Wednesday, 20 January 2010

To Phd or to not Phd

As I sit here and research abuse of process in relation to RIPA, I wonder whether or not this is the sort of life I wish to live. A life full of constant reading, with a large home library of assorted books on Criminal Justice, Evidence and Human Rights. A desk surrounded by empty packets of crisps and fag packets.

I am at the moment rather tempted to delve deeper into being an academic rather than trying to pursue a career at the Bar and there are several reasons why.

Firstly there has been a complete lack of interest from Chambers when applying for mini-pupillages, I do believe that I would make a good barrister (don't we all) I have a good ability to absorb knowledge, to analyse that knowledge and be critical about it, as well as being a semi-competent advocate which I have learnt from my mooting days. There may have been a small hiccup in the fact that I put perhaps a too restrictive of a date in my covering letter for when I was available, however if chambers were interested I doubt that would have really mattered. By not being noticed enough by which ever young tenant was viewing my application, I wonder how much more there is to be done, so that my CV sparkles with fairy magic glittery Bar dust. I am currently applying for lots of NGO work, however I am yet to hear back.

The amount of opportunities for work related experience of crime and human rights are vast I would suggest, however a lot of internships are unpaid and are usually for a month or so, that is perhaps too much of a period of time where I could be earning elsewhere, the internships are in themselves very competitive.

For all my (our) troubles, the lack of interest from Chambers may be a sign of the times, the Bar is very much more so competitive in terms of sheer numbers than it used to be, Chambers will receive hundreds if not thousands of applications for mini-pupillages, there again your CV really must shine.

There is always the issue of the Bar v Solicitor Advocates, where the work is going and whether or not it would be financially viable to enter the profession in this particular climate. I am told that plans for public funding in criminal trials may reduce by 20%, that is a significant drop in income for those already in practice. The thought of being self-employed and not being good enough to make a decent living is another concern.

After this analysis it may just be simpler to try and apply for a Phd and try to win some scholarship, I would be able to keep teaching criminal law, a subject though despite it needs urgent reform in some places, is quite enjoyable and has enabled me to delve much deeper into the substantive law than I ever did as an undergraduate.

I am young however, may not the youngest blogger by very early 20's, a lot of barrister wannabes come to the Bar later on in life, it would not be such a horrendous missed opportunity if I went to the Bar after a Phd or some time being an academic, this would give me a chance to 'establish' myself. As the criminal Bar will inevitably become smaller and ever more so specialised than it is now, there may be a greater link between academics and barristers, as minute points of law become more important than the general aspects.

There is however the gigantic task of writing the Phd, spending 40 hrs a week for three years, on something that I hope would not be remotely crap, but I would have thought it wouldn't be sufficiently ground breaking. I wonder if by doing a Phd, I would actually just be postponing my real desire to be in Court and say "yes M'Lud, I am obliged, [however I would submit that you are quite wrong on this point].

Difficult choices to make, I think I will keep everything up in the air. I already have a scholarship which I deferred last year from Middle Temple, I don't have a scholarship to do a Phd, though I hope as I teach at the institution they would love to keep me and give me some form of teaching award covering Criminal Law and Evidence. Another 3 years of university can't hurt too much.



barmaid said...

Wouldn't worry too much about the lack of mini-p's. Given that Chambers receive hundreds of applications from all and sundry (from school leavers to BVCers and beyond), it's a bit of a lottery as to whether your name is pulled out of the hat.

What about part-time BVC? Would you be able to carry on teaching if you chose this avenue? This route would also help with regard to your 'tender' years, as of course you'd be that little bit older by the time you completed BVC (or whatever it's called these days).

Not wanting to put you off the phD, but you don't exactly sound over the moon by the prospect:-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Lost,

I too have considered the PHD route having done the LLB and then an LLM. However, I am now doing the BVC and although it has been tough at times, I absolutely love it! I know getting a pupillage is going to be tough but I don't think I would have forgiven myself if I hadn't tried. I say do the BVC (your teaching has added to your CV) and try and get a pupillage. If all else fails you can look again at doing a PHD with a scholarhsip. Don't forget that you have the BVC scholarship now and not everyone gets them. Out of my group of 12 only 3 of us got them!

Lost said...

Barmaid, not entirely sure if I could keep teaching do a Phd and the BVC part time, it may prove too much, though it does suggest an alternative option.

Anon - I realise that not everyone has a scholarship, but then not everyone applying for a pupillage has a Phd. Your suggestion is the other way round from which I view the situation!! I would prefer to do a Phd first then apply, knowing that I could continually fall back on academia (which I do enjoy) rather than have to continue to paralegal or something like that..

Its all very confusing..

barboy said...

Lost, don't listen to Maid; she's mental and is from up't north !

Do the PhD (presumably you can go for an MPhil first, with a view to bumping up) and apply for pupillage. If you secure a pupillage before finishing the PhD, you can park that, do the BPTC, and always go back to the PhD at any time in the future.

If you don't secure a pupillage, then you will not have wasted your time (and money, because even with a full scholarship, it will still cost you to live) on a course which I would guess you will not like for itself.

Beth said...

Only do a PhD is you're self-motivated and really want to do it. Doing a PhD because you can't think of anything better and rather like the idea of reading a lot is a big mistake (BTDT).

When I was a PhD student, there were a lot of drop outs amongst people who did the degree for the wrong reasons. The people who finished were the self-starters who could treated the whole thing like a job and (mostly) knew exactly what they wanted to do when they finished.

I wouldn't recommend combining your first year of teaching new subjects with the BVC part time, but it might be possible depending on how much prep work you have to do for your teaching. It's also worth checking how peaks in teaching work (marking!) will or won't coincide with assessments on the BVC.

I can't stress enough the importance of having a good PhD supervisor. I know one or two people who finished despite having useless supervisors, but I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the students being supervised by my supervisor dropped out sooner or later. Your supervisor should be keenly interested in your topic (even if s/he doesn't know much about it) and it's important that you can get along as people. You don't have to be friends, but you need the basis for a good working relationship.

I don't know how the market for jobs in law departments is, but I also know a fair number of PhD students who thought they would easily walk into jobs after graduating. Most did not. Many had a series of part-time or short term contracts in different areas of the country. In most subjects (again, not certain about law here) there are a lot more PhDs looking for teaching jobs every year than there are jobs to go around.

Lost said...

Beth, thank you for you comments.
I have a very good supervisor for my masters, which is 75% dissertation. He is happy to supervise me for the Phd, so long as I really understand what I am taking myself in for. I do have a good relationship with him.

I already teach criminal law, and have a good knowledge of evidence which my current dissertation is on, the only thing I would perhaps struggle with would be tort and contract, as those are subjects I never did well in.

I do plan for a career at the Bar afterwards, I just feel that if I did the BVC come September that my modest achievements might pale in comparison to other people. Plus I'm 21 and going to the Bar at say 25/26 would mean that I wouldn't have lost a huge chunk of my life! (Or so I hope!!)

barmaid said...

My 'take' on it remains the same. Given that you have been offered a scholarship for BVC (which I presume won't remain open for the 3years you consider taking out to do the Phd), if I were in your shoes I'd snap at the chance (presuming that the scholarship is a decent sized award).

I'm not saying that a Phd isn't of use or indeed attractive to chambers, but the practicality of it all, along with your admission that your ultimate goal is the bar, to my mind indicates that the BVC is the more sensible option.

I assume that you are under no pressure to choose quickly? Why not apply for pupillages this season (or indeed right now if there are any non-OLPAS pups you fancy the look of), see what happens and then decide which avenue to take.

As for the age thing. Yes you are young. But take into account the time it will take to complete BVC (18 months or so from today if you chose the full-time route), + the fact that most people secure pupillage post BVC and then have to wait a year before the pupillage start date (most chambers recruit a year or so in advance) - you would be 23/24 by the time you finished, add on another year for the pupillage itself = 25 years old.

Good Luck:-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Lost,

Re my earlier post. I should have highlighted how we have very similar academic interest ie evidence. I thought I loved academia too when I was doing my LLM and I do still like it. But actually putting what you have learnt into practice is so much more exciting and I'm so glad I didn't decide to do a PHD right now. A PHD might help at pupillage ints but they may be concerned at your dedication to academia over practice. Re CV issues, the BVC provides loads of pro bono opportunities (FRU, advice clinic, Innocence Project etc) that chambers love to see on your CV. I didn't realise your were only 21 so I kind of see your point re the age thing but the majority of pupillage applicants are about your age.

Lost said...

Barmaid - yes I don't have to choose quickly. I am submitting my application in order to obtain a scholarship, it is only if I get a scholarship (which would also include a livable London wage) that I would carry out any further PhD study. So I shall keep all my options up in the air until then.

Thank you Anon - my PhD thesis will be quite broad in relation to abuse of process and s78 PACE with hopefully an original spin. I believe that by doing the PhD on this topic, it is only likely to led me to expertise in the subject area which can only be of benefit when in practice.

Lost said...

Barboy - I have also discussed the Mphil approach with my supervisor, depending on how much I can get done etc.. that is a good way to think about my situation that I didn't see before!

Sarah Clemens said...

I think it is really a problem for a lot of people. Having a PhD degree can really be helpful in life, but you should remind yourself to know things like how to write a phd dissertation that can really be hard when at grad school. So, I think It would all comes down to whether or not you can handle what grad school can bring to your life.