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Thursday, 11 October 2007

News From the Frontline

I have friends (all right, acquaintances) all over the country, one of whom lectures at a BVC course. Wishing to keep themselves up to date they have been following the various debates and one has sent me some information. I have anonymised this, but I have preserved the proportions and the essential message.

Let us assume that this BVC course has 55 people. Of those, 6 got pupillage in the year we are talking about (one of the last 3). That is a success rate of about 12%.

Of those pupils, 4 received the result 'Outstanding'. The staff had predicted 3 of those 4 Outstandings on the first day.

The 2 remaining successful students got their pupillage with the grade 'Very Competent'. They got that grade - and so did 47 other people. As already mentioned there were 4 Outstandings, and there were 2 'Compentents'. 47 people achieved 'Very Competent' and failed to obtain a pupillage.

Some students were told, after the course, that they were unlikely to obtain a pupillage, in the opinion of those practising barristers who had taught them. Those with 'Very Competents' generally rejected the advice on the basis of their grade and at least 5 had another go. That, of course, meant that the next year there were not 55 (assuming the intake to have been the same), but 60 people from this particular BVC competing for the same pupillages.

So where, asks my informant, is the added value of the course? And, says my informant "It is obviously not in the course providers' interest to comment on an individual's prospects; it is the Bar which must do this by way of an admissions test. If the above results are replicated in other institutions it would seem relatively easy to devise a fair test to weed out those who would never get pupillage. Even if the failures were still able to sit the bvc at least they had been fairly appraised and informed of their chances; the rest is up to them."

I agree.

However nice it is to get a Very Competent, it loses its meaning if it is the grade given to 49/55 pupils (89%). I have previously said that your BVC grade is unlikely to be helpful unless it is an Outstanding, and only likely to sink you if it is not a Very Competent - and this is why. Exciting expectations is unfair. Asking for a large sum to complete a course which then provides no grade upon which Chambers will rely is unfair.

I would really welcome comment on this by BVC providers - anonymously if required. If nothing else I would like to be wrong in my rather gloomy view that some people are spending a lot of money for nothing and that those people could be identified before they signed the cheque and warned. After that if they proceed with the course, that's fine - it's a free country.

In an effort to encourage debate I propose that the collective noun for BVC providers might be: an extortion. Yuck.


Anonymous said...

I think your post raises a number of issues; I can't hope to cover all of them in 1 reply, so I'll deal with the principal ones for the time being. I'll nail my colours to the mast and admit that I'm linked to one Provider (a very good one at that) and that I've posted a number of times on your Blog. Apologies, therefore, if I repeat points I've already made.
1). The idea that (all?) BVC Providers are engaged in extortion is, in my view, offensive. As I've said before, the level of fees is driven by the demands of the Bar Council in terms of resources, the fact that the Course is a true cost course (not "subsidised" by HEFCE) and the fact that, like it or not, Tutors with real practical experience (and we have some who sit as Deputy DJ's etc.) don't come cheap. The figures in respect of BVC places versus pupillages aren't hidden and anyone with a genuine commitment to the profession should be able to carry out their own research. No Provider forces students onto its Course - in fact we turn away more than three quarters of those who apply.
2). The idea that you can spot an Outstanding student on day 1 is, in my view, outlandish and smacks of a colouring of judgment or a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are 13 Assessment points on the BVC, the overall grade of Outstanding requiring 8 awards of Oustanding in individual assessments or an aggregate of 85%. Given that many students will have no experience of the vast majority of skills / subjects taught, it would be impossible to identify an "all-rounder" at this early stage.
3). Some Providers hand out awards of Outstanding and Very Competent like Smarties, potentially undermining other Providers' efforts. Fortunately we can rely on our reputation but it does make one wonder whether some students simply look for the "easy" Course.
4). We should ask ourselves why the BSB doesn't police Providers' validated numbers more rigorously / at all. Allowing certain Providers to routinely exceed their numbers distorts the market and may very well have consequences in respect of student quality / satisfaction.
5). We score every application in respect of A levels, degree expected / attained, mini pupillages undertaken, experience of contested advocacy / public speaking etc. Convince me that an admissions test would better this and please explain your barrister sift to a barrister of >15 years' call - is it an interview, is it by committee or by 1 individual, what criteria would be employed etc.
Does this kickstart your debate?

Northerner said...


I think your comments and statistics seem about right. The odds of coming out of the BVC with a pupillage are rather slim. On an anecdotal basis I would say about 15-20% of my coursemates have pupillage. This drops to about 10% for non-Oxbridge.

There are clearly people on the course who will never get pupillage - even with a 2.1! It is usually those people who are uninformed about the process, and about their chances. It is these people that the BVC providers are exploiting by taking on.

Anonymous said...

I have friends on the BVC, many of whom are aware of the difficult situation in which they find themselves. Some however have no idea!

Very few have pupillage and what is even more worrying is that many can't even get interviews.

80% of candidates are paying £12,000 for a course that leads to nothing more then a job as a paralegal, with perhaps a possibility of converting and being a solicitor.

People are selling their cars, taking out massive bank loans, even re-mortgaging their houses just to put themselves or their offspring through the BVC.

I would like to see the Bar Council put together some sort of formal warning outlining just how difficult things are. A copy should be posted on the BVC application site, so that people cannot later moan that they had no idea what they were getting into.

Converter said...

There is no purpose for the BVC if you do not want to be a barrister. Hence, why not insist that candidates must secure a pupillage before starting the BVC. Since it seems a great deal of useful learning actually takes place during pupillage, why not alter the course and amalgamate it with pupillage? Six months could be spent in the classroom getting the basics of procedure etc, followed by a further year shadowing and eventually taking instructions. The whole thing could be wholly or partially funded by chambers, quashing worries about access.

However, providers would lose a great deal of money, so I expect this will never happen. Why do the BSB/Council seem so in ho to them?

Amber said...

Goodness me. If anyone is categorising BVC students like that on the first day, they should be ashamed of themselves.

Are you not permitted to improve as the course goes along?

Anonymous said...

I agree with converter, but sadly the BVC is more about making money then training barristers.

As a result the idea of the BVC somehow being combined with pupillage will never happen.