I didn’t know what I wanted to do before doing law – I even thought about politics. Somebody half-jokingly suggested becoming a barrister, which made me think about it. When I did my degree and bar exams both courses were still very academically focused and there was no formal advocacy training through the Inns.
Pupillage is the perfect apprenticeship – the real training ground for the skills needed for life as a practising barrister. Recently I was asked why the bar doesn’t just allow people to go straight into practice upon finishing the Bar Professional Training Course. That would be to deny people the most extraordinary, and necessary, opportunity to have one-to-one practical training in every aspect of the profession they’re about to enter.
When I started, getting pupillage was much easier and more straightforward than it is now, but it was a real challenge to get tenancy. I can still feel the sense of disappointment at the rejection, before I was taken on. Enormous change in the legal services market, economic, regulatory and structural, is happening around us – some good, some not so good. I have a passionate belief in the importance of the rule of law and the vital part an independent referral bar plays in that.
I want to see a secure future for the bar. Fees may change, regulation may increase, but it is essential that the fundamental structure survives. That’s what I want to achieve: the continuation of the bar as an essential part of a democratic society.
I’d encourage students now who are thinking of coming to the bar to think about the commercial side. There’s a great future there, especially for women. If they want to do crime, that is fine – if you’re good enough and are prepared to work incredibly hard to not make a particularly good living then go for it. But you’ve got to realise the future is not going to suddenly get better and you’re not going to start earning a fortune.
Maura McGowan QC is chairman of the Bar Council