Rolling Start

When it comes to encouraging future talent, regardless of background, the Bar is ahead of the times, writes Duncan Matthews QC, in his update on Neuberger implementation.

The Government White Paper New Opportunities—Fair Chances for the Future is welcome. Even more welcome is the establishment at the same time of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions. The panel includes Lord Neuberger and former Bar Chairman Geoffrey Vos QC, in his capacity as Chairman of the Social Mobility Foundation—two of the key architects of the Bar’s own work in this area.
The Bar has long recognised that entry to the profession must be characterised by fairness. We were the first profession to introduce an equality and diversity code, in 1995, and we have seen huge improvements. Women now form 50% or more of entrants, and black and minority ethnic (BME) barristers constitute about 20%, against a national figure of 7%. The need for more work in the area of socio-economic background resulted in the Neuberger Working Party, which reported in November 2007 with 57 recommendations which would enhance the recruitment of the most talented, regardless of background.


Determined that the recommendations would not gather dust, the Neuberger Monitoring and Implementation Group (NMIG) was created in early 2008. The NMIG is tasked with co-ordinating the implementation of the Neuberger recommendations and in evolving further recommendations.

The NMIG is split into sub-groups and works through other key entities in the process of implementation. One of its first steps was to put into the public domain a record of progress in implementation; accessible, along with the Neuberger report, at www.barcouncil.org.uk/news/NeubergerMonitoringandImplementationGroup. The publication of progress was an act of confidence in the Bar’s ability to make progress. Substantial headway has already been made in the schools, universities and BVC stages, which this article summarises.


School initiatives

One of the major innovations of the Neuberger Working Party was to recognise that to be effective these initiatives have to start with schools. Recommendations 1–7 were designed to target the intellectual cream of socio-economically disadvantaged school children, for many of whom the Bar might appear an alien and remote world.

  • Discussions with the Government are continuing, with a view to improving the profile of the law in general. In particular, the Bar wants to see more focus on the role and function of the legal system in the national curriculum.
  • Placement programmes, with the enthusiastic support of chambers and under the direction of the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF), are being expanded. They provide a structured programme of exposure to life at the Bar. During the week students shadow a barrister, can assist with drafting and advising, observe a trial and do some mock trial work.
  • Careers conferences have been held in the Inns and in conjunction with Aim Higher, the National Education Trust, Leeds BPP and the Law Society. Five conferences were held in 2008 (compared with two in 2007).
  • Mock trial programmes for 13–18 year olds, run in association with the Magistrates’ Association and the Citizenship Foundation, have been expanded and the number of schools taking part in these programmes is increasing year on year.
  • The Bar Council’s Training for the Bar Committee (TfBC) has been working with the SMF on e-mentoring to raise aspirations amongst the really talented, resulting in the “ladders-to-law” e-mentoring scheme, and the Chairman has written to all barristers encouraging them to volunteer as mentors. Inner Temple is also working with the National Education Trust in this area.
  • The Recruitment and Entry Sub-Committee of the TfBC has embarked on a programme of reviewing the material for the Speakers for Schools scheme. Material will be branded so that school children will know at a glance that it relates to a career at the Bar. The electronic presentations will also be standardised so that an inspiring but realistic account of life as a barrister is given. This should be ready within a few months. 
  • The sub-committee is also working on the development of a recruitment DVD for use in schools, an area where unusually the Bar lags behind its competitors. The intention is to create footage, available on DVD and other media such as Facebook and Youtube, and distributed to school careers advisers and tutors to help demonstrate the reality of modern recruitment to the Bar. It aims to demystify the process and reassure students that ability, not socio-economic background, determines entry and progress. University initiatives

Following changes to the style of career searching, the Bar Council and the Inns’ websites have been re-drafted in order to ensure that these key information sites rate highly on internet search pages.

The absence of a recruitment DVD for the university level is another hole in our recruitment armoury, which the Bar Council is working hard and urgently to fill, with financial support from the Inns.

  • Neuberger recognised that at this key stage we need to target the university teachers and careers advisers, not just the students. Again the Inns are doing useful work, such as organising careers days for teachers and careers advisers. Gray’s Inn has created a category of Fellows of the Inn to involve law tutors more closely in the work of the Inns and others are considering following suit. Some of the Inns have overhauled their databases to ensure better contact with law tutors who are barristers and steps are under way to try to avoid omissions and minimise duplication. Previously, some institutions were heavily targeted, while others received little attention.
  • I have written to a range of teachers’ bodies and universities seeking feedback on what is already being done and what improvements can be made. Useful feedback has been received which we will now work to implement. For example, a number of universities have suggested that the Bar Council indicate in more detail the skills and qualities needed to be a successful barrister. The NMIG’s universities sub-group is currently considering this.
  • Communications with chambers, together with appropriate Equality and Diversity Committee (EDC) guidance, has addressed
    the question of expanding the availability of mini-pupillages. This not only involves offering more, shorter, periods; it also involves ensuring that the process itself is not exclusive. The requirement of a dark suit is really quite difficult to justify, for example. Feedback from chambers indicates that much improvement has already occurred in this area.
  • The NMIG is exploring the possibility of working with recruitment agencies that target socio-economically disadvantaged candidates to see what steps can be taken to open their eyes to the possibility of a career at the Bar. In particular, to provide them with the necessary confidence and experience to enable them to apply from a similar vantage point which others take for granted.
    Bar Vocational Course
    The BVC working group chaired by Derek Wood QC reported to the BSB in July 2008. The Wood Report, now leading to the formulation of a new BVC course through the BSB, is broadly Neuberger-compatible even if there are, as one would expect from a much more detailed analysis, differences in implementation. These will bear fruit from 2010.
  • The aptitude test is a particularly welcome development: not only to deter those unsuited but also to provide positive encouragement to those who might otherwise lack confidence in their abilities and the financial means to take the risk without such reassurance.
  • Further work is being done, which will emerge in the new contracts, to ensure that providers only levy a non-refundable fee (at an appropriate administration charge level) on those who apply for pupillage in accordance with the common timetable in the summer OLPAS season and are awaiting the results of that application prior to commencing the BVC.
  • The Bar loans scheme, arranged with HSBC and following Neuberger’s recommendation, has been successfully implemented to provide loans at preferential rates for those studying for entry to the Bar (see “Picking up the tab”, p 18).
    Pupillage/tenancy
    Whilst we await the outcome of Wood’s pupillage review, which will be fully informed by the Neuberger recommendations, progress is also being made elsewhere.
  • A clearing house system is proposed—akin to UCAS whereby you have a central record of people seeking pupillage who have not been successful and a parallel record of unfilled funded pupillage vacancies to assist matching up—and will form part of the revised specification for the new OLPAS tender.
  • “Third six” pupillages are now advertised on the Bar Council website, a facility chambers are encouraged to use. This will help to ensure the level playing field essential to fair recruitment.
  • The BSB has adopted a positive approach to employed Bar pupillages and the Employed Bar Committee is working hard to expand opportunities. The fact is that the security of an employed pupillage will often have great attraction to those who have substantial accumulated debts from their student days and lack general financial support. There is much support for this from the employed Bar and employers and goodwill on all sides to overcome unnecessary hurdles. The Financial Services Authority, for example, has recently obtained authorised pupillage provider status, and it is hoped that more employers will follow suit. This gives effect to Neuberger recommendations 32 and 38.
  • Discussions are taking place on sourcing additional means of funding for pupillages to enhance the current arrangements.
  • The TfBC and the Young Bar Committee (which has worked hard in this as in many areas of Neuberger implementation) are developing a mentoring policy for chambers,  currently at discussion stage.
  • The EDC has produced valuable material in the area of pupillage and tenancy selection. The EDC exit survey sets out the reasons why people are leaving (see below). The BSB has also confirmed its support for a common and compulsory timetable (Neuberger recommendation 43) which is under consideration as part of the pupillage review.

Retention

The EDC is doing valuable work in this area and is better informed with the benefit of the ERS Survey of Barristers Changing Practice Status 2008, the results of which have just been published. Retaining the current levels of diversity among those entering the profession is a priority. The exit survey identifies both child care and earnings levels as key factors in decisions to leave self-employed practice. Women cite managing caring responsibilities more than men but, because women and BME practitioners are well represented in publicly funded areas of practice, they have been most affected by changes to legal aid funding.

Following a roundtable discussion on “lifting the glass ceiling” led by last year’s Bar Chairman, Tim Dutton QC, an action plan has been agreed. It includes: giving wider recognition to the loss of talent to the profession from this drop out; diversity training for the profession and clerks to focus on equality of opportunity in career development; an annual course to assist those returning to practice; good practice checklists on maternity leave and career breaks for barristers and their clerks; continuing Bar Council support to the Bar Nursery Association so that it can offer flexible child care to meet the practice needs of barristers; and clear guidelines in the revised Equality and Diversity Code on minimum maternity leave and rent free periods from chambers.


Ahead of the times

The Bar’s response to Neuberger has been encouraging. We are grateful to everyone who has contributed to this process. As we support the Government’s efforts and those of the Panel on Fair Access, it will not be from a standing start.


Duncan Matthews QC is Chairman of the Neuberger Monitoring and Implementation Group

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