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Sunday, 9 March 2008

Mature Entrants

The question of whether a mature entrant has an equal chance of obtaining a pupillage has been a fairly frequently asked question, so I thought I would address it in a post.

Yes.

That answer applies generally to the three main classes of people who ask it - those who have done a non-law first degree and worry about falling behind those who read law; those who have taken a number of years out and those who have actually had a different job first.

By and large Chambers are not terribly bothered about your previous history (although if it involves an extended stay at HM Pleasure then that generalisation may not apply to you). They are certainly not worried about a non-law degree and some specialist Bars (such as the Patent Bar) almost require it. However, the same guidelines apply to non-law degrees as to law degrees - the result has to be good and the University has to be good. Moreover, just as some sets are starting to look at your chosen options within a law degree, so it may assist you to stress the use to which your first degree can be put. If it is Management Studies and you are applying to common-law or commercial sets, this may be simple. If it is the Aromatherapy and Therapeutic Bodywork course offered by the University of Greenwich, then you may need to be little more inventive. Perhaps this course has taught you the aromatic preparation required to ensure that witnesses tell the truth?

If you have taken a number of years out, you will have to be prepared to say why. Needing to find your inner child or taking time to chill are not necessarily going to recommend you. Becoming an Olympic Bobsleigher might. Voluntary work, Student Union sabbaticals, sailing the world all seem not to damage prospects. The only point to which attention should be drawn is that these are supposed to be maturing experiences. So more may be expected of you.

Changing job is more difficult. There are people who simply had to go out and earn a living at a time when the Bar was a risk. Now, in a much improved financial position, they are returning to what they always wanted to do. There are also people who just wanted a change and, having been successful in one career, now desire success in another. Both categories have the capacity to obtain a pupillage, but it is normally necessary to show exactly why now is the time. Wide eyed enthusiasm is not as convincing a reason as it is in the recently qualified, because people who have already succeeded in something know that the world is not always an oyster, and even if it is, what's inside is often just sand.

The other reason why a job change can often be difficult is the category of applicant broadly defined by the following statement: "I was doing really well in human resources and had just been promoted to vice-deputy assistant in charge of cleaning staff. I thought, 'that's just the push I need' and everyone always said to me that I could talk the hind-leg off a donkey so when I told my boss that the promotion gave me the confidence I needed to be a barrister, she said she thought I'd be brilliant so I decided to go for it. I am the person you need to enthuse all your clients with the desire to get out there and win that case". I exaggerate, but you get the point. You do have to demonstrate why previous success means that you will succeed at the Bar.

Finally, professional advancement, although not terribly age-dependant, is an issue. You have to be at the Bar 10 years to take silk or to sit. In practice that is closer to 20. That means that, if you come to the Bar in your 30s you won't be sitting until your late 40s and silk may be unattainable because, at 50+, you may not feel like the risk. Normally, Chambers are unconcerned by these matters - but it may bother you.

As for applications, I would suggest asking the basic questions without frills (why be a barrister; why here; why now). When you've got the answers straight in your mind you can ask what your previous experience allows you to offer which others may not offer. But it is that way round. As the Bar has just discovered, being a successful TV Producer does not mean you will be a successful barrister. The Bar allows plenty of individual scope - but it is still about serving the public.

37 comments:

Mr Pineapples said...

Excellent post. I doubt that anyone coming to the Bar late in life will be considering sitting on the bench or silk - those would be one step too far.

In my Chambers wwe enjoy having mature pupils because they bring a wealth of experience - in life and business.

Clients tend to like them too.

Law Minx said...

Hi Simon,

A heartning post for us crinklies seeking to come to the Bar comparitively late in life!
I do agree with Mr P in that I would not consider the prospect of the bench or of taking silk to be a realistic one, unless I was completely and un-naturally BRILLIANT, but I do hope I could be of benefit to chambers with regard to life and past work experience.
I just hope I can get over the OLPAS hurdle!!

Law Minx said...

PS: Don't get me STARTED with regard to Mr Hyman, who enjoyed pupillage at a high flying set followed by a third six at the chambers of my dreams, only to disabuse it all.What a complete and utter WASTE......(*grinds teeth surreptitiously in background*)

simply wondered said...

as luck would have it my career was indeed in film/tv production! i disagree about discrimination against older entrants. why would anyone ask why here why now? they don't ask that of the person who came straight to law so why ask me? i doubt i have an answer that is any more convincing than them. and should i ask you why you choose to remain in the profession after 20 years???
what is relevant is that i was academically strong 20 years ago and in the interim i have shown i can run a business where my daily bread was won by convincing using written and spoken argument (was an actor for 15 years too) - sometimes convince people to entrust me with substantial amounts of money (not something i would do).
the other discrimination is against those converting. how do you get the 'obligatory' mini-pupillages on the cv in time for olpas? not to mention the mooting competitions? the mindset of those recruiting for the bar is based solidly around the law degree and its timetables and it does neither them nor us any favours. this is a profession so alien in its historically hidebound approach that they are strangers to me - and given the need for barristers to be flexible light-footed improvisors, it is a tad puzzling.

LawClanger said...

Thank you for a very interesting post - not to say a very timely one, as I contemplate the OLPAS form.

I'm a candidate mature entrant to the profession, having done my LLB through the Open University during the final few years of my time in uniform and now, at 39, doing an LLM prior to starting the BVC. I did four mini-pupillages, and received encouragement during each one to take forward my plans to qualify for the Bar. Having said that, I also received some frank advice; in particular, one senior barrister noted that there tended to be a strict age/seniority relationship within Chambers, and that some sets might be uncomfortable disturbing it by giving tenancy to a freshly-called barrister in his early forties. Another barrister I was shadowing asked if I was doing an LLM at (insert reputable greystone university here) to compensate for having done my law degree at the OU! (Before anyone asks, it was because the OU's odd academic year meant that I had to skip year before starting the BVC, so I decided to do a specialist LLM appropriate to my intended field of practice.)

I would be interested though in any comments or feedback from other mature entrants, especially in terms of how well they felt they did in pupillage application. Is there any evidence that older applicants fare any differently in terms, say, of being selected for interview?

Middling said...

To reassure those above, I am in my mid 20s and about to start applying for pupillages. I have been concerned by the number of recent tenants on chambers' websites that have had previous careers and are a bit older. Makes me worry that I haven't enough experience. I guess the grass always seems greener...

Anonymous said...

I'm going to be 31 by the time I finish the BVC - age hasn't put me off at all (although ask me again when the bank is on the phone asking if I would be so kind as to recommence my mortgage repayments!). As to how you're supposed to find time for minis, etc. etc. I'm afraid you have to bite the bullet and take the time out of your current career - it has been stressed to me on a number of occasions that commitment is one key thing chambers look for when recruiting. On the positive side, I am sure that I would have had a tougher time obtaining my minis without the benefit of 10 years of experience and achievements.

simply wondered said...

hey anonny - my current career is law! if i took 4 weeks from the substantive teaching on my gdl that represnts 20% of the course. and they would all have had to be done and dusted by now to go on olpas; in some cases, given response time from chambers and their own schedules that means applying before i decided to take up law.
it really isn't about 'commitment'- i have changed career path and life while, as a father of two small children, remaining responsible for feeding them; i really don't think my commitment can be questioned. it's about not having a bloody time machine.

Middling said...

But, Simply, commitment is about time! I'm not doubting your own commitment, but you may have to wait an extra year to catch up to the people who have done extra minis etc, because they made the decision earlier, or have put the extra time in themselves. You may say that's not fair, but it would hardly be fair on the people that had put the time in to just let you skip ahead, would it? Furthermore, if life were fair, then there would be no call for lawyers!

Finally, why take time out of your course, when you have Easter holidays, and reading weeks you could have used? You could comfrotably fit in four minis during the GDL without missing a single lecture.

simply wondered said...

are you working on the gregorian calendar? minis done at easter going on an olpas form i'm filling in now??
and the ability of chambers to fit you in on reading weeks? (when i had written college assessments to complete that were only handed out at the time so no i couldn't have done them before...) - please tell me the compliant chambers so i can ask for a mini next week!

i think you misunderstand both my reference to time and the point i make - i am not whining for fairness. what i am doing is making the point that older applicants are not treated exactly the same as younger, nor are the rules the same for law graduates and converters in direct response to simon's point to the contrary.
i have existed in about the least fair industry in the world for 20 years - i don't expect fairness (a weird concept in a capitalist society anyway) and my argument is that nobody has twisted my arm to be a barrister; if i don't want to do it, i have plenty of other options. however the view from those in the profession (often made with the utmost good intentions - as simon tends to exhibit) is that it's all so fair and fluffy and everyone is equal. this is not the case in my experience.
ps the 'life isn't fair' point may need a little refining before it helps you in court.
and as we're meant to be interested in words, why the moniker 'middling'...

Middling said...

Middling is simply because with reference to this topic I neither consider myself to be fresh out of the university packet, nor a genuinely 'mature' entrant.

It is perfectly possible to do minis in that way: I am doing it myself over the next couple of weeks. I will be doing the necessary assessments in the evenings and weekends. As for the chambers, well I'm afraid you'll have to do a bit of work yourself on that one.

It doesn't matter what calendar you work from, big man, the OLPAS deadline is May, and I'm pretty confident that Easter is in March this year, giving you over a month to enter tham on your form, whether you're a Gregorian or Julian man.

I don't think Simon, or anyone else paints a naive 'fluffy' picture, as you suggest. Nobody suggests everyone gets treated the same, nor argues that they should. But everyone has a fair opportunity to prove themselves. This may not be true, but you do seem to think you are being very hard done by, and that somehow everyone else has it easier. That may be a natural reaction in this scramble we're all in, but you should rememebr it's tough for everyone.

Catney Lawyer2B said...

Thank you Simon, another useful insight into what may be the Chambers standpoint on this.
I am heartened that it’s not just me challenging the status quo of the “one reference must be academic” set, as I guess my French night school teacher won’t count! I too would not envisage applying for Silk at this stage but there must still be a role for the late starter who doesn’t wish to burn themselves out racing around our glorious capital.
At the very least I would hope that all of us career changers have learnt something prior to applying to come to The Bar – as interviewers ourselves we ought to know what we’d expect from someone we were considering for a job.
We can only trust that our own standards are high enough for The Bar and should we have any doubts don’t sign that GDL/BVC deposit cheque!
If anyone is wondering mine is already posted!

Mr Pineapples said...

Bleedin' hell...where did this lot all come from?

Makes you wonder just how many lurkers we have out there !! Never heard from this lot before.

P thought that the only folks reading these blawgs were P Himself, Minxy, Android, Law-Babe, and Drunken Law Student From London.

The lurkers have at last found a voice.

wayne jaggernauth said...

As a mature entrant myself, this is just to wish everyone the best now that OLPAS season is here again.

Whether fair or not, we've all made some committment, and we've all be told our chances. I'll be happy just to get an interview, let alone a pupillage. It doesn't mean I won't stop trying to improve my CV.

I agree with most comments made, but there is one yardstick by which we are all measured, and this we must contend with. I've not done as many mini's as I would have liked, but there are other things that one can do.

We have to show what real maturity is - by not taking that holiday this year just so that we can do a mini, or marshall, or volunteer at the CAB.

Yes, we've only got 5 years before the overweight lady sings, but acknowledging that we must play catch-up and probably lose a year doing so is probably the Hobson's choice we've got.

Andrew McGee said...

I cam to the Bar at 40, after an academic career. I like to think that ths skills developed there have beenof use to me. Good chambers certainly ought to - and, I think, do, value other experiences where those can be seen to be relevant to practice at the Bar

advocatus diaboli said...

Ah, Andrew... a legal academic career (culminating in Professorship) together with an original qualification as a solicitor are inevitably going to be of use to anyone pursuing a career at the Bar!!

As for all the others who are Bar hopefuls later in life, it's hard. It's possible too, but not without a massive amount of commitment (which can be extremely difficult if you have a mortgage to pay, a family to support, and a life to lead).

I am presently a (mature) pupil and recognise that I have had to go to some fairly extreme lengths that candidates fresh out of their first degrees (at 22 or thereabouts) have not had to go to, to the extent that my route to the Bar took me alot longer than 'the norm' because of the need to obtain additional 'positives' to put on my CV to get me through the door.

From my observations it seems that there are a greater proportion of mature pupils on circuit than in London. It is also worth noting that many of those who do enter the Bar as a second career (generally obvious from looking on chambers' websites) have been solicitors, academics or have been in some other 'profession' such as the medical profession, the armed forces, the police force, etc.

I have also observed that mature entrants often fare better in general common law sets or those who practice crime and family law (a certain maturity would seem to be helpful here) unless their previous career has made them especially suited to a particular type of practice (eg an accountant may look to tax law or a scientist to IP, etc).

All of the above are generalisations and there are always exceptions to the rule. However, I would recommend that people choose their chambers well in advance of applying and think very carefully and realistically about what those chambers are likely to want to see in a candidate. If you cannot say with confidence that you think they will want to interview you on the strength of what you can currently put on your application form, don't apply. Go and do whatever you think may be necessary and apply when you have done it. Better to defer your application to give yourself the best opportunity of success.

Finally, I think this idea that one must have endless mini-pupillages is a myth. I had very few and two of those were only a couple of days long. Variety, and things which are outside the norm or exceptional (ie things that not everyone you are competing with will have done), together with a fair sized helping of luck, will be equally helpful to you, if not more so.

Good luck... AD :-)

Solemn Wanderer said...

Cool to see people leaving longer comments than me. :) Solemn x

sasha said...

During a recent mini at a media set, one QC and a Head of Chambers (separately) noted that they would almost certainly interview an applicant who qualified as a solicitor first, while one who did so at a reputable media firm would have a serious advantage well into the interview process. I do, of course, infer that the academics/minis/mooting have to be up to snuff also.

As the result, I'm considering giving OLPAS one year's chance to recognise my non-utter-uselessness before doing a TC at a media firm, while doing a part-time LLM and applying for the Bar while working. I think the key to this is to ensure continued indicators of bar-ambitions e.g. doing FRU whenever possible. Also, consider the added benefit of being able to have an interesting and well-paying career on which to rely even as you apply...as opposed to paralegaling.

All in all, I am convinced that the solicitor route may be an instrumental one. I'd love for Simon to comment on this particular category of applicants (in adidtion to his excellent summary of the general mature applicants).

The 50-Year-Old Pupil said...

Well, I came a bit late to this post but what can I say? Chambers can no longer discriminate on age without an objective reason. I suppose that the fact that you might die before you've made much of a contribution is pretty objective. However, I can assure eveyone that any attempt to predict what will happen to you in 5 years' time is just plain fanciful. The current state of flux in the legal profession just intensifies that (mmmmmmmmm flux!) 5 years ago, I hadn't even planned to take up law. Why did it take me so long? "... because/ An only life can take so long to climb/ Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never" No, that's not right, it's that I had to do the other stuff (climate research, engineering and management consulting) and now I have to do law. Problem is, that does sound mad (mmmmmmm mad!)

Anonymous said...

i am a doctor,gp and training in occupational health.i am aged 39,40 in november.
what are my chances?

matt

Law Minx said...

...As good as every other mature student, Matt.

Not even a Criminal practitioner said...

A GP and you're thinking of going to the Bar? You don't have to work evenings or weekends (unless you're paid extra), public funds are thrown at you (instead of being scrutinised by short-sighted bureaucrats) .. am I missing something? If I had my time again, I'd train to be a GP!!

Richard said...

PS as a note of explanation, my third paragraph was perhaps somewhat inspired by reading the Lawyer interview with the infamous Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, who complains about Oxbridge bias, yet otherwise appears to fit perfectly into that cliche of a well-off, Masters-coursing, full-timing law student).

But then, I did recently learn that he managed to secure a nice pupillage...

Richard said...

Er, that previous post of mine would have made more sense if my first, longer epistle had actually posted properly!

In brief:

I am 24, but studying the GDL part-time while working full-time (in a job not related to law, but hoping to change). All the other part-time students I have met on my course want to be solicitors - not a knock against that fine profession, of course. I have also never met a barrister who likewise studied part-time, though of course I'm sure there must be a few loitering round somewhere.

So one does worry a bit when every other wannabe barrister one meets went straight from their full-time degree, to the full-time GDL and full-time BVC, maybe with a full-time LLM in between. This has inevitably given them time to amass a great deal of mini-pupillages and free representation, mooting and debating experience. They seem to be a very different sort of candidate to myself, for when we finally present all our mere applications to Chambers.

This isn't a moan about such students of course - I realise that they struggle to get pupillages too - rather just saying how refreshing it is to hear a wider range of applicant stories.

The 50-Year-Old Pupil said...

I graduate in 1979 (same month as Thatcher came to power), did other stuff for quarter of a century, did GDipL distance learning in the provinces (2004-2006) while working full time, did BVC in provinces (2006-2007). It is tough for everybody. The big issue for a mature entrant is the "commitment issue". This is a Catch 22. To get a pupillage you have to prove that you are willing and able to change professions. However, if you are willing and able to change professions ...

If you do this do it like I did it. Law is an interesting, intellectually fun, humane and soul-broadening discipline. You will learn a lot and meet fun interesting people. I enjoyed the BVC year more than any of my life (true). Even had I not got pupillage I would have learned a lot, made some great new friends, had a great partytime and enjoyed the social prestige of being able to mention that I qualified as a barrister. I had enough cash not to worry too much about that side. I have 20 years left to earn and £30k or so won't feature much by the end of that.

Do it for the right reasons but remember that the odds are against anyone and so much more against the mature job-changer. At your age I would have gone for solicitor - no question.

LawClanger said...

I'm intrigued by the 50-year-old-pupil's suggestion that mature entrants would be better going for the solicitor side of the profession. When I was considering my options I applied for a range of mini-pupillages and, at the same time, a similar number of vacation placements with law firms.

Every one of the Chambers I wrote to replied; all but one offered me a mini-pupillage, and the one that didn't wrote to me to thank me for my interest.

Not one of the law firms I wrote to even acknowledged my application.

To my mind, this gave a pretty strong indication of the difference in approach to mature entrants between the two branches of the profession. Nothing I've seen or heard since has done anything to convince me otherwise.

sasha said...

I'm not sure how it is possible for you not to have received a response from the firms--automated rejections are ubiquitous. Unless, that is, you applied prior to the electronic age... Additionally, it is immeasurably more difficult to secure vacation schemes than it is to get mini-pupillages, so the fact of your failure alone does not shed any light on the comparative attitudes as a number of other factors could have been in play.

By the way, does anyone have any opinions on the issues I raised above regarding solicitors converting to the Bar? It's an issue I've been musing about for some time now and I would love to find out your opinions as well as that of our kind digital host.

Swiss Tony said...

Mr 50 year old, being not very far behind you in years, although having completed the BVC and hopefully attained a pupillage I will be pretty darn close in age to you, what have you found the biggest problem being with age?

When I look at whats ahead of me (just finishing the GDL now), I feel that there is not too much to concern me with age, I have all the qualities and more that everyone says a barrister needs, but there is a niggle in the back of my mind that age will be a problem somewhere along the line.

As with you, if I just have the prestige of being a barrister then all is not lost, its been fun, but it would be a shame to not be able to practise.

Mr Pineapples said...

Hey Swiss Tony...

Mr P is a practicing barrister - I can tell you that mature students at My set are generally looked upon very favourably.

In pupillage they bring a knowledge of the world to everything they do and do very well.

As long as they dont mind being the dogs-body for the year.

sasha said...

Mr. P, what is the stance like on transferring solicitors (from a relevant area of litigation, NQ or 1-2 PQE)?

Swiss Tony said...

Mr P, thanks. I have corresponded with the 'oldest pupil in town', and he has advised lots of Grecian 2000 and Botox, so I think I am on a winner now.

Swizz

Mr Pineapples said...

hey sasha...how ya diddlin'?

P's experience is that Chambers are generally keen on transferring solicitors.....but the more experience the better.

Good luck

Law Minx said...

This may be totally off topic, but Simon, where on EARTH are you?! Your presence in the ether is SORELY missed!!!!!

Catneylawyer2B said...

HERE HERE Law Minx!

I do feel slightly guilty since I believe that an e-mail from me provoked the whole discussion which seems to have exhausted Simon or robbed him of creative thought.
Then again perhaps things are so hectic in Leeds?

I feel another thought provoking topic is called for, to ease Simon back into Blogger World!

Anonymous said...

I'm doing the BVC at 32, and I certainly intend to push for Silk if I'm successful and believe myself good enough. I don't see what difference it will make being fifty-ish, I really don't.

Anonymous said...

Are former police officers viewed positively in chambers.I know some ex police barristers, but is having been a police officer a plus to get pupillage.

Anonymous said...

Well, I was just browsing for pupillage and saw this website. Fascinating and encouraging reading all your comments. I will be 42 tomorrow, did BVC 2 years ago, still wondering if i did the right thing. Being from the ethnic minority compound the complexity of securing a pupillage.
I am not willing to give up my current IT £40,000 a year job and sacrificing my family and kids to wipe aristocratic and pompous senior barristers. I have much more pride than just going for string of interviews humiliating myself. However, best of luck of all of you.