To consider retraining as a barrister?(669 Posts)
I am a teacher in middle management with a fairly secure, reasonably satisfying career. I have always dreamed of a career in the law. Originally I considered becoming a solicitor, doing a conversion course and going down the LPC route.
However, at the last minute, I lost my nerve and pulled out of my college course. The idea of that amount of debt was horrifying to me.
I trained as a teacher, but has always felt unfulfilled if I'm honest. As I've got older, the idea of retraining as a barrister has become more appealing, but I am acutely aware that so many fall by the wayside. I have secured a mini-pupillage this summer, which I am extremely excited about. I am also going to apply for vacation schemes at solicitors' firms to enable me to make an informed decision.
I do have a strong academic background and an Oxbridge 2.1 - but I know that that alone will not be enough.
Am I unreasonable to take a risk (with my husband's support) and consider a career in the law? Possibly as a barrister, but I intend to research this thoroughly with some real experience in both areas and different specialisms.
have not has in the second paragraph! A typo (in case my literacy skills are questioned...)
There was a thread today saying that many bar trained barristers are working as paralegals as there are simply not enough pupillages.
I think it would be hugely difficult. I do admire you for wanting to take the risk, but I think it would be something to consider very seriously.
Jopefully someone more knowledgable will be along in a minute.
If you can afford to then yes I think you should. You've already secured some work which is very difficult. The only thing I would worry about is the cost but it sounds like you've been through that already.
Thanks for the replies. Yes I have considered the financial aspect and I know it will be extremely challenging. I have had this dream for years and it just won't go away. I'm getting to the age where I need to either do something about it or forget it.
Do it - definately. what have you really got to lose. you re-train, you don't like it or you don't get a top job or the kind of job you want. so what! you can go back in to teaching knowing that you gave it a go and it wasnt for you. i packed in a 20 year career - 5 figure salary, loads of staff and responsibility to become self employed. less money but way more satisfying and wish now i hadnt been such a chicken and done it earlier. you are giving it a try first this summer and if you love it - go for it. no education, skills or training is ever a waste imo.
.... princessglitter - allow me, if you will...
I'm guessing that you haven't already done CPE/GDL, in which case, I think you should go for it. You probably already know there are lots of affordable p/t conversion courses which take 2 years, during which time you'll be making lots more connections, should have time to make further decisions (and IME GDLs are really useful and valuable even if you don't then go on to vocational training).
There are also quite a few bursaries to be had (from Inns of Court, mostly), so it is possible to do a bar training without taking such a huge gamble...
Solicitor the same - too many LPC graduates chasing too few training contracts. They end up working as paralegals.
That said if you can secure a training contract - larger firms recruit 2 years in advance it would be a lot less risky.
Solicitors do advocacy work aswell - you could even take higher rights of audience as a solicitor later if that was what interested you.
Life as a jobbing junior barrister is hard - a lot of travel to far flung courts, bits and bobs of work. Remember you are self employed so lots of networking etc needed.
I'm a solicitor.
I am hoping to do the GDL p/t over 18 months and then try to get some form of financial help from one of the Inns of Court. I figure that if I am actually good enough to become a barrister and secure pupillage then hopefully I can achieve some form of bursary/scholarship.
I will seriously look into the solicitor route too.
Life is too short and the last thing I want to be is a bitter, cynical old teacher full of dreams of what could have been. I think I might prefer to take a gamble and fail than to always wonder what if - but I also don't want to be unrealistic in my ambitions.
I'm based in the N/W which is also where I am doing my mini pupillage.
Go for it. The study's very interesting, and the skills are transferable.
(And you always regret what you didn't do, not what you did, as my granny used to say...)
I am a barrister and I would advise that you think very, very carefully before doing this. It is tough and expensive.
You would need to do your law conversion then your BVC, and then pupillage. With no guarantee of a job at the end of it. I got through all of the training steps and then my chambers' clerk left and they decided they couldn't take anyone on that year. I ended up falling on my feet and getting a job as an employed barrister in a US law firm (a very usual thing) where I get to do a fair amount of advocacy but the job is not quite what I was planning! However, the money is better and there is greater stability. I've been doing it for 9 years now and am pretty happy with where I have ended up.
It is a tough life too, particularly at the junior end in the regions where you end up spending a lot of time on the road travelling from one county court to another for a piddly brief fee.
Do your pupillage and vac scheme by all means but please appreciate how incredibly tough it is.
And you mention that the debt scared you before. Bear in mind that most junior barristers run on debt - because there is often a time lag between doing the work and being paid. It takes really quite a long time to be in a financially secure position at the independent Bar.
"I figure that if I am actually good enough to become a barrister and secure pupillage then hopefully I can achieve some form of bursary/scholarship."
I wouldn't count on it. AFAIK only a fraction of people who get pupillage get a bursary/scholarship. You can probably look up the numbers available at the Inns vs numbers of pupillages available.
I'd aim to do a few mini pupillages before you make any decisions at all.
Yes, it's a shrinking profession, there are hundreds and hundreds of hopefuls forking out thousands on BPTCs (as they're now known), who haven't a hope of securing a pupillage, then the 'lucky' few who progress to pupillage - but not tenancy, then if you get that far you're likely to need to move to another part of the country for pupillage (if you get one); you'll have no social life for years (IF you get a tenancy); if you're interested in criminal/family you'll be skint...
But you've got your first mini-pupillage, personally I think you've nothing to lose (apart from a few grand and sleep/relaxation) from going ahead with conversion course...
Anecdotally I know lots of unemployed solicitors and bar qualified folk. My brother bought a flat this year from a fellow solicitor who simply had to sell because she had lost her job.
There are simply not enough "bottom rung on the ladder" jobs at the moment.
I know a few who have racked up masses of debt and are now working as paralegals. It is soul destroying for them.
If you feel passionate about it then you owe your dreams careful consideration but do not underestimate how difficult the current employment situation is.
I'm a solicitor with 10+yrs PQE. Qualified in London but moved back west. It was tough then, I wouldn't entertain it now. And I certainly wouldn't give it a second thought without having a pupillage lined up. Please do lots of research first - as I'm sure being a NQ barrister these days can't be much fun. Dont mean to be negative.... but not something I would choose in this day and age.
I know a few who have racked up masses of debt and are now working as paralegals. It is soul destroying for them.
Indeed. It happened to me a few years ago when I came out of the LPC (I am a Solicitor). This was years ago and the market is even worse now. I had to paralegal for a very long time before I got anywhere and I know so many people from Uni and LawCol who gave up and did something else.
Think about it very very carefully. Because the course cost several thousand £'s and that is alot of money to pay for a couple of certificates and no job to show for it.
It also sounds as if you already have a good career and perhaps have the grass is greener syndrome. Believe it or not, the legal profession is not as sexy and exciting as it sounds, particularly at the junior end. I knew a couple of pupil barristers in a good set who got given nothing but mortgate repossession hearings to do for £35 a hearing travel expenses not included. That's the legal equivalent of trained monkey work and not at all satisfying.
Try and get more mini pupillages and maybe look at training with the Free Representation Unit to get more practical experience and see if you like it. I think you would have a very hard time convincing any pupillage committees that you are serious about law unless you do this.
I think part-time GDL is not a bad idea but be aware that even the part-time course is quite time-consuming. Your exams will be in May/June if you go to BPP or College of Law and the other law schools probably also have their exams at a similar time. Would you be able to get a couple of weeks exam and study leave if you are a teacher?
I'm sure you are aware of the competition but I would advise you to think very carefully and look at the figures of BPTC places to pupillages.
I'm a family legal exec and have noticed lately that it is a lot easier to haggle with clerks over brief fees even for counsel with 7,8, 9 yrs call, and I never book anyone with less than 5 yrs call.
There is a hell of a lot of competition out there, even assuming you get a pupillage.
I'd say go for it if you can afford to net no income for five years, taking into account the debt, have no children and a very high level of energy.
I'm retraining at the moment (solicitor not barrister). You have to follow your dreams but do not get into debt for this. If you've already had a few years out then another few whilst you save up is nothing. If you can work tim off for the exams I strongly reccomend the gdl part time. It's hard work but you can continue earning.
One thing you need to be aware of is that you'll have manic hours to start with and in practice very little control. Can your dh cover childcare? My firm had agreed a training contract but last week changed their minds and now I have to 'prove myself'. That means working late whenever they need me to with no notice. Luckily DH works regular hours and is supportive so he can always be relied on to put kids to bed etc. Pupilige will work the same way (lots of travel as everyone has said).
What aspect of the law appeals to you? Would you be looking for criminal/civil/corporate work? I think it probably is very tough at the moment, a combination of the recession and shrinking demand (for junior barristers particularly). Also, the training colleges have been allowing more people onto their courses (LPC and BPTC) than there are contracts/pupillages. I think you need to consider what it is a career in the law might provide you with, that you don't have now - as there might be other careers that can provide the same but without the debt/risk.
And really don't underestimate the hours you might have to work as a junior - or even senior lawyer.
Honestly, I wouldn't do it unless you have significant contacts who will be able to ease your path (let's avoid the whole "nepotism is wrong" argument for a moment - it's often how these things work). I am a solicitor not a barrister and getting a TC 4 years ago was v v v hard. Now it is nigh on impossible. Pupillage is worse. Your 2:1 from Oxford/Cambridge is a significant achievement compared with the rest of the population but nothing special in the field you are wanting to enter, tbh. and you aren't in London or wanting to be in London which limits you even more in terms of available potential pupillages and later work.
Have also noticed when instructing counsel lately that I can be very cheeky about fees etc even with quite senior "juniors"".
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