Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Coming to do the BPTC? Get ready!

**Updated 20 July 2017**

I occasionally get asked by law graduates and PG diploma holders about what they should do to get ready for the BPTC. I hope I can help with this blog post. 

So here goes - this is my advice to students seeking to do the BPTC!

1. Get some rest

Study can be exhausting. It can be truly stressful. So if your degree or diploma studies have left you feeling a little burnt out, then take some rest. 

When the BPTC starts, it will be full on. It will start from day one. Any cosy notion that "induction week" will be easy and simple is sadly, misplaced. We will hit the ground running!

So get some Rest and Relaxation. If you've got yourself through your degree or diploma, you probably have earned it. Take it, enjoy it. Come back in September energised. 

Get ready for full on, full time, intensive study from when you register. Dudes and dudettes, I am NOT kidding. 

2. Revise the core areas of the LLB / GDL (core areas of law)

The BPTC is not about teaching you the law. We will assume you know it already as a result of either your degree or post graduate studies in law. Time will not be spent on refreshing your legal knowledge.

The BPTC is about teaching you how to USE the law as a means to an end, a "problem solving" approach. The law will be applied, to try to help the client, in a tactical and practical way.

I therefore recommend that you go back to your notes or your textbooks... or dare I say it... your "Nutshells" in:
- The Law of Contract
- Tort law
- Criminal law

You will need to know this law in order to cope with the skills and knowledge subjects coming up on the BPTC.

3. Try to get ahead if you can

It is no secret that on the BPTC, the knowledge subjects are the greatest challenge to students.

The knowledge subjects are:
- Professional ethics
- Criminal litigation
- Civil litigation 
- Alternative dispute resolution (resolution of disputes out of court)
The first three are centrally assessed by the Central Assessment Board and are the most stringent elements of the BPTC.

It must therefore be no surprise that "getting ahead" or "getting a head start" might be a good idea. 

The BSB handbook on ethics will be given to you in hard copy, or in the form of the City Law School BPTC Manual on Professional Ethics. In the meantime, you might want to read online the current code of conduct, which can be found here:
Mobile friendly version: http://handbook.barstandardsboard.org.uk/handbook/
Downloadable PDF:  https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media/1826458/bsb_handbook_31_march_2017.pdf
(Updated links)

If you have studied the law of evidence in the past, please do revise your knowledge. This will make a key part of your study easier. Go back over your notes and textbooks.

If you have not, you might wish to look at one of the titles I identify for either criminal or civil litigation below (which cover elements of civil and criminal evidence). There will be some coverage of some of the topics. It might not be worth embarking on wholly independent study of this daunting subject. Wait for the course to begin, and familiarise yourself with the other material mentioned in this post. Don't stress if you have not studied evidence before, I am not trying to put you off. I just do not personally advise self study for evidence as I found the subject difficult to study without guidance. There is much other ground you can make up based on the advise in this post!

I would advise that you read up on your criminal litigation. I suggest that it might be worthwhile to read the Criminal Procedure Rules. Please DO NOT expect to read, understand and remember these rules. Get used to the general concepts and ideas. Look up words which are technical and difficult. Work out the basic stages, terminology, definitions and elements, so these feel familiar and friendly on the course. 

You may want to get some help using Virginia Dunn's very helpful book "It's Criminal". It's designed as an initial overview, written in a friendly and accessible style.
(Update - the 2nd edition has just come out. Do not use the original edition as it will be out of date!)

You can find it here: 

The BPTC is not just criminal in emphasis, there is also the civil half of the content. Civil procedure is logical, methodical but a little technical. It can be learnt, but needs understanding and then needs detailed study. Getting a "head start" will pay dividends. 

The Civil Procedure Rules is the best starting point. You will find them here: https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil

You will be given the "White Book" (AKA Civil Procedure 2017) when you enrol. So do not print the rules out out. But you may want to skim read the rules. Again, as with Criminal litigation, try to find your way around the concepts, terminology and ideas. Any technical and/or difficult words should be looked up in a legal dictionary. In the civil litigation process, you should identify the basic stages, terminology, definitions and elements.

My former colleague Virginia Dunn has also written a very easy to read and fun guide to civil procedure: 
(Update - now in its 3rd edition. Please do not use an old edition, or you will have out of date knowledge.)

Alternative Dispute Resolution will be taught on the course and many of the institutions will provide the textbook by Sime/Browne/Blake.
(Update - now in its 4th edition): https://global.oup.com/academic/product/a-practical-approach-to-alternative-dispute-resolution-9780198747666?lang=3n&cc=gb

You may want to do your own independent research on the following:
- Mediation
- Negotiation
This knowledge will stand you in good stead for the BPTC

My final book recommendation will help you with understanding the skill of opinion writing, written by former BPTC lecturer and study skills tutor/coach Suzanne Reece:

4. Get some advocacy experience

You will be expected to start on advocacy from almost day one on the BPTC. As a result, you might not want your first experience of public speaking to be on the BPTC.

There are lots of ways in which you can get some advocacy experience:

- Mooting
- Debating
- Teaching
- Preaching
- Volunteering for a legal representation charity
- Free Representation Unit
- Duty Solicitor Schemes
- CAB / Debt advice
- Speaking at a public function

5. Get relevant experience

If it is still possible, I would advise that you bolster the strength of your future Pupillage applications by doing the following:

- Mooting
- Debating
- Mini-Pupillages
- Other public speaking
- Legal volunteering

It will be difficult during the intensive study of the BPTC to commit to work experience. If you can get your experience for the purposes of CV or applications over the Summer, that is a drain on your available study time you do not need to worry about. 

6. Know the path ahead

I am continually amazed by how many students have not sufficiently researched the road ahead of them to work out what is required. I have honestly taught BPTC students who have not even done a single mini-pupillage before starting the course (which puts unnecessary pressure on the student to achieve that experience on the already busy BPTC year). 

Know what you need to do and when by reading "The Path To Pupillage", a thoroughly useful book by Georgina Wolfe and Alexander Robson (3rd edition): 

7. Be completely comfortable with speaking and writing in English, with rapidity and efficiency

Here's where I am a complete and utter hypocrite. I am going to confess, I only know one language; English. And some would say my grasp on that language is poor at best! 

What I am trying to say is this - if English is your second language, you need to ensure you are confident in speaking in English in class fluently and frequently. You will be required to present advocacy in every single advocacy class, no excuses. You will be asked questions in knowledge classes and be expected to answer. Socratic learning - where students answer tutor questions to demonstrate their understanding of the reading required - will be used from the first day onwards. 

Yes, I could not manage a class in any other language except for English anywhere in the world. But equally, I am not expecting to enter the greatest profession in the world. So whilst my expectations seem high, you can understand why they exist. 

End note:

Please note, my dear prospective students, that I am not at all suggesting that you do all seven of the items on this list. They are just suggestions that I propose you try to do what you can in relation to - read what you can, understand what you are able. We will teach you over the course of the BPTC what you do need to know. I just suggest that where it is possible to use free time to get ahead, that it is a good idea.

Good luck, and I look forward to meeting many of you in September for the commencement of the BPTC!

Snigdha has recommended books by Virginia Dunn, Stuart Sime, Julie Browne, Susan Blake, Suzanne Reece, Georgina Wolfe and Alexander Robson. She has not received any form of financial or other incentive for doing so. The recommendation is based on their direct suitability to the BPTC based on 15 years of teaching experience. 
Update: I now have nearly 17 years of experience!