Irrelevance: Bar exams

So a lot of you know that I’m currently in the penultimate year of training to be a barrister (the snooty lawyers in the wigs and gowns) and also that I’m in the middle of exams right now. Since I’ve actually had the week from hell and the Bar Standards Board seem to have a dartboard on the wall with all our faces on, I thought I’d spend a minute just explaining the general atmosphere in the Law School right now.

People are crying. I walked out of a private one-on-one exam yesterday (you’re meant to sit in Conference with a ‘client,’ ask them some questions and then advise them on plea) and found a friend sat in the corridor crying because the actor the Law School uses had changed his plea halfway through and so all the advice she had planned was incorrect. I think mine was supposed to be mentally incompetant as he started sobbing halfway through and kept interrupting me because he didn’t understand. As I had to keep repeating myself, I didn’t reach the advice section of my plan which you’re meant to do twelve minutes in and I hadn’t when the moderator cut me off at fifteen.

The actors receive their briefs and they act as they have been instructed, which is great. But we haven’t been told how to deal with any of these situations. We were thrown in at the deep end with straightforward cases and nice, happy clients… but for the exams they throw random situations at us that we haven’t been trained to deal with.

Apparently there were four different actors and every single one caused their students to leave either in tears or pale and shaking. I asked two different people how Conference exams went and they just shook their heads at me, wide-eyed.

Furthermore, Professional Ethics on Monday was even worse. Half the questions on that paper (literally) we hadn’t been taught. Oh wait, I’ll rephrase that – ‘we hadn’t been told to teach ourselves.’ There were questions on topics I didn’t even know existed. In addition, there’s a big scandal over it as some Law schools were shown previous papers… that had those questions on.

This is genuienly traumatic. Look, I’m a diligent, responaible student. Most of us are, to have gotten this far into our careers. I revise, I do the work, I go to bed early the night before. But to know that, whatever you do, the Bar Standard Board is going to almost ensure you don’t pass this shit, it feels pretty crap. It doesn’t set a good standard for the rest of the exams.

Which are ridiculous, by the way. We got no study leave as our classes only ended last Thursday, and I don’t mean revision classes. They stopped ‘teaching’ us last week. We get no Easter holidays and the two biggest exams, the ones that encompass the entirety of Criminal law and the entirely of Civil law are two days apart and our entire grade for those modules rest on those exams.

The organisation and content of these exams is beyond a joke. Half the people have emotionally given up. They feel like there’s no point, if the Bar Standards Board already have a bullseye pointed in their direction. I know it’s supposed to be hard, I understand that. Weeding out the wheat from the chaff, etc etc. But I’d like to feel like I have a fighting chance at least.


  1. Yikes, congratulations surviving so far, I'm pretty sure I'd be in a corner sobbing long, long ago.

    Keep at it, not because it's training you for the real world but because once you pass and become a fancy wig wearer you can somehow work out a way to make them fix that shit up, because it sounds mental.

    1. Hanna says:

      Thank you for the lovely comment, it really made me smile.

      I was thinking that already, you know. Once I'm qualified I'm seriously doing something about this. Regulated exams on topics that are actually on the curriculum? God forbid.

  2. Ellie says:

    Oh honey, I am sending the most enormous hugs your way right now. I hate hearing you sound so… defeated… because you have worked TOO DAMN HARD to be broken now. Y'know what? Sometimes exams get messed up from the OTHER side of the table, and all you can do is hold your fists up and fight the hell back. That way if the shit hits the fan and accountability rears its ugly head, you've done everything you can to claw yourself above it.

    I love ya dude. I couldn't do what you're doing, and nor could many of us reading I'm guessing – but for what it's worth, I reckon we're all behind you, quietly beaming you every ounce of strength and encouragement we possibly can at this moment. *hugs rather fiercely*

    1. Hanna says:

      I love you, this is the nicest comment over and made me smile *hugs*

      I'm not defeated, just… I don't know, disillusioned? It's like you can work as hard as you like, but it won't make any difference because they're going to screw you over anyway. We had another exam yesterday, and it was just the same. Stuff we hadn't done or even been told that we should be doing.

      They did this last year apparently. Questions that an experienced lawyer couldn't reasonably be expected to know by heart, stuff so obscure that it was a footnote in ONE of the textbooks.

      Thank you for being supportive though, I do appreciate it.

  3. Sarah says:

    Oh my GOODNESS that sounds stressful. You are absolutely awesome for making it this far! I totally would have been one of the students who had a nervous breakdown and just quit.

    Keep working hard, you can do this! *Hugs*

    1. Ellie says:

      Haha, yeah, I'd totally have been the one hanging on to Hanna's ankle as she strode past, tears streaming down my face, wailing "Tell me your secrets! Let me worship at your feet! TAKE ME WITH YOU!" before being carted away by nice men with psychiatry qualifications. (That's only partially an exaggeration, by the way.)

      Hanna, you rock. And then some. Have at it, girl! 😀

    2. Hanna says:

      Haha, I appreciate the confidence, both of you. You're both so lovely and helpful 🙂

      I'm hardly the epitome of good mental health myself though – had a panic attack in my exam yesterday (which was just as bad as those mentioned above) and because I couldn't leave my seat, my OCD kicked in and I started obsessively cleaning my laptop with hand sanitizer :/ Would have been a hilarious sight if it wasn't ME lol.

  4. I know that I'm late to the encouragement party but I figure that there's no such thing as too much encouragement so I'm still pitching in! 🙂

    I whole-heartedly agree with everything Ellie's written – you are such a powerhouse for making it this far with all of the pro bono work that you've managed to cram in. It's horrible that the Law school aren't doing all that they can to give you a fighting chance – surely it doesn't do them any good to have their students feeling so disheartened and resentful?!

    I hope that it all gets better! I am completely convinced that you'll do wonderfully and that one day when you're a high-flying barrister commanding court rooms the country over you'll be able to make it better for all of the future barristers that'll aspire to be like you one day! 🙂

  5. Ellie Warren says:

    Do you have any third party regulating body for these sorts of things? I know I only did a photography degree, but they had someone in to check that the university weren't cheating us on grades on our final projects.

    It just sounds rotten and I'm with everyone else in beaming you the positive vibes. *BIG HUGS*

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