Law Review: Unpaid pupillages?
Thursday, April 7, 2011 by Charon QC
Charles Miskin QC, on the letters page of The Times, today, wrote:
“Sir, Your correspondent Peter Windle (letter, 6 April) makes a very significant point Why does the Bar take only about 400 puipls a year? The answer, which may surprise him, is that for some years barristers have been allowed to grant pupillage only on a paid basis. This policy was the product of a laudable desire to ensure fair access across the population. The result has been the collapse in the availability of pupillage. Twenty years ago my chambers had about 25 members and we had a varying population of 4 to 6 unpaid pupils each year. Now we have 90 members but with only three pupils, whom we provide with bursaries above the Bar minimum. Three is a significant contribution to the Bar-wide entry, but this policy is ludicrous. Broad access has been replaced by practically no access, with some chambers offering no pupillages at all”
In an era when the Bar has been digesting various reports on diversity and access, and where some argue there is a significant over supply of students to the number of pupillages available (also training contracts for would be solicitors), Charles Miskin QC may have a point – at least if bar students are to have a better chance of getting the opportunity of completing pupillage; even if no tenancy is forthcoming at the end of it. Unfortunately, this would also increase the would be barrister’s debt – and with BPTC fees coming in at a hefty £15,000+ (and law schools have not only upped their fees, they have upped their deposit requirements) – this is a very hefty debt burden. It will only get worse, of course, with the desire of most universities to be part of the £9000 a year club for student fees.
I asked for views on twitter and received quite a few replies replies. I quote a few of those responses below:
* Back to the bad old days and the Bar not being an option for those of my background eh?
* I think there’s an argument to be made in favour if funded pupillages place an artificial restriction to entry.
* unpaid pupillages will make the bar the preserve of those who can afford to come here. Young Barristers’ Committee against suggn
* on unpaid pupillages. Would count me out the profession – and I wouldn’t have even tried in first place. So its bonkers.
* i’ve been banging the drum for some time on this, but glad now appears some traction since charlie’s endorsement.
* yes. Given barristers are self employed, req that pup be paid anomaly
head of my set is still perplexed that I’m not paying chambers for my learning experience!
* That seems a very god idea. Alt pupillages with alt business structures.
* Real issue is the appropriate size of the profession. No point having more pupillages if the number of tenancies remains static!
also now we cant cross qual as solicitor until after pupillage cost of unpaid pupillage < cost of LPC?
* Arguably what is required now is an alternative mechanism to approach pupillage.
* unpaid pupillages will surely be limited to those with means, thus defeating any diversification of the bar?
* Think cost of BPTC is the barrier, borrowing living expenses for 1st 6 and hope for some income in 2nd 6 less scary
* Without a doubt when pupillages were unpaid,opportunities were indeed more available & the profession less restricted.
* and what would pupils do who don’t get tenancy? Huge debt incurred and no way to repay it.
* Re unpaid pupillages- that’s likely to help increase diversity at the bar isn’t it?
* Charlie Miskin pro unpaid pupillages – does he have a point as no of pupillages now lower? – or is it kinder to limit entry?
* Interesting points raised. Arguably though,if pupillages are unpaid,that would create a bar 2 the Bar for a wide group
* He’s picked his moment, hasn’t he, what with all the “unpaid internships as bastion of privilege” stuff in the news…
* Oh but I’ve seen many good people in the old days, unable to get on because of unpaid pupillages. The law needs a good mix.*
The above tweets were all on the public twitter timeline and give a fairly good view of sentiment on this issue. I have removed the identity of the tweeters, simply to preserve their discretion – and I do hope they don’t mind not being identified on this occasion. A quick look at my ‘mentions’ on twitter will provide full attribution for the tweets above.
I’m not sure. I can see the benefit to a student determined to get pupillage experience, but I can also see the value of the sentiment that paid pupillages allow people from less well off backgrounds – and there are many in that category who wish to practise at the bar – to have access to the profession. At the risk of seeming crass – why not a mix of paid and unpaid pupillages? Would that be divisive? Would that be impossible to organise? Your thoughts and comments are most welcome.