A little while ago I criticised a London chambers for the fact they were offering unpaid internships. I believe this to be totally unacceptable. Undoubtedly aspiring members of our profession would gain valuable experience from such an opportunity but I believe that people should be paid fairly for their work and I also believe that such an opportunity should not be dependent upon the individual’s ability to fund themselves. An unpaid internship gives someone with the money to afford to work for free an advantage over someone that does not have the same means.
An internship is more than just the shadowing type of work experience that a mini-pupillage brings. No matter how well meaning a chambers is in providing such an opportunity there will come a time when a task undertaken by the intern will be of some value to the organisation, whether it be taking a note in a conference or doing the photocopying. Yes, the intern may get the chance to see Miss Tenant doing a great cross-examination but that is not the same as paying someone for the fruits of their labour. If you want someone to do the photocopying, pay someone to do the photocopying. Any other arrangement is simply exploiting an uneven relationship. It is preying upon the desire of those seeking to get a foot in the door. It is wrong.
That is all well and good. It is very easy to be vocal on Twitter. Talking about wanting the Bar to be a diverse is as easy as saying you would like it if you could win the Lottery. Even telling an inspirational tale of your own progress through a comprehensive school education and a job in a bike shop, in the hope that others in the same position will see that it can be done, can only plant the seed. It does nothing to nurture the person coming after you.
And so, as I sent out another Tweet which explained why I was so critical of what someone else was doing, I thought about what I was going to achieve. And the answer was not very much. A few likes, a few retweets. It wasn’t even going to prompt the chambers in question to pay the next intern. So the question was – what could I do? Another talk at a school? Another blog about how my grandad was a roofer?
The answer was obvious. I had to put my money where my mouth is. Hence my offer of two weeks paid work experience. And here is more detail about what that will mean.
This year I will select someone to spend two weeks gaining an insight into life as a barrister. That is not just going to be two weeks of following me around, I want to give someone a wealth of work experience. I want to make sure that those two weeks have real value. So the two weeks will not be just spent with me telling stories of when I was brilliant in court or sitting there whilst I demonstrate that I am not so brilliant in court. I hope it will be much more than that.
Before getting into the detail of what will happen and how to apply, let’s deal with the most important issue. I will pay. For the two weeks spent with me I will pay the successful candidate £700 as a bursary. In addition I will also pay up to £300 for expenses arising out of the two weeks so that the offer is available to those who do not live in Manchester. I hope this means that those who are in a position where they would normally not be able to take a two week placement out of the necessity to work during that period will be able to apply for this placement.
I am a criminal Silk but this placement is not just for those who are interested in crime. As part of the application process candidates will be asked to identify three areas of law from a list of those that I will be able to provide experience of during the two weeks. The placement will be overseen by me but, with the kind assistance of some of my colleagues and friends in chambers, the successful candidate will have a wider experience than I can offer alone.
During the course of the placement I will undertake two sessions of advocacy training, one towards the beginning of the period and one towards the end. Tim Collins, a consultant in legal recruitment, has kindly offered to give the successful candidate a CV and interview clinic via Skype. I will then build on that session with a further discussion about applications to chambers. There will be a day spent in the clerks room, seeing how the administration of chambers works. Subject to their availability, I have also arranged that the successful candidate will spend a day marshalling with a Circuit Judge and will spend a day with a firm of criminal solicitors.
The placement is open to those aged 17 or over. There are no other requirements. Once I have selected the person to undertake the placement then we will find a convenient date (so it does not necessarily have to be over the summer).
The application process will open on 3rd June and will close at 4pm on 17th June. I will provide an email address from which those interested can obtain a relatively simple application form which will then be sent back to the same address. The applicants will also be asked to provide a 750 word explanation as to why they should be offered the placement. This will be the most significant factor in deciding which candidates make the shortlist. As well as content, the potential to communicate effectively will also be assessed.
Ten applicants will make it on to the shortlist (if there are at least ten applicants….). Those who make the shortlist will be interviewed via Skype by myself and one of my colleagues from Chambers.
From the ten we will be selecting two candidates. Yes, two. My fellow QC, Nicholas Clarke, head of the criminal team in chambers, has volunteered to replicate my offer. So I will be selecting one placement with me and also one with Nick (the details of his placement may differ from mine, it may not contain the same elements but will come with the same bursary, provided by Nick himself). I will put Nick and this second candidate in touch with each other so that they can sort out the details.
I am sorry that we are not able to offer all ten shortlisted candidates this opportunity. As a significant consolation, all ten shortlisted candidates will receive a copy of Rumpole of the Bailey and a personalised signed copy of the Secret Barrister’s book. Yep. That’s right. The Secret Barrister and their publisher, Pan Macmillan, have very kindly offered to supply personalised copies of the bestselling legal book of the decade to those who make the shortlist.
So watch this space. Make sure you are following me on Twitter @jaimerh354 or my blog, View From The North, to find out more about the application process, including the email address. Please do not contact my chambers about this process, this is something I am doing and organising on a personal level. All correspondence concerning it should be sent to the email address that I will advertise in due course.