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Bar students and pupils – are they snowflakes?

Let’s just take a minute to think about Greta Thunberg. She is the 16-year-old Swede who posted a picture of herself sitting outside Sweden’s parliament building, with a handmade cardboard sign which read, “Skolstrejk för klimatet”. As a result of her dogged determination, there was a climate strike of global proportions on Friday 20th September. On a personal level, Thunberg has received appalling levels of abuse on social media for being a snowflake and ‘crying about the use of plastic’, but some would argue she has created a pretty impressive blizzard.

As a fledgling Bar Provider, the ICCA is set to launch a new Bar Course in September 2020. Much of our attention over the last few years has been on who our student will be; the student voice; the student experience and the provision of pastoral, careers and academic support. It’s been argued that these requirements go too far to pander to the snowflake generation.

When some of us were Bar students, (a seriously long time ago) assignments on the BVC had to be delivered ‘in person’ on Fridays at midday even if it meant a four-hour round trip on a day when there were no lectures. As pupils, we were told to be the first into chambers in the morning and the last to leave. We were told to do any kind of work that was sent our way no matter from whom and at what time of night. We took the work we were given and were grateful for it even if it was five days on the trot in Grimsby for not very much money.

Things are still far from perfect. Some pupils still have dreadful experiences. I have known some to live dangerously frugally; dependent on charity shop clothes and being given poorly paid work in exchange for more lucrative work for senior colleagues. I have known too many former students who have become unwell, physically and mentally, due to overworking or failing to obtain a pupillage or tenancy.

Happily, things are changing. This generation of students and pupils no longer dutifully accept the way things have always been. Students know precisely what they are entitled to from an HE provider. They expect to be taught other transferable skills in a supportive and high-quality environment and to be given opportunities to receive valuable feedback. Pupils have mentors and some chambers have sensible policies about fair selection and the working habits of their pupils. This is progress.

The ICCA is committed to providing a collegiate environment where every student is fully supported and has access to information, assistance and support. We are committed to embedding healthy attitudes to work and the profession. We are adopting a holistic approach to student support which fulfils all of our regulatory responsibilities.

We know that the Bar can be a grueling and arduous profession that can break people. Wellbeing is taken much more seriously now then ever before and the Wellbeing at the Bar initiative by the Bar Council has spearheaded valuable help and advice for the profession. We must do the same for new entrants. We know they are entering a world of self-doubt; a heavy sense of responsibility and a potentially poor work/life balance.

It is balance that we are striving for in our students’ experience. Of course, they must understand that the profession is demanding and difficult and taxing. Yes, there will be late nights and last-minute briefs, urgent advices and long commutes in pupillage but they must learn to strike a balance. There is much we can help them with to achieve this such as time management skills, resilience, learning to take breaks, asking for help and knowing their limits.

Let’s not unthinkingly brand this the snowflake generation just because they think and act differently. Instead, let us celebrate their courage and strength in taking responsibility for their health and working conditions and for speaking up against bullying and unfair treatment. It is high time we did the same.

Lynda Gibbs is a barrister and the Dean at The Inns of Court College of Advocacy. She is the Wellbeing lead at the Council of the Inns of Court (COIC).