On 12 July 2010 some 80 sixth form students from schools and colleges across the West Midlands region, Cheshire and the Wirral, attended a Bar Council-Aimhigher widening participation conference entitled “How to get to the Bar”, at St Philips Chambers in Birmingham.

The conference – a collaboration between the Bar Council, Aimhigher, St Philips Chambers and Aston Law – was aimed at bright sixth form students from non-traditional backgrounds with a genuine interest in the study of law at university and subsequent practice at the Bar. Students offered a place at the conference are expected to be on course for grades ABB in their A-levels.

Law: a popular choice

On 22 January 2010 UCAS published applications statistics for university admissions for the 2010/ 2011 academic year. Of the 570,556 applications received for undergraduate study, 83,000 were for law (14.5 per cent), a 5.6 per cent rise on 2009, making law the third most popular undergraduate subject after nursing and psychology. The popularity of law as a degree subject, and the important role future lawyers play in our society, make it an ideal choice for widening participation conferences such as this one.

The event

Richard Atkins of St Philips Chambers opened the conference  by describing his own non-traditional journey to the Bar; having started life “fixing washing machines, toasters and kettles” in his father’s shop in Coventry, Richard said he now finds himself “fixing washing machines, toasters and kettles for members of chambers.”

Nick Green QC, Chairman of the Bar, described life at the Bar as “an adrenalin rush, a performance, a great sense of satisfaction … you don’t always win, but you know in your heart of hearts that you did your best for your client.” He said the Bar was “a remarkable career” characterised by a sense of friendliness, collegiacy and camaraderie.

A range of workshops covered topics such as applying to study law at university and what to expect from a law degree, and pathways to the Bar. In order to help to support students through the university applications and admissions process, from September 2010 Aston Law will be offering year 12 students in local schools and sixth form colleges the opportunity to be mentored by a current Aston Law undergraduate. It is hoped that this scheme will prove popular with aspiring law undergraduates.

A “Question Time” style question and answer session enabled students to put questions to His Honour Judge William Davis QC, the Recorder of Birmingham, barristers from St Philips Chambers and Professor Jill Poole, Head of Aston Law. Questions raised included A-level subject choices, what a barrister should do if a client said  he was guilty, and how competitive is the Bar.

The consensus of all those involved with the conference was that it had been a great success and a much needed event.

Extending the programme 

The second Birmingham Aimhigher conference will take place on Saturday, 9 July 2011. The Bar Council also hope to extend the programme to include Manchester and Newcastle in the near future. If you are interested in participating in future events at those venues please e-mail Marisa Booker at the Bar Council (MBooker@BarCouncil.org.uk).   

James Roebuck is a non-practicing barrister of Lincoln’s Inn and lecturer in law, Aston Law, Birmingham