For those who are looking towards studying the Bar Professional Training Course there’s one massive hurdle and, in this author’s opinion, it’s not getting a position based on academic merit. Rather it’s being in a financial position that is capable of withstanding the prodigious fees that the course demands. There are two main options available to those looking to fund the Bar training: (1) take out a career development loan and (2) attain a scholarship to cover the lion’s share of the fees (there is of course the lesser known third option of being financially able to meet the fees without any outside contributions. If you are someone who’s able to fork over £18,000 without fear, then you are more than welcome to track this author down and become his life-long friend).
Unquestionably, taking out a loan is the least attractive option there. The Co-op’s Professional and Career Development Loan allows you to borrow a max of £10,000, levies 9.58% interest once you’ve finished the course and requires you to start making payments as soon as the course is finished. Future Finance allows you to borrow a max of £40,000 but their interest (which ranges from 8-11%) is applied during the course and you have to meet minimum monthly repayments of £75 during the course. Looking at those facts and figures, you will agree that it would be much nicer if some charitable soul would give you some assistance without expecting any significant recompense in return.
That is where scholarships step in. The main ones you should be focusing your time, energy and attention towards are those that are offered by your Inns of Court. Individual providers do, of course, provide much smaller awards but they are unlikely to have the financial impact that Inns of Court scholarships do.
The following article will assume that you’re past the paper stage of your application for one of these coveted awards and will explain what steps you need to take to have a chance of walking away from your interview with a large wad of cash to put towards the BPTC.
Do a Mock Interview
It’s clichéd but practice does make perfect. If you can arrange a mock interview at your University then that is great. Ideally though your prospective BPTC provider should be your mock panel of choice. BPP are certainly renowned for providing mock interviews to those who they have provisionally offered a place to on the course. If you are going elsewhere then send an email off to the program director to see if this is an experience that they offer. If they do, it is incredibly beneficial. The advantage is that the course providers will typically liaise with students who had interviews the year before and will therefore be aware of what kinds of questions the panels are likely to ask so they can put you through your paces in an accurate way. Also everyone teaching on the course will be a practitioner and that’s exactly what your panel will consist of for the real thing.
Understand your financial situation
The degree to which you may be grilled about this aspect of your application will depend on the Inn you are applying to. It is no great secret that certain Inns’ awards pay closer attention to means than others. In any event though, you need to think about this practically. During your interview you walk into a room and ask a group of intelligent practitioners to give you a hefty sum of money so you can undertake your Bar training, whilst at the same time, essentially inadvertently asking them to not give that money to other prospective candidates. After all, there’s not enough money for everyone. So, in those circumstances, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to think that they might ask you why you actually need that large wad of cash you’re after. Therefore, you need to be very clear about what your financial situation is and have a solid grip on your monthly outgoings and any incomings.
Furthermore (and this again depends heavily on your Inn), be aware that your financial situation should be realistic. If you are trying to persuade a panel to give you £10,000 but you are going to be spending £1,500 per month on accommodation just for yourself then you can appreciate why they might subject that to some scrutiny.
Brush up on your ethics
The phrase “brush up” might be somewhat unfair as it is unlikely you will have really covered ethics in any great depth by this point, especially if you are just planning on going straight from Law School to Bar School. However, you do need to have a basic grasp of professional ethics i.e. understanding what your Core Duties as a barrister are. Ethical dilemmas are a favourite problem question area for scholarship questions and there’s nothing worse than reading the question “what ethical issues arise?” whilst not having a clue what the answer might be.
Be aware of the time
Considering that there are typically a lot of candidates being heard across a very short space of time the interviews tend to be very compact in terms of their timing (and from this author’s experience they will stop you the moment you have had your allotted time). As such, you really need to try and make the most of the time that you have got. That means giving a proportionately short response to any innocuous questions, whilst reserving more time for the questions that allow you to flourish and persuade them to release the funds you’re after.
If you know somebody who has interviewed for your Inn, or any Inn, in the last few years then ask them what happened. Ask them what questions they were asked. Ask them what the experience was like. Ask them who interviewed them. Ask them how they felt. Ask them what they said. Ask them what they would do differently. And, most importantly, ask them whether they were successful so you can put utility of their answers into context.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
I feel that this last part probably goes without saying. As is the case with every interview, you will not be able to anticipate every question that you are going to be asked. However, there are a series of questions that you would expect to be asked in an interview of this kind and you’d be doing yourself a terrible disservice if you did not have an answer tentatively prepared for it. For instance, if you find yourself staring at your feet and saying “erm” when you’re asked “Why do you want to be a barrister?” or “Why do you deserve a scholarship?” then that is a sure-fire way of indicating that you have simply not done enough preparation for this interview. As is stated above, you cannot anticipate every question you are asked but there are certain questions you simply must know the answer to. It’s a good bet to make sure, as a minimum, you can answer questions about:
- Your motivations;
- Your academics;
- Your extra-curricular activities;
- Anything else in your application form;
- Your preferred field of practice;
- Significant current affairs;
- Your financial position.
Not every answer should be a perfect soliloquy leaving the interviewers lost for words, but it’s important that you can at least provide some kind of answer around those areas so the interviewers can see that you have given them genuine thought and consideration.