In our new ‘Career Counseling’ category, we help you with advice from professionals and students from various successful backgrounds so that you can make the best of everything. In this post, Barrister Hamza Gulzar, our alumni gives advice to anyone who is willing to go for their Bar.
According to an article posted on The Lawyer, the Bar Professional Training Course has been eloquently described as follows:
One thing that is certainly true is the amount of hours you will need to put in to keep your head above water. You can expect to hit the ground running and unfortunately this pace is one that needs to be maintained throughout the year ahead of you. Juggling your time is definitely a skill you must learn to perfect in order to be successful on the BPTC. The requirements of the course alone are strenuous with around ten to fifteen teaching hours a week and many more hours completing self-study in order to prepare for classes and assessments.
The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), formerly known as the Bar Vocational Course has to be the most grueling, challenging and yet the one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my life. I belong to the Sept 2011-May 2012 BPTC batch and received my Call to the Bar of England & Wales at Lincolns Inn in June 2012. I was fortunate enough to pass the course with a “Very Competent” during a time when a substantial proportion of candidates failed to secure even a pass mark.
The BPTC is a practical professional course designed primarily for future litigators. It encompasses a vast and diverse range of subjects such as criminal and civil litigation, opinion writing, drafting, civil advocacy, REDOC (an alternate term for ADR), client conferencing, professional ethics etc. The grade classification is as follows: (i) Outstanding (ii) Very Competent (VC), (iii) Competent (pass) and (iv) fail. So if you’re looking for a career in litigation and are willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears (lots of those by the way) BPTC is the course for you.
It is also important for a student to know exactly what the course entails, the application procedures and the route for getting your ‘Call to the Bar’. The BPTC is very different from the usual academic degree programs. It is offered by a limited number of universities in England including City University (London), BPP (London), Nottingham Trent University (Nottingham), University of the West of England (Bristol), Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester) etc. Unlike other academic courses, you do not apply individually to each law school, instead all applications are required to be submitted through the Bar Standards Board.
The Application also has to include brief essays on a few select topics including the reason as to why you wish to go for the BPTC, your past professional/work experience, your aims and objectives etc. In order for a student to be given admission in any university, he/she needs to be a member of an ‘Inn’. The Inns of Court are a group of 4 rather ancient legal institutions which provide a range of support for Barristers and Students through educational activities, mooting and debating, dining events etc. Most Pakistanis prefer Lincolns Inn for obvious reasons. In order for you to successfully complete the BPTC, you need to have at least 12 QUALIFYING SESSIONS completed at your Inn. The Qualifying Session is referred to any event being hosted by your Inn and most commonly includes dining nights. The fact that you have to manage (and PAY for) your dinners alongside the hectic study schedule is just another factor that sets the BPTC apart from other courses. Of course it is worth it if you are going to get to dine with former judges of the House of Lords, leading academics and legal practitioners.
However, before students proceed for their journey they need to be mindful of certain other issues as well. One needs to understand that the BPTC is a tough and expensive exercise. Out of a hundred and twenty (120) classmates of mine, less than forty percent secured a pass in the first go. Out of these only fifteen or so managed a “Very Competent”. Reportedly, the rate was even lower for most other providers.
The rules and regulations have been considerably changed from the time our batch took the seat. Prior to 2011, the examinations were largely set and checked by the respective universities, the academic portion (the written portion) of the exam was mostly comprising of MCQ’s in an ‘open book’ style and the pass mark was a 50%. From 2011 onwards however, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) introduced quite drastic changes in the regulations. One now needs to score at least 60% in every subject to secure a “Competent” grade , the examinations are centrally set and assessed by the BSB examiners, written exams are by and large closed book and include both short answer questions, that is, SAQ’s and MCQ’s with the additional requirement that both parts must be separately passed.
While nothing can truly prepare you for the practical world, one of the hallmarks of the BPTC is that its practical and realistic nature enables students to work in an intense high pressure environment. It develops your stamina, communication and time management skills. The course is also notorious for its ‘front loading’ which means that while you do get the rare opportunity to let off some steam, you’re usually busy juggling criminal litigation and opinion writing one day and then getting ready for your drafting and cross examination on the next.
My advice to any law student who is desirous of taking the BPTC is to go for it after at least an year’s work experience in a law chamber. While mental preparation can only take you so far, the work experience I had gained in Pakistan prior to the course not only helped in getting offers from top BPTC providers but was also useful in handling some of the anxiety that is commonly associated with the course.
I would strongly recommend the BPTC to anyone aspiring to practice as a Barrister in Pakistan as long as they are aware of what the course entails and what is expected of them. As with many other things in life, hard work and persistence generally pays off in the BPTC as well.