Thursday, 25 June 2009

Half Time Submission

Some readers will be starting BVC this Autumn and perhaps some readers are contemplating BVC at some point in the future. I thought that it might be of interest for me to provide aspirants with a short(ish) perspective on how BVC has panned out so far and what my take on the course is. Of course there will be others who perhaps won't share my views and I hope that they too will offer their views of BVC in my blog's comments section. For those of you who may be concerned about your identity being revealed, there is an anonymous option provided when posting a comment and I don't have sight of anyone's email address, so your privacy is protected.

Where do I start? Well, I know that I was pretty uptight about BVC prior to starting the course, not least because there wasn't really that much information that meant anything sensible to the uninitiated. I trawled the web looking for information and stumbled across a few blogs that gave a glimpse of BVC, but many of my worries/questions were not quelled/answered. Having studied LLB part-time, in a group where all of the other students were taking the LPC route, I was out on a limb regarding any sort of meaningful conversation/information about Bar School. I purchased 'Bewigged and Bewildered' and recommend the book for anyone contemplating BVC. It's a pity that Law Minx's blog was hi-jacked last year because many of her earlier posts provided an insight into the BVC, but as far as I know (and I'm sure LM herself will correct me if I'm wrong), the early stuff was lost when the blog was kidnapped.

First of all, it is a very popular myth that BVC is some sort of a joke course. I was under the impression before commencing BVC, that merely showing my face now and then would be adequate in fulfilling the requirements of BVC. My experience to date (and I have no reason to suspect that things will alter next year) is that BVC is a very demanding course. Any pre-conceptions that I held were quickly blown out of the water, once BVC started. My provider threw us in at the deep end and the monthly reading list approached 1000 pages and my 20 hours per week study time was quickly expanded to almost double that. I remember only too vividly my despair around Christmas time, when everything seemed to overwhelm me and the studying mixed in with work and family was relentless (although I did manage to have Christmas day off!).

It all sounds very doom and gloom so far, but I don't really intend to cast that sort of picture. BVC is an extremely expensive course and I for one would have been very disappointed had the course lacked intensity and content. I dare say that a student can get away with, to a certain extent, not doing much work, but it is a risky business and based on the failure figures for the Criminal Litigation exam (approx one third of students failed), I for one am pleased that I took the course seriously and put the work in. It should be borne in mind that I'm part-time and as such my experiences will differ somewhat to the full-timers. I will now try and paint a picture of the BVC modules that I have studied so far:

Criminal Litigation
There is a lot of reading and a lot to digest. I'm sure that I've already forgotten most of it, but naturally evidence plays a big part, along with sentencing and PACE. Either-way offences are a popular topic, no doubt because they form the bread and butter of a fledgling criminal barrister's workload. Criminal Litigation must be taken seriously because a BVC student will rely on it in other modules too, particularly Conference and Advocacy. My provider provided Blackstone's, Archbold and Archbold Magistrates Guide for this module, but perhaps other providers differ. We weren't provided with the ICSL Crim Lit manual and I bought one, but it should be perused with care because some of the provisions contained in it are not yet in force, I have more or less abandoned the manual because I messed up one month's homework relying on it.

Civil Litigation
Much of what is studied is contained within the White Book and seeing as the tome is relatively modern, it's fairly easy to comprehend, however the sheer volume of information that needs to be remembered at exam time makes this module quite demanding, not least because there are a lot of timescales to learn. It is quite boring at times, but again it needs to be learnt because you will refer to the Civil Procedure Rules in Advocacy classes. The subtleties of Civil Litigation can catch one out if not careful - some of the rules are discretionary, others mandatory and it is easy to confuse the two.

Legal Research
What can I say? It is a pig of a module, very time consuming and there are no shortcuts. I believe that it is being dropped from the BVC syllabus, which is a great shame as I firmly believe that others should suffer as I did:-) But seriously, I thought that I already knew how to do Legal Research when I started BVC because it was part of my LLB course, was I in for a surprise. It is the most useful module that I have learnt to date and its rumoured demise is IMO a mistake. Take Legal Research for granted at your peril, you will need to be on the ball with the latest legislation in other BVC modules.

I really enjoyed this module, but some students hate it. Essentially Conference is interviewing a client. A relaxed, personable outer self is needed, combined with sharpness of mind to glean any snippets of information that may turn a case/defence on its head. My provider expects a fair amount of paperwork to go with the oral skills. A Conference Plan outlines the areas of questioning, followed by an analysis of the law in relation to liability/culpability, remedies/sentencing. Conference requires good inter-personal skills, combined with a decent knowledge of the law. Whether or not I have the said skills remains to be seen because I haven't received my exam result yet. Negotiation is also a separate BVC module, but I don't start Negotiation until this Autumn, so am at present unable to comment on its content.

For me, this has been the most disappointing module. It is such an important skill, but we part-timers are meant to learn it by some sort of long distance, subliminal process. In real terms we get less than 15 minutes per student, per month, to make our submissions and be marked on the said submission. Each month we make different submissions - eg. one month a bail application, next month an interim injunction application etc.. I had anticipated that a great deal more guidance and time would be spent on teaching Advocacy. In all fairness, from what I gather this criticism spans all of the providers, so it is an area that needs improvement and no, I don't think that we should be trying to teach ourselves the Art, BVC is expensive, we deserve to be taught this module thoroughly. I should add that this is not a criticism of the Advocacy tutors, merely that there isn't enough time spent on it. Perhaps the full time students get a fairer time allocation for their Advocacy?

Opinion Writing
This module requires a meticulous approach to law. An Opinion is basically a written document, often requested prior to litigation, that sets out the law in relation to the Claimant's/Defendant's case. The merits and pitfalls of any potential proceedings are set out, along with advice on remedies available (such as quantum). I'm not going to go any further on this topic as I don't at this point consider myself fully informed on Opinion Writing, much of the teaching of this module commences in year 2.

I had no idea that barristers had to draft documents before I started BVC, I assumed that the judge did all of that. I approached this module with extreme fear, but I really like Drafting. It is probably one of the most difficult modules, but extremely rewarding. As with Opinion Writing, I'm only part way through this module, so cannot offer a fully informed insight, however I imagine that Drafting skills/exam results will be based on how good the tutor is, as it requires a very clear and methodical style of teaching, accompanied with the patience of a Saint.

I haven't chosen any electives yet, they form part of year 2, so I cannot offer any guidance on them.

Most importantly, I can truly say, that never have I learnt so much in such a relatively short space of time. BVC has stretched my mind beyond what I thought it capable of, whether that newly learned knowledge is of any use or not remains to be seen, but it's been one hell of an experience getting this far.

If I can offer one BVC tip, try to get along with your classmates, build trusting relationships and share your worries with them, if they are worth their salt, they will support you and help you. If they turn their back on you, wipe the floor with them during Advocacy, it's very satisfying:-)

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

You're once, twice, thirty seven times rejected

I applied for a non-olpas pupillage 3 months ago and was rejected by the Chambers about 6 weeks later. Pretty bog standard so far I hear you say, but yesterday I received another rejection from them, followed by a gap, followed by a dozen further, late morning rejections from the same Chambers. At this point the clerk must have broken off for a little light lunch before resuming his now truly onerous task for the afternoon, that of rejecting Barmaid another 24 times.

I ran an idea past Swizzle and collectively we have agreed that I should start off with the very smallest font and simply reply to the first email 'OK', followed by ever increasing Okay's until the thirty seventh reply is the most humongously large OK that is possible, might even have to send 2 emails, one with an 'O', the other with a 'K'.

Yesterday I finally tackled the job of sorting out all of my BVC folders, which were in various states of disarray, and today I have cleaned out my kitchen cupboards and tidied the garage. So, that's enough Domestic Goddessness for 1 year, I'm now itching to get my teeth into something pupillagey, so if there are any Chambers out there who would like to engage the services of a pupil/cleaner with an immaculate garage and show room shiny kitchen, I'm your (wo)man. p.s. You won't need to tell me everything 37 times, once usually does the trick:-)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Was it something I said?

At times like this I like to massage my cerebral hemisphere with literary works of profound meaning and intellectual reasoning. Unable to find anything suitable, the following will have to do:

I'm a little fairy
I don't swear
S**t, B****r, A*******s
I don't care

Rejected after screening, how VERY dare they!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

What goes around...

Regular readers may recall that I live in a rural location. My nearest town is about 8 miles away, it's a small gossipy market town that seems to have more than its fair share of sinister events. There are certain persons within the local town that have a certain reputation and one person in particular, over the years, has gained a reputation for being untouchable by the police, despite his reputation for walking on the wrong side of the thin blue line.

Many years ago, a young woman was murdered in the local town, her body was found underneath a railway bridge, she had been sexually assaulted, beaten and bitten. The young woman had been attacked on her way home following a night out at the town's nightclub. Rumours abounded as to who the murderer was and the finger pointed firmly at a certain individual, but he wasn't convicted. A friend of the certain person, who was not quite 'all there' was tried and convicted for the murder, but it was always rumoured that the wrong person went to jail and the defendant had been duped into confessing.

Some years later, the certain individual was under suspicion again, this time for firearms offences. Following a police chase, his car was found abandoned and the driver had legged it across the fields to escape arrest. Evidence was seized (a substantial amount of money), but the money 'disappeared' from the police station and the charges were dropped. This man seemed to be untouchable and blatant with it, rules were for other people.

It seemed that the certain person craved attention. Driving his Ferrari at full speed up a narrow one-way street, dive bombing trains in his Micolight, walking around town with another man on a leash, on his hands and knees pretending to be a guard dog, mounting the pavement in his car to frighten pedestrians, the list goes on.

His father hung himself and rumour had it that the suicide was due to the shame that his son had bestowed on the family. I remember that day, I was in the local town visiting a sunbed parlour (they were all the rage in the 80's) and the certain person was in an adjacent cubicle topping up his tan, even though he'd learnt only a few hours previously that his father was dead.

This certain person always had plenty of money and most certainly enjoyed flashing the cash around town. He had a part share in a local business and I always wondered how on earth the business could produce such profits, in the small market town, for such a lavish lifestyle. Seems I wasn't the only one wondering just how a small town business produced such profits. I remember many years ago, a conversation in a local pub, a local policeman was talking about the certain individual and stating that he didn't care how long it took, he was sure that one day the certain individual would come unstuck and the police would 'have him'.

Scroll forward several years - a neighbour of mine told me that he was going to a party to celebrate the inevitable acquittal of the certain person (who's trial had just finished, but the jury were still deciding). The party was a lavish affair, you see the barrister had assured the certain person that there was no way he could be convicted, not enough evidence, so the certain person's mother had held a party to celebrate son's imminent home-coming.

However for once it seems, the police did a half decent job of collecting evidence and they proved that even running at maximum capacity, the small market town business could not produce profits to account for the lavish home and cars etc. that belonged to the certain person. Certain person got 17 years and a little while later, several more years were added as the police uncovered more evidence for additional crimes. There was even a charge for illegal abstraction of electricity, seems that the certain person had tapped into a local factory's electricity supply and used that electricity to heat his swimming pool (I had to smile at that one).

Glancing through recent House of Lord's decisions in search of material for some BVC homework, I noticed a case with the distinctive surname of the certain individual, and sure enough, there he was appealing on a point of law, but his appeal was not successful. It seems that eventually the untouchable certain person became too brave, too blatant, too clever, upset too many people in the small market town that never forgets. It seems that what goes around comes around, but sometimes it takes a long, long time.

Monday, 8 June 2009

There it was gone

At long last year 1 of BVC is over. Today I feel relaxed but exhausted. There is a mountain of study materials to sort out and to file, but I think it will have to wait for a day or two.

The Advocacy exam went quite well, the 12 minutes seemed to pass very quickly and I was amazed when it was all over. Luckily my nerves were ok during the exam, but my legs turned to jelly afterwards and I was unable to eat anything until evening time due to the butterflies. In fact it was really quite enjoyable in a masochistic sort of way. Some of the younger students were extremely distressed before the exam and I had to take myself off and hide in a corner away from them and make myself stay focused. I had practised my opening lines so many times and had convinced myself that if I got through the preliminaries smoothly, succinctly and calmly, the main bulk of my submissions would be so much easier to handle. I think the strategy paid off, as for me the nerves are always worst at the beginning.

The results to my mock Drafting exam were ok too and the few minutes individual feedback from the tutor were extremely helpful. Drafting is a difficult module, it resembles nothing that is studied at LLB level, so there are no transferable skills to speak of (apart from the obvious, such as spelling and punctuation), but it is a rewarding module and has more reality attached to it than other modules, which by necessity of law school confines, have a synthetic and sometimes silly feel about them. I must admit that it feels very 'grown up' to have Drafted a Particulars of Claim or an Injunction reasonably successfully.

I now need to concentrate on my 'proper' job and bring in some money before BVC recommences in September.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Olpasiformia Nervosa

It seems that I have had a sudden relapse of the Olpasiformia Nervosa that struck me down a few weeks back.

Everything was fine until last week when I discovered that I had to log onto PP to check my applications progress (I know, I too worry about how thick I am at times). I'd assumed that we received an email to our regular email address.

So the most vicious side effect of Olpasiformia Nervosa has emerged, the OCD. Yes I know it's unhealthy to keep checking the Portal, but I can't help it, I'm strangely drawn to it, like a moth to a flame.

To date I have received three rejections and one request for references from a non-OLPAS application. I think I'd prefer to receive the news all in one go, at least then I could have a 5 minute swearathon, blame it all on Gordon Brown and resume business as usual.

Anyways, I must dash, I've got to go and water my plants, well ok, I admit it then, I'm off to check the Portal, just in case...