One last chance to put Pach back on track

John Malpas and Chris Fogarty report

It is widely acknowledged that 1997 will be the make or break year for the Bar Council's cherished new Pach pupillage clearing house system.

Students and chambers alike complain that the first year of Pach was plagued with technical and logistical problems. But although there is widespread recognition that almost anything is better than the traditional free-for-all pupillage selection system which existed before Pach, chambers are still likely to give the Bar Council just one more year to get its act together.

"We're very supportive of the principle of Pach, but it has not worked as well as it should have done," says David Douglas, chief executive of Littleton Chambers, which is still undecided about whether to remain a member of Pach.

Doughty Street Chambers, which was inundated with more than 600 applications and complains of delays in receiving Pach software and of overly restrictive application forms, is in a similar position. "We would be very reluctant to leave the scheme and would only do so if we felt it was disadvantaging our applicants," says Christine Kings, the chambers practice manager.

Stephen Kramer QC, who is leading the Bar Council's working party on Pach, urges students and chambers alike to be patient. "I think Pach has a good future providing that everybody stays within it," he says. "One has to look on the positive side. For a new venture for the Bar I believe Pach has been remarkably successful."

According to the working group's interim report, which has been recently dispatched to chambers by the working party, "most chambers and applicants, while making constructive comments, have indicated to us that they support Pach in principle and in practice".

The report identifies two key problems which have hit Pach: there were many more applicants for pupillages than was originally anticipated and all the first round offers of pupillages were concentrated on just 365 of the 1,801 applicants.

The latter problem caused a critical bottle neck in the system, and led to last autumn's outcry from hundreds of Bar students who did not receive any offers at all.

"The system would have worked much better had the first round offers been more widely spread," says the report. "There would have been less need for second round offers, less need for further interviews, and less call on the pool."

It welcomes the appointment of a specific manager to oversee Pach and a commitment by Robert Owen QC, the Bar Council chairman, to "make adequate resources available". And it recommends the number of chambers students can apply for should be reduced from 20 to 12, a move which would increase the spread of offers around chambers.

Further recommendations include improvements in the software and a simpler application form. But, with the deadline for chambers to join the Pach scheme just a few weeks away, it remains to be seen how many chambers will be impressed enough with the report's suggestions to remain on board.