A view from the Bar: Pupillage and the Bar’s need to adapt

The legal profession is changing but some may say that the Bar hasn’t adapted to that change quickly enough.

The legal profession is  changing but some may say that the Bar hasn’t adapted to that change quickly enough. More than 20 years ago the then Lord Chancellor published a green paper on resisting change. We now find ourselves having to play catch up – reforming  our ways in 2 years when we had 20 years to do it.

One of my passions is to try and help those who want to come to the profession and who are qualified to do so . Every year the accredited law schools turn out nearly 2000 students qualified to start pupillage with only about 300 pupillage on offer. If 50% of those qualifying would make good competent  barristers ( I am told that would be a reasonable assumption) the problem becomes obvious and the supply and demand sums don’t add up. Whilst it may be that we cannot accommodate everyone we can definitely do better. Better in  our selection mechanisms , better in the way we use junior lawyers and better in educating those looking at a career in the law of the difficulties they will face.

In addition to my chambers in London and Manchester I have an annexe of my own in a small town called Stalybridge to the east of Manchester. I work from there with two legal assistants  and access to two secretaries in a fully resourced and equipped office – which I have started to operate as  a separate chambers. I am currently hoping  to offer one pupillage from this setting. Good news I hear you say. But sadly It is not straightforward. Although I can once again be a pupil supervisor ( Silks were at one time prohibited from being pupil supervisors) I have also to become an authorised training organisation.

The Bar Standards Board oversees this and their aim, I know,  is to ensure that all pupillage is undertaken so as to preserve the high standards of the Bar. The problem at present is that my setting is a rather unusual one. We are not there yet but I hope that I will at some stage be able to offer pupillage. Until then I gain hugely from having two assistants who have both undertaken  the BPTC and help me manage a busy workload whilst they gain valuable experience if a field of work in which they eventually hope to practice.  It’s more than a great help to me – it is an inspiration to work with such keen and innovative young lawyers.

The Bar is changing and it’s up to us as a profession to help ourselves, our clients  and those aspiring to be barristers.

Gerard McDermott QC is a barrister at Outer Temple Chambers and practises out of London and Manchester