A survey of a compulsory barristers’ mentoring scheme has found a wide divergence of perceptions between the newly-qualified and experienced advocates questioned, with even answers to identical questions receiving very different replies.
The survey was conducted by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to discern views of its rule requiring barristers of under three years’ standing to take guidance from an experienced barrister when exercising rights of audience, undertaking litigation or doing public access work.
That more experienced barrister is known as a “qualified person” (QP).
Two-thirds of the QPs said advocacy was a key subject which they addressed with their mentee. But just four in ten of the new barristers said the same thing.
Another significant discrepancy was that while 84% of QPs said they thought the mentoring requirement was helpful, fewer than half of new practitioners agreed.
New practitioners’ views depended heavily on whether they’d had regular face-to-face meetings with the QP. If they had, nearly eight out of ten felt the rule was useful. If they had not, almost as many said it was not helpful.
They did at least agree that questions of law were the top subject discussed, with big majorities of each confirming this was the case.
Among new barristers who felt the mentoring requirement was helpful, they cited reinforcing the habit of consulting colleagues.
Having a designated person was convenient, said one new practitioner respondent, describing them as “someone who is ‘required’ to help you, so you feel more comfortable imposing on their time.”
However, another said: “In a chambers environment, there are few or no benefits. I have all the support and advice I could require from colleagues in chambers. Usually it makes sense to go to more junior members first.”
For their part, some QPs said the scheme strengthened relationships within chambers. But others questioned whether it was too prescriptive or always necessary.
One critic said: “It can take up time, and involves some administration to keep a check on who still requires a QP.”
The BSB’s director of strategy and policy, Ewen MacLeod, said: “Our research suggests that the level of support made available to newly qualified barristers by QPs varies considerably and that this influences how positively new practitioners think about the requirement.
“We will use this research to aid our future policy work around barristers in their early years of practice as well as our review later in the year into the rules governing the scope of barristers’ practice.”