Friday, 9 March 2012

The National Pupillage Fair

Last Saturday, the day after the REDOC exam, I went along to the National Pupillage Fair (apparently sponsored by Target Jobs), at Lincoln's Inn.

Firstly, Lincon's is an absolutely stunning venue. It really feels like an ancient seat of learning, and if you've never been there (lawyer or not) it's definitely worth a visit on the tourist trail.

Secondly, the Pupillage Fair itself. The fair, belying its name, isn't exclusively aimed at those seeking pupillage. Don't get me wrong, dozens of Chambers have stalls at the fair where prospective applicants can go along and chat to the current members; but a significant portion of the fair is actually aimed at those who are considering a law degree, or a career at the Bar. This side of the fair has stalls from several law schools and universities, alongside the BSB, legal volunteering organisations and other important sources of information. It was actually in this capacity that I went along.

A year ago I was studying for my exemption GDL at the College of Law. They had offered me a place on their BPTC, but I had also received offers from BPP and City Law School. As I was already at College, it seemed a simple choice to stay there for the next stage in my training. But, just to be sure I spoke to a number of friends  (both on the BVC as it was then, and baby-barristers), and the overwhelming response was that I should investigate BPP more closely. One of these friends, who in the interests of fairness I shall call "Muppet", was half way through her pupillage at (probably) the number one Family Law set.

She completely sold BPP to me (despite having no reason or incentive to do so other than her own experiences), and largely made my mind up for me. To be honest it's probably one of the best pieces of advice I was ever given.

So, being the complete fruit-loop that I am, I thought I would pass this good turn on to others, and asked the BPP BPTC course directors if they needed a current student to help out on their stand.

There was, of course, an added advantage - those on stalls arrived two hours early to set up, so I had exclusive access to a number of criminal sets ahead of the arrival of the hordes. Which was nice.

The main part of the day, though, was about chatting to potential BPP students and telling them why it was the place to go. Frankly, there's very little to separate the major law schools - they all turn out some top quality lawyers, and they have similar facilities. So, much like all sales jobs, you're selling exactly the same product as everyone else, but you need to make it sound completely different and superior.

The real selling point for me, though, was just how much fun I've had. The student body is bright, interesting and diverse, and the tutors (with very few exceptions) are all experienced practitioners who have decided to turn their talented brains to teaching. Many of the tutors still maintain thriving part time practices, and just teach a couple of days a week. Yes, I'm sure this is the same as every other law school.

It was a tiring day, we had hundreds of visitors to the BPP stall, and I'd like to think that I successfully passed on Muppet's good advice to others who are a few years behind me.

The pupillage side of the fair, though, seemed to have no real purpose. Sets have absolutely no need to advertise. They will have a couple of hundred applications even if they are the nadir of their practice area, and they can afford to cherrypick 2 or 3 top candidates from the thousands in the potential market. So what's their incentive for being there?

Many seemed to resent losing their Saturday, as if they were forced to be there by some new marketing-enthusiast clerk (or practice manager as some sets call them now), and didn't have a great deal to say about their sets.

The visitors to the stalls, all hoping for some titbit of advice on how to succeed in their applications, hope gleaming in their eyes, can only have come away disappointed by the recurring advice of: "Try not to have spelling mistakes on your forms, and tailor each application for the set in question".

Perhaps my experiences of the event were tempered by the fact that I only had a few minutes here and there away from the BPP stall, but overall I'd say that it's by no means the "must-visit" that many law schools paint it to be.

NB: I was not paid in any way, shape, or form for my time on the BPP stall, I was there purely because I believed it to be the right thing to do.

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