Congratulations! You have obviously survived the pitfalls of the BPTC application process if you’re reading this, and are ready and raring to begin the final academic stage of pursuing a career at the Bar.
Who are we though, and how do we know anything about it?
Helen Easterbrook, who initially launched this series in 2011, was one of the guinea pigs going through the new BPTC course in its first year. She says:
It was my first ‘real’ experience of university, having left school at 18, completing my LLB with the Open University several years later. I really enjoyed the course, passed first time and am now hunting for pupillage whilst working as an intern for a large chambers in London.
Now I, Emily McQuilkin, am picking up the baton and re-running the series with my own twist. I completed the BPTC in 2011–12 at Kaplan Law School, and was successfully called to the Bar at Inner Temple in July 2012. I am now ‘paralegal-ing’, editing, and am still heavily involved with mooting at Inner Temple while I hunt that elusive pupillage over the next few years.
With many of the providers starting their courses soon, we thought this would be a good time to have a look at the course in its entirety, to get a better feel for how the year ahead is going to play out. Although not really mentioned to us until much later in the year, I think it is worth pointing out now that the primary goal of this year is to pass the course, with as high a mark as you are capable of. I know that sounds like stating the blindingly obvious, but in the middle of mock exams, a pro-bono court hearing, and facing a pupillage application deadline, it will feel far less obvious. I know several very intelligent, very capable people who nearly came to grief on this one, purely by taking on too much extra work at a time when they really didn’t have any more time to give.
[two_third_last]With that in mind then, the year ahead.
The first couple of months, from September through to late November, were a bit of a blur. We were in large and small group sessions from nine o’clock in the morning through to five in the evening most days. ‘Free’ periods were anything but, and I learnt the fine art of balancing Blackstones (or Archbold, for those providers who use this instead), two textbooks and my notes on a small train table every morning whilst sleeping upright on the crowded train home. The latter meaning I could then stay up past midnight preparing for the next day![/two_third_last]
December onwards seems to be where the providers really differ. Some have mock exams, and indeed one or two real exams, before the Christmas break. Others launch into their mock and real exams in January. However, most providers seem broadly the same in that, once the mock exams and real exams begin, your life will become a seemingly endless cycle of revision, exams, classes and more revision. This cycle will roll straight into, and for some, through, the Pupillage Portal season in April.
Neither myself or Helen can stress this enough: plan, plan, plan and plan some more. Pupillage Portal should take up a serious amount of your time when it comes around, and can easily be prepared for in advance of April, at least in part. It is so easy to find yourself rolling down the huge exam hill straight into Portal season without any breathing space or time to work out how to sell yourself properly, and this can utterly destroy your chances at securing pupillage if you are not careful.
Here are our top tips for planning for the year ahead (more specific details will follow in subsequent weeks):
1. Buy or make a year-long wall planner. Put in all the dates, deadlines and foreseeable emergencies. I know most of us have weekly diaries, but having a wall-planner lets you see at a glance what is coming up in the next month or so. This is much better than turning the page to find that a nightmare of a fortnight has crept up on you.
2. Get to know your White Book and Archbold / Blackstones extremely well (there will be individual pieces on each of these in the next few weeks). If you don’t, you will seriously regret it come exam time!
3. Start on the pupillage applications early.
4. Make sure you use your free time efficiently – there is always something more you could be doing, but it is equally important to take breaks and avoid burning yourself out.
5. Don’t take on too much extra work. Pro-bono work does look brilliant on your CV, no doubt about it. All the pro-bono court experience in the world, however, will not help if you do not pass the course.
6. As soon as you can, schedule in your revision time. When you’re juggling mock exams, real exams and several other things besides, it is easy to think ‘I’ll just do this one job now and do the revision later’. You won’t.
We are hoping to provide this weekly column to help guide you through the stressful year that is the BPTC with the benefit of our own hindsight. We do recognise, however, that some providers will do things in a different order and so won’t be following any one particular provider’s timetable strictly – do not panic if you see a topic that means nothing to you yet, hopefully it will be of use at some point!
If you have any questions or special requests on content, please feel free to email (email@example.com) or comment and we will do our best to accommodate these.
Best of luck!