How the Bar Council can better engage with students

12 November 2015

Amy Woolfson

Open University law graduate and Kennedy Scholar, Amy Woolfson, guest blogs on how the Bar Council can better engage with students and why it matters. Amy covers the importance of developing positive relations with future members and proposes some useful ideas for the Bar Council's consideration.
 

How the Bar Council can better engage with students - and why it matters

Back in the summer, the Bar Council announced that it would bring the deadline for Pupillage Gateway forward from April to January, starting in 2016.  There are lots of reasons why this might be a good idea - giving aspiring barristers a chance to assess the pupillage market before committing to the BPTC is a particularly good one - but changing the system at short notice did not go down well with many students, or with chambers.  To its great credit, the Bar Council recognised these concerns and decided to scrap the changes for 2016.  The Gateway deadline may yet come forward in future years, but we have been promised a consultation first. 

As an LLM student, planning to apply for pupillage in the 2016 round, this was my first interaction with the Bar Council.  I started to wonder why and how such a big change could be announced - and nearly implemented - to the general ignorance of students and their universities.  Having done some thinking, and chatted to a number of aspiring barristers at various points in their training, it has become clear to me that the Bar Council needs to do much more to engage with students.  

The Bar Council represents barristers.  Why should it engage with students, who are not yet barristers - and may not even become barristers?

This is one of them main arguments I have come across when discussing my ideas with people at the Bar.  For me, it's simple:  Barristers were all students once.  Current students will become barristers, and they will be members, and even leaders, of the Bar Council.  Even if only out of self-interest, the Bar Council needs to develop positive relations with its future members.  But I think most people would agree the Bar Council should do more than just act out of self-interest.  Equality and diversity matter too. 

Equality and Diversity

One of the Bar Council's stated objectives is to promote access to all practice areas of the bar, irrespective of background.  To do this, it should examine what barriers currently make it harder for people with non-traditional backgrounds to make a career at the bar.  The Inns' scholarship program is a major driver of diversity, providing funding and a seal of approval for students who demonstrate merit and potential.  But the Bar Council can't outsource responsibility for diversity to the Inns.  As Legal Cheek reported at the beginning of November, nobody seems to be talking about the £5m+ on offer.  The message needs to get out beyond well-connected universities and their students.  Partly, this is the responsibility of university careers departments, but the Bar Council can and should play a role in it.  

What else can the Bar Council do?

The Bar Council needs to take more responsibility for directly providing students with info about the Bar.  This doesn't have to be expensive or complicated.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Why not encourage students to sign up for Bar Talk, or produce a separate student edit for them?  Students are always being told to improve their commercial awareness, and this could be marketed to them as a way of doing that.
     
  • Consider having a student representative on the Bar Council, or a student delegate/delegates to report to Council meetings.  The fact that students are not represented or even present at meetings makes it inherently difficult for the Bar Council to engage with them.
     
  • Provide some basic materials about the Bar and the work of the Bar Council to all university careers departments, law faculties and student law societies.  Many of these materials already exist, but they need to be shared with a renewed vigour.
     
  • Encourage Bar Council members to reach out to local universities and law schools.  This doesn't have to be anything fancy, just making the connection and an offer of an informal meeting would raise awareness. Particular attention should be paid to connecting with students who are not in London.

These small changes would demonstrate willing on the part of the Bar Council, give greater meaning to its commitment to diversity and equality - and reduce the risk of it having to backtrack on issues like the Gateway deadline in future.
 

Amy Woolfson

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Amy Woolfson is a LLM candidate at Harvard Law School. She is a recipient of a Kennedy Scholarship, the UK's living memorial to President John F Kennedy.  She completed her undergraduate law degree with the Open University.  She plans to apply for pupillage in 2016. Read another blog by Amy on why aspiring barristers should consider studying in the US.