Annual Bar Conference 2016: Entrenching privilege?

The impact of the unregulated elements of barrister training

Gemma De Cordova spoke about the opportunities available by way of the third-six route. 

She rightly pointed out that there are many reasons why one may not be taken on as a tenant following a 12-month pupillage. It may not be because the pupil is not up to standard, although fit can be an issue. Competition to secure tenancy at the Bar is now so fierce that third-six pupillages offer many positive opportunities to secure tenancy. Where there are concerns, she said, these ought to be addressed without limiting the opportunities that the third-six regime offers.

Students from underrepresented groups are constantly being given negative views about coming to the Bar, the session heard. While they need to know that it is expensive and that one needs to have a very good academic record, it is important that the positive messages are also delivered. Simon O’Toole, chair of the session, said the latest research shows that reaching young students at the age of 15 is already too late. There is a need to go into schools much earlier.

James Hampson put it succinctly: ‘To get to the Bar the runway is very long – all the things you need to have lined up. Should we be in a position where you do not need this long runway?’

The Bar Council works closely with the citizenship foundations and does a lot of good work in the community and schools. It was accepted that the challenge to boost social mobility will increase as the number of pupillages decrease. One useful suggestion by a delegate was to offer shorter mini-pupillages – one day or so. This would increase the number of available places as well as the opportunities for all.

Dr Elaine Freer discussed the results of her research in the context of the challenges facing those from underrepresented groups to secure mini-pupillages. The research focused largely on the Pegasus Access Scheme run by Inner Temple.

In terms of securing work experiences, a number of challenges were identified, but the headline challenge was who can access these opportunities. Dr Freer said, for example, it comes as no surprise that it is harder for students from underrepresented backgrounds to secure a mini-pupillage and consequently struggled to demonstrate and evidence their interests in the Bar – a requirement to secure pupillage.

The value of securing mini-pupillages was in the knowledge it imparted in terms of how barristers go about the job. The research highlighted that there was a world of difference between theory and practice. Some students had gone to impressive lengths to explore and educate themselves about life at the Bar, but this was no substitute for the actual experience of a mini-pupillage which gives a deeper understanding and consequently ability to demonstrate understanding of the requirements of being a barrister.

We heard that the Pegasus Access Scheme works in this way: around 64 chambers handed over one or more of their mini-pupillage places to Inner Temple for a year. Applicants are required to complete a form specifically designed by Inner Temple with the aim of identifying other forms of achievement in addition to academic achievements. All prospective applicants had to be on stream for a 2.1 degree. The process next matches applicants as closely as possible to the chambers in terms of fit. Chambers meet the applicants’ travel expenses so that the mini-pupil did not have to worry about being able to afford travel to the various courts. This was significant to the participants, as in many cases, the lack of travel money could, and would, have been a barrier to access undertaking the mini-pupillage, despite the fact that they were bright and had immense potential.

Dr Freer said there is a lot of good will and good intentions at the Bar generally. What the Pegasus Access Scheme demonstrates is that there is no need to reinvent the wheel; it shines a light for those who wish to follow this admirable path. If the entire Bar and Inns as whole adopted this scheme, within the next 20 to 30 years, the issue of underrepresented sections of society not having access to the Bar, will be a phenomenon of the past.

Dr Vanessa Davies, Director General of the Bar Standards Board, posed this question to delegates: surely a great example from a candidate demonstrating organisational skills is a student who consistently attains A grades, but instead of cricket and lacrosse as extra-curricular activities, after school she picks up her younger siblings, sees them home safely, prepares the meal for them, and settles the household down before her single mother comes home from her job as a nurse at the local hospital?

Contributor Desiree Artesi

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Desiree Artesi

Desiree is a member of Thomas More Chambers and a Bencher of Inner Temple. Called to the Bar in St Lucia in 2004, she has been a member of the BSB Conduct Committee and the Bar Council’s Professional Practice Committee. She is now a member of Counsel’s Editorial Board.