How to get a scholarship from your Inn of Court…

I was incredibly fortunate and still thank my lucky stars that I was awarded a scholarship from my Inn of Court. Inner Temple, if you were wondering. The money more than covers my BPTC fees and will go some way to helping me afford the cost of living when undertaking the course.

It goes without saying that financially my scholarship will be invaluable and that without it I would have been facing an increasingly insurmountable amount of debt and/or the possibility of having to take a gap year out pre-BPTC in order to work and raise some funds. As I said, I thank my lucky stars.

More than this, my scholarship has given me some much needed confidence. I remain aware of the fierce competition that I face but, the fact that a panel of barristers, QCs and Inner Temple officials saw something in me worthy of endorsing me financially, speaks volumes. It’s encouraging. With discussions focusing on legal aid cuts, lack of pupillages, ridiculous competition, low salaries and a dying profession, it can be easy to grow disheartened. My scholarship has helped me enormously.

So how do you go about getting one? I don’t profess to be an expert and this is only from my experience, but here are my tips:

  • Choose your Inn.

Technically, the inn you chose makes no difference to your career. You can’t really choose “a bad inn.” Further, they’re all much of a muchness- they all have different societies that you can join, they all put on numerous events and talks for you to participate in and they all have a big pot of money into which they can delve to help ease the burden of BPTC fees.

So, how do you choose? Visit them all, talk to people and scour their websites. I also made a chart listing all the things that each Inn offered and the little quirks of each that I liked. When compared it’s much easier to work out which Inn has the most pros for you and the Inn with the most cons.

(I chose Inner Temple, I like that it isn’t huge (Lincoln’s Inn is by far the biggest) and thought that the fact that all scholarship applicants were interviewed would work in my favour (Middle Temple are the only other Inn who interview all scholarship applicants.) I liked the feel of the Inn the most when I visited it and having seen photos of the various events hosted by Inner Temple, the deal was clinched!)

The four inns are;

Lincoln’s Inn: http://www.lincolnsinn.org.uk/

Gray’s Inn: http://www.graysinn.info/

Inner Temple: http://www.innertemple.org.uk/

Middle Temple: http://www.middletemple.org.uk/home/

  • Apply for the scholarship.

Stating the obvious, I know. You’ve got to be in it, to win it! Don’t be put off by the fact you attend a non- Russell Group university or because you didn’t obtain a first class honours in your degree because there are plenty of scholarships available and plenty of very generous ones awarded to all sorts of applicants. Let me be proof of that! If nothing else, the application is a good insight into what future applications for pupillages may be like. They ask you to outline your academics, your experience and your motivation, amongst other things.

(I was so very, very close to not bothering to apply. In fact, having completed my application I only decided to submit it on the 31st of October during my lunch hour on the final day of a mini-pupillage. I presumed that my mediocre academics and the absence of something that really makes me stand out from the crowd would render me unsuccessful. Clearly my academics were fine and the panel saw something in me that did distinguish me from the rest! You’ve nothing to lose!)

  • Don’t over prepare.

For starters, it’s near enough impossible to predict what you might be asked in a scholarship interview, just expect to be challenged. Prepare answers for obvious questions such as; “why do you want to be a barrister?” (you should already know this!) and “what practice areas are you hoping to go in to and why?” Have a good understanding of your finances; are your parents prepared to help you? Are you going to have to get a loan? A job? Both? How much do you have in savings? How much is the cost of living in the city where you’re undertaking the BPTC? Go in armed with the basics, re-read your application and swot up on a current affairs issue and a legal issue and just be ready to argue both sides of any given coin thrown at you!

(I was asked to talk, at length, about an obscure volunteering activity on my application that I had done five years previously and only mentioned in passing. I was able to link this volunteering to a current affairs issue and was so thankful that I had re-read my application and spent a minute or so thinking about the very activity I was questioned on!)

  • Get a good night’s sleep.

Try to get a good night’s sleep the night before. You need to be alert and savvy and ready for a challenge. They might ask you to argue something or ask for your opinion on something that they know you will not have prepared. If you’re at your best then you can give them your best.

(In my interview, I was given the choice of three unreported and unseen cases. Family, civil and criminal law, of which I had to choose one and had forty minutes to prepare. I was then grilled on the case that I had prepared. A good night’s sleep was invaluable for this exercise as they questioned my memory on what I had prepared, changed the case facts to make me truly think about it and then played devil’s advocate to make me question my views!)

  • Play to your strengths.

An interview is a formal conversation. You do have, to some extent, the scope to bring to it what you want. You can take a conversation in any (relevant) direction so play to your strengths. If they ask you to discuss a legal issue that interests you then do, don’t discuss an area that doesn’t interest you but that you consider will impress them. It’s far more likely that your genuine interest will appeal to them than a forced interest!

(For me, I chose the family law case to prepare and then discuss as it was the module I had most recently studied and enjoyed. On this basis alone I chose this topic even though the others in my group all opted for civil law and despite the fact that I knew a criminal case might better lead me into a discussion about morality, the law and recent legal issues. Always play to your strengths!)

  • Be confident

It’s certainly easier said than done, I know. An interview with potentially thousands of pounds at stake isn’t exactly the most comforting of experiences. Just remember that you’re good, you wouldn’t be toying with the Bar if you didn’t have decent academics. Remember that they’re looking to see how you cope under pressure and how you think on your feet (this is afterall, what a barrister’s job entails) and remember that your opinion counts- if you truly believe something and can articulate your reasons well, then defend your views! TRY to be confident!

I cannot emphasise how truly lovely my panel were. The whole process ran smoothly and I was made to feel at ease at every stage- by the volunteer students (previous scholarship winners) who took us to our interviews and to the library to prepare our cases and the panel of barristers who had given up their Saturday in the middle of April for us! They all made me feel at ease and didn’t try to push me or make me feel that my answers were wrong/inadequate. At the end of the interview, I had a chance to meet up with a few other students who had been interviewed for scholarships by other panels- we shared our best answers and the ones we regretted and wished we could change!

What happens if you don’t get a scholarship? Don’t be too disheartened! The absence of a scholarship doesn’t mean you have no chance of getting a pupillage. (Equally a scholarship doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to walk into one!) If you know your interview was a disaster then it may be down to your interview skills rather than the merits of your CV/you! If you were banking on getting one to fund the course then take a year out doing something useful and try again- it could just be the nerves of the day, the fact that the people you were competing against were ever so slightly better or just proof that you’re not ready for it.

Good luck to everyone who applies for a scholarship!

untitled (3)

 

Advertisements

The BPTC problem.

Thousands of people sit the BPTC every year; they ignore the advice, the statistics and the money. All of these students compete for the lucrative, ever-decreasing prize that is pupillage. They compete against one another and all of the BPTC graduates from the last five years that have failed to obtain this golden egg.

This year I have joined the queue.

Who is winning in this competition? It isn’t justice, reference to legal aid cuts tells us that. It isn’t chambers and pupillage committees who have to trawl through hundreds of utterly hopeless applications and then make tough decisions between excellent but indistinguishable candidates. It isn’t us, the candidates, who are desperately fighting for the chance at pupillage. It’s the BPTC providers.

The providers who charge approximately £15,000 for every student on the course; the few destined for pupillage and the many, many who will fail. It’s daylight robbery. Where does this money go? Are we receiving a world class education worthy of what some people earn in a year? The simple answer is no.

Why does the gap in fees between international and domestic students suddenly close at BPTC level? Why does the BPTC cost a lot more than the solicitor equivalent LPC? Why are these providers continuing to take money from those who clearly don’t have a hope in hell?

Whose fault is it? The delusional twenty something year old or the unscrupulous money making course provider? This isn’t an easy line to draw. Indeed people can spend their money as they wish and if someone is prepared to throw several grand at you then who wouldn’t simply fill those bums on seats?

I can’t help but pity the mediocre student whose heart is filled with the desire to practise at the bar, whose working class parents are cheering them on from the sidelines and are throwing their life savings at their soon-to-be-barrister prodigy child. Who is going to tell that student that she won’t get there? Nobody.

We need the barrister’s answer to Simon Cowell. We need someone to bluntly tell these ambitious but average students that they aren’t good enough, that they don’t have the X Factor. We need harsher, stricter requirements for students to undertake the BPTC. A BCAT exam (that incidentally costs a nice £150 for absolutely no apparent reason!) that can be taken any number of times to ensure a pass, is not the answer.

We need an admissions test like the one used previously by Kaplan (The only institution who wouldn’t rob you blind and that closed down due to not making enough money. Talk about irony!) that ensures that all students on their BPTC genuinely have what it takes. No provider can guarantee that their pupils will obtain pupillage; but they can make sure that they have a very good shot at it.

We need smaller class sizes and stricter requirements. Students who have flawless English and can genuinely contribute and add something worthwhile to an advocacy class nothing less. We’re paying enough, so make it worth our while.

We need a minimum 2.1 requirement. It’s harsh but a student with a 2.2 simply wont cut it. Lots of students with 2.1s aren’t lucky and even having a 1st is no guarantee.

We need interviews. This isn’t a career based solely on academics or on a sheet of paper that says you’re a brilliant pianist and enjoy reading in your spare time. This is a career based on advocacy, on persuasion, on charm, on wit; why the hell are these course providers not insisting upon an interview before admission?

We need a requirement that students either have a pupillage lined up or at the very least a scholarship that vouches for their ability somewhat.

Prospective BPTC students need to be tested and interviewed and put through their paces in the same way as a pupillage committee will a year later. Having a 2.1 minimum may be harsh (we’ve all heard about that friend of a friend of a friend whose father obtained pupillage two decades ago on a 2.2) but it is necessary. Disappoint students now if needs be. It’s certainly better than disappointing them when they’ve lost six years of their life and 15 grand down the drain.

It’s not about shattering dreams or falsely raising expectations; it should be about realism. It’s about time that we end this pointless discussion and actually do something realistic about it.

6a00d8341c761a53ef01156ea99357970c-250wi

10 things they don’t tell you before you study law.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed, I applied to study law. Achieving justice, proving I had the brains and earning big money were my key concerns as I sent off my applications and waited with baited breath to see how successful I would be.

I remember my first day of university. Whilst all my friends in halls were nursing killer fresher’s week hangovers, I was as bright as a daisy for my very first lecture. I had a pre-packed pencil case filled with sticky tabs and highlighters and a vast selection of pens to choose from. I took my crisp white notepad and settled down to my first lecture ready to scribble down every single word uttered.

I’d never been more prepared for anything than that first lecture. Yet, at the same time, I was completely unprepared for studying law. Here are ten things that I learnt at law school that nobody had prepared me for:

  1. You may have only studied law for one semester but everyone will turn to you when they need legal advice, regardless. That first Christmas, three months after my first lecture, I returned home to hear about a friend with a tricky landlord, a friend whose insurance didn’t cover her lost phone and a friend who had had her handbag stolen on a night out. The idea that I wasn’t in the slightest bit qualified to offer them advice was met with deaf ears. To this day (still unqualified) I find myself frequently being asked to give legal advice to which I have to repeat my well rehearsed speech on my inability to do so.
  2. You know that hobby you had, reading? Well, you can pretty much forget about it during term time. When you’re being given an endless number of articles and textbooks larger than your head, recreational reading is the last thing you could ever imagine wanting to do on a quiet evening or rainy Sunday!
  3. At school you were probably a straight A student, undoubtedly top of most of your classes- if not all them- well now, at university, you will find that you are distinctly average. At first it’s a shock and its not great for the ego; but we all love a challenge eh?
  4. You probably have no idea what tort law, equity and trusts or jurisprudence is as you settle down for your first lecture. It’s irrelevant though as you prepare yourself for (truly the only reason you studied law) criminal law. Rape, Murder, Psychopaths; this is what you are envisaging and desperate to get stuck into. You will realise pretty quickly that actually, once you’ve done a few lectures on the weird sex cases, the rest is actually pretty dull. Sorry to disappoint.
  5. You’re not guaranteed a job. Study law, they said, you’ll get a job they said. Not necessarily, they never said. At school they tell you that law is a great option because you can do anything with it afterwards. This is only at best, half true. One of the most difficult things that you will be able to do with the law degree? Practise law!
  6. The people that you will most hate in the world are GDL-ers. Those people who got ABB at A Level, swanned off to a decent-ish university to do a boring degree in Sociology or American Studies or something. Those people who upped their game, got a decent grade and THEN decided that law was the dream for them. Those people who spend a year doing the crash course that is the GDL and then get the training contract/pupillage after which you have lusted since junior school. Justice? What justice!
  7. Having flawless grades isn’t enough. You need to moot. You need to debate. You need work experience. You need a scholarship. You need an academic prize. You need a fabulous personality. You need to do pro bono work. You need to be able to work independently. You need to be able to work in a team. You need a sparkling reference. You need to have commercial awareness. You need to be good at verbal reasoning tests. You need to be good at critical thinking tests. You need to have an excellent knowledge of current affairs. You need to be different. Oh and you still need those bloody flawless grades!
  8. Rejection is something you have to get used to…a lot.
  9. You’ll struggle to have a fully functioning relationship. For starters, you have zero spare time for yourself let alone for your sweetheart. Then there is the fact that you have a slightly inflated sense of self importance (it’s the only way to deal with all the bitter rejections and dire career prospects!) Oh and the real deal-breaker is the fact that you love drama, adore arguing and always have to be right.
  10. More important than any of the things that you have gained on your CV…you need a bloody good sense of humour!

untitled (2)

So, you want to be a barrister?

Years ago I loved to tell people that I aspired to be a barrister- “Oooh brainy,” and “you’ll be rich” were the responses I often met. I basked in their awe. Now, I hate uttering those words.

My school friends who never studied law don’t get it. They remember me as the fairly bookish straight A student. They know I attended university and obtained a good law degree. They cannot comprehend the process, the fierce competition and the inevitable rejection that I face. Even when the penny drops and they start to understand, they reassure me by telling me that I will, one day, be rich. In all likelihood, I won’t be.

Then there are the people who do get it; the fellow bar aspirants, those who ditched the dream and those in the know. I tell them I wish to be a barrister and they bit their lip. They tell me I’m bold and that I should go for it or suggest I should be more cautious and turn down the solicitor route. I tell them I wish to practise family law and then watch as they screw up their faces and shift from foot to foot nervously. (I exaggerate, but you get the gist.) 

I’m no longer that ambitious intelligent girl but instead the risky fool.

I know my fellow bar hopeful friends are scrutinising me to see how they compare and to assess what they perceive as my likely success in obtaining pupillage. They remain cheery, friendly and optimistic but I know that they are doing it all the same. I’ve heard what they say about our other mutual friends; the guy with stellar academics but terrible social skills, the girl who is far too ditzy to make it alone but who might be saved by her looks and willingness to sleep her way up the career ladder and the guy who is capable but far too self deprecating! I know they are scrutinising me because, in truth, I am scrutinising them too.

You’d have to be mad to pursue this profession surely? In an age of legal aid cuts, fewer pupillages and impossibly high standards, who in their right mind would aim for the bar? The odds at a bookies are better. I look at some of my fellow friends and know they are wasting their money, time and energy. Do they look at me and think the same?

know that I am not the most obvious candidate for pupillage. But am I way off the mark? Am I drowning and unable to see it? Is my ambition and drive no longer endearing but misplaced and embarrassing?

I’ve pushed myself so far down this path; financially, emotionally, educationally- there is now no way back. Am I going to be that BPTC graduate who paralegals for the next ten years, still clutching at straws? Am I going to have egg on my face as I apologise to my parents for their wasted emotional and financial investment in my education? Am I going to have to tell my friends that I did my best, my damn best, but just wasn’t good enough?

Very, very possibly. That’s the risk I take. I’d sooner have to eat my fair share of humble pie than aspire for the utterly boring and achievable.

Kazan

The best piece of advice for an aspiring barrister?

The three best pieces of advice that I have been given by barristers are, as follows;

  1. “I don’t know.”
    • This is the oft-cited gem of wisdom given to wannabe barristers but a cliché is a cliché for a reason. Perhaps it’s the notorious reputation that barristers have of being know-it-alls that renders this advice so useful. Plain and simple: if you don’t know the answer to something, come clean and say that you do not know. Even if it is something you ought to know. It’s not worth the hassle, misinformation and possibility of being sued. In this case, honesty really is the best policy.
  2. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.”
    • One barrister in particular gave me this advice when he took me out for lunch during a mini-pupillage. He took me to what can only be described as an incredibly scabby café for Indian food. It looked like a kebab house that I would be wary of even when drunk. Fearing I might catch salmonella, but fearing never obtaining a pupillage more- I smiled and followed the barrister I was shadowing inside dutifully. As we sat down he leant over and mouthed this advice to me. Clearly my feigned cheeriness wasn’t fooling anybody. He ordered for me, which I didn’t like but accepted (the things us desperate aspiring barristers do!) and then I ate a series of unknown dishes that he had picked out for us to share. Hands down, it was the best Indian meal that I have ever had.
    • I learnt this lesson yet again, in a conference that I was observing as part of another mini-pupillage. I had spent the morning reading the files of a case concerning a mother addicted to heroin who faced losing her children. That afternoon I had the opportunity to meet said woman in the conference. If you had to compile a stereotype of the atypical drug addict’s appearance this lady embodied it. Long lank greasy hair, terrible teeth that were for the most part, missing and, where not, were an incredibly unattractive shade of brown and a thin skeletal body. She looked fresh out of a “Talk to Frank” advert. Then she spoke. She was incredibly articulate, had an accent indistinguishable from that of the most educated barrister and she oozed intelligence. She was teaching herself the law it transpired and she had as sound an understanding of it as I, a final year undergraduate.
  3. “Fake confidence.”
    • One barrister told me that “half the time she didn’t know what she was doing” and that “more often than not” she gets very nervous before entering the courtroom. “The key” she told me, was “to fake confidence.” According to her, the vulnerable people who are on trial, want you as much as anything else, to reassure them that they are in safe hands and the only way of doing that is to be confident. Confident in your ability; in your client; in the process.
    • I’m not sure how true it is that said barrister didn’t always know what she was doing but there’s something comforting in the fact that these sparkling advocates, these fierce individuals at the top of their game, these lawyers who stand up in court and challenge those around them, might actually be feigning their confidence.

Generic 1960s pic of a father and son scene.

Please share any gems of wisdom that have been passed down to you or that you have for an aspiring barrister in the comment section below!

Dissertation woes.

It’s the middle of August, technically my summer holidays (although the lovely British weather says otherwise) and here I am having to battle through my dissertation. The second dissertation for my LLM. I must be crazy, right?

I had to turn down drinking cocktails and dancing until my feet bled with my best girlfriends for an evening spent drinking coffee and writing until my fingers bled. (Sort of.) It’s utterly depressing. A quick Facebook check updates me on my friend’s lives; the most recent updates being my friend who has been scuba diving in Australia, the girl who has just been offered a job in Hong Kong and my friends who have arrived in Bali for the week! Yet here I am in the drizzly North of England, writing a few thousand words on competition law jurisprudence. My diet consists solely of coffee, packets of starbursts and the occasional sandwich when I dare to venture downstairs to the kitchen.

Delayed gratification, that’s what I tell myself. Except even that isn’t really true. With law there is no guarantee that this hard work will ever pay off. I may very well be labouring in vain.

Rejection is something that many a law student is all too familiar with. I had a handful of As and A* grades after A Level but still wasn’t good enough for the very best of institutions all those years ago. I received 3/5 of my university choices and whilst I went to a good Russell Group university (and incidentally wouldn’t change my experience for the world) I still had to face the bitter taste of rejection. I stumbled through first year, with a vodka in one hand and a statute book in the other and came out with decent marks. Second year came and with it, the fierce fight for vacation schemes- I sent off a dozen or so applications. I obtained two vacation schemes, a handful of interviews including a couple of magic circle ones and more than anything else a bucket full of rejections. Again, I endured that bitter taste.

I graduated, studied for an LLM and applied for the BPTC. I haven’t had to face rejection for a while, but I know it’s coming- all bar hopefuls know that it is coming. I’d be lying if I said it was water off a duck’s back. It isn’t. Hours and hours and hours spent entering now archaic GCSE results and answering questions as to who my ideal dinner guest would be or outlining “an amusing incident” that I know the reader of my application will almost certainly not find amusing. The energy that would go into selling myself time and time again- only to receive a generic e-mail response telling me I have been unsuccessful. Rejections post-interview are the worst. You get an interview and your heart fills with hope- so, so close and yet so far. They meet you, they smile and nod at the things you say and the second you’re out the door they all agree that it’s a no. You’re rejected- and this time, it is personal.

The beauty of rejection though, is that with it comes the opportunity to take a long, hard look at yourself. The opportunity to assess where you went wrong, to learn from it and to improve. I relish this opportunity every single time and hope that one day, I will have learnt from it.

I know I face a pile of pupillage rejections ahead. I know that I will be told that I’m good, but that the competition is fierce and that someone was better. I just hope that all this heartache helps me improve, helps me fine tune, helps me get to where I want to be so that one day, I become that “someone better.”

rejection

Pre- BPTC thoughts.

You know that feeling as you stand on the edge of a diving board, about to jump? The calm before the storm. The moment before you jump and either belly flop face first losing all of your dignity or dive perfectly until you’re in that glorious water and rising head first full of pride?

That is how being about to embark on the BPTC feels. The middle of September marks the start of my BPTC (Bar Practitioner’s Training Course). It will either be a massive flop and go spectacularly tits up or, it will lead me on the right path closer to my spectacular dream.

I mulled and mulled over whether to leave law and do something else or to sell my soul as a solicitor. I’ve read the; “CAUTION BEWARE” signs for this career and still, I’ve concluded, have no choice but to jump head first.

There’s nothing I want more. I know that I may end up hating myself for wasting money, time and my youth on a failed dream but I know that I will hate myself even more, if I never try.

I have only heard bad things about the course. How extortionate, useless and badly organised it is, being just a few of the criticisms. Doesn’t that sound fun?

It’s a means to an end and I see no point in going into the course with a heavy heart because I have no choice in the matter and nor do any of my peers. So, the dread aside and forgetting the huge amount of money with which I shall be parting, I am psyching myself up for a year of damn hard, gruelling work ahead.

I’m sort of getting excited to get stuck in. I shall probably read over this in a month’s time and envy my naivety and blissful ignorance. Until then, I shall be purchasing all the stationery I could ever need and reading over old notes until the forgotten legal basics that I touched upon during my degree are fresh in my mind.

To any fellow students about to study the BPTC…good luck!

b-w-confederation-room