This post was originally posted by Peter Quinn on the online magazine of the University of London International Programmes called the London Connection. In this post, Hamza Gulzar talks about his journey from a University of London Qualifying Law Degree to a qualified barrister.
The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) has to be the most gruelling, challenging and yet one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my life. I belong to the September 2011-May 2012 BPTC batch at the University of the West of England and received my Call to the Bar of England and Wales at Lincoln’s 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.
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.
There were essentially two main contributors that helped me in getting offers from top BPTC providers and in handling some of the anxiety that is commonly associated with the course. The main contributing factors were the work experience I gained before applying for the course and the impact of going through the QLD process in my final year of studying for the LLB (Hons) from the University of London International Programmes.
I graduated in 2010 with a Qualifying Law Degree from the University of London International Programmes. After passing my second year exams I quickly realized that performing well in the final year, as well as fulfilling the newly added ‘QLD’ requirement, was going to be a daunting task and for which critical research and writing skills were required. I joined the Pakistan College of Law (PCL) in my final year of LLB (Hons) after realizing that at PCL my academic and professional aspirations were going to be better attended to. And it turned out to be the right choice.
There were students from a vast and broad cross section of society in PCL and my class was the first to be offered instruction on how to acquire a Qualifying Law Degree, in regards to which the College ensured that nothing was left to chance. We had a professional research instructor and were given various tasks and assignments on a regular basis, the complexity and volume of which was gradually increased to ensure that our legal research and writing skills were up to the mark. This was also important in order for an individual student to come up with their own legal research topic.
After the first few exercises of summarizing different legal articles and analyzing vast amounts of legal literature, all of us had a basic idea for our research topics and its overall structure. I opted for the 2,500 word research essay, even though I had initially planned to write a dissertation. In the end you really have to know your own strengths and weaknesses and the topic which is going to appeal to you the most. It is also imperative that you begin the writing portion of the essay (or dissertation) only after there’s enough material available and the general framework is clear and precise. This requires a few meetings with the supervisor, discussion with your peers and, most importantly, your own clarity of mind.
My research article was on the legality under International Law of the Israeli Use of Force on Gaza in 2008. Since ours was the first batch to do the QLD, nothing could be taken for granted. The way we dealt with our research papers and the QLD Portfolios in general was to break down the entire task into small portions.
1. Figure out your topic of research and the relevant subject area. Meet the relevant faculty members and discuss the topic with them while at the same time ensure that there’s enough material available for your article/dissertation. Once you have a basic idea of your structure, it’s helpful to dissect the essay into small portions and discuss every portion that you have completed with your supervisor. There is no easy route through this. My classmates had to edit, re-edit, retype and reconfigure every paragraph we thought we had successfully completed.
2. The most important aspect of the QLD requirement was to show proof of your hard work and that you understand what you’re writing about. You can have the best research but if it isn’t backed up by evidence it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.
3. Once done with the research paper came the final part of completing the ‘Portfolio’, which is a Microsoft Word document (albeit a large one) containing the research essay, evidence of the research and, most importantly, the answers to the ‘learning outcomes’. The outcomes are simply a series of questions concerning research methodology and essay/dissertation. If one has spent enough time and worked hard on the essay, answering the outcomes is a doable task although it is time consuming. My classmates and I took snapshots/scanned copies of our email correspondences, PowerPoint slides and presentation certificates and inserted them as evidence of our work on the QLD. Completing this final task took a considerable amount of time, two months or so if I remember correctly, as finalizing the final portfolio was as tricky as writing the essay itself.
The QLD was one tough task and took an entire year to complete. But in the end it was more than worth it. It has been immensely helpful to me both academically and professionally as it improved my legal research techniques, writing style, presentation and public speaking skills. Once I was done with it I was relieved and proud because that document was an achievement which will stay with me forever.
I would strongly recommend the LLB (Hons) of the University of London International Programmes and BPTC to anyone aspiring to practise as a Barrister in Pakistan. Whether anyone on the LLB (Hons) wishes to do the BPTC or not, I very much advise that they should take up going through the QLD process as it will professionally benefit them immensely. As with many other things in life, hard work and persistence will generally pay off.