Archive for March, 2010

Industrial Unrest

March 31st, 2010

A quick post to flag up the point made by Iain Martin in this article about the pending Rail Strike.  I confess that I too had missed the possible impact of this strike (as a dedicated central London commuter) until my better half was discussing “contingency planning” at work over over the coming days.

Let’s see how it plays in court…

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Can You Buy a Pupillage?

March 18th, 2010

I have quite an important career related interview in the not too distant future, where a group of very established barristers will ponder if I have the potential to succeed in their world.  Understandably, I’m a little nervous and have been haranguing people at every opportunity, not to mention scouring the Internet, to try to be as prepared as I can for my interrogation.  Hopefully, something working in my favour is the intention to make the Bar a little more diverse and remove the presumption that you ride into the profession on the back of a trust fund (excuse the lazy cliche).

So imagine my surprise when I discovered

Clearly not a modest company, they are happy to announce:

Oxbridge Training Contracts™ is not just for training contract applicants. We also empower people who aspire to complete pupillage, a necessary stage before beginning life as a fully-fledged Barrister, and we have special expertise in providing fully customised Model OLPAS Form Essays and in Editing completed OLPAS Form Essays. We at Oxbridge Training Contracts™ know how hard it is to get a pupillage. Our services are organised so as to maximise your chances of successfully navigating the application process.

We contract a growing team of Barristers, Pupils, and Legal 500 ’Band 1 or 2’ Pupils-to-be to provide applicants pupillage-seekers with a wide range of services, from simple Cover-Letters and CVs or Model Application Essays on the OLPAS form, to a ‘Magic Service’ including Interview Preparation and specialist Consultations, enabling you to find and get into the optimum Chambers for you.

As a guide, they’ll complete your OLPAS form for you for a mere £650, interview prep for £150 p/h,  or a “magic service” for £4,500 (I wonder if that includes the brown envelope and delivery to the head of the interview panel?!*)  If I try really hard, I can almost see the justification for this part of the business.  However, offering the same services for Inn Scholarship applications seems pretty distasteful.  If I was seeking a training contract, I would also be disturbed by the idea of a HR lunch.

I have two problems.  Firstly, I don’t have £4,500, and I don’t think I could persuade Natwest to add it to my professional loan.  Secondly, having had my application form drafted by their “experienced Oxbridge-educated and Magic Circle ….lawyers, trainees and lawyers-to-be, as well as Barristers, Pupils” it will promptly become apparent when walking into the interview that I am none of these things and have essentially cheated my way in.

They contend that those with families in law or attending top universities essentially get the same services for free, and so they are simply levelling the playing field.

Either way, I think I was happier before I knew they existed.

(I apologise to any normal humans for my current fixation on inside-the-profession posts rather than more general topics… It’s just where my mind is for the moment, I promise to broaden my horizons next week.)

* This is a joke, I am not suggesting there is anything dishonest about this company but I can’t afford their services or a libel lawyer, so I’m sure they operate an incredibly professional and decent operation.  This service refers to a very lengthy process of support throughout the application process.

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Bar Wars?

March 17th, 2010

Not the most original title, which I have shamelessly stolen from this article in The Lawyer.

The article is a report on the Employment Tribunal decision in a case where a former barrister accused her chambers of racial and disability discrimination.  I must confess I think I am becoming a little  cold-hearted when reading employment cases, but this left me stunned by both the nature of claims, the size of damages sought, and the description of some of the incidents that took place.  My idea from pupillage fairs is that most sets of chambers are a genial bunch of like-minded colleagues contently pushing themselves and their set forward – this was not the case here.  The tribunal dismissed the claim, but clearly neither side covered itself in glory.

One point that seems missing from the article is if the Bar Council’s arbitration service was involved.  It would seem that this is exactly the sort of case that would call from their involvement, not least because the very public fight this situation evolved into risks casting the whole profession in a negative light.

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Legal (R)aid?

March 14th, 2010

Lawyers are expensive.  In this country, a large percentage of the population are not used to paying for professional services.  We don’t pay doctors, we don’t pay our banks,  most of us avoid paying accountants or brokers or schools.  Even our heavily subsidised university fees attract a great deal of resentment (certainly from me).  Therefore many people get a rather unexpected surprise when they are confronted with the cost of legal services.

There is also a recognition that this cost is beyond the means of some of those in need of legal representation.  In these cases, a little like the NHS, the government has paid these costs though what began as Legal Aid.  The most recent iteration of this system is administrated by the Legal Services Commission – who, to be frank, have a history of being criticised by lawyers (who struggle to get paid) and the government (who say they are wasteful).  Whatever the truth of that, the LSC do, quite legitimately, oversee the transfer of public funds into lawyers pockets.  I confess to being ignorant of the details, but my impression is that the government try to fiddle with the system, the LSC begrudgingly comply, and the carnival rumbles on.

Until last week, when the Government engaged in wholesale feather ruffling at the LSC by, in essence, absorbing it into the Ministry of Justice.  The Times report seems to express a genuine exasperation by the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw MP.  The Legal Action Group’s Blog has concerns about what this could mean.  I’m not normally a conspiracy-theorist, but you have to wonder if cases like this* will become even more dubious if the Government was in control of the purse-strings on both sides.

*I’m unable to confirm if the De Menezes case was supported by legal aid.  If it was not, I think it still stands as an appropriate example of the sort of cases where a low income can constrain justice.

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