Academy for aspiring barristers from under-represented groups goes live

Tack: Aim is to provide candidates with confidence and a network

An academy scheme for aspiring barristers from under-represented groups has launched a year-long programme to give 100 students access to internships – including at the Supreme Court – mini-pupillages, mentoring and life coaching.

The Bridging the Bar Academy, launched this month, is seeking to select candidates with backgrounds that have struggled to progress at the Bar, whether because of disability, ethnicity, socio-economic background, education or sexuality.

Bridging the Bar (BTB), founded two years ago, aims to support them develop the skills, experience and networks required to develop a career as a barrister.

It says it has since “impacted” 4,709 candidates through workshops, seminars and tangible work experience. But its experience has been that, where candidates engage in multiple BTB initiatives, “the results are exponential”.

For example, those who have interned at the UK Supreme Court have had access to mentoring, life coaching, advocacy training and mock interview support – and 85% of them who applied this year secured pupillage at leading sets.

The aim of the academy is to replicate “these success stories on a larger scale” over the course of the academic year. Those not selected will still have access to BTB’s general training and seminars.

“The hope is that, by focusing our resources on a smaller group of candidates, we can maximise our impact,” the academy’s brochure said.

Eleanor Tack, BTB’s programmes co-ordinator, said the life-coaching element would be led by Helen Gazzi, a former City solicitor who became a leadership coach.

The successful academy candidates will be split into 10 ‘pods’ of 10, meeting four times over the course of the academic year either with a life coach or a barrister trained by Ms Gazzi to discuss issues such as “imposter/trespasser syndrome, identity, owning your story, confidence, and courage”.

Ms Tack said a life-coaching session with Ms Gazzi had a “huge impact” on eight Bridging the Bar interns at the start of their programme at the Supreme Court last autumn.

“I was very conscious that none of our interns would see their backgrounds represented among the Supreme Court justices and I wanted them to have a positive experience, rather than feeling they did not belong.

“It was really empowering session and gave them confidence about sharing their stories at the Supreme Court.”

Ms Tack said the internships were a “huge success”, with one intern going on to get nine pupillage offers and another seven. Both were applying for pupillage for a second time.

She said the academy was offering eight Supreme Court internships, around 10 at the Court of Appeal and High Court, four at the Law Commission and a similar number at the Government Legal Department, and five at Advocate, the Bar’s pro bono charity.

Aspiring barristers are also offered at least one mini-pupillage at a set within their chosen practice area, mentoring from a barrister, training sessions and lectures.

“One of the challenges for barristers from under-represented backgrounds is progression and retention,” Ms Tack said.

“We aim not just to help them get a pupillage but give them the confidence and the network around them to stay in the profession and progress.”

Ms Tack said there were around 400 applications for Bridging the Bar’s mini-pupillage schemes in September 2020 and 2021 and she expected a similar number to apply for the academy.

“These future barristers will pave the way for a more diverse and inclusive profession, and I cannot wait to see it.”

Founder and chair of Bridging the Bar Mass Ndow-Njie, who is based at London chambers 7BR, added: “Launching the Bridging the Bar Academy is the natural next step for our charity. We intend to take our activities to a new higher level.”

Applications for the academy close at the end of this month. Marking and selection will take place in September and the programme begins in October. The academy is looking for barristers to volunteer for mentoring and marking.

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