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22/03/2007

Age Bar

I read Lawyer-2-be’s comments on diversity and age in relation to entry to the Bar with interest. As regular visitors will know, the problems of mature entrants to the legal profession is something of a (self-interested) hobbyhorse of mine.

Pleasing though it is to see Lawyer-2-be’s report of a wide age range on the BVC, I am not wholly convinced that the feeling that relative age is a hindrance reported by fellow students is wholly (or at all) attributable to a lack of representation in brochures. Having said that, age is most certainly a blind spot, to put it kindly. For example, may I refer my friend to ‘the Chairman’s Report‘ of February 2007 on the Bar Council site, on the topic of Entry to the Bar and diversity issues. Count the number of references to young people and contrast with mention of mature entrants (of any background) – as a clue, mention of the latter is zero.

What would be interesting would be to find out how many of the mature BVC students had pupillages (and how many would eventually get one), and then do some quick sums on proportion of BVC studenthood v proportion of pupillage.

My anecdotal sense from friends on the GDL/CPE who headed Bar-wards is that relative age was and is a definite problem, perhaps even more so than for wannabe solicitors and heaven knows that is pretty bad.

One anecdotal but first hand report was from a 35 year old someone told by a member of a chambers’ pupillage committee that, despite their otherwise impeccable background (Oxbridge etc.), there was really no point in going for the bar at their age, because nobody would believe they would be prepared to put up with the first few years of hell and desperation. It was a commercial chambers, granted, but still.

In 2004, the Bar was something like 82% Oxbridge educated and 71% male. The figures on gender balance may have improved, a bit, but progress otherwise is slow. (Intriguingly, the 2004 proportion of the Bar that was white, 89.8%, pretty accurately mirrors the UK figure for white ethnic background in 2001/2). I can find no figures on age at entry to the Bar, but I am fairly sure what the pattern would be. I do hope the Lawyer-2-be is rightly confident that mature entry is a significant proportion and increasing, but, frankly, I doubt it.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

2 Comments

  1. Lawyer-2-be

    A ‘brief-ish’ response – I am sure that brochure pictures of ‘oldies’ as well as ‘youngies’ will make no difference at all to the ultimate recruitment of mature entrants to the Bar. However, as a matter of principle, it stinks that there should be no obvious recognition that mature entrants to the profession do exist and ought to be welcome. It seems that the profession has gone to great lengths to give the impression of diversity in the context of other minority entrants (particularly women and people from an ethnic minority background – and rightly so). This impression ought to extend to mature entrants too – whether or not it has any effect is neither here nor there in my opinion – indeed, in my view, merit is the only appropriate basis upon which people should be recruited, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, etc, etc. But it would make me (and no doubt many of my fellow BVC students) feel a bit more hopeful and confident, and less like we’re fighting a constantly losing battle, if there were some obvious recognition that the Bar is not just a profession dominated by entrants, or where the only welcome entrants, are generally 22!

    You are right to highlight the Chairman’s Report which contains no reference to the age of entrants to the Bar – I had noticed that too, but your research and the evidence for this post is clearly rather more thorough than mine!

    Finally, whilst I note that there are an increasing number of mature students on the BVC, clearly wanting to practice at the Bar, I am not at all confident that mature entry to the profession will ever constitute a significant proportion, or increase in a significant way – on that point I remain slightly pessimistic, as do you. Which just goes to show that the diversity of those on the BVC is not actually mirrored in the profession itself, many less conventional entrants likely to never get any further than completing and graduating from the BVC.

    Exposition over! Good to see you highlighting the material issues so much more eloquently than I…

    L2B

    Reply
  2. contact

    I think that the lack of representation in publicity material, etc., goes some way towards forming a climate in which age can be ignored as an issue, but that is about the limit. It may encourage the entrants, but run the risk of giving them false hope!

    I would also like to see selection on ability. However, the supposed emphasis on diversity is arguably a necessary move to get people to recognise that ability does arise solely in one place or come via one source, as the 2004 figures suggest. Age should be part of that emphasis. On that, we clearly agree.

    Reply

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