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Another "should I try for the Bar" post (very long) Watch

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    Apologies in advance, as this is another “is it worth trying for the Bar” thread and it’s a bit of an epic. I’d be grateful for any constructive feedback, particularly from people who are further ahead in the process than I am.

    Here’s my situation:
    - Due to start the CPE at City in September, with a view to doing the BVC there next academic year.
    - Female, 31 years old.
    - No husband or babies on the horizon but hoping to acquire both over the next few years. Concerned that even if I get pupillage and tenancy, the first years of my career at the bar will coincide with my last years of fertility. This seems like a bad combination.
    - AAB at A level. May try to pick up a 4th A level next year as I recently became fluent in a European language and could sit an A level in this with confidence and little preparation.
    - Good 2.1 from Bristol (Philosophy and Politics).
    - Academic results so far represent minimal effort but I would work much harder at law as I want to do well and am now used to working 50-60 hour weeks.

    Work experience so far: had a chaotic personal life in the crucial years after university, didn’t get any kind of career together and spent 3.5 years temping and freelancing (secretarial, IT and interpreting; I speak several languages). Ended up temping at major blue-chip company, got kept on in secretarial role, promoted quickly to be MD’s PA, eventually promoted again to very desirable marketing role, responsible for 7-figure budget. Very tough company to get into and it was unprecedented for an “admin” person to get this kind of job. I thought my dream career had finally begun and my life was falling into place at long last. Unfortunately, while I was excellent at the job, with great feedback from clients and colleagues, I didn’t enjoy it at all. Hated being micro-managed, hated other people’s incompetence screwing up my carefully planned projects, hated the total lack of integrity e.g. being told to lie to clients after spending months building a relationship and gaining their trust, and particularly hated the office politics: everyone spent more time “playing the game” than doing their jobs. I want to be judged on how good I am, not how smoothly I can stab others in the back and suck up to management while covering my own arse!

    Ended up totally drained and depressed by the game-playing and the lack of control I had over my projects. Left last summer, decompressed, went backpacking for 6 months in exciting and dangerous places, did some voluntary work, came home in March, started thinking about the bar, applied to law schools, and got a place on the CPE at City for this September. Now have major cold feet. My parents will fund me but I don’t want to waste their money and although I won’t get into debt, I won’t be earning either. I am good at studying, but don’t really enjoy it. Law school will be a means to an end and I’m worried that the end is unrealistic. I’ve done lots of research and ideally I’d end up as a London-based family law barrister specialising in private divorce work/ancillary relief. I know this is one of the most competitive areas.

    I’m worried about:
    - being one of the 5 in 6 prospective barristers who don’t make it
    - wasting a small fortune chasing an unattainable dream
    - having left everything too late, both in terms of my life and in terms of OLPAS timings
    - not getting pupillage and ending up broke, humiliated, disappointed and career-less at 34, and letting my parents down

    I have never seriously considered law before so I have no relevant work experience and I won’t be able to get enough experience before next March to put together a compelling OLPAS application at that stage - there’s nothing left for this summer! I have lined up one week’s work experience at a city solicitor firm, some odd days shadowing a barrister friend who does exactly what I want to do, and I’ve just been offered a mini-pupillage in October, but not in a family set. I was counting on doing one or two mini-Ps in term time when there is less competition for them, but learned yesterday that City don’t let you do this. I’m worried that starting the BVC without a pupillage is foolhardy - I wouldn’t bet that kind of money on a horse at 5-1! I guess I could convert to the LPC but I don’t know if my job prospects as a solicitor would be much better and more importantly, I don’t want to be a solicitor. I suspect that having a training contract would be like the job I left, if not worse. I do quite well in corporate environments, but I find them oppressive. I am sociable, but prefer to work alone, have control of my work, and be judged on my performance.

    Realistically, my alternative career option at this stage is to go back to PA-ing. Really good PAs are always in demand and I am awesome (!). The week I got my law school offers, I turned down a PA job worth around £60k. I could probably get a PA role in a hedge fund and make more than that (bonus). But you only get one life and I don’t want to spend mine in someone’s shadow. It’s not just about money.

    I know a few barristers and have spoken to them about whether to go ahead. They have been very encouraging. However, the ones in my age group all tick at least one box out of being an OE, Oxbridge, first class degree, family of barristers… and of course they are also all incredibly bright. I am bright too and I believe I would be a good barrister, but unlike my acquaintances, I don’t think I look good enough on paper to get through to interview stage. I can do my best from now on with mooting, trying to get awards, working hard to get good marks, mini-pupillages etc etc but I can’t change my academic record or my chequered career history.

    Congratulations to anyone who’s still reading. My questions are:
    1. Should I do this at all, really? I would want to have at least a 50-50 chance of success.

    2. BPP have all course materials, lectures etc online and would allow me to take a week off in term time for a mini-pupillage. Should I therefore consider going to BPP rather than City for the CPE, in order to have a better chance of doing work experience? Either way, I'd want to do the BVC at City, but is it best to do both years at City if aiming for the Bar?

    3. Should I just accept that I need to write off an extra year and aim for Sept. 2012 pupillages instead? It seems that lots of people do this, but I’m worried that not getting pupillage first time around will look bad. As a mature entrant to the Bar, I’m also really keen to get started, and the thought of waiting another year frustrates me.

    4. If I aim for pupillage in 2012 rather than 2011, should I take a year out before the BVC so that I can build up work experience and then, hopefully, get a pupillage in the bag before forking over the vast BVC fees? Or would it be easier to get relevant work experience if my year out comes after my BVC?

    5. (rhetorical question/rant) Why the hell does the Bar Council allow so many institutions to run such large BVC courses when there are so few pupillages and even fewer tenancies available at the end of it? What’s the advantage to them of allowing this terrible bottleneck? I know there has been discussion of this on Simon Myerson QC’s excellent blog (which I read avidly) but I am nonplussed at the sheer weirdness/sadism of the current system, especially when compared to other professions e.g. medicine. Am I missing something?

    Many thanks for anyone who got through this. I doubt many people will have read it to the end, but I am in a spiral of panic about the whole thing and it has helped just to write it down. :eek3:
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    City will not mind if you take time off, you'll just have to catch up with the work. People did it all the time when I was there..so that's one thing you don't need to worry about!
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    1) Only you can answer that. But the question I would ask is 'why not'? (I'm doing it!).

    2) I don't think it matters where you do your CPE or the BVC, no one will care if you do one at one school and the other elsewhere. It's your choice. I don't believe any of them give advantages to work/pupillage other than those advantages that specifically suit you. In other words, if one suits you better, choose that one.

    3) You are still in time to apply for awards from the Inns for the BVC year (in fact, I don't think they have opened yet) for 2011. Gaining an award is at least acknowledgement that they (the Inn who award you) think you have a good chance, plus it means you may not have to pay for the BVC yourself (depending on the award you get).

    4) You state you are a great PA...why not try to get some PA work in law firms? They are always looking for temps, and whilst most of them ask for a bit of legal experience, I am sure you could show your abilities by your previous work history, although it won't pay you as much as previous roles until you have actual legal secretarial experience. Making contacts in legal firms is important both for wannabe solicitors and barristers, so whilst it's not strictly speaking 'work experience in law', frankly I'd think it would look a whole lot better than a vacation scheme here and there during which you are most likely only going to do someone else's photocopying or other mundane tasks (most VSers are, after all, young people with no real work experience - no offence to those people!).

    5) I know it was rhetorical, but the answer is business...ie money.

    PS Good luck.
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    Why are you so focused on becoming a barrister? Have you given serious thought to becoming a solicitor? I would advise you that the odds of becoming a barrister are slim, as you have highlighted, and if you are going in without amazing academics it's going to be a huge struggle to even get interviews. I have heard that the Bar looks favourably upon City and there will be time for you to do mini pupillages, so if you are already enrolled at City then I wouldn't bother switching to BPP. It will be hard to get paid work experience for a year and harder still if you have not yet completed the BVC, however as you have a lot of PA/secretarial experience you could go for these sorts of positions in the big law firms. They have all laid off a lot of support staff too so it is likely that in a year's time more of these positions may become available.

    At least you are aware of how difficult this may be. It is certainly a gamble to do the BVC, but you know if it's going to be the right route for you.
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    I don't think your academics are a problem, providing you do well at City. Although the difference is marginal, it is true that City has an excellent reputation, so go there.

    Be ill or have funerals, but do the mini-pupillages and catch up the academics in the evening (M-P's are not very demanding).

    Whip your CV into shape so that you really sell the commercial ability and the familiarity with how money works (relevant to your chosen speciality). Your self-motivation should then be apparent and you can make it clear how that works in terms of giving up steady employment and decent salary.

    Because you have moved about a lot you need to show the sticking factor can exist. Think about voluntary projects, start now and keep it up - unless you already have one of course. In which case put it front and centre.

    Consider the provinces. Because of your relatively (but only relatively ) advanced age, it may not be so easy for you to move out of London. But do a MP somewhere else and see how you like it. You widen your range of sets to which you can apply, it may be easier to get a pupillage and there are nicer places to live than London - really.

    I think 2011 may be a bit early but apply anyway. It will be good practice and you may get lucky. The extra year will obviously allow you some scope for earning so why worry? I would say your chances were pretty good providing you sort out the MPs and the CV - just ask what you would be concerned about if you were interviewing and answer it.

    As to your rhetorical question - because we are about freedom of opportunity and because the system was designed when times were good, by people who could not believe that the times would change. The providers, one suspects, were more far-sighted. So now everyone can gamble their money on a chance that most don't have. The simple statistics are a huge red herring. I reckon that half of those who start the course have no chance. Your chance of getting a pupillage is about 1 in 3.5 if you stick to London and 1 in 2.5 if you don't. Good luck.
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    Simon, I am curious about the odds you refer to on gaining pupillage outside London.

    If the odds increase so much simply by applying to the provincial bar, why don't more people do it? After all, the vast majority of students who apply to London sets aren't originally from London, and therefore have no real affiliation or ties by which they feel they need to remain there...and surely, logically, if one has an increased chance of obtaining pupillage elsewhere, one would spread one's net wider?

    Maybe I'm just too old and logical, but if I were 22 and had no property/family ties in London, I wouldn't hesitate to apply elsewhere...

    Is it simply that people think London sets are more prestigious?

    Apologies DaisyEmma, it is not my intention to hijack your thread.
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    Hi Daisy,

    I got pupillage in my mid/late-thirties, after having a previous career, so it is possible.

    SM QC is quite correct. Although the stats look very unfavourable on paper, when you get onto the BVC, you will soon see that quite a number of students on the course haven't got a wax cat in Hell's chance of ever getting pupillage, so you can discount those people. From what you have written about yourself, and even just from the way you write, it doesn't look like you fall into that category.

    Re: Inn scholarship deadlines - IIRC, these are in early November, so you should be thinking about putting an application together quite soon. After all, 3 months passes in the blink of an eye at our time of life!

    I can't remember exactly what's in this thread of mine here, but there may be some info that is useful to you: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=940654
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    (Original post by DaisyEmma)
    5. (rhetorical question/rant) Why the hell does the Bar Council allow so many institutions to run such large BVC courses when there are so few pupillages and even fewer tenancies available at the end of it?
    Because some of those who run the money making BVC courses have useful contacts on the Bar Council. One hand washes the other...
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    (Original post by SevenStars)
    If the odds increase so much simply by applying to the provincial bar, why don't more people do it? ...
    Pay, lifestyle and prestige according to what I have been told.
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    (Original post by Simon Myerson QC)
    I don't think your academics are a problem, providing you do well at City. Although the difference is marginal, it is true that City has an excellent reputation, so go there.

    Be ill or have funerals, but do the mini-pupillages and catch up the academics in the evening (M-P's are not very demanding).

    Whip your CV into shape so that you really sell the commercial ability and the familiarity with how money works (relevant to your chosen speciality). Your self-motivation should then be apparent and you can make it clear how that works in terms of giving up steady employment and decent salary.

    Because you have moved about a lot you need to show the sticking factor can exist. Think about voluntary projects, start now and keep it up - unless you already have one of course. In which case put it front and centre.

    Consider the provinces. Because of your relatively (but only relatively ) advanced age, it may not be so easy for you to move out of London. But do a MP somewhere else and see how you like it. You widen your range of sets to which you can apply, it may be easier to get a pupillage and there are nicer places to live than London - really.

    I think 2011 may be a bit early but apply anyway. It will be good practice and you may get lucky. The extra year will obviously allow you some scope for earning so why worry? I would say your chances were pretty good providing you sort out the MPs and the CV - just ask what you would be concerned about if you were interviewing and answer it.

    As to your rhetorical question - because we are about freedom of opportunity and because the system was designed when times were good, by people who could not believe that the times would change. The providers, one suspects, were more far-sighted. So now everyone can gamble their money on a chance that most don't have. The simple statistics are a huge red herring. I reckon that half of those who start the course have no chance. Your chance of getting a pupillage is about 1 in 3.5 if you stick to London and 1 in 2.5 if you don't. Good luck.
    Simon,

    I very much respect you and agree with your posts generally, but this is simply not true. You are not a Bar student so you don't know what the competition is really like. I am just finished the bar course and met endless people on my course, dining, at call who have no pupillage and have barely even got to interview stage to have any prospect of one. These are older people with 2.1s, VC on the bar course at 1st attempt, proven ability in the work place, minis, mooting and interesting "hobbies", and younger people with the perfect A levels KCL degrees and all the "boxes" ticked. The odds are only set to get worse, and someone who is so far removed from the factory floor, but whos comments people believe, is not helping the flounce of BVC applicants. There are LOADS of people in DaisyEmmas position (her having a decent uni which lets face it is the stand out factor here) who "going regional" and doing the minis etc etc has still left them without interview. Are all their CVs/applications just badly written? I don't think so.

    FMQ
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    (Original post by FMQ)
    Simon,

    I very much respect you and agree with your posts generally, but this is simply not true.
    I'm sure Simon can stick up for himself, but going by my experience I would agree with him (in principle, if not on the actual figures, which I haven't bothered to work out), and disagree with you. I would say that on my course,

    (1) There were approx half a dozen very impressive people who were clearly destined to get pupillage.

    (2) At least half of the students were clearly destined never to get pupillage

    (3) Which left (slightly) less than half who, to some degree, were in with a shout.

    My course was part-time, so perhaps that makes a difference to the quality of the intake, but I worked out for myself that I wasn't really competing with those students who were shaking in terror at the thought of having to speak in front of their classmates, or those who couldn't tell the difference between an open and closed question, or those who clearly didn't have a proper grasp of the core LL.B subjects. It sounds harsh, but, being completely frank, there were a lot of people on my course who simply should not have been there, and in fact, were impeding the learning of the students in group (3), above.
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    (Original post by blogtrotter44)
    I'm sure Simon can stick up for himself, but going by my experience I would agree with him (in principle, if not on the actual figures, which I haven't bothered to work out), and disagree with you. I would say that on my course,

    (1) There were approx half a dozen very impressive people who were clearly destined to get pupillage.

    (2) At least half of the students were clearly destined never to get pupillage

    (3) Which left (slightly) less than half who, to some degree, were in with a shout.

    My course was part-time, so perhaps that makes a difference to the quality of the intake, but I worked out for myself that I wasn't really competing with those students who were shaking in terror at the thought of having to speak in front of their classmates, or those who couldn't tell the difference between an open and closed question, or those who clearly didn't have a proper grasp of the core LL.B subjects. It sounds harsh, but, being completely frank, there were a lot of people on my course who simply should not have been there, and in fact, were impeding the learning of the students in group (3), above.
    I agree there are many many many no hopers and BELIEVE me we have ALL had our learning impeded on the course, but can you honestly say you know one in 3 people who could be successful do have pupillage? I know about 2 in 50 (this is from about 10 who i think could make it out of 40 on my part time bar course and other people i have met over the 2 years)!! If you do know this many successes i stand corrected. My experience is that with compound applications from previous years and the hundreds and hundreds of pre BVC applications the stats are appauling about 1 in 9 of all aspirants and at best probably 1 in 5 of people with potential. Added to this the majority of the no hopers in my class didnt even apply for pupillage so they are not even watering it down.
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    (Original post by FMQ)
    ...but can you honestly say you know one in 3 people who could be successful do have pupillage? I know about 2 in 50 (this is from about 10 who i think could make it out of 40 on my part time bar course and other people i have met over the 2 years)!! If you do know this many successes i stand corrected.
    I know 6 people, including me, from my course who got pupillage (strangely, 3 of us were in the same tutor group) and I've heard on the grapevine there were a couple of other successful students who I didn't know personally. Total: at least 8 pupillages from my intake (there were other students who I'm pretty sure will get an offer at some point, but I don't know what has become of them since graduating in 2008). Anyhoo, we'll stick with the figure of 8, because those 8 are the only successes I can verify.

    I suppose approx 100 people finished the course. However, because mine was a PT course, a large number of students (probably about half) were not intending to practice, and were doing the BVC to advance their careers or to give them an impressive sounding professional title. So, taking those people away leaves 50 students applying for pupillage. Then, from those 50 remove another half (the 'no hopers'). This leaves approx 25 students with some chance of getting pupillage.

    8 out of 25 = 1 in 3 (ish).

    QED?
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    (Original post by flugestuge)
    Pay, lifestyle and prestige according to what I have been told.

    I'm not sure that adequately explains it. After all, one is generally self-employed, and even those who are employed are free to move about should they wish.

    It would surely make sense to take pupillage where one can obtain it more easily (sans ties to particular places), and consider moving once established with some experience, than to aim only in one direction?
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    I stand by my figures. Say 450 pupillages per annum. Say 2,200 BVC students. Of those, about 1/3 have no intention of practising. There are, therefore, 1500 students chasing 450 places. To those people must be added the people going round again. Say 900 people a second time and 400 a third. That is 2,800 applicants for 450 places - approximately one in 6.

    At least half those people have no chance. Thus, 1 in 3. Because so many more people apply to London I upped the odds there to 1 in 3.5 (an decrease of about 17%) and adjusted the provincial figures accordingly.

    Those figures are discussed with the BVCs which I visit during the year (usually 2 - sometimes 3) and meet general agreement. They are also the perception of the pupillage committees to which I speak, in terms of the numbers of applicants they would actually think about, compared to the numbers of applicants overall.

    Conversations amongst diners and fellow BVC students may have an exaggeration factor built in. That is always a risk. But the crucial information missing from FMQ's account is the intended destination of the people he is talking about. The people he describes will not get into a magic circle set. They will not get into a solid common law set or good provincial set unless they have something else to make them stand out, precisely because they are one of a large number of people who tick all the boxes.

    Hence my advice above. The question is not whether the OP will get a pupillage (no one can answer without meeting her, at least) but whether she is one of the 1 in 3.5. To suggest that more than 1,500 people tick all those boxes is simply wrong. One only has to think of the number of law graduates with a 2.1 from a good university and a 1st from a not so good one to see that. Given that most people still do not head for the Bar the figures seem relatively secure.

    Finally, and on another topic, the suggestion that the BVC and the Bar Council are in some sort of cahoots is nonsense that contributes nothing save, possibly, to the adolescent ego of the author. The problem with this sort of guessing is that it diminishes the real criticisms that can be made, thus contributing the the very problem that the author allegedly wants to resolve. Time to grow up, I think.
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    Just wanted to return to this thread without further delay to thank everyone who has replied - it's all super-helpful and I'll be sure to give rep or riches or whatever it is as soon as I've figured out how that works. Will reply in more detail later but am dashing out now to print and post today's bundle of mini-p applications!

    One small point: I did actually telephone City on Monday to ask about term-time work experience and the words of the woman I spoke to were "if you missed more than 2 tutorials [for work experience] we would probably throw you off the course". There are always funerals and illnesses, but I would feel uncomfortable about this. If it's the only way, though... :confused:
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    (Original post by DaisyEmma)
    One small point: I did actually telephone City on Monday to ask about term-time work experience and the words of the woman I spoke to were "if you missed more than 2 tutorials [for work experience] we would probably throw you off the course". There are always funerals and illnesses, but I would feel uncomfortable about this. If it's the only way, though... :confused:
    I just completed the CPE at City at I can tell you with certainty that all the academic staff are keen for you do undertake mini-pupillages whenever and wherever you can get them. I took a whole week off to do a mini in the penultimate week of the easter term and i know people who took far more time than that. There are guidelines on attendance but all the lecturers understand that getting pupillage is the real game when taking the CPE.

    On the statistics front, I would add to Simon Myerson QC's post those students who are applying during the CPE year and those in their last year of an LLB. I know anecdotally that there are at least 30+ people on my course of 180ish who either have pupillage with non-OLPAS sets (chancery/commercial) or have had 5+ second interviews and are in extremely strong positions. This further lengthens the odds, particularly in London.

    Having spoken to various practitioners I would agree with the above posts that a CPE from City is a positive on your CV but needs to be coupled with a whole host of other stuff such as mooting, debating, minis, academics and scholarships/prizes.

    Good luck.
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    Ok then I appologise and stand corrected, I am in a pocket of people who are finding it tougher than it really is.

    I do have to add that I think, as above, Mr Myersons numbers are short, as you havent added GDLers and final year law students to the applicant pool, which will certainly tip towards the number of BVC applicants - close to 2500 I believe so even allowing for 50% 'detritis' thats over 1000 more onto your figures?

    As for intended destination - frankly ANYWHERE for myself and a few friends, I don't know about those I have only met briefly. I would appreciate your answer to the question of why if the CVs I talk of need "something else" what is that and why do some of these people get lots of interviews and some get none, when there is no discernable difference?
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    I agree that the figures are rough, but there are some BVC where 50% don't intend to practice. It's still about right I reckon.

    The trouble with the something else is that it's an unknown. Partially that is because the process is subjective and partly it's because the Bar itself isn't very good at articulating the things that it's looking for. The best advice I can give it to research the set and ask why they wouldn't be interested in you and then try to meet it.
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    Still mulling all this over. Good to know that I can do mini-Ps while at City; I have slotted one in for my October reading week, but hope to be offered more. Have applied to all the family law sets I could find through OLPAS, Legal 500 and Chambers, both in London and in my home town.

    I will try to get a BVC scholarship of some sort. Have been wading through tons of chambers websites looking at the profiles of recently called barristers and the majority do seem to have some kind of scholarship. I guess this means I need to choose and apply to an Inn ASAP.

    Am trying to get legal secretarial work but it's tricky - secretarial work all goes through agencies and there are specialist ones for legal. I have sent CVs to all of them offering to work for half my usual rate, do admin, photocopying or anything at all to get into law firms but they don't want to know. It's a "computer says no" situation; all I hear is "the clients want legal experience so there's no point in us taking you on". I should be OK if I have to take time out after the GDL or BVC as I can then claim an understanding of law but at the moment there's little I can say.

    Cloud Shine: some of my reasons for wanting to be a barrister are intellectual challenge, autonomy, ownership of my work, lack of office politics or need for corporate game-playing, the camaraderie and honour of the Bar, variety, true responsibility (i.e. being the person with whom the buck stops), and to a lesser extent the prestige of being a barrister - not in a snotty way, just that professional success matters to me and I would be so proud of myself if I made it. I also want a career where I can practise advocacy. The part of my old job that I liked best was going into a meeting with sharp but grumpy buyers, presenting an upcoming product launch, dealing with criticisms and obstructions, and getting them to approve my plan when what they really wanted to do was tear it to pieces. Of course, that's not the same as being in court, but it's the closest experience I've had so far and I loved it. I liked preparing my "case", planning how the discussion might go and arming myself to pursue the desired result, with the excitement of knowing I'd still have to think on my feet to answer any unforeseen question or change of plan that popped up at the last minute!

    I don't think that being a solicitor offers any of the things I'm looking for in my next career. I feel that barristers do the bits of cases that I would find most interesting and solicitors are left with the rest. Having watched some cases at the Old Bailey and attended a divorce hearing, I am quite certain that it would drive me CRAZY to be in a courtroom and never be allowed to speak! I also think that being a solicitor would entail a return to the corporate world with all its associated miseries - if I were prepared to go back to that it would be more fun to return to my glamorous marketing career than to go into a law firm.
 
 
 
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