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Simon Myerson QC
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You are right that it helps to be able to talk the talk, however the ability is acquired.

The Judge's son thing raises its head periodically. All I can say is that in my experience the days when that was a help have long gone. Nowadays Chambers are likely to anxiously consider that offering the pupillage will look bad and will do it only if the candidate is really head and shoulders above everyone else. Interestingly, the 2 senior members of my Chambers who have had children who went to the Bar have both seen their offspring get pupillages elsewhere...
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Evil_Genius
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I admire your confidence in the integrity of Pupillage Committees, Simon, but I don't think your reference to the (admittedly powerful) sanctions for breaches of equity are really as weighty as you propose they are. Naturally, if evidence does exist of questionable decisions, then action would undoubtedly be taken. However, in practice, would you not agree that pupillage decisions between the top 5-10 candidates are usually made within a 'margin of appreciation' for each member, allowing a wide set of prejudices, irrelevant factors and other inappropriate considerations to enter and roam freely within the committee's consciousness? As the process of selection is entirely imprecise/unscientific (despite the efforts of some chambers to use 'points systems'--which are are only a superficial solution), any such prejudices can be entirely disguised through reference to, say, 'compatability with the spirit of this set' (a common criterion!).

Truly, I am a very level-headed person who does not believe in the sort of conspiracy-nut theories that are proposed in this thread and are entirely outdated. Nonetheless, I do not think that the process of selection is as fair as you propose. I do so very wish you were entirely right---as an applicant who is quite obviously non-British/non-Commonwealth, I cannot escape the suspicion that I will fall down not on barristerial qualities, academics or advocacy skills but rather due to being demographically different.
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Takahashi
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In my experience as a student, having family members / close friends is no help at all in terms of succeeding overall, but it is a big help in getting mini-pupillages and vac scheme placements, meetings with barristers and all that kind of experience which while no substitute for hard work certainly don't hurt. ( i have several specific examples if people wanted them but i don;t think they are really necessary)
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Simon Myerson QC
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In the end there will always be people who do not act entirely fairly on occasion and those who believe that people never act fairly on any occasion. The profession needs the best people to remain so admired, and good sets of Chambers both understand and promote that. I agree with Takahashi (and indeed have said something pretty well identical on another thread) but the lack of easy introductions can be overcome.

We are, I am glad to say, a million miles away from the premise behind the OP's question.
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Evil_Genius
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I'm entirely in agreement on that point. I think at this stage, any unfairness is sporadic and errant rather than institutionalised--which is probably about as well as any profession can do.
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AdamTJ
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(Original post by Takahashi)
In my experience as a student, having family members / close friends is no help at all in terms of succeeding overall, but it is a big help in getting mini-pupillages and vac scheme placements, meetings with barristers and all that kind of experience which while no substitute for hard work certainly don't hurt. ( i have several specific examples if people wanted them but i don;t think they are really necessary)
Yes I think this hits the nail on the head. Mr Myerson- I am not suggesting that outright nepotism occurs in the Bar. That would clearly be improper. However, I am saying that connections do help in gaining a foot up. People constantly do "favours" for others. I know this happens, because I myself have benefited from it. I managed to get a mini-pupillage at Serle Court in my first year at Durham University (when all the other mini-pupils on my day were second years at Oxford), and I think this is primarily because my father sends a lot of work to many of the barristers (and perhaps more importantly enjoys a good relationship with the clerks!!!) at that set. Obviously this is no guarantee that I will end up getting pupillage there, or indeed anywhere else (it is but a distant dream at this juncture) but this experience (and the networking that I can do whilst there) cannot hurt. This is simply the way of the world.
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Evil_Genius
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I don't think I'd be able to enjoy the placement or feel any satisfaction from being a Durhamite amongst the Oxbridge hoardes if I got the placement through back-channels...

Still, I think fixed-mini pupillages are considered to be de facto acceptable whereas as pupillages would be a different matter altogether.
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AdamTJ
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I honestly don't give a **** whether you would feel any satisfaction because it's me that's doing it not you. I'm perfectly happy accepting any of the help I can get and if you were in my position I think you would probably do the same. It happens ALL the time, as you point out, so I'm not going to apologise for it. It also seems to me, the more mini-pupillages you can get (and I feel very lucky to have had a few in the first year), the more this will help an eventual pupillage application.
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Simon Myerson QC
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I'm not sure I would describe a day in Chambers as a mini-pupillage. And, without wishing to be overly brutal there is another way of the world in which one could read this. But good luck and I hope you get a pupillage.
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Edmund Blackadder
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Leading on from what Simon has said previously; I've met a person on the BVC with pupillage who has a parent at the Bar. This person freely admits that this opened up doors to mini-pupillage and marshalling at a relatively young age, but emphasises that the parent's chambers wouldn't touch them for love nor money - it would simply have looked far, far too suspicious.

I think the 'nepotism' that people believe exists at the bar is identical to that in any other competitive profession. A friend or relative will not help you get the job but may be able to open doors for you to experience the job. This, in turn, leads to greater understanding (and at its most basic level: more stuff for the CV) of the role and the development into a better candidate with commensurate increased chances of being successful.

I suppose it's also similar (in a way) to the alleged corruption that exists as a result Freemasonry - it's simply a way for people to meet each other in a social setting, that, due to the social background of many members may spill over into professional life. This won't be through any overt favouritism for a fellow 'Brother of the Craft' but simply down to having met and liked somebody socially.

Is it fair? Not in so much as it (largely, but definitely not entirely) excludes certain social groups. Is it corrupt nepotism? No.



I'm starting to ramble.
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AdamTJ
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(Original post by Simon Myerson QC)
I'm not sure I would describe a day in Chambers as a mini-pupillage. And, without wishing to be overly brutal there is another way of the world in which one could read this. But good luck and I hope you get a pupillage.
Well given that's all they offer, and they describe it as such, who am I to argue? I would have preferred longer as well, but what can one do? Ultimately I've found that some chambers (such as 6 Pump Court and 11 Stone Buildings) are willing to offer longer, some are willing to offer in between (Selborne) and the most competitive will only offer a day. I will take everything I can get. I appreciate your good wishes though.

I accept your point, however, on both counts. Although, I don't think what I've said is particularly controversial, or distasteful, and I just happen to find the debate interesting. Was your father not a barrister? Do you not feel this had certain benefits (if you are honest) for you? This is not to say that you did not deserve a pupillage when you got one, or that you had to work less hard than anyone else, but that he may have had certain contacts which could be utilised. This happens, as has been previously noted, in almost all industries; I don't think any notion of improprietary is involved.
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