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:
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.
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.
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?
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:-)