Five tips for prospective BPTC students

At some point during the final year of your LLB or during the GDL, your mind will turn to starting the BPTC and what you ought to do in order to best prepare yourself for it. Some will start to wonder months in advance, others not until a few weeks before the course starts. Here are my top tips for prospective students. The extent to which you can use them really does depend on how much time you have before the course starts.

1. Go to court

I really can’t stress this enough. Far too many students start the course without a strong grip of the litigation process. “But I don’t intend to go into an area that involves much advocacy,” you may say. That really doesn’t matter. If you’re going to advise future clients how to avoid their case getting to court, you really ought to know what you are advising them against!

During the BPTC you will have to deliver a piece of oral advocacy almost every week.  In addition, you will have civil and criminal litigation classes. You will be provided with material to read, perhaps videos to watch (at BPP we use both including a Crown Court trial condensed into 45 minutes) but often it won’t click until and unless you watch it in court.

Indulge me for a moment. Virtually everyone has at some point in their life watched an episode of the X-Factor or Pop Idol. You will at some stage have listened to someone sing a song and thought to yourself, “I am reasonably sure this person has never heard the original version of that song”.

I’ve taught advocacy classes where I’ve thought much the same. Has this person ever watched a bail application?  Have they spent the time watching an application for an extension of time before a Master?  If so, they would realise what this could and should sound like.

Here’s a list of things to go and watch to get you started:

  1. Magistrates Court: A ‘list’. Find out which court is dealing with a list of first appearances. Watch the pace of the advocacy and decision making by the District Judge or lay magistrates.
  2. Crown Court: Watch a trial. You probably won’t have time to watch an entire trial so ensure that you see witnesses giving evidence and some submissions in the absence of the jury.
  3. County Court / High Court Master: Watch a series of short civil applications, again to see the speed at which they are conducted and the (hopefully) short, pithy applications made to the tribunal.
  4. The High Court: Watch submissions to a High Court Judge. Very different to anything else you will see.
  5. The Court of Appeal: Go and watch experienced Counsel make applications on real issues of importance.

2. Begin to understand how Civil and Criminal litigation works

The Rules

There are Civil Procedure Rules and Criminal Procedure Rules. The former have been around for some time and have matured over the years. The latter are newer and have begun to find their feet. Have a look at the rules online and see what they deal with and they way in which they are laid out. Some might not quite make sense yet but they will in time. Read the overriding objective for each to understand their rationale.

One step further

If you really want to get ahead with your reading for the BPTC, you can find the current curriculum (reading list) and syllabus on the Bar Standards Board website. For civil, you will need access to the White Book and for crime, Blackstone’s Criminal Practice. Make sure you use the correct edition and remember, the curriculum and syllabus may change before you start the course so perhaps limit yourself to reading introductory matters.

3. Brush up on basic contract and tort

Both your advocacy and written skills classes (opinion writing and drafting) will teach you a new skill but require old knowledge from your LLB/GDL. If you can’t recite the basic principles of the tort of negligence off the top of your head, create a checklist or a one page summary to assist you. It will save you time when you have to write your first opinion.

4. Film yourself speaking out loud to a small audience

Debating, public speaking and advocacy share a common root but are three different disciplines.  If you have some experience of any or all of them then the start of the advocacy module may seem a little less daunting, albeit that you’ll probably have to fight the urge to sound like Perry Mason/Rumpole/Kavanagh QC/someone from Silk (delete as applicable) instead of just sounding like yourself. Fight the urge. Find your courtroom voice. Film yourself, ideally in front of an audience of 3-4 people. Watch it back alone or if you are really brave, with the audience.

  1. Do you stand still or wander about?
  2. Do you speak fluently or is your speech punctuated with fillers (“Um”, “Er”), and/or unnecessary words (“Basically”, “Actually”, “Like”)?
  3. Can you be heard with ease or are you speaking too quietly?
  4. Can the audience take a brief note of what you are saying or are you speaking so fast that they wonder if you have a train to catch?
  5. Does your voice have a natural pitch, rhythm and cadence or does is it flat and/or does your voice go up at the end of every sentence?

These are some, but not all, of the initial areas that I find students need to remedy as they start to find their voice as an advocate.  Why not get ahead and let me develop you one stage on from here?

5. Take some time off

You probably weren’t expecting this as my final point! The BPTC can be an exhausting year with the sheer quantity of work (40 hours a week) and assessments (12 in total) that you will do.  If you have pupillage lined up then your break between the BPTC and day 1 in chambers is short.

If you are still seeking pupillage then you may well decide to get a job as soon as the course finishes. Take a some time to relax and recharge prior to starting the BPTC as it might be your last opportunity for a while.

Ishan Kolhatkar is a tutor on the Bar Professional Training Course. He Tweets @BPTC_Lecturer and more of his blogs can be found here.