In 2014 I wrote an article for a legal magazine titled, ‘How Many Make It To The Bar?’ To clear up any misunderstandings, I was referring to the Bar as a profession and not of the recreational kind! I often read about the diverse entry into professions such as teaching, but hardly into the legal profession and less so into the Bar, so I thought I would embark on this mini-examination.
Generally, in marketing, we are either introduced to a product/service for which there is a subsisting market or we are introduced to a new product/service to create a market. I would suggest there is not much else in between. We know there is a subsisting market for legal services, so why does the Bar seem less attractive to potential Black applicants? Compared with the 2011 census of 14% those at the Bar of a Minority Ethnic Background in 2020 appear to show a reflective representation of 13.84%. However, one can interpret statistics to support the case they choose to advance. For example, the above comparison does not take into account regional variations.
There are many routes to qualifying at the Bar. Firstly, you do not actually need a law degree. If you are a graduate, you can apply and sit for a postgraduate conversion course in law, CPE. Therefore, a law degree or a CPE qualification – or similar – (Academic Stage) would be enough to entitle you to sit the Bar exams (Vocation Course). Prior to reading for the Bar, a student will need to join one of the four Inns of Court, being The Honourable Societies of Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Gray’s or Lincoln’s.
I strongly advise that students sit as many good diverse mini-pupillages as practicable. I practise almost exclusively in employment law, however I did mini-pupillages at two leading construction law chambers, two criminal sets and two weeks with the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service).
All helped me to secure a subsequent pupillage. I would also advise that one undertakes practical work wherever possible. Voluntary work with a law centre, Citizens Advice, FRU (Free Representation Unit) etc. would be advantageous.
Be prepared to work hard on the Bar course. When I sat for the Bar over 25 years ago, one could do so only in London. Now, quite rightly, in my view, you can sit it at various institutions around the country. This helps to reduce a student’s costs of having to incur the expense of living in London if they can study and live at a place more convenient for them.
Remember, it is a vocational course and is different by design to one’s previous academic studies. In short, the former measures your level of practical competency and prepares you for practice rather than solely your theoretical academic ability.
Once you have passed the Bar exam you are then Called to Bar at your chosen Inn. Practising at the Bar is a rewarding profession. You can and do make a difference to so many people’s lives. It is intellectually challenging, competitive and hard work. These ought not be a deterrent but an attraction, irrespective of gender, age or any other characteristic. Once you have passed the Bar you have options to work as an employed barrister – working for an organisation – or, as I am, work in independent private practice in chambers. Employed barristers represent solely their employer (or subsidiaries). On the other hand, those in private practice represent various clients upon receiving those clients’ instructions.
Securing pupillage is a challenge but one worth pursuing. It should not be taken for granted that tenancy (being offered a place in chambers from which to practise) will be offered to you by the chambers with whom you did your pupillage. One ought not to be disappointed or deterred by this. Some chambers may not have the work to offer or only have limited spaces available. For example, a set of chambers may take on four pupils but make it clear from the outset that only one, if any, will be offered tenancy. If a pupil is not offered tenancy (or does not want tenancy where they did their pupillage – the choice is not solely that of the chambers), it is perfectly reasonable and common for them to seek tenancy elsewhere.
On the law of averages (excuse the pun), I would expect to see a higher percentage of those of a Minority Ethnic Background being granted tenancy to practise law in chambers. Sadly, despite relatively high numbers being Called to the Bar, this does not appear to be the case. This is something I may raise with the Bar Council and report back. However, in the meantime, do not be perturbed by this apparent disparity. If you feel that this is the profession for you then seek your goal vigorously without fear or favour.
Many professions (whether accountancy, surveying, medical, teaching etc.) appear to be diversely represented and avoid being perceived as otherwise. In my view, it would be a failure of the Bar if some had reason to believe (or perceive) that barristers were not as diverse in many aspects (be it on gender, ‘race’, university attended etc.) as the public to whom they offer their services.