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:-)


Swiss Tony said...

BM, truly useful information,and I wish you had said all that last year when I was looking!

I wonder if we should draw the distinction between BPP and your 100,000 pages a week to be read, and CofL and the 10 pages a week we have to do.

Or the 20 hours a week homework compared to the 2 hours a week we need.

OK, OK, so I exaggerate, but how can we both end up with the same qualification when you work 10 times harder for it?

Like you, I am glad that I have taken the course seriously, (half my class don't bother with the reading or homework), but I sure am glad I didn't go to BPP!


barmaid said...

I think a lot of students still believed the myth, right up to exam time, that they could get by without doing the work, but alas, as if often the case, there are few shortcuts when it comes to the crunch.

DRS said...

Great post, as I am about to embark on the part time BVC with BPP it very useful information!

With regard to the work load issue, I opted for BPP in the end over CofL on the basis that being made to work a lot harder would prevent me from slacking!

I graduated 4 years ago now so am somewhat apprehensive about returning to study again, but at the same time looking forward to it.

barmaid said...

DRS - Good luck, I'm sure you will be fine, I know that this time last year I was very worried about what to expect from BVC, but to date I have found BVC much more interesting than LLB.

Make sure that you take a trolley bag with you for the introductory weekend as there are lots of books to take home.

CLG said...


Thanks so much for this, I am getting pretty nervous about the impending course and as you said there doesn't seem to be much out there in the way of what to expect so this post has helped to make me feel a bit better just having a better idea of what I'm going to be up against.

Much appreciated :)

barmaid said...

No problem:-)

In preparation for BVC I'd recommend a gentle stroll through the basics of negligence, contract and perhaps a brush up on the criminal topics of assaults (under OAPA)and theft (Theft Act 1968). Don't bother with doing any in depth reading, just refresh the basics, perhaps an hour on each. No need to revise Land Law or Trusts (at least not on my course anyway).

Perhaps a little look at the Civil Procedure Rules, Part 1 (which can be found online, just google 'civil procedure rules'), which will get you in the mood for the Civil Litigation. Again I wouldn't go overboard, just get the very basic feel for the overriding objective of the CPR.

I don't think it's necessary to do any preparation at all if you don't feel like it, but it may ease the way in the first few months of BVC when the reading is heavy going.

The introductory weekend (which is actually 4 days) is a bit of a rude awakening and I found it quite daunting, not least because we were set homework to do each evening in preparation for the following day, but it is quite a nice feeling to get to the end of it, with all the new 'grown up' books to take home - Archbold was proudly displayed on my bookshelf for all to stare at in admiration:-)

DRS said...

Thanks for the pre-course reading of yet the "pre-course reading will be posted here in May" has yet to materialise on the BPP Blackboard online thingy...

barboy said...

A brief dipping of a toe into the code of conduct (via BSB website) could be a good idea; it will be probably homework at induction. You get jack from BPP in the way of worthwhile pre-course prep information, which makes BM's advice all the more valuable.

barmaid said...

The pre-course reading list last year was a little OTT, more or less asked for a complete revision of everything, which isn't needed, as many topics aren't used at all. My advice would be to stick to contract and tort, with the little bit of criminal and that's enough.

Stuff like defences and remedies is quite different at BVC level and is probably better left alone until the course begins.

Anonymous said...

Very useful stuff. However, I didn't realise that a third of people had to re-sit criminal litigation. It doesn't exactly inspire me with confidence for the results which will be coming out shortly, as surely it can only be a matter of time before one fails an assessment! (Bad thought and probability was never my strong point.)

barmaid said...

Hi Anon,

The crim lit figures were for the part-timers, not sure how they compare with the full-time statistics.

Both civil and crim are IMO too rushed, we only get a one and a half hour seminar per month for each module, so there is lots of preparation to do. I suspect that the full-timers get more tuition?

It's a case of doing the homework really, boring as it is. I suspect that many students fell behind with the reading or didn't do any at all and tried to rely on the seminar for all of their learning. Put the hours in - you'll pass:-)

Anonymous said...

One of the tutors let it slip (in a sort of oops, don't tell anyone fashion) that the p/t tutorials for civil and crim lit were cut last year to the 1 1/2 hours whereas the the equivalent sessions for the full time students remained at 3 hours. I guess that whether the move was deemed a success can be judged by seeing what happens this coming year.

barmaid said...

Well I for one would welcome less reading. Having looked at the civil and crim materials for next year, I've already started the reading for civil because I cannot see that I'll be able to cope with the workload once I go back in September.

The problem with the tutorials being that they go at such a pace, that it's impossible to note take and listen, hence the need to prepare notes beforehand and highlight or add to any bits that the tutor states are important.

Oh well, back to the CPR - so much for a Summer break...

Law Minx said...

A very Excellent, well considered and Thoughtful Post, Maid - where WERE you when I was doing the course?!?!?!?!?

barmaid said...

Ayup Minxy,

How the devil are you? Refreshed and revived after your break I trust?

The Curious Black Cat said...

I nearly snorted out my water when I read,

" is a popular myth that the BVC is some sort of a joke course."

Who ARE these people? They really need to read this post and the many BVC blogs about.

Swiss Tony, I did the LPC at BPP and sometimes I must admit that I do feel a little bemused by some of my CoL colleagues who have more or less sailed to distinction-dom while I have several retakes under my belt...hmmm

Then again, as DRS says, I'm glad I was made to 'seemingly' work that bit harder at BPP. Wouldn't change a thing...

Good post Barmaid!

Law Minx said...

Wotcher Maid,

I am indeed revitalised and refreshed following my chaotic hols in the bosom of extended Minx Clan, and hope that the Summer break finds you, and yours well. :))

barboy said...

I would venture that those that describe it as joke course, and worse, all display one trait. That being that they have finished it.

The mentality does, though, perhaps reflect some serious issues surrounding the course and its fitness for purpose. The content is not beyond being questioned (10 years after Woolf and still no compulsory ADR, but still the inclusion of negotiation), the delivery (seemingly by the majority of providers and not just BPP) is more often than not the subject of nothing but complaint and derision.

But, moreover,it is a vocational course which, for a large number, if not the majority, does not actually lead to a vocation (i.e., no pupillage and no tenancy).

barmaid said...

Not sure that I share your views on ADR purely because it appears that only senior barristers of several years call are eligible to offer ADR services? It would be pointless to cover it during BVC, and to then be unable to use it for many years, by which time procedure and format would certainly have altered/evolved.

As for BVC's reputation in general, I have already stated in my post that (IMO) the most useful module (LR) is to be dropped, which probably shows just how out of touch the powers that be are when it comes to deciding what is and isn't useful to aspirants during BVC.

It seems to me that it is 'trendy' to say that BVC is a load of rubbish, but I can only speak for myself when I say that I'd be amazed if many of the skills aren't of use and in fact I can't really think of any module that should be dispensed with, although there is masses of room for improvement with the oral skills elements.

simply wondered said...

adr is in and negotiation is out next year - or at least it is at bpp. and this year we had a really useful mini-module on adr. only 2 lectures and one class but still a good introduction.

barmaid said...

I wonder if that counts for the part-timers to SW? We were supposed to receive the Negotiation handouts (for next year) during the last study weekend, but were informed that there was a delay.

barmaid said...

Opps - 'to' perhaps even 'too'.

simply wondered said...

i think your second year is unchanged. and of course legal research is out as well.

barboy said...

Does anyone know the reasoning behind dropping LR ? ADR in and negotiation out, I can see makes sense, but I would have thought LR was an essential skill. Or is it a case of not dropping it as such but, like ethics, making it a pervasive subject ? If BPP are changing unilaterally, it would be a shame because LR at BPP seems to be held in high regard by the wider community.

barmaid said...

Seem to think that the dropping of LR from BVC stems from the recommendations set out in the Wood Report.

LegallyGinge said...

I believe the philosopy behind dropping LR is that you have to have adiquate research skills* to turn in competent opinions, options etc, and that the legal research module, upon which most of the mark was based on a route which you would never use in the real world, was in itsself obsolete.

(*such as talking to your friends in the library about the 'right' answer)

barmaid said...

Hi LG, I quite agree with you regarding the examination paper for LR, but I do think that the module should have been modified rather than dropped. Perhaps a series of short exercises would do the trick without the bleedin 40 page research trails that made life mighty miserable last Feb.

Anyways, more importantly, how are you? I trust that you bowled em over at pupillage interviews.

LegallyGinge said...


Only a couple of ints for me (and that included at least 8 non-olpas too) (one still to come) and certainly no bowling over so far!!

I am a cr*p interviewee in the real world, so against 30-80 people, most of who fit a mould which I do not, I have my work cut out I tell you!!

Can't see past Monday at the moment (results day) ARRGGGHHH

How did you go? I still have 4 OLPAS to hear from but of those 4, 2 have deffo interviewed already, which is a pain as you still hope they are doing it in batches or something - when you know they are not :(

KEYWORD : SWINE - (at the risk of sounding like that weirdo Brand)

barmaid said...

Well LG, let's just say that for the moment and with regard to my barristerial talents, Chambers aren't exactly falling over themselves to offer me a pupillage. In fact it's been dire to date, but I shall keep truckin' until some unsuspecting set decides that I fit the bill.

LegallyGinge said...

Yeah you just have to hang in there and not let it get to you. More than 50% of applicants don't even get an interview out of olpas (including me last year). Direct applications are far more geared to mature candidates, just plug away and stay positive, I always like to read pupil bean's story to give myself hope :)

barmaid said...

Yes LG, I think you are right regarding the non-olpas apps., much more flexible with regard to the 'mature' applicant's credentials. I do feel a complete idiot though, as I'm just no good at selling myself on paper, but it's something that I need to overcome.

simply wondered said...

i too thought that way about mature candidates and non-olpas, but it has proved the contrary for me (as you are all bored of hearing me say). maybe i am old rather than mature.

barmaid said...

I'm still undecided as to what I want to do when I grow up:-)

Isn't 'mature student' a pathetic phrase! Why not just have 'old' and be done with it:-)

Bar-barella said...

Hello Barmaid!

I love your blog.
Thanks 4 writing this particular entry. Much needed by the likes of me and very welcome.


barmaid said...

You're welcome Bar-barella, I know how in the dark I felt about BVC and all that.

Will add you to my blog roll:-)

Anonymous said...

The views and experiences expressed on this blog could not be more divergent to my own. My friends and I all have decent law degrees and the BVC IS a joke. We've spent more time in the Cittie of Yorke pub this year than working on the BVC and learnt more of interest there too.

Its a waste of time and a lot of money, definitely just something to be endured.

BVC student said...

I agree with the previous post. The BVC is utterly and irredeemably pitiful. There is no greater impediment to access to the Bar than the extortionate price charged for this pathetic excuse of a course. The providers and tutors often display a woefully inadequate understanding of the law. (For that matter, many students on the course display little better.) Absolute confirmation of the joke status of the BVC is that chambers rarely care how their pupils-to-be fare on the course.

Why could we not include the teaching of procedure (both civil and criminal) as a necessary component of the QLD, and abolish this stage of "training" (and I use the term liberally) altogether?

Anonymous said...

Don't listen to those who say it is daunting and difficult. It isn't. It is, for the most part, like any average academic course: a bit of common sense will see you through the year and having left sufficient time for revision (i.e. reading things for the first time) will see you through the evidence exams. Apart from that it is a lottery - so called soft skill assessments are marked without consistency and bear no relation to anything encountered in practice. Other subjects can be time consuming and require lip service to pedantry but are not difficult It is, however, good fun and necessary. So all of the above is ultimately irrelevant, if it what you want to do.

Nick Towers said...

Dear Barmaid – thank you for being one of the few places on the internet that provide accessible information regarding the BVC! As you can see from my distinctly non-legal blog, I live in Thailand at the moment but will be going back to the UK at the start of September, going through massive culture shock and then starting the BVC two weeks later.

Given that I'm on 56k internet and using the internet is a real chore, finding your blog through a quick Google has been a stroke of luck. I'll keep reading :)

barmaid said...

Hello Nick - lucky you having some time out in Thailand.

I will hopefully do a 'full time submission' once BVC is over and done with. I suppose my best advice regarding BVC is to keep your head down and plough on. BVC's a bit of a lottery and the marking system doesn't always accurately reflect ability, so it's a matter of taking it on the chin and pushing on towards your goal.

Good Luck!

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