The Future Lawyer Weekly Briefing – W/C 15th January 2024January 15, 2024
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Article by Sonia Jassi.
Reading time: five minutes
‘If you could go back to when you were a student, what would you tell yourself?’ As a mentee, this is one of the questions you could ask your mentor to receive advice and knowledge to support you on your own journey to the Bar.
One of the struggles of being an aspiring barrister is feeling that you lack the knowledge or understanding about the day-to-day work that barristers do. I cannot recommend enough how helpful and encouraging having a mentor has been in my personal journey throughout university. The support available is inspiring, particularly to those from diverse backgrounds, as the Bar is made up of an array of barristers, and their unique backgrounds bring with them a varied makeup of experiences and challenges.
Importance of mentors
It is well known that competition is fierce amongst applicants during pupillage season. However it is likely to be more difficult for students who are from diverse backgrounds. For instance, pupils from a minority ethnic background only amounted to 115 of pupils compared to 371 white pupils in 2021/22. Likewise, looking at the profession at the qualified stage, there were only 2,641 barristers from a minority ethnic background compared to 13,708 white barristers in 2022.
The Bar Council hopes to ‘improve socio-economic diversity at all levels of the profession’ and this is highly reflected by barristers and those in the profession who are offering mentoring schemes to reflect the students who come from varied socio-economic backgrounds and walks of life before studying for the Bar.
Mentoring improves diversity
Mentoring programmes usually work on a one-to-one basis, meeting regularly with a barrister to aid you during your journey to the Bar. The length of the mentoring relationship depends on the programme. Not only do mentors provide insightful and practical tips about their own experience at the Bar or their chambers, but they may also be able to provide feedback on your pupillage or mini-pupillage applications, CVs, and tips about networking and the area of law that you are interested in.
Whilst some programmes are open to all aspiring barristers, some are aimed specifically at groups that are underrepresented at the Bar. These include those from ethnic minority backgrounds, low socio-economic backgrounds, first generation university students, and other characteristics like religious backgrounds. For students of diverse backgrounds, having an assigned mentor presumably from a similar background could help to show that the Bar is not made up of only one ‘type’ of barrister. This is key to diversity and inclusion since many barristers’ chambers websites only show a handful of barristers that come from diverse backgrounds or untraditional pathways to the Bar. Therefore, it is important for students to seek mentors who can show them that they do not need to shy-away from the Bar just because their background does not fit what is shown on such websites.
Many law schools offer mentoring programmes within the university. Outside of this, the following are just some of the mentoring programmes that you could get involved in:
This organisation was established in 2017 and strongly believes in accessibility and diversity at the Bar. Their mentorship programme lasts for six months and is free and open to members only.
2. Bridging the Bar Academy (BTB)
The BTB Academy accepts 100 students to receive support through programmes such as training, workshops, and mentoring to help students through pupillage applications and interviews. They also equip their members with tools to encourage diversity and inclusion and improve their confidence within their future career path.
Mentorship is open to members only (free membership) to promote ‘the careers of the Asian community within the legal profession’.
If you are an A-Level student from an underrepresented background considering a career in the legal profession this programme could benefit you. You will be partnered with a mentor from Matrix Chambers to provide support and advice on your journey. Applications can be made on their website.
This mentoring scheme was founded two years ago with the aim to connect students applying for pupillage or GDL/Bar Course scholarships with those who have successfully completed at least one of these routes within the last two years.
This organisation provides paid internships for Black students and graduates in various industries, including the legal sector. In their last application cycle, over 700 organisations pledged internships for their members enabling the best chance to be matched to your chosen profession. Applications can be submitted with three sectors in mind, if you are still considering other areas outside of law.
COMBAR Student Mentoring Scheme is aimed at underrepresented groups at the Bar and at the Commercial Bar in particular. Although the scheme has closed this year, it is worth keeping an eye on their page for their next intake.
BILA offers mentorship opportunities to aspiring Iranian barristers (and solicitors), and organises networking events, as well as mock interviews. They also have a WhatsApp group that can be joined through their LinkedIn page.
This mentoring programme aims to not only help students with their applications, but to network within their desired role/position in the profession, and potentially gain work experience through their mentor. Applications are accepted throughout the year.
This list does not include all mentorship programmes available to students and graduates. However, by taking the step into joining a programme with mentors available, the support and advice from those who have been in a similar position to you in the past will prove invaluable to yourself.
Whether you are considering applications or if you just need to build on your confidence and realise the potential within yourself, a mentor is the guiding hand that could open new doors for you. Good luck!