Change can be scary for some. But when a course prospectus warns you of the negative repercussions if you are faint-hearted, you start imagining the worst. Given the massive influx of barristers in the recent years, you wonder whether that is meant to deter people from embarking on the Bar Professional Training Course.
To the new batch and those looking to undertake the BPTC in the future, I can only draw lessons from my own experience and tell you this: you are in for a treat! And no, I am not being sarcastic! Some of you might be thinking that you definitely cannot relate to what I have to say as I am being way too optimistic. Hold your horses!
Fall seven times, get up eight!
During the first couple of weeks into the course, I was questioning my career choice, my strengths, life, you name it! For many, the first few weeks are the worst and feel like a far cry from undergraduate studies or anything you have ever experienced. Being required to bring a wheelie bag on the first few days to carry your just-a-tad-bit heavy books and being constantly reminded of the fail rate, certainly does not help lift your spirits.
At this stage you have two choices: give in to the pressure or use what I call the fail-rate mantra as a driving force to work harder than you ever have and give it your best shot. Somehow, I chose the latter.
The dos and don’ts.
The first few weeks is a steep curve, after which you start getting accustomed to the course and become aware of what is required of you. What you should start realising, and the sooner you do the better, is that so as to succeed you just cannot shy away from being consistent throughout the 8 to 9 months. I know this advice may sound like a broken record but when you are on the BPTC, it becomes more relevant than ever. Be thoroughly prepared for each class and contribute as much as you can to the discussions. Additionally, absenteeism is frowned upon and quite rightly so! A big chunk of the syllabus is covered at every class and you might find yourself lagging behind if you miss classes. Re-schedule if you have to but try to attend all classes!
In order to make optimum use of your time, in the beginning stages of the course, brush off on your tort law and contract law principles. You will be expected to know them and you will need to apply them in your skills-based modules like Drafting and Opinion Writing. The latter two are open book exams and while this may sound appealing it requires hard work and meticulous pre-exam preparation. Bring relevant and concise notes to the exams rather than a mountain of books you will waste time flipping through. Once you have read your exam papers you should be able to navigate through your notes easily and quickly as time management is of the essence. Use sticky notes to help with organising your file.
Group work with your small groups or other friends is something that has helped many and I certainly recommend it. Choose a challenging topic or an advocacy exercise and practise or discuss it with your friends over a cuppa! Make use of the advocacy recording rooms to record your performance, over and above those recorded in class. I would be lying if I said I did not cringe whilst looking at my recordings but this is a good way to learn. Note down your main weaknesses and aim to improve the next time. At the risk of sounding too cliché, practice does make perfect!
Before you know it, January is here and you are facing your first exam. Ergo, it is key to put your notes together as you go along, and this applies not only to the Alternative Dispute Resolution Exam but to all the other ones. It is very tempting to put off making your notes for the three centrally set exams until after the ADR one, but given the volume of Civil Litigation and Criminal Litigation, I would strongly recommend to resist the temptation. The content may not be overly complex but you will simply not have time to make notes and revise as you will not have a substantial revision period. During the weeks leading up to the centrally set exams, you will also have to sit for several of the skills assessments (Opinion Writing, Drafting ect).
A useful tip I wish someone had written on my forehead is- be organised! Too many times I found myself flipping through my papers before sitting down to work with the documents I needed. You will be given many case papers over the course of the BPTC and it is time-saving and useful to organise them in folders and label them. A few case papers are used across different classes and an idea is to put all the relevant papers in a folder named after the case. Do the same for all the practice questions and answers you are given as this will come in handy especially during the peak of your revision.
For those who haven’t yet secured a pupillage but aim to do so, here are some nuggets of wisdom! Securing a pupillage is like a rat race and it essentially comes down to more than just your grades. As intensive as the course may be, if your aim is to secure a pupillage, getting hands-on experience is imperative. Make the most of the pro bono opportunities made available by your provider so as to enhance your CV and prove your commitment and passion for your chosen areas of law.
The perks of studying the BPTC.
As part of the BPTC you are required to complete 12 qualifying sessions at one of the Inns of Court. This is an incredible opportunity to cut yourself some slack and socialise with your peers and network with barristers and judges. Some have described it as being Hogwarts-like and although not magical, it certainly feels grandiose and the feeling of how prestigious the profession is will dawn on you. If that fails to impress you, the feeling of accomplishment you get on your call day, dressed like never before- in a gown, the barrister’s collar and the wig- should do the trick!
Enjoy the ride!
All in all the statistics don’t lie. The BPTC is far from being a walk in the park! Hard work and dedication are key to succeeding. It was one of the hardest yet one of the most formative experiences of my life. The course pushes you to your limits and unleashes your potential- so discover your strengths, yourself and enjoy the ride!
About the author
Celina Faugoo completed her LLB and BPTC at City University of London. She has recently been called to the Bar at the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn.