Janet Bazley QC
1 GC Family Law hosted a student, Lewis Davies, during Bar Placement Week in July 2017. Lewis and his mentors explain below the impact the scheme can have from a social mobility perspective on both aspiring and existing barristers.
Since its inception, 1 GC has been an enthusiastic participant in the Bar Placement Scheme, run by the Bar Council in conjunction with Pathways to Law, Aim Higher, the Social Mobility Foundation, ARK, the BLD Foundation and Big Voice. The scheme is supported by the Council of the Inns of Court and the four Inns of Court.
The Scheme aims to give students, from backgrounds other than those traditionally associated with entrance to the profession, an opportunity to observe life at the Bar and encouragement to see a career as a barrister as achievable. We have had the pleasure of welcoming several students to Chambers for a week and have enjoyed getting to know them.
Ian Bugg (now His Honour Judge Bugg) was a stalwart of the scheme prior to his recent appointment. He has provided the following insight:
"The Scheme is very well managed, despite the obvious limitations on resources. What is, however, unlimited, is the infectious enthusiasm the candidates exhibit to experience the legal profession and consider - probably for the very first time - a career in the law.
"It has been a delight to encounter people who are getting their 'first taste' of the profession; whose preconceptions are readily challenged by the experience. Happily, the realisation that the real Bar is not quite as self-interested, glamorous and/or charmingly disreputable as that which is portrayed on television or in the media, does not seem to discourage them. To watch the realisation dawn that a career as a barrister is achievable, when a handful of days before, that prospect would have been regarded as fantastical or absurd, is priceless.
"It is crucial that the profession takes more steps to dispel the myth that the Bar is only a job for the financial elite rather than a career for any person, regardless of background, who excels academically. I have found it refreshing to be questioned about the Bar by someone who has not already been steeped at school in its eccentricities; nothing is taken for granted, nothing at face value. It is illuminating (especially after 25 years at the Bar) to confront the unusual aspects of the profession that we wrongly presume to be logical or self-evident. I feel that this has enhanced my ability to recognise and respect diversity and I welcome the opportunity to continue my involvement with the Scheme in any way I can."
The student, who was with us in 2017, struck us as being exactly the sort of person for whom the Bar Placement Scheme is designed. He is a very intelligent young man with great promise, who took his GCSEs at a time when his life was in turmoil; he had set his sights on an Oxbridge place but as a result recognised how unlikely it would be that he would achieve an offer. He came back for a further week in Chambers during the Autumn Term, by which time he had been invited to interview at an Oxford college.
Caroline Willbourne offered to help him with his preparation. She says: "We spent some time discussing the issues and questions I thought he would be asked at interview, only later to discover he has been asked totally different ones. But the wide-ranging topics we had covered encouraged our mentee to feel relaxed about the process; he certainly went to the interview knowing that he would be competing on equal terms with the other candidates, although he realised that there would be no concessions made so far as his intellectual capacity was concerned. Whilst he was with me, he sat in on a conference and read a skeleton argument I was preparing; I found his comments insightful. He also accompanied me to court to sit in with me for a day so that he could observe how judges approach their decision-taking task and how and why they exercise their discretion. He was fascinated to see how it worked behind the scenes and asked a great number of intelligent questions - I struggled sometimes to find the answers he was looking for so that was stimulating for me too."
We were thrilled to hear in the new year that our mentee did receive an offer from Oxford. Of course, he still has to achieve the required A-Level grades, but he is highly motivated to do so. 1GC Family Law will be available to support him throughout his undergraduate time and into what we hope will be a career at the Bar.
We very much look forward to our continued involvement with this excellent scheme and would strongly encourage other chambers to participate.
Janet Bazley QC is Joint Head of Chambers at 1GC Family Law. She practices across the spectrum of Family Law work, sits as a Recorder and also conducts arbitrations in Family Law Cases.
"The Bar Placement Week was an enlightening experience. The opportunities to moot, observe a trial and have challenging discourse with a barrister, and at such a malleable age, is sure to prove invaluable to anyone considering the legal profession. On a personal note, it has given me great confidence to articulate my views and think far more critically about my studies, current events and legal affairs. Whilst such opportunities can be turned into a commodity and auctioned off at certain public schools, it serves to show that schemes such as this play a pivotal part in promoting social mobility.
"Upon my own journey, which has included being on the Child Protection Register and having both parents with criminal convictions, I have witnessed an abundance of wasted talent; I have come across numerous young individuals that have unimaginable potential for life at the Bar, but the insecure attitudes and economic obstacles of their social position has meant those same individuals persist in repeating the cycle of poverty inherent in their heritage. That said, I am deeply grateful that I have benefitted from the scheme, but success stories such as mine must not detract from the important fact that countless young people, whose aptitudes far exceed my own, are nonetheless out of the reach of realising their capabilities. And this is despite them being absolute experts in other aspects of life.
"I sincerely hope that the Bar Placement Scheme continues to build on its evident success, and hopefully, there will one day be a good number of us who have participated in the scheme at the Bar. Special thanks must go to HHJ Bugg, DDJ Willbourne, Fran Wiley QC and those at 1 GC, who recently provided me with tremendous support in the build-up to securing a conditional offer to read Law at Pembroke College, Oxford."
For information on confidentiality and data protection during student chambers placements, read the Bar Council's guidance here.