As someone who has aspired to become a barrister for the majority of my life, I have found myself feeling scared throughout the process. With the knowledge that I am not alone and that most, if not all, aspiring barristers find themselves feeling scared and worried as they embark upon the brutal and often demoralising process of pursuing a career as a barrister, I thought I’d share my thoughts on breaking out of the cycle of fear and taking ownership of your journey to the Bar.
Nina Simone on fear: “Freedom to me is no fear”
Think about your journey to the Bar. How often are you scared? Scared that you’ll fail an exam and mess up a grade? Scared that you’ll mess up an interview and look stupid in front of a panel? Scared that you don’t belong in the profession because you aren’t white, a man, middle class or an Oxbridge graduate?
The fear is understandable. There are various hurdles for the aspiring barrister to navigate. Some are so difficult or the cost to jump over them is so great either financially, mentally or personally that they appear to be insurmountable.
But as Nina says, freedom is no fear. Imagine how you’d feel without all of that fear and worry that you carry around with you? Seriously pause and think about it now. How would you feel if you weren’t afraid?
Let’s have a chat…about anxiety
I think it is extremely important to have candid conversations about anxiety amongst aspiring barristers. Whether you had experienced anxiety before embarking upon a career as a barrister or not, you will find yourself closely acquainted with anxious thoughts and feelings at some point.
Anxiety is defined as ‘A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.’ (Oxford Dictionary). That seems fairly apt for the aspiring barrister. Until we are granted a tenancy position everything is uncertain and with seemingly no control over many aspects of the process, what is left for us to do except for worry and feel nervous or uneasy? The truth is there are lots of actions we can take and mindsets we can implement to tackle the anxiety that comes with pursuing a career at the Bar.
In a series of posts, I am going to go over some of the main sources of anxiety for aspiring barristers and strategise ways that you can stop being afraid and take control of your destiny.
Firstly, we will look at the BPTC.
The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is mandatory for any aspiring barrister. Everyone has to do it, irrespective of the nature of the work you want to complete at the Bar. In that sense, the course is an even playing field. But there are various reasons why the BPTC might be a source of anxiety.
I want to make something clear now which is that the BPTC will teach you (roughly) the things you need to know to commence pupillage. It is not exhaustive. Getting a Competent, Very Competent or Outstanding (the three tiers of grades) will have no bearing on whether or not you will be a good barrister. The majority of the BPTC is often forgotten as soon as practice commences (as I have been told by every barrister I have ever met).
Treat it as it is and don’t inflate it into something it is not. If you’re pursuing the Bar you are probably a serial overachiever (I am guilty of this). Don’t allow your fear of failure to consume you. The course is not the be all and end all but be aware of what it requires. Focus on having enough energy to satisfy those requirements. Save energy for the other things you have to do. Do not put your mental or physical health at risk for the Bar course.
Getting accepted onto the course
The first hurdle is actually being accepted onto the BPTC. In 2016/17 2,917 people applied to the course, 1, 424 people were accepted onto the course and 815 people completed the course (taking into account part time students completing the course the following year).
What are some of the reasons you may not be able to start the BPTC course? The BSB’s minimum requirement for the BPTC is a 2:2 so you will still be able to complete the course if that is the grade you received. If you have a 3rd, it is extremely worthwhile taking advice on how you can work around this hurdle for example by embarking upon further study.
Another reason you may not be able to start the course is if your undergraduate degree is ineligible. Take time to confirm, especially if you completed your studies abroad or a non-traditional degree course.
This is a fairly straightforward hurdle to navigate and one you ought not to spend too much time fussing over. When it comes to the BPTC, finding a place on the course is actually not as difficult as you may have first thought. In fact, many of the BPTC providers are criticised for making the course too easy to access.
Completing the BCAT
The BCAT is a mandatory aptitude test and an essential requirement before you begin the course. I wrote a blog post on the BCAT which you can read here and recorded a video which you can find below.
The BCAT is going to be a straightforward hurdle for most, for some it may take a few goes. Don’t think too hard about it. Learn what the test wants from you and don’t try to deviate too much. This is going to be a common theme during the BPTC and something I will return to later.
Funding the BPTC
The BPTC course is expensive to complete. One of the most brutal aspects of pursuing a career at the Bar is that you will have to complete the course in order to commence pupillage but being that there is no guarantee that you will even receive a pupillage, Bar students are finding themselves saddled with inordinate amounts of debt when they complete the course.
Chambers Student provides a breakdown of BPTC course providers and their fees which is a useful guide to consult.
There are various funding options for the BPTC including through your Inn and Law School. Contact the different Inns and schools to ask them about what funding options are available to you and start early. Then start applying early.
Don’t be put off by the competition for funding. In my latest #AskBATB session someone was worried a 2:1 would prevent them getting a scholarship. See my response in an attempt to dispel this fear below:
Preparing for the BPTC
Getting yourself ready for the BPTC can also be frightening, especially when you are unsure over what to expect. In order to help you figure out what to do with yourself before the course actually starts, I produced a blog post giving some suggestions.
The best method to work through anxiety in my experience is to keep yourself occupied. You don’t need to sit and stew with stress before the course starts. You can start preparing yourself early and be ahead of the game!
Passing the BPTC
The BPTC will be challenging but do not stress yourself out worrying about passing the course. Focus instead on understanding the logic behind the madness. Believe in your own innate abilities. When I tell you how I managed to pass the course you’ll hear me explain how less thinking about things and just doing them helped me navigate the toughest parts.
For now, I have produced a video for you discussing my BPTC course experience so you can mentally prepare yourself for the scale of the task.
Focus on having no fear!
I’ll conclude there for now. If you are feeling the fear, collect yourself and try and understand why you are scared. Then identify actions you can take to have ownership over your journey to the Bar. Things don’t have to happen to you as you navigate this career path. You are capable of steering the ship in the direction you want it to go in. Just don’t lose faith in yourself and learn the difference between situations you can control and those you cannot.
In the next post I’ll discuss networking which is an essential element of your Bar journey but one that can be extremely scary for reasons I will discuss.
Until next time,