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    Hello all

    Having long been a lurker of TSR, I thought it was about time that I made an active contribution. I'm well aware that this subject has come up several times in recent months, but I'd be grateful for some advice on my prospects of success at the Bar.

    I have straight As at GCSE, but my A-levels are poor (B, C, D). Also, my undergraduate degree is unconventional - I decided to study BA (Hons) Literature with the OU - but I am guaranteed to graduate with a 1st as long as I pass my final module (my average for this module is currently 88%).

    Because of the above, I've tried to boost my future applications with various ECs. Without boring everyone with too much detail, they include: previously volunteering at my local CAB for 2 years and becoming a certified legal adviser, 3 x mini-pupillages (crime and civil sets), vacation scheme at a well-respected media firm in London. Also, I've been working as a paralegal in a criminal defence firm for the past 18 months, running my own criminal files and gaining experience in judicial review and prison law. I also work as a sports coach in my local community, and was previously in a band that toured and released an album which may give me something extra to talk about at interview (if these last 2 points are irrelevant, please ignore).

    I've got a place to study the GDL starting this September, but before committing to a loan for the BPTC, I'd like to get some honest opinions on my prospects from people in a similar situation & from those who have been fortunate enough to get pupillage. I'm well aware that the top commercial / chancery sets are going to be out of reach, but what about public law / criminal sets (or whatever is left of them in 2 years...)?

    I have previously asked colleagues and other individuals working in the legal sector for their opinions, but each seems to have a differing view.

    I'd be grateful to receive any advice - many thanks.
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    Go for it ! Feel that everyone you aim there are only people who are just as stupid as everyone else, at the end of the day. A real genius is born only very rarely and the chances are one will never have an opportunity to go to university. Oxbridge is in reality full of IQ 115 people.
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    It's obviously an enormous gamble for anybody- I have a friend with an Oxford First who says its too big a risk for him. I'm really not sure on your degree, your marks are clearly impressive, but the statistics show it is difficult having been to such a Uni- difficult but possible. Your A Levels may also be quite a big hurdle to overcome- some sets ask for AAB + 2:1.
    Your Ex Curs are very impressive, particularly the criminal case work whilst still a non-law undergrad! That's going to look very good. Have you done any mooting, or other public speaking? I'd advise getting stuck straight into that as soon as you start your GDL. Also make sure you apply for an Inns of Court GDL scholarship- that will give you a pretty good idea of where you are.]
    There are so many factors to consider, it is also going to be based largely on how you write and present your app form.You've got to potential from this brief overview to present yourself as a really good candidate and good luck to you- but not all really good candidates get there!
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    (Original post by njmopsilos)


    I have previously asked colleagues and other individuals working in the legal sector for their opinions, but each seems to have a differing view.
    You may feel it is unhelpful, but that is a fair reflection of the situation. Your academics are not so dire that you are not a credible candidate. Ultimately you must impress one small group of barristers more than any other candidate they see. It really doesn't matter if you fail to impress another small group of barristers.
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    @ajh1990 thanks for your comments and kind words. No, unfortunately I haven't done any mooting or public speaking. I'm working on my app for GDL Scholarships now, hoping that will give me something to bulk out my CV if I'm lucky enough to get one!

    @nulli thanks too, and I agree, it is a fair reflection. My primary concern is that no set, even at the smaller end of the scale, will consider an OU undergraduate degree to be reputable enough. Obviously it's a big financial risk to go ahead with the GDL & BPTC on this basis, but then again the majority of people are in the same position.

    I have recently been offered a place at UCL to study an English MA, which would mean deferring my GDL offer, and I'm also considering applying to QMUL and possibly Oxbridge to study law with senior status in 2014 (finances permitting...). Any views on whether either of those options would make my application more credible in the eyes of chambers? And also whether it's worth me applying for senior status law with my background?

    Thanks again.
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    Your academics are the most important part of any paper application. If you land a few interviews, no doubt your strong character, as reflected by your dedication to EC work, will shine through.

    In my opinion, your degree class is the most important aspect of your academic credentials followed by;

    2) Awards/prizes/Scholarships
    3) University attended
    4) GDL result
    5) BPTC result
    6) A-levels
    7) Masters.

    You probably won’t even be asked for your GCSEs grades for non-pupillage portal criminal/common law sets so forget about your straight As impressing the pupillage sifters. Nice to tell your friends and provide you with some comfort, but not much else. Sorry (exception would be commercial sets)

    If you get a first, great. You should aim to obtain a Inns of Court Scholarship and win debating/mooting awards while on GDL. You won’t feel great if you have nothing to write under this standard column on most application forms. I wouldn’t fret too much about university attended. In 2009/10, 4 people obtained pupillage who had graduated from the OU. To put this into context, only 12 people obtained pupillage who graduated from Durham University that year, and Durham accounted for the 5th highest number of graduates who obtained pupillage – behind Oxbridge/UCL/Sheffield. In my anecdotal experience, a 1st from OU is better than a 2:1 from anywhere else (apart from Oxbridge)

    Others take a different view, but unless you are doing a BCL , my opinion is that doing an MA betrays a fundamental lack of imagination (unless you LOVE the subject and got a 1st on UG course). It will look as though you are masking poor grades elsewhere. (which you are). My advice would be to nail the GDL. This is such a difficult course and if you get a distinction – a fantastic result. I would submit pupillage applications while completing the GDL and see how things went. If you get more than 2/3 interviews then you know that it not your paper application (i.e. academics) which are holding you back so you should feel reasonably confident that you should undertake the BPTC. If you get no interviews then I would seriously consider taking 1/2 years off before you do the BPTC. I would re-do my A-levels while doing a Masters. Throw in some innovative EC work (like going abroad) and you would be in a much stronger position than forking out 17k in advance. I wouldn’t worry about age. Many pupils are in their late 20s/early 30s anyway. In my experience, only the commercial sets pick up candidates who are 21/22 as they are most concerned with cherry-picking the best talent.

    You must be aware that the latest round of legal aid cuts come into force in April. As someone in the know, I can assure you that criminal/family bar will look very different in 4-5 years. Chambers will merge/close. There is no getting around the fact that there is an oversupply of legal aid barristers. Given this fact, there will be even less pupillages going in a couple of years and so you need to be the best possible candidate (i.e. great academics – hence re-do A-levels) and you will know which sets are likely to survive. (you might not think that is important – but you want a career, not just pupillage at a set with no future) I have no doubt that some unfortunate souls will lose their pupillage before they start because their accepted chambers will go bust. Things are that bad.

    However, if I was you…I would not even do a BPTC. If you intended to practice criminal/family law, I would complete the LPC and get my higher rights. Why are you fighting so hard to join a profession that will be dead in a few years - (you wouldn't have wanted to be a qualified miner looking for your first job in 1985 would you? As a solicitor, you still get to do the advocacy, wear a wig and defend clients. You also have the added bonus of being able to pay for a mortgage (just) and weekly shopping.

    I took out a professional loan in 2009 and paying it off as we speak. I have to pay back approx £400 per month rain, sleet or snow. It is a huge burden even with a relatively well paying job and pupillage kicking off in October. It is not a decision to take lightly. Don't load yourself up with debt unless you have control of the "controlables" and given yourself the best possible chance to succeed.

    Best of luck!
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    Thanks for the comprehensive reply luckypupil. Out of interest, I'm guessing from your username that you have pupillage / tenancy - do you mind me asking at which chambers?

    The info about individuals who gained pupillage in 2009/10 is encouraging, although I wonder if it has become even more competitive since then?

    In truth, if I decide to study the MA at UCL then I'm sure I will enjoy it and find it interesting. Yes, it's another year, but like you say many pupils are in their late 20s or older. I have considered re-doing my A-levels in the past, and I'm confident that I could achieve much better results, but I'm wary of employers questioning why I didn't do well first time round... It's something I would ask if I was in their position. I suppose it's a gamble either way.

    Apologies if I wasn't clear before, but I don't really have an interest in family law, although I do of course accept the point you are making that the funding situation in similarly dire in both family & criminal. Given this, my hopes for a mixed crime / public practice (HR, judicial review, immigration perhaps, etc.), where hopefully there lies a (slightly) more positive future... Fingers crossed right?!

    Thanks.
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    (Original post by njmopsilos)
    In truth, if I decide to study the MA at UCL then I'm sure I will enjoy it and find it interesting.
    I'm a 'want-to-be' barrister like you but it seems to me that this is the best reason to do any postgraduate course. Even if it adds absolutely nothing to your C.V. then, so long as you can afford it, why not? The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is one of humanity's noblest endeavours, and all that. I know I'll be doing an LL.M. somewhere even if I don't get onto the BCL, because I enjoy studying law. If it doesn't help me get a pupillage then so be it.
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    I endorse everything Luckypupil has said.

    Be aware that very few sets would allow you to do a mix of crime and public law, without doing any family work. Those that do tend to be very selective, I'm afraid your OU degree wouldn't cut the mustard - even though you obviously have some decent extra-currics. Your competitors will have those extra-currics, more and a top rated degree as well.

    Common-law sets would be your best bet of doing both, but you will have to do some family work. I too once thought I wouldn't go near any family work - now that I'm seeing the reality as a pupil, it's not that bad after all! I wouldn't want to have a substantive practice in family law, but it will be very useful in filling the gaps between (ever decreasing) criminal briefs and building relationships with solicitors. I'd even go as far as to say that ancillary relief cases can provide a really interesting challenge!

    Public law covers a huge umbrella, as I'm sure you are aware. If you want fancy stuff, then you'll have to be in London and at one of the big band one sets. You are unlikely to get there, in my opinion. Common law sets will deal with a wide range of lesser matters, from licensing to judicial review, but you'll get a broader range of experience and you stand a better chance of getting in.

    It would be better to get your foot in the door and get some solid experience under your belt doing various types of law. Pupillage, then tenancy. If you can make a reputation for yourself in a field, then you can always apply to join one of the big name sets at a later point in your career.

    Having said all that, please don't misinterpret me. Whilst common-law sets are, in my view, the best option for a very junior barrister, they are by no means easy to get in!
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    (Original post by njmopsilos)
    Thanks for the comprehensive reply luckypupil. Out of interest, I'm guessing from your username that you have pupillage / tenancy - do you mind me asking at which chambers?

    The info about individuals who gained pupillage in 2009/10 is encouraging, although I wonder if it has become even more competitive since then?

    In truth, if I decide to study the MA at UCL then I'm sure I will enjoy it and find it interesting. Yes, it's another year, but like you say many pupils are in their late 20s or older. I have considered re-doing my A-levels in the past, and I'm confident that I could achieve much better results, but I'm wary of employers questioning why I didn't do well first time round... It's something I would ask if I was in their position. I suppose it's a gamble either way.

    Apologies if I wasn't clear before, but I don't really have an interest in family law, although I do of course accept the point you are making that the funding situation in similarly dire in both family & criminal. Given this, my hopes for a mixed crime / public practice (HR, judicial review, immigration perhaps, etc.), where hopefully there lies a (slightly) more positive future... Fingers crossed right?!

    Thanks.
    Not a problem! Really hopes it helps. I was lucky enough to pick up pupillage at London commercial/chancery set last year. (often it is just dumb luck). I hope you will understand if I don't tell you where. Tenancy is the holy grail now and I would like to keep my powder dry until then

    Pupillages are on the steady decline. Certainly the ratio of applicants v pupillages is only going to get less favourable.

    I understand your point about A-levels. But you have to accept the fact that pupillage sifters are, either, not going to give you an interview because of poor grades OR give you an interview and ask you about your poor A-levels. Hoping the problem goes away is not really an option. An MA might be adequate compensation but would you take a £17k gamble on that? I would have thought that redoing my A-levels loses you nothing (apart from time) and would turn your weakness into a strength.

    With your new shinny A* at A-level - you have a choice. You can put them on the application (some might pick up on the date – but so what? You have space to write mitigation paragraph if you want) or you could keep your original grades and hope you get through. If you favour the latter, when you are inevitably asked about your poor grades, you could hit them with the “well I agree with you and that is why I combined an MA with resitting my A-levels. I hate failing and worked my nuts off to right a wrong”. Everybody waffles on about how much they want pupillage and how hard they will work but few people demonstrate it. Do you really think you are the only person who has undertaken an MA because of a perceived weakness elsewhere and says they love the subject? It is one of the most common posts/questions/fears on the BPTC course.

    You asked for opinions and in my humble opinion - I would be impressed if you did an MA with A-levels and perhaps combined it with a job. Your EC work it good – but I have seen pupillage applications where the EC work is truly amazing (my wife is on the pupillage committee at another set) I studied full time, worked nights, started my own business and worked in a commonwealth country. You are up against the very best. If you don’t have the best grades, you must be prepared to work harder than everybody else to give you the edge. An MA might impress “employers”, but this is the bar. You need to have Olympian dedication and work ethic.

    Whichever way you go - good luck
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    (Original post by Forum User)
    I'm a 'want-to-be' barrister like you but it seems to me that this is the best reason to do any postgraduate course. Even if it adds absolutely nothing to your C.V. then, so long as you can afford it, why not? The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is one of humanity's noblest endeavours, and all that. I know I'll be doing an LL.M. somewhere even if I don't get onto the BCL, because I enjoy studying law. If it doesn't help me get a pupillage then so be it.
    Absolutely true. Nothing wrong with that provided you have the dosh
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    Thanks all for taking the time to reply - all the advice is really helpful and greatly appreciated. Sounds like I've got some decisions to make over the next couple of months! And best of luck to both with tenancy whenever your pupillages are complete.

    Kessler - your insight into common law work is interesting, and I agree with you that a broad variety of work as a junior must be exciting and stimulating. After all, it may be that after a few years one may stumble upon a specific area that they are enjoy and is then able to develop a good reputation as you rightly say.

    On a related point, if I was fortunate enough to get a GDL scholarship, but then decided to take the MA place this September and do the GDL next year, do you know whether the scholarship can be deferred?

    I'm leaning towards Lincoln's if that is relevant - I have contacted their education dept. who told me that there is the potential for scholarships to be deferred, but it is always at the discretion of the committee chairman... I was after more of a yes or no answer, but there you go. Anyone have any experience / know anybody who was able to defer a scholarship and, if so, on what basis?
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    (Original post by flavius11)
    I really think you'll struggle. Your Alevels/degree (as in the institution) are not up to the standard; particularly the Alevels which would rule you out of contention with virtually every set I've ever come across because of the minimum grade filters they often apply. Getting a pupillage at the moment is horrifically hard, to the point where Oxbridge graduates with a first struggle, so I really don't think the odds are at all good for you. Are you not tempted to try and get a training contract with the criminal defence firm you're currently at?
    Thanks for the reply - not necessarily what I was hoping to hear, but I do appreciate you being realistic as that is far more helpful.

    Sadly there isn't the opportunity to train where I am at the moment, certainly no prospect of funding assistance for the GDL / LPC. If I was to go down the solicitor route then I'd most likely apply to medium-sized firms that offer some assistance at least for the LPC, and that do more commercial / private client work that isn't going to dry up like criminal is likely to. Like the BPTC, the cost of the LPC is definitely a concern, especially when there is no guarantee of a job.
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    (Original post by flavius11)
    If criminal is the area you love, then I would personally try and get a training contract with a small local/regional firm. Ok you won't be doing quite the same level of work that a barrister might be, but you do get some advantages. For example as you won't be self employed you don't have the constant battle to try and find work/make your clients pay on time. The key for you so far as I see it is to get out the paralegal trap (I mean this in a respectful way- full credit to you for working hard and getting experience, but it's clear you have greater aspiration than this and can't afford to stay in this role for much longer) by whatever means you possibly can. Given the difficulties that the bar poses, training contract of some form looks the best option. Long term as well the employment possibilities are probably wider, given every high street in the UK has a law firm doing that kind of work.

    Good luck, and again credit to you for having such a mature and reasonable attitude that is too often missing.
    Thank you for the kind words.

    I've actually been self-employed before and enjoyed both the freedom and the pressure that comes with it, although I get what you are saying about TCs providing a greater degree of financial security at the expense of what is likely a more varied and fun career at the Bar. I should note that my Dad has been self-employed for the majority of his working life too, so I am aware that it isn't all fun and games.

    I agree about not sticking with the paralegal role for too much longer, that echoes the advice I have received from barristers that I have met through work - on the plus side, it has allowed me to set up some more mini-pupillages & get contacts. Working full-time as an undergrad is also something I intend to promote in pupillage apps, if it gets to that stage.

    What is your opinion of doing the MA at UCL? Would that improve my prospects (assuming I am able to get a good grade, which I'd obviously try to do especially as I'll be paying for it myself!)? I am of course aware that an OU undergraduate degree (even a 1st) will raise eyebrows of those in chambers sifting through stacks of applications, but maybe an MA at UCL will make my application more credible?
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    (Original post by njmopsilos)
    @ajh1990 thanks for your comments and kind words. No, unfortunately I haven't done any mooting or public speaking. I'm working on my app for GDL Scholarships now, hoping that will give me something to bulk out my CV if I'm lucky enough to get one!

    @nulli thanks too, and I agree, it is a fair reflection. My primary concern is that no set, even at the smaller end of the scale, will consider an OU undergraduate degree to be reputable enough. Obviously it's a big financial risk to go ahead with the GDL & BPTC on this basis, but then again the majority of people are in the same position.

    I have recently been offered a place at UCL to study an English MA, which would mean deferring my GDL offer, and I'm also considering applying to QMUL and possibly Oxbridge to study law with senior status in 2014 (finances permitting...). Any views on whether either of those options would make my application more credible in the eyes of chambers? And also whether it's worth me applying for senior status law with my background?

    Thanks again.
    The Oxbridge senior status law degree is great fun, if very hard work. (I graduated in June.) If you're genuinely interested in law I think it is a better bet than the gdl. It would bolster your academic credentials. A first in English lit from ou certainly puts you in with a good chance of an interview. I think the Cambridge course may take more 2nd degree students then Oxford. There are sets and turns which would interview you if you were studying at Cambridge out Oxford who otherwise wouldn't based in your CV.

    That said, it is an expensive course. Oxbridge will not matter as much for criminal/common law sets as it would for chancery/commercial/public sets. It would help at some law firms, but again, probably not the sort you're most interested in. If you're genuinely interested in law, and the greater cost than the GDL isn't a deal-breaker, then great.

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    (Original post by njmopsilos)
    @nulli thanks too, and I agree, it is a fair reflection. My primary concern is that no set, even at the smaller end of the scale, will consider an OU undergraduate degree to be reputable enough. Obviously it's a big financial risk to go ahead with the GDL & BPTC on this basis, but then again the majority of people are in the same position.
    I can find you recent pupils with significantly worse academics than you. However what I can't tell you in most cases (ie other than those where someone has a clearly relevant prior career) is why that candidate so impressed the pupillage committee; what was the spark that so set them apart?
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    (Original post by jjarvis)
    The Oxbridge senior status law degree is great fun, if very hard work. (I graduated in June.) If you're genuinely interested in law I think it is a better bet than the gdl. It would bolster your academic credentials. A first in English lit from ou certainly puts you in with a good chance of an interview. I think the Cambridge course may take more 2nd degree students then Oxford. There are sets and turns which would interview you if you were studying at Cambridge out Oxford who otherwise wouldn't based in your CV.

    That said, it is an expensive course. Oxbridge will not matter as much for criminal/common law sets as it would for chancery/commercial/public sets. It would help at some law firms, but again, probably not the sort you're most interested in. If you're genuinely interested in law, and the greater cost than the GDL isn't a deal-breaker, then great.

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    Thanks for the advice - sadly I think that I may struggle with the cost once living, etc. is added in. Better get myself a Euromillions ticket... What is your view on the MA option instead?
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    (Original post by nulli tertius)
    I can find you recent pupils with significantly worse academics than you. However what I can't tell you in most cases (ie other than those where someone has a clearly relevant prior career) is why that candidate so impressed the pupillage committee; what was the spark that so set them apart?
    If only we all knew the answer to that question... haha
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    (Original post by njmopsilos)
    Hello all

    Having long been a lurker of TSR, I thought it was about time that I made an active contribution. I'm well aware that this subject has come up several times in recent months, but I'd be grateful for some advice on my prospects of success at the Bar.

    I have straight As at GCSE, but my A-levels are poor (B, C, D). Also, my undergraduate degree is unconventional - I decided to study BA (Hons) Literature with the OU - but I am guaranteed to graduate with a 1st as long as I pass my final module (my average for this module is currently 88%).

    Because of the above, I've tried to boost my future applications with various ECs. Without boring everyone with too much detail, they include: previously volunteering at my local CAB for 2 years and becoming a certified legal adviser, 3 x mini-pupillages (crime and civil sets), vacation scheme at a well-respected media firm in London. Also, I've been working as a paralegal in a criminal defence firm for the past 18 months, running my own criminal files and gaining experience in judicial review and prison law. I also work as a sports coach in my local community, and was previously in a band that toured and released an album which may give me something extra to talk about at interview (if these last 2 points are irrelevant, please ignore).

    I've got a place to study the GDL starting this September, but before committing to a loan for the BPTC, I'd like to get some honest opinions on my prospects from people in a similar situation & from those who have been fortunate enough to get pupillage. I'm well aware that the top commercial / chancery sets are going to be out of reach, but what about public law / criminal sets (or whatever is left of them in 2 years...)?

    I have previously asked colleagues and other individuals working in the legal sector for their opinions, but each seems to have a differing view.

    I'd be grateful to receive any advice - many thanks.
    It's a difficult one. A lot of people's success with pupillages/at the Bar is (as I've heard stressed SO many times) down to luck. I know that does not help any prospective barrister but I think you have something that myself and many of my contempories do not- life experience. You have held down jobs, you have learnt from your mistakes (poor A level grades) and actually have a life outside of the law. Therefore I think you are in a good position whereby you'd probably be an interesting candidate to interview. The thing is it is a gamble. For you. For me. For anyone. If you are able to afford the gamble (in terms of time and money) then I would say go for it absolutely. If not, then maybe think long and hard. I strongly think that if you REALLY want it- then go for it (not doing so may be something you regret later in life when you have children, a mortgage etc and are less able to do so). If you don't get there, then you don't get there. A bptc, lots of work experience and good academic credentials will always be impressive in other sectors and different legal routes- personally I'd say go for it, but I appreciate that it is not a decision to be made lightly! Good luck!
 
 
 
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