The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is one of those courses around which nightmarish rumours abound. I started it with trepidation: I worried that I would shrink away in a crowd of loud, overbearing, argumentative and competitive public speakers, and I spent my first couple of days in the library looking over my shoulder for the BPTC student-come-fiend who would rip the crucial page out of my White Book.
It’s true that students on the BPTC can be quite opinionated and are good public speakers, however I failed to meet a single student bearing scissors and a fiendish grin. On the other hand, I did meet a lot of people who I found to be friendly and supportive. This brings me to my first tip for surviving the BPTC: be friendly, be supportive, for the people you meet on the course are your competitors in the race for pupillage, but they are also the people with whom who you can practise your advocacy, moot, revise and spend some much needed time doing non-work related things.
And so, in the spirit of friendship, before writing this article I turned to my BPTC friends at BPP Leeds Law School for their top tips to surviving the course…
How to prepare for the BPTC
”As soon as possible—before the course starts—I'd advise prospective students to try and do one cursory reading of Stuart Sime’s A Practical Approach to Civil Procedure and John Sprack's A Practical Approach to Criminal Procedure, or equivalent texts... if possible.
“The BPTC is a heavily loaded course. The content you will cover is not necessarily THAT complex but getting your head around the different concepts to do with litigation procedure early in the course will make revising and retaining that information for the exams a lot easier.
“In order to help with your skills-based modules (opinion writing, drafting, advocacy and conference), I would advise brushing up on contract and tort law principles before the course starts—especially if you are a student who has had a break between studying the LLB or GDL and the BPTC. This will mean you can concentrate on improving your skills as opposed to also having to juggle learning the relevant law and how it applies.“ (Dianne Lai)
The BPTC is a very practical course. Its content is vast but not overly complex; it anticipates that you know the law, and aims to teach you the practicalities of how it is applied by a barrister.
If you follow Dianne’s advice, you can be in a great position to conquer, let alone survive, the BPTC. If you don’t have the time (or the volition!) to read the textbooks before the course begins, my advice for completing the reading week-to-week would be to skim-read the relevant textbook chapter first, adopt the textbook’s subtitles as your own for your notes, and then read the practitioners’ texts properly, making notes from them under the subtitles. This way, your notes will reflect both the clarity of the textbooks and the detail of the practitioners’ texts—both of which will be helpful when it comes to revising.
Keep up so you don't have to catch up!
”The BPTC is challenging, and so is trying to do all your work when you are supposed to. You may be tempted to cut corners, do the bare minimum to make it through class without looking like an idiot, and leave the hard graft until the revision period. My advice? Don't!! You're only fooling yourself (and if my year was anything to go by... what revision period?!).“(Charmaine Kaparamula)
I think the BPTC is the only course I have ever done where there is literally no real revision period. You finish the course and have a couple of weeks to revise for the big criminal and civil litigation exams, during which you also take several of the skills assessments (opinion writing, drafting and conference exams).
Before the BPTC, I completed an English degree and the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Whilst there was a lot to revise and learn for those courses, I can honestly say that the vast amount of information you need to know by heart for the civil and criminal procedure and litigation papers is unlike anything I’d experienced before. Thus, at least making some notes during the course is invaluable, allowing you to use the short revision period simply to consolidate and memorise—there’s no time to do much else!
Think of the wider legal world
”Get involved with as many CV-boosting things as you can outside of the course: this will give you something different to talk about in pupillage interviews. I would just caveat that by saying that whilst it's great to do as much as you can, you can't do everything (particularly around exam times!).“ (Becky Jane)
Most people who do the BPTC do so with the ultimate aim of securing pupillage and becoming a barrister. Otherwise, they do the course to hone their oral and written skills in order to allow them to follow other challenging career paths. Either way, it is crucial to use your free time to take part in activities to enhance your CV.
There are many opportunities to take part in pro bono work, which can give you client contact experience, as well as providing a forum in which you can use your legal skills to actually benefit others. Alternatively, mooting and debating allow you to practise your advocacy skills outside of the classroom, and a good result in a competition can set you apart when you are applying for jobs.
Everyone works in different ways, and so it’s difficult to give any definitive guide to successfully surviving the BPTC. Personally, I treated the course as an 8am – 6pm job, using my spare time to do some mooting, do some pro bono work, and also just to relax and preserve my sanity. I found my BPTC year as rewarding as it was challenging, and I hope that following the above tips you will not only survive the year, but also flourish in it.