Monday, 25 August 2008

Thoughts on a shorter BVC

I'm trying to get a feel for how the BVC will be, through Facebook groups, other blogs and the Provider's website. One of the discussions I came across concerned the length of the course itself.

It had been suggested that the course ought to be made shorter, so as to reduce costs and...well I'm not quite sure why else. Perhaps so that hopeless candidates waste less of their time, and people can see earlier one whether they will obtain pupillage etc. I understand that this has been periodically considered by the Bar Council as well, alongside other proposed BVC reforms.

I'm not sure what my position on this is. Indeed, in the States the Bar Exam is a 2 day exam and prep classes offered only run for 2-3 months before the exam itself. This is all conducted immediately after completion of final years exams, and so by August a student will have graduated from Law School and hopefully passed the Bar.

But the Bar exam is fundamentally different there. No advocacy, research or drafting skills are taught - the whole endeavour is an exercise in memory and exam skills. There are no opportunities to moot or do pro bono work, which may be of more relevance to non-law graduates who have not had an opportunity to moot before. The Bar Exam is the bare-bones of basic legal knowledge; a basic test of competence in that if you can't even get the hang of memorising a few Civ Pro rules you probably shouldn't be allowed to practice. I don't think that the US Bar has the same aims as the BVC.

I get the impression that the BVC has broader aims - to prepare a student for the Bar, develop various skills (as mentioned above, negotiation, drafting, research). Perhaps the longer timescale is needed therefore. The US Bar does not cover these skills and the approach is that new practitioners will learn these skills on the job.

I am told by many graduates of the BVC that there is little point in learning these things on the BVC, because you un-learn or re-learn them in pupillage and thus they support a shorter, pared down BVC. However, I see two problems with this approach:

1- With hindsight, it is easy to play down what you have learned and forgot that the process of learning is as important, at least, as the knowledge and skills you have gained. Even if you do learn to do things in a different way as a pupil, I think intuitively that the BVC must have provided the necessary foundation for this. An analogy for this would be learning Spanish when you have already learned French to a high level; it is much easier than just starting from scratch with Spanish or Italian because you will recognise a lot of the vocabulary and understand how the rules of grammar function, even if they are different rules.

2 - If more of the training is left to Chambers in pupillage, surely this will make this even harder to attain pupillage? I imagine this to be so based on the fact that available pupillages dropped once minimum funding was introduced and so it became costlier to provide pupillages. The costlier it is, the lower the number of pupillages available it seems. In the US, if no-one will hire you it is relatively easy to set up shop on your own. This is not the case here.

These are just some thoughts, I otherwise find the idea of a shorter BVC attractive - the costs of self-funding are lower for a 3-6 month period than for the academic year, and I could do other things in the rest of the year- work, travel, internships etc. I might have already done the BVC by now if it was a short course.

Finally however, depending on the make-up of a shorter course timing would have to be considered. Following a tough third year immediately with a Bar course that requires anything like real brain work would be very tough physically and emotionally. I could see the fatigue in the eyes of my colleagues on the New York Bar exam. I imagine people would adjust to this, they always do, but it is definitely something to consider.


Bar Boy said...

Are you sure you are comparing like and like when you say about the USA students doing the NY Bar Exam. In the USA, is it not a case of the typical student doing 4 years undergrad, then two years of law school and then the final 3 months of Bar exams. If this is correct, it makes it a very different proposition to the UK version.

In the UK, it would equate, in time terms, to doing an LLB, two masters, and the BVC.

Mel said...

In the USA they actually do a 4 year undergrad, followed by a 3 year JD programme - so 7 years in total. The 3 year JD programme is very much like an LLB programme (for various reasons, political and otherwise it is called a JD). I would say it is more like having 2 undergraduate degrees - one of which is in law. The time spent studying doesn't necessarily correlate to increasing difficulty. For example, I don't think undergraduate degrees are as rigourous as undergraduate degrees here- certainly the level of specialisation doesn't match. Just anecdotally, friends who have studied in both countries have found they have learned more in the UK and been tested more rigorously. So when it comes to the point of taking the BVC or the Bar exam I think US and UK students are at the same academic stage.

I'm definitely not comparing like for like when it comes to the BVC and the Bar exam however; they both have different aims and practice after that point is very different. UK students need to go on to further training (on the job in a training contract or pupillage) whereas US students are able to start practising on successful completion of the Bar Exam.

I think that is what makes it a different proposition to the 'UK version' - not what has come before it as you have suggested, but what comes after it.

Bar Boy said...

In comparing the two, which may be fruitless, might it be that the US JD/LLB is, perhaps, more rigorous than the UK equivalent ? And that explains why US lawyers are let loose after only 3 months study for their Bar exam.

It is difficult to form an opinion (being of advanced years and remembering when academic study was - cough- a tad more exacting than it is today) but I am not all unconvinced that many of the ills complained of by students could not be solved by excising some of the low grade junk from the LLB and replacing it with elements of the current BVC (or LPC).

The LLB would be more difficult, but still at 3 years. A shortened BVC/LPC could then be taken after graduation. This might not only weed out those who are not best suited to working in the law but would also save on a year's worth of living costs etc., for the student, thereby making the process more accessible to those with lesser means.

Mel said...

That would hardly be fair for those who study Law as an academic discipline and not as a preparation for a career in Law.

A degree in law isn't necessarily vocational, and I don't think it should be taught as such.

There are several joint LLB/JD programmes - after 4 years study you get the LLB and JD which suggests they are of a similar level academically.

I'm not sure what the 'low grade junk' is that you refer to. I don't recall any on my LLb syllabus, I found the course thought-provoking, informative, and indeed exacting.

Bar Boy said...

But does not a "qualifying" UK LLB tend towards being a vocational degree anyway, in the same way as nursing, medical and other degrees, where the professional bodies dictate the syllabus.

Having recently re-read my degree notes, I do not think it would be hard to get rid of 6 months worth of the current study (especially at year one level, which I felt was a total waste of effort) and replace it with 6 months worth of content from the BVC/LPC vocational courses.

Mel said...

The Law Society and Bar Council dictate a minimum content for law degrees, which much be completed for the law degree to be qualifying - but this is usually at the discretion of the student. I know many people who had no interest in practising law and so did not take all the core subjects; they walked away with a good law degree.

I think Law is probably in the middle ground between Medicine, Nursing and something like History. Yes, it has vocational elements, but it remains an academic discipline. We were never treated as 'future lawyers', we were treated as students, academics. I don't think anything else would have been appropriate.

I think writing academically and writing in the BVC are very different, and they couldn't really be mixed up- especially not as early as the first year. It would be like a 3 year long BVC!

Bar Boy said...

I am not looking to argue. It was more really a case of looking at how the BVC might be shortened. I am not sure there is any need to mix up the academic law and the vocational law. Wouldn't it be possible to treat the latter as electives in the same way as electives are offered in other non foundation subjects ? So, rather than say take an elective on something such as employment law, the student could opt for an elective on research or drafting instead. They could then be exempted from doing the same on the vocational course. I think, here, much of my approach is driven by the way in which the process acts against those of limited financial means. I am not at all unconvinced that the brighter students (being those that stand a realistic chance of progressing to practice) couldn't do the academic & vocational stage in 3 years with a bit of rejigging, and some extra summer school type classes etc.

Mel said...

No arguments here! :)
I'm just considering how the universities would respond - particularly the more traditional ones. They strike me as always being late to come to the table with practical solutions.

Law Minx said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Law Minx said...

I am of the opinion that the BVC is an unfortunate, but necessary Evil, if for no other good reason than it provides a step up to the world of work after the compartive luxury/grind ( depending on your route to this point) of a degree/GDL. I found it a rather odd mix of taught skill in combination with a personal need to re-develop a world of work ethic, which I'd lacked for at least the final year of my law degree.
I think its a bit like the written part of a driving test - something you must have before you go on to the practical excersise of pupillage.
There have been many arguments for a shortened BVC - I believe the Bar Council is considering dropping elements such as Negotiation from the course, though whether this happens remains to be seen- as there have been for the worth of the BVC as a qualification in general. In this respect, Simon Myerson's blog has a useful post on the matter which is well worth reading.

Law Minx said...

oops! (*blush) I just repeated meself! Wheres the scissors??!

Mel said...

Just deleted the first one, that ok for you, Minx?

Indeed, as in so many matters Mr Myerson's post is very good and thought-provoking. If anything this was my thinking in response to that post and the comments there.