Pach-ing up the clearing system

The Bar's Pupillage Application Clearing House (Pach) has made it to its second year, but not without some major hiccups.

What should have been a major assistance to chambers and students has instead managed to cause upset to both. Students feel the scheme is devised entirely to assist chambers, while chambers are finding any number of problems operating through Pach.

In hindsight, it was always inevitable that the system would ensure that the best students were at the top of chambers' lists.

As last year illustrated, the majority of first-round offers centred on approximately 20 per cent of applicants. And some chambers ended up receiving more applications under Pach than under the old 'free-for-all' system.

The Bar Council's working party has made a number of alterations to the scheme to improve its operations. The recent changes allowing applicants to apply to 12 chambers as opposed to 20 should save time for individual chambers, but it is unlikely to solve the bottleneck which results when chambers select the same candidates.

However, the fact that most chambers have resolved to stay with the system for another year gives the Bar a chance to get Pach in order.

The working party has already taken some steps to improve the scheme and it will be interesting to see how its computerised preference-matching scheme will work for the next batch of students.

If the system is to work, however, there are still a number of very loose ends to tie up including how Pach is actually perceived by all those who use it.

The working party will obviously have much more work to do if it is to ensure the survival of the first real system to assist chambers on this front. Chambers, too, have a responsibility to contribute positively to the initiative.