Testing Positive: BVC aptitude test is a necessary obstacle
16 November 2009
Allow me to begin, if you will, with a few home truths. Number one, no world can ever be a perfect world for all. Number two, in the right circumstance, money can buy you happiness.
Number three, life is not nor will it ever be, fair. A pessimistic way to begin a blog entitled “testing positive” I agree. But please, indulge me; keep those thoughts in your mind as you read on.
“Introducing an aptitude test would prove to be nothing more than another obstacle on the already difficult path to the Bar”.
Thus, the debate continues over the BSB’s proposed plans to introduce an aptitude test for those future students wishing to enrol on the BPTC in coming years. If you are feeling anything like me at present, you are either entirely bored by the over zealous deliberation afforded to this matter, or angered by the ill conceived arguments levelled by the test’s critics.
Granted, BVC providers alone should not make the final decision as to whether or not a student has a realistic prospect of gaining pupillage. However, raising such an argument against the introduction of an aptitude test, in my view, lacks a certain amount of objectivity. Let me ask you this: Why should the strong candidates for pupillage, who themselves have paid a significant sum of money, have their chances hampered by a moaning Mertle who is clearly not up to scratch? Anything worth doing is competitive, the Bar is no exception. If you can’t swim in the race to gain a place at one of the country’s various course providers, you best buy arm bands and a life ring if you want to survive in the swell of the pupillage tide.
Kaplan’s decision to introduce a test pre-empts the BSB’s introduction of a centrally administered examination. Whilst a centralised assessment would provide a level playing field, it is worth remembering that Kaplan is a private sector company possessing the right to pick and choose those applicants it wishes. Instead of asking why it should not be able to screen its applicants according to their aptitude, perhaps it is worth focussing on why it can. Many Universities now use the LNAT test to screen their applicants; the Oxbridge law schools have their own entrance exams. Indeed, many public schools across the country require potential students to pass 13+ tests or the like. Yet, I hear little criticism levelled at such institutions.
So, why such a big debate over the BSB’s plans? Perhaps the problem lies not with the tests, but with those who feel they would be unable to pass the tests. It is time to face facts, not every law student is cut out to be the next Rumpole of the Bailey or Judge John Deed. Of course, in this scenario money can buy you happiness, those who can afford to pay for private tuition to pass the BPTC aptitude test will slip through the net. But, no world can ever be a perfect world for all. Is it not better for 10 guilty men to go free than one innocent man to be wrongly convicted?
For my £15,000, an aptitude test is more than a necessary obstacle, it is a necessary evil. Encouraging false hope is far worse than shattering ill conceived illusions (contrary to what Gordon Brown may think about 50 per cent of school leavers attending university – herein lies the problem). Life isn’t fair, if it were; I would be lying on a beach in the Bahamas rather than debating the shortcomings of an aptitude test! If you want something enough, you’ll get it.
Until next time.
Face off: training contract interview vs pupillage interview
Interviews are like the Jeremy Kyle show, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. At least, that was my attitude as I blindly went where I had never been before, into a pupillage interview.
Having sat through various training contract interrogations, it seemed obvious that a Friday night in the pub would prove much more fruitful than an evening surrounded by newspapers, books and a dog eared copy of Counsel Magazine. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Herein lies the first proverb of the bar: “Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail”.
Before proceeding any further answer me this question: “Do you know what proportion of the NHS budget is spent on settling negligence claims every year?”
You have no idea. Right? Well, neither did I. So imagine the look on my face when it was the first question the brace sporting, jam jar glasses wearing QC (Clichéd I know!) asked me in pupillage interview. The only sound that broke the silence in the room was that of my jaw hitting the floor. Whatever happened to the standard question: “Why do you want to be a Barrister?” or perhaps even “What do you make of the current economic climate?” Herein lies the second proverb of the bar, commonly known as the 3 Ps: “Preparation, Preparation, and Preparation”.
In truth, questions such as the above are rarely atypical when attending pupillage interview. Having spent the best part of £15,000 paying for the BVC, one’s motivation for wishing to practice at the Bar is not in doubt. Nor does the economic climate negatively impact upon the work of a barrister. Unlike the recession sensitive corporate law firm, depending upon chamber’s specialisation, a barrister may be more in demand during bust than in boom. Recession increases crime, litigation and insolvency and therefore the demand for counsel. Who said the economic down turn was all doom and gloom?
Thus, thankfully, the budding barrister, unlike the aspiring solicitor, does not necessarily need to resign himself to reading the tedious articles of the FT day in day out. Instead, keeping abreast of recent case law and judicial comment should suffice. An in depth knowledge of the area of law in which you wish to practice is also essential. After all, should medical negligence claims be based upon an insurance liability scheme, or not?
If you think the answer to the above question is yes, you’ve just made your first mistake – don’t think, know. A judge does not care about your opinion, so don’t offer it. Responding to a pupillage interview question with “Isn’t the answer …?” demonstrates a lack of conviction – never ask, tell. Precision of language is the staple tool of a barrister’s trade, using it effectively is crucial. An American Attorney once asked a driver involved in a road traffic accident: “What gear were you in at the moment of impact?” The driver replied: “Gucci tracksuit and a pair of Reeboks”.
My point is simple, preparing for pupillage interview is wholly different from the preparatory work required for a training contract interview. Commercial awareness, motivation for the profession and your opinions on current affairs are largely irrelevant. On the other hand, in depth legal knowledge and the ability to demonstrate a flair for the formulation of coherent, logical argument is essential. Lack of precision breeds ambiguity, an unequivocal response is the best type of reply. The best advocates are fearless in the courtroom, yet approachable in chambers, strive to fit the mould. To be a barrister, you have to think like a barrister.
Oh, in case you were wondering what proportion of their budget the NHS spends on clinical negligence claims every year – the total amounts to £800 million out of a budget of £90 billion. I’m no accountant, so you’ll have to do the maths yourself!