Law students condemn pupillage auction

Lawyer2B readers have condemned Westminster School’s recent auction of a mini-pupillage.

The £10,000 a term private school auctioned the opportunity to raise money for a new building this month, causing the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to intervene.

Almost half (49 per cent) of the readers polled believed that auctioning work experience, vacation schemes or mini-pupillages for charity was “grossly unfair”, with a further 16 per cent asking, ‘If you are good enough, why bother paying?’

Nearly one third (29 per cent) admitted that if they had such an advantage they would take it while just 6 per cent of readers believed that the auction was justified because it was “for a good cause”.

The reaction from Lawyer2B readers contrasted with comments on the original story published on thelawyer.com (15 May 2013). The majority of The Lawyer commenters believed there was nothing immoral about the auction, with more than one reader labelling the furore “petty”.

One commenter stated: “I can’t believe it’s even news. We all know that a career in law is for the privileged few. It was ever so, and ever shall it be.”

A description of the prize on the school’s auction page read: “The lucky winner will have the opportunity to gain an insight into the working life of a criminal defence barrister, attending court and observing a criminal trial. They will also have the opportunity to meet the barrister beforehand and read the case papers so that they can be fully au fait with the issues before the trial starts.”

The BSB said it had contacted the school. A BSB spokesperson added: “As regulators, fairness and advancing equality of opportunity at the Bar is at the heart of what we do and our director is in touch with the head of Westminster School.”

Mini-pupillages are short periods of work experience, usually for one week, in a set of chambers. Generally speaking they are not part of the formal process for becoming a barrister and so are not regulated by the BSB. However if undertaking an assessed mini-pupillage is part of the selection criteria for a full pupillage then it should follow BSB rules.

Social Mobility Foundation chief executive David Johnston slammed the concept of an auction, commenting that it illustrated nepotism in the profession. Read his opinion piece here.