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Archive for October 16th, 2006

Credit where credit is due

College of Law to donate £1.25m to underprivileged students as new charity law looms: Legal Week Story

Whether or not The College of Law was prompted into this charitable donation by the prospect of investigation under the new Charities Law (infra) this is good news for diversity. (I quote from the Legal Week report: Stephen Lloyd, senior partner and head of the charity & social enterprise department at leading charity firm Bates Wells & Braithwaite, told Legal Week: “As a body charging high fees, The College of Law would be a prime candidate for investigation under the new Charities Bill, which gives charities an increasing obligation to show that they provide benefits to the public. One way to do that is to put money into increasing diversity.” )

I have for years felt that we need to make diversity in the law a major issue. High fees charged by vocational Law Schools for the LPC and BVC make studying law at this level a seriously expensive proposition leading, fairly inevitably, to a predominantly white middle class entry.

£1.25 million will go some way to promoting diversity – and that is very much in the ‘public interest’.

I will let Professor Savage have the last word on this post: “Nigel Savage, chief executive of the College of Law, said: “One of the biggest issues facing the profession is that everyone coming in is a white, middle-class kid. We are talking to law firms to get placements in London and the regions. It would be nice if it eventually led to some bursaries from firms.”

Actually… upon reflection… I will have the last words..and, rarely for me…only two words… Good stuff.

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Pupillage a lot more difficult….

LegalWeek report today that “Bar students’ prospects of securing a pupillage have reached an all-time low, new Bar Council figures have shown.”

The report continues – worryingly… “The first-ever Bar Council survey of student trends published today (16 October), found that of the 71.5% that had applied for a pupillage, over half (51%) had not received an interview. Of those who did get an interview, 49.8% did not receive an offer.

The statistics mean that just 17.5% of Bar Vocational Course (BVC) students who apply for pupillages are likely to secure one. It is estimated that 500-550 students will be offered pupillages in 2005-06, compared with 598 the year before, despite the number of students going up.”

You may read the full report from The Bar Council here.

What is particularly worrying is that while prospects of obtaining a pupillage are going down,  numbers enrolling on the BVC are going up. I have a number of concerns here. Firstly, given that Law School admissions tutors ought to be aware of the difficulties of securing pupillage (and are certainly better placed than students to have an overview of trends over the past few years), are they advising students properly of these difficulties when the student applies to enrol on their BVC course? Secondly, are students being properly advised at their university about the difficulties faced by young (or not so young) prospective barristers in terms of getting a pupillage, let alone a tenancy?

To this I add a third question: Do law schools offering the BVC have a duty of care to inform prospective applicants for the BVC about these difficulties and, if so, how much information should they provide to prospective BVC applicants about the reality of obtaining a pupillage and a tenancy?

I have spoken to a number of practising barristers. Some take a robust view and say that competition at the Bar is fairly fierce but tend to the view that prospective applicants should be given a ‘health warning’ – given the high level of debt being taken on by many who decide to read for the Bar.

I take a fairly robust view myself, given my experience in legal education, that it is important for law schools offering the BVC to make it very clear to prospective students that their chances of getting a pupillage are not high, and that it even more difficult to get a tenancy. Others in the academic world, I know, do not share my view.
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It would be interesting to hear from current BVC students or recently qualified barristers… please feel free to comment in the comments section.

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