Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Ethics How to pass from former BPTC students

Ethics is a feared exam on the BPTC. Being a centrally set assessment, providers cannot anticipate the type of questions to come up. Further, because the exam is in SAQ format, with a fixed marking scheme, the answers given must comply with the marking scheme points.

The former BPTC students, having survived the process were, as ever, ready to share their experience and advice to help you make through this very difficult BPTC assessment. As always, I am unbelievably grateful to my contributors for their insights and willingness to help my current students. The City Law School alumni are awesome people, whose help is very much appreciated by me. Thank you, everyone!

Please make sure you finish reading this blog post right down to the bottom, as my final contribution is a revision plan worth following!

The most common theme is the importance of knowing the core duties, verbatim. This advice came up in several times, with different reasons and techniques being suggested for both remembering them and for exam technique.

Tanzim Ahmed said this: “The 10 core duties are the most important, especially for SAQs. It’s very essential to refer the relevant core duties in every SAQ!”

Eloise Turnnidge echoes that advice, adding some useful revision techniques for students to her helpful advice: “Personally, I wrote out the core duties so many times. If you’re stuck for an answer, you’ll be able to cite at least one (and often two or three) core duties as being applicable. Other than that, the usual revision techniques should stand you in good stead. Flash cards, multiple colours, etc. Writing things out repetitively has always been the best way for me.”

Nicola Augousti made sure she had memory triggers to help her recall, an ingenious tip: “I wrote out all of the duties in 'trigger word' form and memorised them. I summarised the guidance with bullet points. I also studied the answers to mock papers because it helped me to structure my answers.”

Careful focus on the core duties has paid off for former student Brendon La Touche: “My approach was to memorize all the core rules under the major headings and apply a 'machine gun' approach in the exam. i.e. I put down all the answers I deemed applicable to the issue as ethics rules are dynamic and can be transferable to other issues. worked for me. got a VC.”

Deepti Bismohun adds that understanding the prioritisation of the duties is vital: “I think one should absolutely learn to identify the "red flags" i.e. know the fundamental duties that you cannot breach and which ones take precedence over the other in case of conflicting duties. Well, it worked for me!”

Lauren Le Franc advocated making use of "dead time", particularly when travelling, along with use of the full text of the Professional Ethics: “Read the additional guidance. Learn all the core duties and rules and apply to the question. Download the app, this helped me revise on the tube.”

Hesh Kumar (in his first contribution to this post) says: “I don’t know how the new exams work, but I found knowing the core duties inside and out can get you through any ethical situation. The most reassuring thing I found about ethics was, once you know and understand the core duties, your instincts are usually pretty spot on, and it’s just a matter of showing your thinking as you go through.”

Learn your core duties so that you have an idea for the kind of issues you need to have a sensitivity for. Then look carefully at the facts in your scenario, and trust your instincts that the ethical concerns you have are going to be the right ones. The idea of “showing your thinking” is a powerful one, make sure your answers achieve this aim.

Clearly, identifying which part of the factual scenario causes the ethical issues to be engaged is part of the thinking process.

Charlie Merrett puts it like this: “You really do get marks for repeating the relevant facts in the questions. Between identifying the core duties that are engaged and the aforementioned facts, you'll already be scoring a surprising amount of marks.”

Make sure you have shown which facts relate to which factual dilemmas, so the examiner knows you have worked out what is relevant, what is not and how they relate to the principles of ethics.

Kevin Lim brings these ideas together with his advice: “I found format to be very relevant. The style taught at City is simple, but it allows the examiner to see that the student understands what is the issue, which rule is engaged, and what is the appropriate course of action. It must be understood what an answer needs all 3 of these points in order to score the marks.

In order to communicate this to the examiner, students must: firstly, know what the rules are, and to that end memorisation of all the rules is important. I read the textbook front to back 2 times in order the get a firm understanding of the rules (not all at once, of course; over the span of 2-3 weeks), but different people have different opinions on this. Students must also take into account what stage they are at in the question (e.g, is this during trial, before trial, outside of court, etc.) and as such need to have a working understanding of civil and criminal procedure.

Lastly, an issue may have several rules engaged simultaneously (e.g, the common question about a client lying will involve rules regarding honesty, confidentiality, civil procedure, process of stepping down etc.). Repeating relevant facts in answers is completely normal.”

Hesh Kumar reminds students that there is no “quick fix”, spending time on the reading and studying is essential. He says: “There is absolutely no substitute for reading the BSB handbook. The textbooks etc will help, but you MUST go through the relevant parts of the handbook. It would be like doing Civil Litigation without touching the White Book or Criminal litigation without an Archbold or Blackstones! Whether you use the app or a paper based approach is definitely about personal preference. I am a big advocate of paper, something about flicking through it, knowing how many pages between each rule, writing on it, but many, many people tell me they prefer electronically. The important thing is to find what works for you.”

Another theme which featured strongly in my former students’ contributions is the importance of practicing questions, trying to do as many SAQ practice questions as possible and regular self-testing.

Kita L. Deveaux says: “SAQ mocks are essential for getting a good feel of the types of questions. Complete the questions in a group setting mark them and the discuss within the group sometimes talking with your peers will help you look at a question in a way that wouldn't have normally. The mark scheme for pass questions will also show what the examiners look for.”

I would endorse Kita’s advice about working with fellow students. Well disciplined peer learning is always a great way to learn.

Pal Krisnaveni puts it this way: “My advice will be to practise all the SAQs as often as you can and it is essential that you time yourself while you do the SAQs as time will go really quickly in exams and it is helpful to practise the SAQs under time pressure.”

I have always felt that not enough students take the opportunity to practice as much as possible. Students fear ethics and therefore avoid it, which, whilst understandable, is a bad, bad, idea! Confronting and thereby conquering the subject in the way Pal suggests is, to me, the right way of going about it.

Sammy Campbell draws these points together and echoes Hesh’s “no quick fix” approach: “Go through each chapter of the textbook, make detailed notes on the rules and memorize. Super important to do as many SAQ's as possible to get a feel for what the examiners want.”

A very innovative, but extremely astute tip comes from Shajib Mahmood: “Going through the past disciplinary tribunal findings found on BSB web-site really helped me a lot with my understanding of the subject overall.”

Seeing how the BSB actually apply their own rules is going to help you understand the rules and their purpose. It is like reading a leading judge’s judgement – you see the reasoning and application explained for you.

Ferdousi Kabir Helaly took a pragmatic approach: “I believe that learning the whole book from A to Z is not going to help. In an exam situation, to pick and drop in the answer in only 2 hours is going to be extremely difficult for an average student like me. I have only solved a lot of questions and learnt the duties, guidance and outcomes as I went through them. The exam paper was, as I remember, mostly based on practical difficulties and facts rather in a robotic or theoretical manner.”

I personally would say that not studying the Professional Ethics manual and the Code of Conduct carefully is quite a risk. But it is clear Ferdousi learned the guidance through practice questions and self testing. I would not read this advice as a suggestion to forgo the reading and revision required of you.

Ali Khan was philosophical, theorising about why students feel so threatened by the study of legal ethics: “Aside from all the wisdom above I would also say don’t take it personally. It’s a simple process of doing what you can to get confidence in jumping the hoop. Something about ethics makes a surprising number of students feel like it’s examining their own core values.”

As you become a seasoned practitioner, the values of the code become your own professional values, but to begin with it can be difficult. Before one becomes cynical, it is easy to trust the client too much. Experience teaches you the rules are there to protect you.

Shireen Cotto makes this point: “My advice is become more interested in humanity and moral obligations. I found it a breeze and got a VC with very little revision because it's in line with my own morals. I did it the year it became centrally set too.”

Understanding the consequences of your professional actions for the client and others is vital. Hence I agree with Shireen that understanding and appreciating your moral obligations in society as a lawyer is important. What we do has a profound effect, not just on clients, but on how the rest of society view lawyers and the legal profession.

Olivia Cork provides some novel advice: “Learning the core duties by heart is definitely essential and I would do that right now. However, I found it easier to apply the duties to scenarios that came up in other classes (particularly the criminal lit/evidence seminars). You can usually think around any of the questions set for the seminar work and practice identifying which core duties and rules etc they might engage. It helps to think as you go along with ethics because it’s based around practical examples and the answers are so formulaic in that you have to mention particular words.”

This is fascinating and astute advice; students don’t always realise that their other subjects present ethical issues. I find that students tend to think each subject belongs in a little box, all by itself. Trying to draw together the contexts will give you better oversight and make you a better lawyer in real life.

Laura Hollingbery took a highly effective systematic approach: “From the practice questions available, I compiled a list of every ethical scenario imaginable. I then wrote model bullet point answers with all relevant Core Duties, guidance, etc. and more or less memorised each one. I had to resit Ethics, mainly because I ran out of time in the exam. I managed to pass a second time using this technique...and being more familiar with the Core Duties than my own family.”

Daniel Herbert rounds off this post with his excellent comments on his revision techniques and his exam advice:

- Compile ALL of the practice questions together from all of the seminars, lectures, powerpoints etc. Attempt each one of the questions and then mark them. Read through the answers. Repeat process until you get full marks for each questions.

- If you haven't written full detailed notes out, do so. Once you have your set of detailed notes, keep rewriting them until you have a very basic set of notes. I found that writing things down on paper helped me recall the information easier than writing notes on a laptop.

- Use colour coordination in your notes. By using different colours, it was easier for me to recall certain information. For example, on my notes I would use red for core duties (or info you needed to know word for word), blue for information/explaining, green for any cases etc. I replicated this format across all modules so when I looked at my notes, certain parts stuck out. Also, if I wanted to skim read my notes, I could skim read through the red and green. I believe this helped me to recall information better when taking the exams.

- Write up the 10 ethical "commandments" (core duties) on A4 paper, and large enough to see from a distance, and put them up on a wall in your bedroom or a room you spend a lot of time in. Test yourself when you can by trying to recite the core duties in order without looking. Do this until you can recite all of the Core Duties every day for a week without looking at them.

- Write up parts of the syllabus on A4 paper and stick them up around your house. When walking around the house doing day to day things, like cooking, cleaning, having a bath, etc., you can revise without needing to look at a book or a laptop.

- I also distinctly remember going into the ethics exam and the first thing I did when it started was to write down all of the core duties at the back of the booklet. This was just in case I got a memory block during the exam due to the stress and pressure, and could not think of a core duty.

This is a brilliant step by step strategy, which I am very grateful that Daniel was generous enough to share with you all.

Good luck to all of you taking ethics. Thank you so much to all of my wonderful contributors. 

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Nuggets of wisdom for smashing the BPTC - Brian Mondoh guest post

Dear Students,

I am delighted to present to you a guest post from a first time Very Competent BPTC student, Brian Mondoh. Brian was called to the Bar just last month after successfully completing the BPTC. 

Brian wanted to reach out to you to share his tips and tricks for "Smashing the BPTC". His approach is excellent, because it encompasses time management, study skills and active learning. He recognised the need for using more than one technique and approach to covering the material and revising. He used different techniques depending on the subject matter and its inherent complexity or technicality.

What is most interesting is that Brian used self-testing to improve his recall. It is a proven technique, but one students are scared of using. Students often don't want to test themselves, as they are frightened of not knowing all the answers. Brian realised that the act of rehearsing the information frequently, helped it stick.

I will leave you to read his practical, achievable and superb advice. If you follow his advice, I am sure you will make it through. And you will know that you have Brian to thank. If you wish to follow Brian on Twitter, you will find him at @dvjmobi.

I would like to offer my most sincere and deep thanks to Brian for this fantastic guest blog post.

“Nuggets of Wisdom for Smashing your BPTC”

The Bar Professional Training Course (‘BPTC’) is undeniably the most difficult postgraduate course ever designed in England and Wales. It requires sound advocacy skills, memorising copious amounts of information and being expected to know loads of things before your tutors teach you. During interactions with practitioners and tutors, you will come to see that they share your concerns, but it might take several years before a more effective system of Bar assessment is designed. 

BPTC students undoubtedly experience high levels of stress and anxiety, to some extent depression and often feel overwhelmed, sad, lonely and lost. Trust me, no one outside the Bar profession will ever understand this feeling (emphasis). In light of this, at some point in or about November last year, I quit trying to explain my experiences on the BPTC to my friends and relatives because no sort of explanation or illustration would get them to understand my frustrations and so trying to get them to apprehend just got me overly irritated and upset. It is, for these reasons that I am writing this article to share my techniques for ‘smashing the bar’ on a first sitting! Some precautionary comments, my advice focuses on the three Central Exam Board (‘CEB’) papers i.e. Ethics, Civil Litigation and Criminal Litigation. Please do not take my advice word for word as some techniques may vary individually.


At the time of writing, you will be some two or three months away from the Ethics assessment. For a BPTC student, that is frighteningly soon! If you are keen about goings-on on the BPTC, you ought to have conducted your research and established that the Ethics assessment in 2016/17 had serious clerical errors and consequently, it had to be re-checked. Unfortunately, the re-check had little or no effect on the unexpectedly high fail rate across all BPTC providers. The Ethics assessment is the most dynamic paper and needs a proper grasp. It is the easiest to pass if you get to grips with the syllabus but at the same time the easiest to fail if you underestimate it. My approach to the Ethics paper was based more on exam technique than knowledge. Nevertheless, you will need to know the Bar Standards Board (‘BSB’) handbook, the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the Farquharson guidelines backwards. The examiner will challenge your brain with technical points and nuances. To scoop marks you will be required to recite Core Duties (‘CDs’) verbatim, Conduct Rules (‘RCs’), Guidance to core duties (‘GCs’) and Outcomes (‘OCs’) amongst other things all in the space of two hours. In addition, the examiner will be marking you on grammar and legible handwriting, as the new syllabus consists of six Short Answer Questions (SAQs).

One may find it helpful to use multiple memory aids and learning techniques in preparation for the Ethics assessment. For instance, I had the ten CDs set as wallpapers on my phone and iPad. I made it a habit to skim through the CDs whenever I accessed my gadgets and kept reciting them in a bid to commit them to memory. Alongside this, I created storyboards in my head during my commute to and from school. For example, each bus stop on my route had a CD and relevant RCs, GCs and OCs attached to it. As a result, I could picture a bus stop and a floodgate of information would stream out. In the weeks running up to the exam, I drew mind maps and flow charts to illustrate my ‘bus commute’. I also kept discussing the revision material with my mates and as a result we ended up teaching each other. Two weeks before the exam and thanks to making friends from other providers, I was doing past papers and SGS questions from other providers under ‘exam-strict’ timed conditions. Please note principles in the Ethics assessment do not change. The ‘Cab Rank Rule’, for example, will forever be the same, the trick is in the application of your knowledge to various problem questions. In my view, if, Ethics was a three-hour exam, it would possibly be the easiest exam on the BPTC but the examiner knows that. Therefore, strictly time yourself while revising and be flexible in applying the ethical principles. In conclusion, you cannot 'question spot' the Ethics paper. It needs precision and sound judgment to enable you understand the question, weigh out the correct number of CDs, RCs, GCs and OCs etc. to apply to an SAQ without waffling and/or wasting time.


These two assessments can easily be termed as the most dreaded on the BPTC. Firstly, because of the 50 examinable topics on the syllabus split between the two i.e. 22 in Civil litigation and 28 in Criminal litigation. Secondly, the volume of pinpointed reading and long inundating text of the practitioner texts. Thirdly, the nightmare of answering 75 'Single Best Answer' questions in each assessment. For starters, if you have not yet developed a working relationship with the White Book Civil Procedure (‘the Whitebook’) and Blackstones Criminal Procedure (‘Blackstones’), you had better start the relationship sooner than later. As a precaution, past students or those who pass the assessments on first sitting will 'blag' about how they made it without using the practitioner texts. My advice; do not buy into the lies. In my year, the BSB set questions word for word based on White Book and Blackstones commentary. For instance, you will not find Norwich Pharmacal Orders anywhere else other than in the White Book's commentary or thorough case explanation for Criminal legal principles if not in Blackstones. The assessments are designed to test aspiring practitioners and as a result, it is an obvious fact that the syllabus and/or indicative reading will be based on the two. You just have to eat it, live it and love it! Detailed supplements can be Stuart Sime's 'A Practical Approach to Civil Procedure' and City Law School's Criminal Litigation Manual.

I stuck by these books for the majority of the year. However, as a quick and cheeky memory fix, I used some reputable revision books to commit the voluminous information to memory. To reduce last minute drag and excessive anxiety, try to have your notes well ready before the Christmas break. Spend quality time revising the syllabuses and creating memory aids before the exam window. For Civil and Criminal litigation, I studied in different rooms everyday, I color coded my notes and recorded voice notes. I also made flow charts and discussed with my tutors and law students outside of the BPTC. I was fuelled by fear!!! Simply put, do whatever that works for you! Unlike on the LLB or GDL, you cannot cover the Bar syllabus two weeks prior to exams! Please note; Civil Procedure Rules (‘CPR’) tie in with your Opinion Writing (‘OPW’), Drafting, Resolution of Disputes Out of Court (‘RDOC’) and Civil Advocacy. Maximise your class prep and do your own work!!! Criminal Procedure Rules (‘CrimPR’) especially on dreaded topics like 'Bad Character evidence and Hearsay evidence' tie in with your Conference and Criminal Advocacy. Do your level best to get the fuller picture of procedure earlier on in the course. Similar to Ethics, do as many past papers and SGS questions as you can. Do not ‘question spot’ as all topics are interlinked. In conclusion, be on the lookout for BPTC syllabus updates. In my year, we had a December 2016 and February 2017 update and the Civil Appeal's regime was also updated in or about October 2016.


Few BPTC students will need this reminder. The BPTC is pressure filled and one lazy day is likely to spill over and affect at least two weeks of your workload. As an aspiring Barrister, you have to keep your eye on the ball and work far into the night to get the job done. I would say to every BPTC student, get the ‘Pomodoro/Apple timer’. It literally changed my life!!! I got this advice from a Barrister and law tutor that I follow on twitter and it was the best gift ever. The Pomodoro timer keeps you focused by completely shutting out distractions and breaking study time into short and productive intervals of 25 minutes with five minute breaks and a long 25 minute break after one hour of study. It enables you to do more and maximize on dead time and/or constrained time frames. I started off in February 2017 at 16 Pomodoro's a day, that's an equivalent of eight study hours a day. When starting off it’s a bit of a strain but you quickly get the hang of it. Come March 2017, I was doing 20 Pomodoro's a day i.e.10 study hours a day, seven days a week!!! I cannot fully express the benefits of the Pomodoro as I am still using it in my post BPTC work.


It is hardly necessary to emphasise the importance of teamwork and camaraderie on the BPTC. Your previous qualification, be it LLM, LLB or GDL and your previous university has little or no bearing on your BPTC performance. It takes nothing away from you to have humility and to be nice to others in your cohort. Also, it may be easier said than done, always be positive, look after your health and avoid burn out!!! Finally, the BPTC is not all gloom and doom. Not only will you gain an invaluable set of skills, you will become an individual with a switched on mindset and exceptional professional conduct.

Brian Sanya Mondoh
Grade: Very Competent
Called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, 2017

Friday, 8 December 2017

Resits - your step by step plan to pass

Getting the news that you have not passed a course and face the prospect of a re-sit can be a terrible shock. Your hopes and dreams feel more distant, perhaps out of reach. Your planned career trajectory seems off course. But to linger on these thoughts and feelings would be a mistake. What you need to do is re-group, review, and get ready to make a plan for making it next time. 

You will have had a few weeks to get over the shock of getting disappointing results, so now is a good time to begin the planning for your next sitting. 

1. Don't feel ashamed or angry with yourself. Forgive yourself. Not passing an assessment doesn't make you a failure. It just means you didn't get there this time. You can and will make it through next round if you are prepared to put these results behind you and take active steps to pass next time. 

2. If you missed out by a narrow margin, don't beat yourself up about the "missed marks". You can choose to feel bad about missing out, which will achieve nothing (nobody can add the marks to your score, so this is nothing but wasted mental energy). The other choice is to see the positive side of the situation. You have very little ground to make up next time; it shows you how possible your future success is!

3. If you need help and support, ask for it. Whether that means advice from either a tutor or a fellow student, ask away. The BPTC is tough and many students don't pass first time. There is no shame in not making it through. If you need a friendly ear, lean on your friends and family, as you may need help to deal with the emotional impact of disappointing results. If you think you need tutoring or to start working with other people in the same situation as you, don't be shy. Don't leave it late to seek support or assistance; you diminish your chances. Work out when your next attempts are and start now. 

4. If you failed a skill, think about what feedback you have been given both on the assessment in question and on the course. Do the same things come up from time to time? How can you address these persistent issues? Work on understanding what you need to put right next time. If you need to go back to the manuals, do that straight away. There's no harm in re-acquainting yourself. You may also find that your experience gives you a fresh perspective to your re-reading.

5. Be honest about the level of preparation you put into the assessment you failed. Was your revision too shallow? Too rushed? Limited to reading and re-reading? Did you leave yourself enough time? Was your time management a problem? Please note - I am not asking you to be hard on yourself or to find reasons to be angry with yourself. I am asking that you carry out genuine reflection of your preparation and revision - the time spent, the effectiveness, the level of knowledge and understanding you attained. Self-knowledge and self-assessment is going to be extremely valuable in helping you identify what needs to change for the next attempt.

6. Be honest about the effectiveness of your revision methods. I have written a lot about different revision and note taking techniques on my blog, but here is the post which discusses revision skills in the greatest detail:
7. Get the up to date syllabus for any knowledge subject you have to re-sit. Make sure you know what is expected, and begin the process of checking you have notes on everything. Do not rely on the textbook or lecture notes alone; always be guided by the syllabus document. Begin by ensuring you understand a topic before beginning the task of trying to remember. 
8. Remember that resits should not be a repeat of what has been. As a result of the self reflection I recommend above you should know what your new priorities need to be. Do not fall back into your old habits if you know they have let you down. Be brave enough to try new methods and form new habits. Revision and frequent self testing during the revision period (not just at the end) is proven to be more effective.
9. Remember that you are not your results. You are much more than a "grade". You are a whole person, with so many other skills and attributes. You are valued and valuable, by your friends, family, fellow students and tutors.

If I can share a old picture from my instagram feed, failing an exam is like a bad hair day; you can do much better tomorrow

Good luck with your resit preparations!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Cross examination - a guest post by Dan Hoadley

I am thrilled to host this guest post from Barrister and law reporter Dan Hoadley. Dan works for the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR) on Chancery Lane. The ICLR are responsible for the official and authoritative law reports used by students, academics and all of the nation's solicitors and barristers every day.

Dan lists his interests as Legal technology, open law and data science. Dan used to write a law blog, alongside his legal writing, but has interests in product development, software design, architecture, music and politics. As he so rightly says "It's good to be interested in lots of different things!" If you want to follow Dan on Twitter, you will find him at:

Dan was a former City Law School student whose advocacy tutor tells me "he was the most natural advocate I've ever taught" and "his cross examination was the best I've ever seen; he just got it, from the beginning".  Dan is a legal magician, and it is a pleasure to host his practical, perceptive and astute tips on effective cross examination. 

Dan's tips differ from those you find in the typical texts on advocacy, because he gets under the skin of courtroom tactics. Also, he advocates consciously altering your style to avoid predictability. He recognises that the advocate must not only take, but crucially, keep the lead.

Over to you, Dan!

My number one tip for an effective cross-examination is to take your time and resist the urge to rush through it. Taking your time opens up a world of possibilities that you will be deprived of if you rush.

At a basic level, slowing things down gives you more time to listen to the witness and observe their demeanour. You'll have more time to construct your next question and plan your line of questioning in response to what you're hearing and seeing. You'll have more time to check your note and the witness statement.

But at a more advanced level, taking your time gives you the scope to really explore and test the evidence. Cross-examination shouldn't always be a mechanical exchange (although, sometimes tactically it may need to be). You'll know, from thorough preparation, what you expect to achieve with any given witness. But, you can never really know exactly how things are going to pan out in advance.

The devil is in the detail. Give yourself time to deal with it.

A second tip, which worked for me, is to continually monitor and control the rhythm of the exchange with the witness. Break long exchanges of leading closed questions with non-leading questions where it is safe to do so. Changes in rhythm of your questioning can really help maintain your control over the witness and, if necessary, unbalance them if they're sticking in and acclimatising to your style of questioning.

My thanks to Dan for these tips which are the techniques used by high level advocates. He has not covered basics of preparation and questioning here, which would be the bedrock to be built upon before trying these advanced methods. Don't forget that case theory, case analysis and detailed planning of cross examination (including a calculated plan of the risks inherent in your cross examination) must form the basis of your preparation.