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The future of the Bar: An interview with Joe O’Leary

Recently we caught up with aspiring barrister and Future Pupil Programme Coordinator, Joe O’Leary who completed the BPTC at our Bloomsbury Campus in 2018. We got the lowdown on how he found the course as well as getting his advice for prospective students.

I chose to study at ULaw because of its high pupillage rate. As I was doing the course with the sole intention of getting pupillage this seemed like the only stat worth considering.

My tutors were all fantastic. They were able to convey complex pieces of information easily, but because of their very recent practices (some of them still sitting as judges) they could provide real insight into how to behave in court and how all the rules and procedures work in reality.

The careers service at ULaw is phenomenal. The time they take to help you is staggering and they provide a huge amount of resources in print and online. Their best service by far is the face-to-face appointments and workshops. Anna Williams, the Bar Careers Consultant, helped me pick which chambers were right for me and helped me with the drafting of the application forms. But, most usefully, the service also laid on group and individual mock interviews in conjunction with the tutors. The Employability Service was by far one of the most instrumental parts of the University that helped me get pupillage. In no small part thanks to their help, I got pupillage whilst on the course at 5 St. Andrew’s Hill, which I’ll be starting in October 2019.

A highlight for me was certainly the Mock Trials that we held at Blackfriars Crown Court. It was our chance to be in a real courtroom and practising our advocacy in front of practitioners. It was particularly useful to do it alongside the cadets from Hendon Police College, so we could both practise our ‘courtroom skills’ together (they were acting as witnesses). More fun though were the people I was in court with on the day. Because the course is pretty intense you make good friends quickly, so when there was a bit of down time between trials on that day there was a great sense of camaraderie, which I’m hoping is indicative of what life at the Bar will be like.

My ambitions have definitely changed since I started my LLB. Chancery and property law were strengths of mine whilst studying for my degree, but since joining ULaw and gaining more legal experience I found I prefer the crime and family side to the Bar. It is an area of law that will never sit still and will perpetually provide a dynamic place to work, which pits academic knowledge against a need for good interpersonal skills. I had the chance to develop this side of my career whilst at ULaw by chairing the panel ‘Privacy and Protest in a Surveillance State’ at the RebLaw Conference 2017.

Selection is a fundamental part of our BPTC entry requirements. Every student comes in to be interviewed and complete a short bit of advocacy. This is so that we can have small groups of the best students we can find, meaning everyone can accelerate much quicker. It sounds stressful but we don’t expect anyone to have done any preparation, and it usually turns out to be quite a fun day. When the interviews are over people can grab a coffee with us (and a biscuit or 5) and ask us questions or have a chat.

Whilst on the BPTC I stood on behalf of a child who had been excluded from school. I found out shortly before that the school had instructed a rather experienced barrister from a very good chambers. It was definitely a scary moment, but relying on the skills ULaw had taught me we managed to win. For me, the bigger highlight was definitely the conversations with his parents after we found out the result.

My top piece of advice for BPTC students is to engage with the Employability Service. You can do this even before you start the course; as soon as you accept your place, in fact. And let them give you a shopping list of all the things you need to do to strengthen your CV. Also, keep up with the reading and throw yourself into everything: All the mock trials, the networking events – everything. Yes, they’re incredibly useful to help you on the course, but also because they’re a great chance to hang out with the people on your course and create friendships that will hopefully last into practice.

To find out more about studying our BPTC, check out our website.