Stepping into professional practice
Alistair Mills, Bar Professional Training Course, Northumbria University
I’ve wanted to be a lawyer for quite some time. When I was fifteen, my grandmother took me to the law courts and I saw some cases. There were lots of people thinking on their feet – it was very dynamic and exciting. I went on to do an undergraduate degree at Cambridge followed by a postgraduate degree at Oxford, both in law.
A couple of months into my undergraduate degree I decided I wanted to be a barrister rather than a solicitor. Solicitors do things that I definitely can’t do; they’re much more organised than me for a start! But they don’t necessarily engage day in, day out with the nuts and bolts and the cutting edge of the law.
I’m now at Northumbria completing the Bar Professional Training Course, which is mandatory in order to become a barrister. The course is very tightly regulated by an external body, the Bar Standards Board to make sure we have the professional skills we need to be a barrister.
Doing a professional course is like opening the door and looking out into the real world.
Doing a professional course is like opening the door and looking out into the real world. It’s quite different to the other university courses I have done and I feel that it’s a field in which you need a guide. For that it’s important to have someone who has been there or who at least has some idea about what you’re going to be doing in the profession. Most of the tutors at Northumbria are practising barristers, so that’s a big advantage because they’re actually doing the stuff that you are learning about. The university also brings in specialists in particular areas of law and legal practice to run additional sessions and mock trials.
Northumbria University has created more than 200 business start-ups in the past 5 years
As well as being taught by practising barristers, the course is practically focussed on supporting you to become a barrister. The whole thing is really hands on as a large part of the course is about doing the job and learning alongside your colleagues. In our student practice sessions, we practise the skills that will be expected of a barrister. So I might make a practical application to a judge, I might cross-examine you, I might negotiate with you, I might draft a legal document, or I might get one of the documents that I’ve drafted checked over by one of the tutors.
It is all good for building confidence that you can do the job. Not only do you learn how you would speak to a judge, how you would address them, what you would say to them but also – and just as important – how to deal with clients.
It is all good for building confidence that you can do the job. Not only do you learn how you would speak to a judge, how you would address them, what you would say to them but also – and just as important – how to deal with clients. You don’t learn about these things as an undergraduate; you have to try them in practice and that is exactly the opportunity that this course provides.
The next step for me is to undertake a year’s paid pupillage at chambers in London – which you could see as a year-long interview! It is all about them assessing if you can cut it as a barrister. It will be about putting all of the knowledge and skills I have picked up along the way into practice as well as learning a great deal more I should imagine!