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Ed Miliband needs Labour to have a "differentiation strategy" of its own

Peter Hoskin in January 2012 famously in the Spectator published his version of the Richard Reeves’ famous “different strategy” of the Liberal Democrats as this parliament progressed.

When I tweeted briefly yesterday evening that David Cameron had acquired Obama’s advisor, Jim Messina, my followers who are UK Labour supporters were distinctly underwhelmed.  They certainly did not share the naked excitement of Allegra Stratton, the BBC Newsnight’s political editor who was behaving as if she’d won the National Lottery. My followers instead loyally to took this to mean that more people were needed to clean up after the shambolic implementation of policies, such as #RacistVan. Many stuck to the reasonable line that the number of electoral advisers is not strongly correlated with coherence of political ideology, nor indeed electoral success. That of course will be good for Ed Miliband, who currently has no official electoral “campaign head”, although he has a strong policy steer from Lord Stewart Wood. The media are obsessed about the scalp of Lynton Crosby, and some extent they have already obtained the scalp of Tom Watson MP. However, Owen Jones on the BBC ‘Any Questions’ debate last night was quite correct to identify that, even if he personally does not agree with it, the main thrust of the Conservative Policy is in fact very clear: e.g. chucking out of the country illegal immigrants, or being tough on those people who don’t believe ‘it pays to work’. The implementation of both of the policies of course has been cack-handed, in that the Home Office continue to use the #immigrationoffenders hashtag completely ignoring the issue that suspects only become convicts if tried with due process in a legal court of war. In fact, the use of the hashtag not only offends the legal presumption of innocence, but it also potentially runs into problems with ‘contempt of court’. Nobody likewise fundamentally disagrees with the ‘it pays to work’ idea, but resent of course the scapegoating of unemployed citizens, deplore the attitude of ‘zero hours contracts’ as alleged for multi-national companies, with an abject failure to understand the ‘work credits’ policy. However, the Conservatives are ably assisted by a BBC which maintains that it maintains editorial standards upholding ‘accuracy, balance and lack of bias’, even in the face of high profile failures such as the John Humphrys decision.  The Government can get away with a huge amount of misrepresentation, particularly ironic in their ambition for transparency and openness, as the debacles concerning the NHS funding and Iain Duncan Smith’s department demonstrate.


What Owen Jones has identified is that the Government appears to have a ‘vision’. Margaret Thatcher had a ‘vision’ too, which many people still profoundly disagree with.  ‘Being Ed Miliband’ is pretty predictable though. For Ed, some things go well, some things go not so well. For example, his 2010 conference speech on ‘responsible capitalism’ in Liverpool was widely panned to be to a bit of a ‘turkey’, but many argued that he called it right in fact on the illegal phone hacking allegations of corporates. To give him credit, the wider ideological battle has been progressing well with him, in that policies such as workfare, where corporates abuse their power, curries favour with the public. The public also have taken to the outsourcing scandals like ducks to water, fully resentful against G4s, A4e, and Harmoni for their widely reported problems. The slight poll-lead of Labour one could argue could be greater, but it is easy to overestimate the amount of disunity in the Conservative Party. The Conservatives have had a good few months, having parked the issue about the EU referendum for now, and most importantly with the UK economy having appeared to have turned a corner at 0.6% growth. Ed Balls always had a substantial problem with the fact that he had signed up to the austerity agenda, which appears to be delivering (despite the fact that the UK economy is much more crippled than it otherwise should have been, had it followed the lead of Barack Obama). The Labour Party appears to have been voiceless over the attack on employees’ rights (in unfair dismissal claims). On the Bedroom Tax, it gives a muddled message where it appears to object to it, but does not quite commit convincingly to repealing it if it were to come into office and power on its own in May 2015. As for disability issues, many disabled citizens are left utterly confused on what Labour’s precise stance about ‘universal credit’, and how it does not seem to have any opinions on the steady stream of citizens who have committed suicide on the distress of their benefits decisions.



There are two things to form a strategy for. One is Ed Miliband, and one is Labour, though their relative fortunes are necessarily linked. You can have a reasonable ‘go’ at branding Ed Miliband as the ‘decisive leader’ on the left, despite the usual predictable reports that he can’t make up his mind what type of wine to drink (he has to drink rosé as he can’t make up his mind between red and white). This is all rather reminiscent of how Gordon Brown was also alleged not to be able to make up his mind over what type of coffee biscuit to eat, though ultimately the ‘dithering’ mistake which ultimately cost Brown his career was not this coffee biscuit problem but a problem concerning when to hold the 2010 general election. For me, the fundamental problem is that Labour does not have a clear “differentiation policy” of its own. One massive lack of differentiation remains the economy, where Ed Balls somehow has to concede ‘success’ for the Conservatives while saying that he would like to do something differently. However, Balls does not seem to wish to do anything markedly differently, as he has signed up to the same ‘austerity cuts’, not particularly winning him friends in the Unions with low pay conditions. Labour can of course remedy this by saying that it will fundamentally redesign the economy anyway such living standards are a top priority, such as with implementing a national living wage (either through law or not). However, Labour’s determination not to ‘tax and spend’, and not particularly to wish to do anything aggressive on the rich-power divide which has been bad in all governments since Thatcher to varying degrees, might fundamentally undermine this potential argument for ‘fairness’ many desire. Also, on the NHS, Ed Miliband is not actually signed up to anything fundamentally different for the NHS. Andy Burnham MP is the man who ‘is driving the Conservatives round the bend’, according to Isabel Hardman from the Spectator, because all attempts to smear him have gone belly up. However, Burnham also knows that he is not fundamentally signed up to anything vastly different when it comes to efficiency savings or PFI. The Government could of course potentially get the big four accountancy firms to advise on how it could creatively avoid tax to salvage £20bn in efficiency savings before 2020, or could decide to stop allegedly illegal wars abroad, to make up this ‘funding gap’ in the NHS. However, apart from repealing the Act which builds on the direction of the NHS competition boards set up under Labour and reducing the private income cap of s.164(1)(2A) of the Health and Social Care Act, Labour does not have a drastically different offering on the NHS apart from repeating the tired mantra that “Labour is the party of the NHS”.


Actually, as a Labour voter, I don’t actually really care whether the Liberal Democrats self-destruct or not. I am vaguely interested in whether they might wish to go into a Coalition with the Labour Party 2015, but I suspect this would not be a popular move amongst many members of the Labour Party I know. Anyway, I don’t think it’s going to happen with Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander in the higher echelons of the Liberal Democrat Party. Vince Cable for them can be easily ringfenced as a one-man protest party, so I do not expect him to have much influence and power in that party, unless his guru Lord Oakeshott can go into turbodrive with a campaign should Nick Clegg decide to fall on his sword. On the other hand, people do tend to have very short memories in politics, so ordinary voters might have somewhat forgotten about the closure of libraries, the NHS reforms, the education support allowance, welfare reforms, the economy, all decent policies where the Liberal Democrats have well and truly shafted members of Labour (and the more left-thinking members of their own party.) On the other hand, another factor governs the fate of Labour apart from the performance of Ed Miliband. That factor, whether the Liberal Democrats can rise like a phoenix from the ashes, could yet produce a problem for Labour, but while this Liberal Democrats seem totally signed up to crackpot policies such as #racistvan and lack of plain packaging cigarettes, there is no sign that the Liberal Democrats wish to leave their suicide pact yet. They know full well that if they do, David Cameron will be ecstatic, and their party meanwhile is fucked.




What the Lewisham decision is about, and, more importantly, what it isn’t about

Scorched earth

R (on the application of LB of Lewisham and others) v Secretary of State for Health and the TSA for South London Hospitals NHS Trust High Court of Justice (Queen’s Bench Division) Administrative Court [2013] EWHC 2329 (Admin)

Judgment here

None of this of course was ever meant to happen (except it was, because the history is elegantly deciphered in “NHS SOS”, edited by Tallis and Davis). Remember this?

The Lewisham decision was taken relating to a specific legal problem, in a particular place at a particular time. Judge Silber therefore applied the law to that particular situation, and he specifically did not wish to go into the merits of the case. He just looked at how the decision was taken, which was a bad mess. Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, either received bad legal advice, or chose to ignore the legal advice he was given. There are useful lessons to be learnt from the judgment (“Judgment”) though, which is a beautiful piece of work. Certain issues were avoided altogether, such as how next to proceed (is there a need for a reconsultation? who should now make the decision? The Judgment does not discuss whether neoliberal economics produces the best outcome for patients in the National Health Service, nor does it opine on the eventual consequences of failure regimes around the country. It takes the case law further, but the danger is that too much can be read into its significance. However, in terms of morale and confidence, this was undoubtedly a much needed ‘boost’ for the patients, public and clinicians of Lewisham.

At the root of the problem, the Prime Minister had said:-

“What the Government and I specifically promised was that there should be no closures or reorganisations unless they had support from the GP commissioners, unless there was proper public and patient engagement and unless there was an evidence base. Let me be absolutely clear: unlike under the last Government when these closures and changes were imposed in a top-down way, if they do not meet those criteria, they will not happen.”

(column 313 in Hansard)

The draftsman of the parliamentary legislation is aware of the problem posed by the Secretary of State having a duty to provide a comprehensive NHS. This is, of course, the major faultline in English health policy, with both the Conservatives and Labour truly adamant about ‘comprehensive, free-at-the-point of use, universal’, while stories appear all the time – in a drip-drip fashion – about the manifestations of rationing. Again, Silber can only refer to the law as it was at the time in para. 61:

61 All these matters have to be considered against the background that under Section 1 of the 2006 Act, the Secretary of State has the duty of continuing the promotion in England of a comprehensive health service. Section 3 of the 2006 Act specifies the Secretary of State’s duty to provide or arrange the provision of a wide range of services (including hospital accommodation and services) to such extent as he considers necessary to meet all reasonable requirements. Section 2 gives the Secretary of State the power to provide other services as he considers appropriate for the purpose of discharging any duties conferred on him by the 2006 Act.

Against this is the backdrop that each NHS Trust is a separate financial and clinical entity, allowing for units to be ‘ringfenced’ as or when they run into financial or clinical problems. The problem has emerged where the parliamentary draftsman has found himself producing every voluminous legislation to cover any eventual possibility, which is why Silber is able to state confidently as a point of legal fact at para. 76:

76 It is clear that each NHS Trust is a separate entity, and this issue raises questions of statutory interpretation.

The tension in reconciling the needs of the entire National Health Service and local resource of allocation, of course, had to be addressed, and indeed it was. What is certain is the extent to which national policy will be sketched out for the strategic and operational management of the entire NHS, calling into question the mantra of Andy Burnham MP, “putting the ‘N’ back into NHS”.

81 Third, the Parliamentary draftsman chose to distinguish between “the interests of the Health Service” and those of the Trust.

What clearly emerged yesterday was that any-old promise does not produce a ‘legitimate expectation’ in this jurisdiction. This of course will also be great news for Nick Clegg after his tuition fees fiasco. Indeed, in my blogpost of July 7th 2013 for the “Socialist Health Association”, I wrote the following:

“And what about the actual law? R v. Inland Revenue Commissioners ex parte MFK Underwriting Agents Limited (1991) WLR 1545 in which Bingham LJ and Judge J stated that, for a statement to give rise to a legitimate expectation, it must be:

“clear, unambiguous and devoid of relevant qualification” (para. 1570)

The promise has to be made by the decision maker: R (on the application of Bloggs) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2003] EWCA Civ 686, [2003] 1 WLR 2724. Further the promise must be made by someone with actual, or ostensible, authority, otherwise the decision will be ultra vires: South Buckinghamshire DC v Flanaghan [2002] EWCA Civ 690, [2002] 1 WLR 2601. The promise has to be made by the decision maker: R (on the application of Bloggs) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2003] EWCA Civ 686, [2003] 1 WLR 2724. Further the promise must be made by someone with actual, or ostensible, authority, otherwise the decision will be ultra vires:South Buckinghamshire DC v Flanaghan [2002] EWCA Civ 690, [2002] 1 WLR 2601.”

Justice Silber felt, like me, that there could be no legitimate expectation:

99. In this case, the Secretary of State was merely saying that he intended to rely on the Chapter 5A regime which is a rapid decision-making process in which services can be properly configured, but only provided that certain requirements were met. Indeed in his statement, the Secretary of State was saying nothing more than that he proposed to rely on the statutory regime which included certain requirements to consult. This was uncontroversial and does not alter what the Secretary of State was obliged to do.

100. In my view, the Minister’s statement relied on by the Campaign cannot give rise to a legitimate expectation because as a matter of general principle the undertaking or promise which gives rise to the alleged legitimate expectation must be, in the words of Bingham LJ, “clear, unambiguous and devoid of relevant qualification” (R v Inland Revenue Commissions, ex parte MFK Underwriting Agencies Limited [1991] WLR 1545 at 1569).

Having said there was no ‘legitimate expectation’, I felt it was quite generous of Silber nonetheless to consider the ‘promise’ in para 112:

112. The four reconfiguration requirements were designed for local service reconfigurations and not for decisions under Chapter 5A of the 2006 Act, which is, as I have explained, an expedited and emergency procedure. Paragraph 39 of the Statutory Guidance states that:-

“In assisting the Secretary of State to make a final decision on the future of the organisation, [the TSA] should have regard to the Secretary of State’s four key tests for service change in developing his or her recommendations i.e. local reconfiguration plans must demonstrate support from GP commissioners, strengthened public and patient engagement, clarity on the clinical evidence base and support for patient choice.”. (Emphasis added)

And all of this is a legacy of the Lansley bygone era. Lansley’s “promise” may have been politically expedient at the time, but clearly had not escaped the attention of Silber:

109. In an article in the Daily Telegraph on the following day, Mr Andrew Lansley, M.P., who was then the Secretary of State, explained the new principles stating that they “will not merely be another tick-box exercise – it will be a tough test which every proposal must pass if it is to succeed”.

It had even been sufficient for Sir David Nicholson to confirm this:

123 The Claimants point out that after his initial letter of 20 May 2010, Sir David Nicholson wrote again to all NHS Chief Executives on 29 July 2010 referring again to these four new requirements explaining that “the Secretary of State has also made it clear that GP Commissioners will lead local changes in the future”.

124. The letter also attached a document entitled “Applying the Reconfiguration Test”. Under the heading entitled “Support from GP Commissioners”, the process is defined in this way and with emphasis added:-

“Local commissioners and consortia should review the current evidence of engagement with GPs and the level of support and consensus for a proposed service change. As GP/practice based commissioning structures vary across the country, local commissioners will need to take an appropriate view as to how best to gather this evidence, with PCTs supporting this process where required. Commissioners will need to consider the engagement that may need to take place with practices whose patients will be significantly affected by the case for change, inviting views and facilitating a full dialogue were necessary”.

Where the Judgment really comes into its own is at this point. It first of all accepts that the consultation which took place, in terms of patient engagement, “worked”:

141 The engagement with patients and the public also occurred through patient and public advisory groups as well as in individual meetings with representatives of many local involvement networks and focus groups. There was also formal consultation on the draft recommendation with 27,000 full consultation documents and 10,000 summary documents distributed through 2000 locations across South East London.

However, the judicial consideration of the extent to which ‘patient choice’ matters is clearly set out in para. 166. While this might seem like a rather terse exercise in statutory interpretation, it is obviously significant as to whether any one group of patients, however articulate, can ‘veto’ a progress of policy. This wider nuanced interpretation is very helpful, in that it allows clinicians also to have their say about patient issues legitimately:

166. Mr Phillips submits correctly that this requirement to be “consistent with” in this requirement cannot and does not mean “the same as”. The Secretary of State was quite entitled to accept the view that concentrating clinical sites to drive up clinical quality so that although it inevitably reduces patient’s choice, it still increases choice between high quality services.

There are discussions to be had about whether CCGs will be impressed about the ‘snake oil’ nature of ‘more for less’ (which is rapidly becoming ‘less for less’, or even ‘less for more’, as some NHS budgets become subsumed in paying off high-interest loans for PFI arrangements). The ‘more for less’ philosophy is of course pervasive in the pitches for CCGs in the philosophy of making existant staff ‘working more effectively’ or working ‘more imaginatively’. Whilst integrated teams, downsizing clinical specialisms, may appear to save money to make Nicholson savings work, coupled with unsafe doctor:bed or nursing:bed ratios, a highly toxic mix of ‘front door firefighting’ might emerge, leaving only HSMRs much later down the line to pick up any damage done possibly. Of course, the platitude that it can all be done in the community might sound nice, but it is not so much if the decisions of Consultants leads to quick-fix TIA management leading to full-blown haemorrhagic strokes. This of course is a personal tragedy for the patient, as well as a hole in the budget for NHS managers. Nor indeed, a quick-fix unstable angina management leading to a full-blown coronary artery bypass graft. The NHS will remain crippled with the implementation of a “jam tomorrow” philosophy, but there are lots of clever salesmen out there to pull the wool over the eyes of vulnerable people.

However, the Lewisham result is monumental. It restores faith in the idea that the views of clinicians, public and the patients matter. It is hugely important that the judiciary should say to the legislature that the Secretary of State acted outside the law – he actually UNLAWFULLY.  It restores faith in the idea that somebody will listen to it all fairly. It restores faith in the idea that nobody is above the law. Whilst the focus of the Lewisham judgment was focused on Lewisham policy issues, there are, as argued above, huge implications for the rest of English health policy, and, crucially, the manner and style in which it is conducted. Lack of even ‘shotgun diplomacy’ is no longer an option. Certain people, especially Jeremy Hunt, will have to tread very carefully. Finally, I should like to pay a personal tribute a huge army of people involved in this. It would be unfair to single out particular individuals, but please do allow me to say thank you to @jos21, @carolmbrown@drmarielouise, @lewishamcouncil, @goonerjanet, @savelewishamAE, @snigskitchen and @drjackydavis (list not to be read “expressio unius est exclusio alterius” as the lawyers say.)

Making the initial training contract application to the graduate recruitment officer

Different  recruiters  will  have  their  own  ways  of  assessing  these  forms.  Some  look  at  the  holistic  nature  of  the  form,  more  than  others.  Some  require  cover  letters,  but  others  do  not,  and  such  firms  put  a  lot  on  emphasis  on  their  cover  letters.  This  document  is  not  supposed  to  provide  the  substrate  of  a  ‘perfect  answer’  for  the  “marking  matrix”  used  by  these  firms,  but  is  supposed  to  provide  clues  as  to  the  rationale  for  asking  the  question  in  the  first  place.

Competencies  are  knowledge  and  skills  statements  and  not  task  statements.  For  example:  conducting  the  meetings  is  a  task.  In  order  to  do  so,  one  needs  required  competency.  Therefore,  in  this  case  the  required  competency  is  the  combination  of  skills  to  make  an  agenda,  to  promote  a  healthy  group  process,  to  resolve  conflicts,  to  manage  time  etc.  

General suggestions

  •  Be  clear  in  your  own  mind  why  you  want  to  join  the  firm  and  why  you  wish  to  become  a  commercial  lawyer.  What  is  it  that  really  interests  you  about  the  work  we  do?  Match  what  you’ve  got  to  what  they’re  looking  for.  Most  employers  nowadays  select  against  criteria.  The  more  precisely  you  match  them,  the  harder  it  is  for  them  to  avoid  interviewing  you!  A  detailed  list  of  what  they’re  looking  for  often  comes  with  the  application  form  but,  if  not,  go  systematically  through  their  website  or  recruitment  literature;  you  may  find  it  especially  useful  to  look  at  their  graduate   recruitment  pages,  especially  “what  we’re  looking  for”  and  any  statements  of  competences  or  shared  values  of  the  firm.  Knowing  precisely  what  they  want  will  help  you  match  up  your  own  qualities  when  you  complete  the  form.
  • You’re  applying  to  a  commercial  law  firm  so  you  will  be  expected  to  know  about  the  world  of  business  and  the  issues  that  affect  the  firm  and  its  clients.  It’s  probably  worth  your  while  if  you  identify  one  or  two  key  business  or  legal  news   stories  that  interest  you  and  follow  them  for  at  least  a  few  weeks  before  the   interviews,  so  you  can  talk  quite  broadly  about  the  main  issues.
  • Take  your  time.  Look  at  various  websites,  brochures,  careers  fairs,  presentations,  and  other  online  resources  like .  Time  spent  preparing  is  time  well  spent.  It’ll  make  those  “why  do  you  want  to  work  for  us?”  questions  so  much  easier.  With  longer  forms  you  may  need  to  break  it  into  chunks,  filling  the  form  in  over  two  or  three  sessions.
  • Make  it  easy  for  the  graduate recruitment officer.      Give  your  answers  a  clear  structure.  Directly  match  the  skills  they  want  to  your  own,  using  headings  if  necessary.  Think  about  what  sets  you  apart  from  other  applicants.  This  is  your  chance  to  sell  yourself,  so  use  a  range  of  examples  from  both  inside  and  out  of  university  to  highlight  your  skills  and  achievements.
  • Where’s  the  evidence?  Many  applications  lack  the  individuality  injected  by  small  bits  of  specific  detail  which  make  them  come  alive.  Give  relevant  interesting  examples  -­  go  into  detail.  Make  every  effort  to  include  practical  examples  of  when  and  where  you’ve  demonstrated  the  skills  they  want.
  • Don’t  be  modest.  Application  forms  (and  interviews)  are  all  about  letting  people  know  what  we’re  good  at.      
  • Treat  it  like  an  exam  i.e. answer  the  question!  Recognise  a  multi-part  question  and  tackle  all  its  parts  separately,  using  sub-­??headings  or  breaking  it  up  into  paragraphs.  Treat  each  bit  separately –  don’t  smudge  it  into  a  single  answer.
  • Don’t  be  afraid  of  your  failures.  Application  forms  can  read  like  an  unstinting  list  of  successes.  It’s  sometimes  worth  going  on  to  analyse  the  lessons  learned  –  why  did  things  go  wrong,  how  might  you  do  them  differently  next  time?
  • Vary  it!    Get  together  a  list  of  examples  you  might  use.  You  can  call  on  all  sorts  of  things  -­ holidays,  summer  jobs,  flatshares,  voluntary  work,  committees.  Then  go  through  the  form,  considering  which  example  is  strongest  for  each  of  the  answers.  Think  about  the  job  you’re  applying  for,  and  try  to  use  the  most  relevant  examples.
  • Don’t  overdo  the  academic.    Employers  seek  rounded  individuals,  adept  in  a  number  of  situations,  not  people  whose  main  experience  of  teamwork,  achievement,  challenge  and  communication  comes  through  their  course.
  • Attention to detail is a key skill for a lawyer and this starts with your application, so check thoroughly for grammar and spelling errors. his is the number one training contract application mistake to avoid on every recruiter’s list. There are good reasons for this. It is something that can be easily avoided. Quickly pasting your work into a word processor for a grammar and spelling check should get most of the job done. Printing a hard copy and proof reading it, with a pen in hand, will do the rest. Do this when you are completely cold to what you have written, the next morning for example. Making these types of mistakes shows a lack of attention to detail, which is not taken lightly by prospective employers. Given the type of service that Law firms provide to their clients, attention to detail is especially important. Errors in drafted legal documents expose cracks in a firm’s amour of professionalism. You can imagine that a client will then start to question the firm’s competence in other less visible but more important areas. Drafting errors also provide ammunition for the opposite side and their lawyers. In the manoeuvreing that happen during negotiations it is much harder to hold your ground and assert your side of the argument if your work is being questioned for lack of quality.
  • Copy and pasting. There are no shortcuts to a well-written and constructed application. Next to spelling and grammar errors, cutting and pasting from other sources is not only a waste of time with applications, but also easy enough to detect. Copying and pasting is often betrayed by inappropriate or incorrect information. Addressing the application to the wrong person or company happens all too often.


?  Give an example of ..”

Competencybased  questions  often  involve  you  demonstrating  these  key  attributes  so  really  think  about  the  answers  you  give  and  explain  your  examples  in  full.  Examples  should  have  a  clear  structure  to  highlight  your  skills  and  achievements  but  remember  to  answer  the  question  succinctly.  If  you  need  help  with  structure,  you  may  want  to  think  about  the  STAR  technique:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Actions
  • Results

A  good  way  of  dealing  with  this  type  of  question  is  by  using  the  CAR  approach.  CAR  stands  for  Context,  Action,  Result.  It  helps  you  to  structure  your  answer  as  a  convincing  way.  The  CONTEXT  forms  an  introduction,  describing  the  scenario  you  faced,  date  and  place.  The  ACTION  forms  the  main  body  and  should  be  the  longest  part.  The  RESULT  is  the  conclusion,  and,  like  the  introduction,  should  be  quite  short.

Other  aspects  might  include:

  • Try  to  give  quantifiable  results  if  possible.
  • If  the  result  was  negative,  then  say  what  you  learned  from  the  experience,  and  what  you  would  do  differently  next  time.    Sometimes  interviewers  will  ask  you  about  a  situation  where  you  were  unsuccessful.  This  is  an  excellent  opportunity  to  demonstrate  how  well  you  learn  lessons  from  failure,  but  also  to  demonstrate  qualities  such  as  resilience  (to  bounce  back  and  try  again);  determination;  strength  of   character  (when  the  going  gets  tough,  the  tough  get  going!);  flexibility; initiative;  and   lateral  thinking.  There  is  a  saying  that  “The  most  successful  people  have  failed  the  most   as  the  best  way  to  learn  is  via  your  mistakes.
  • Don’t  go  into  too  much  background  detail  –  keep  to  the  point!  Often  there  isn’t   enough  room  to  use  the  CAR  approach,  but  it’s  still  worth  keeping  in  mind  when  you   prepare  your  draft  answer.   Think  of  the  most  relevant  examples,  rather  than  the  most  impressive”.
  • Use  action  verbs  to  improve  your  content.


?  Background

“[X]  has  minimum  academic  requirements,  so  before  completing  our  application  form  please  give   careful  consideration  to  the  following  questions:

Do  you  have  3  A  levels  at  grades  A,  B,  B  or  equivalent?  (N.B.  Taken  in  one  sitting  and  NOT  including  General  Studies.

Have  you  gained  or  are  you  realistically  expecting  to  gain  a  minimum  2.1  honours  degree  or  equivalent?

Have  you  previously  made  an  unsuccessful  application  to  []?”


?  Languages

Multiple  languages  can  be  added  by  selecting  the  language,  and  fluency  levels.

?  Education

Percentage  grades  are  now  required  for  undergraduate  and  postgraduate  subject  results.  You  are  required  to  ensure  that  your  institution  details  and  results  are  correct.  You  must  include  at  least  one  secondary  and  one  undergraduate  record  (including  all  results).  You  are  also  obliged  to  provide  a  complete  breakdown  of  all  your  grades  by  subject,  obtained    during  secondary  school  and  university.  Please  list  your  all  of  your  GCSEs  and  A’?  Levels  or  international  equivalent.

?   How did you hear about us?”

Various  options  are  given.  See  also  the  section  on  “Firm  choice”  below.  

?  Referees

You  are  normally  required  to  enter  details  of  two  employers  at  least,  sometimes  one  academic  and  one  vocational.

? Other details

Excluding motor offences not resulting in a custodial sentence or disqualification from driving, have you ever had a criminal  conviction (including  any spent conviction which, by virtue of the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Exceptions) Order 1975, should  be disclosed)?

You  will  need  to  disclose  any  criminal  convictions  anyway  if  you  wish  to  gain  student  enrolment  with  the  Solicitors  Regulation  Authority  to  do  the  Legal  Practice  Course.

Do you have any disability for which you require  any assistance for during the selection process?

As  well  as  being  a  practical  point  such  that  “reasonable  adjustments”  can  be  made  for  any  assessments  you  do,  including  for  online  assessments,  the  law  firm  will  be  interested  in  issues  of  accessibility  for  the  place  in  which  you  have  your  interview/other  assessments,  or  any  necessary  adjustments  (e.g.  special  lighting,  ergonomic  chair)  consistent  with  the  Equality  Act  [2010].

?  Work experience

Please  set out details of your work experience. (Normally 4 + “others”)

Many  large  solicitors’  firms  run  formal  work  experience  schemes,  generally  known  as  vacation  placements.    As  well  as  shadowing  solicitors  and  completing  small,  discrete  tasks  there  may  well  be  presentations  about  the  firm  and  its  work  and  a  number  of  social  events.    Unsurprisingly,  vacation  placements  are  extremely  popular  –  it  can  be  harder  to  get  onto  one  than  to  get  a  training  contract.  Most  vacation  placements  will  have  fixed  closing  dates.  As  well  as  spending  time  with  a  solicitors’  firm,  other  good  forms  of  legal  experience  include  volunteering  at  a  Citizens  Advice  Bureau  or  law  centre.

? Detailed questions

? Activities, interests, positions of responsibility

Please  give brief details of your key non-academic extra-curricular hobbies, activities, leisure interests, highlighting any positions of responsibility whether at school, university or otherwise.

Describe  your biggest achievement and/or most demanding position of responsibility you have held to date; why did this achievement stand out for you, and what did you learn  from this?

This  question  is  trying  to  assess  how  you  manage  your  time.  What  have  you  been  or  are  you  doing  whilst  studying  at  university  or  Law  School?  If  you  are  involved  with  any  sporting  or  charity  work  tell  them  all  about  it  -­ be  specific.  Talk  about  what  you  have  done,  what  contribution  that  has  made  and  what  you  gained  from  your  involvement.  These  activities  provide  opportunities  to  develop  skills  that  will  be  useful  at  work  and  your  response  should  show  that  you  understand  this.  A  simple  list  of  things  that  look  good  is  less  important  than  offering  evidence  of  what  you’ve  gained  from  them.  If  possible,  show  how  your  interests  have  developed  your  skills,  for  example  in  teamwork,  business  awareness,  or  communication.    Try  to  show  results  in  terms  of  objectives  set  and  achieving  improvements.  These  sections  are  often  quite  tight,  so  some  say  it’s  permissible  to  provide  an  answer  in  note  form.

? Prizes

Please  provide details of any academic prizes, distinctions, skills, scholarships and any other noteworthy achievements. In the case of skills please specify level of proficiency.

Sometimes  the  question  will  specify  which  “level”  of  your  education  these  refer  to,  e.g.  school,  college  or  university.

? Firm specification

Please  explain  why you think you are well suited  to [], and have chosen  to apply to [] for a training  contract or vacation scheme placement? why you think you would  make a successful trainee?

[X] is a leading  UK law firm. How do you think we are distinct from other law firms?

All [X] trainee  solicitors are based in our [Y] office. Please give your reasons for choosing  to live in or around and train at the [Y] office.

Again  this  question  is  trying  to  determine  your  commitment  to  a  career  and  specifically  your  commitment  to  their  particular  law  firm.  Recruiters  look  for  motivation,  commitment  and  enthusiasm.  So,  why  have  you  chosen  them?  Is  it  because  you  have  spoken  to  trainees  and  like  the  sound  of  the  firm’?s  working  environment?  Have  you  researched  their  work  and  found  a  specific  case  /  area  interesting?  Do  you  have  relevant  industrial  experience?  Do  you  have  a  language  or  are  from  a  country  that  they  have  clients  /  offices  in?  Is  there  something  particular  about  their  training  that  appeals  to  you?  Show  that  you  have  done  your  research  about  the  firm  and  that  you  are  genuinely  interested  in  them.

Apparently most  law  students  do  extensive  research  in  fact  into  their  choice  of  firm.   It’s  also  worth  noting  that @AllAboutCareers  and @AllAboutLaw  are  very  helpful in this regard, as well as “The Training Contract Handbook”.

? Career motivation

 What qualities do you think you possess  to be a successful lawyer in location [X] with [Y]? Which areas of law interest you and why?

Please  explain  what attracts you to a career as a solicitor at an international business  law firm, with reference to other careers  that you might have considered and why you chose  not to pursue them.

This question tries to determine your commitment to a career in law: the thinking and research you have done about the profession and what you want from a career as a lawyer. Can you demonstrate enough commitment and interest in law to persuade the firm to invest money and time in you for the Graduate Diploma in Law, Legal Practice Course and/or training contract? This may seem an obvious question but do you really know why you want to be a solicitor or barrister – think hard about it, this may be asked at interview.

If you can produce a convincing answer to this question you’re one step ahead. Think about what first sparked your interest in law, or what you like most about it. Maybe being a solicitor was your childhood dream, or maybe it runs in the family. Whatever the case, you need to show that you are passionate about the law. With all the academic requirements and vocational training, becoming a solicitor is a long-term project. To be offered a law training contract you need to show that you have the passion and the drive to see it through to the end.

Be specific in your reasons for choosing a legal career. Have you had any relevant work experience that has helped you to see first hand what a lawyer actually does? Have you had any personal experience of the work of a lawyer – perhaps through family or friends? Even if you have done pro bono in a law centre or a CAB, has this experience been useful in you understanding generic skills such as teamwork, communication or meeting deadlines? Has your law course or degree furthered your interest and commitment to law? Have you developed a substantial interest in access-to-justice? Have you had any relevant experience that has developed skills that would be easily transferable to a career as a lawyer?

The work of solicitors is more varied than you might think. There are a number of different settings in which solicitors work, for example commercial, private or in-house practice. You should be aware of the differences between the various settings, but if you’re not, do some research. Find out about the kind of role you might find yourself in if you were to go for commercial practice, for example. Is this what you hoped for when you embarked upon your law studies? If not, look into the other options. Being aware of your preferences is vital when choosing a firm with whom you want to carry out your training. Not only will it make what you learn more worthwhile, but you will find it easier to choose a firm. The firm will also find it easier to choose you.

For most training contract applicants, the choice boils down to the simple question: “Do I work in London, or do I work for a local regional firm? This is something of a personal choice, with implications that will affect your quality of life and your career. The largest firms are based in London and the legal market which circles the capital’s financial services industry is one of the most lucrative in the world. This translates into higher average pay packets for London solicitors. Aside from the careers benefits to choosing London, trainees can enjoy all the social and cultural activities that the cosmopolitan city has to offer. However, the cost of living is higher in London and you will have to content with the traffic and rush hour crushes on the tube. Working hours are often longer at London firms and you may find a more attractive work-life balance at firms outside of the capital. The choice, as always, is yours.

? Commercial awareness

Identify a current  commercial article that you read  or a recent  event  from the business  world which has attracted your attention recently.  Why do you consider  it to be significant? Who are the key stakeholders in this situation and what are the implications for those concerned?

Business  acumen and commercial awareness are important elements to becoming a successful solicitor. Please outline, in your opinion, why you think this would  be important and tell us about a time  when  you’ve demonstrated your abilities in this area. What was the occasion and what impact did possessing this awareness have over the final outcome?

Choose  a sector group of the firm and summarise the biggest challenges and opportunities they will face in the future.

Commercial  awareness  is  something  that  firms  almost  without  exception  mention  as  a  desirable  quality.  Commercial  awareness  is  generally  defined  as  a  candidate’?s  general  knowledge  of  business.  It  can  be  summed  up  as  an  interest  in  business  and  an  understanding  of  the  wider  environment  in  which  an  organisation  operates:  its  customers  and  competitors.  For  corporates,  this  is  about  establishing  “competitive  advantage”,  and  it’s  often  interesting  to  work  out  how  companies  enter  new  markets  (especially  the  BRIC  emerging  economies),  and  what  barriers  there  might  be  for  companies  competing  effectively  in  critical  markets.

Commercial  awareness  generally  means  an  understanding  of  a  client’?s  business  and  the  industry  or  sector  in  which  it  operates.  It  is  a  key  competency  for  applicants.  It  involves  not  only  keeping  up  to  date  with  commercial  issues  and  it  is  also  about  being  able  to  demonstrate  commercial  awareness  through  any  business/work  experience  and,  specifically,  the  applicant’s  understanding  of  the  type  of  firm  to  which  they  are  applying.  Clients  seek  business  solutions,  presented  in  a  way  that  makes  sense.  An  understanding  that  a  law  firm  operates  in  a  competitive  industry  is  also  considered  as  being  commercially  aware.

As  a  result  you  may  be  expected  to  demonstrate  an  understanding  as  to  how  the  firm  or  chambers  markets  itself  to  its  clients.  To  know  who  the  firm’s  main  competitors  are.  To  explain  how  you  would  attract  a  potential  client  by  explaining   the  unique  selling  points  of  the  firm  (USPs).  For  example,  if  you’re  applying  to  a  foreign  firm,  it’s  not  inconceivable  you  could  be  asked  who  the  major  players  are  in  that  particular  market  (e.g.  the  US  market).  In  addition  to  this  you  will  be  expected  to  know  about  the  practice  areas  in  which  the  firm  or  chambers   operate  and  to  be  aware  of  key  changes  in  legislation  and  the  economic  market  which  may  affect   the  way  in  which  they  operate.

Have  you  done  a  LL.M.  in  international  commercial  law  where  you  might  have  gained  important  experience  in  drafting  or  case  analysis  in  this  particular  field  of  law?  Have  you  even  done  a  M.B.A.  where  you  have  studied  business  management  in  great  detail?  You  could  also  think  about  participating  in  any  student  societies  where  you  are  doing  the  GDL  or  LPC  –  these  are  very  active  the  vast  majority  of  “learning  providers”.

Mention  any  business/commercial  experience  you  have  had,  including  non-­legal  work  and/or   roles  which  involve  dealing  with  clients  or  members  of  the  public.  Have  you  ever  been  a   Director  of  a  private  limited  company  yourself?  This  can  highlight  your  awareness  of  customer   needs  and  expectations.  Were  you  ever  given  the  task  of  improving  a  current  service  or  product?  Did  you  add  value  to  it?  If  so,  how  did  you  go  about  it,  what  factors  did  you  have  to  take  into  consideration?  Are  you  able  to  identify  the  long  term  and  short  term  goals  of  an  organisation  or   a  project?

Thinking  in  terms  of  a  SWOT  (the  strengths,  weaknesses,  opportunities  and  threats)   analysis  of  the  firm  or  legal  sector  can  be  helpful.

Did  you  have  a  key  role  in  any  society  committees  at  school  or  university?  Were  you  given  a  financial  role?  Any  of  these  can  be  good  indicators  that  you  have  had  to  think  about  different  perspectives  in  the  market  place.

Have  you  ever  raised  money  for  a  charity,  secured  sponsorship  for  an  event?  What  process  did  you  go  through   to  secure  the  funds?    Read  the  business  press  regularly.  Try  to  know  something  about  current  leading  stories/issues,  and  how  they  might  have  an  impact  on  the  firm’s  clients.  Look  out  for  stories  that  will  affect  the  firm  to  which  you  are  applying,  or  its  clients,  directly  or  indirectly.

Look  at  the  BBC  news  and  business  website.  Read  also  publications  like  the  Financial  Times,  the  Economist,  and  The  Lawyer.  There  are  business  related  programmes  on  BBC  Radio  which  are  also  available  to  listen  again  on-­??line  and  as  podcasts  such  as:

The  Bottom  Line  (with  @EvanHD)    “Insight  into  business  from  the  people  at  the  top.  Evan  Davis  meets  influential  business  leaders  for  a  round  table  conversation  about  the  issues  that  matter  to  their  companies  and  their  customers.”


? Proactivity

 Describe  an occasion when  you spotted an opportunity to make an improvement in ‘going the extra mile’, and took action without being asked  to do so. What steps did you take? What was the outcome? Explain why you think this attribute is relevant for a solicitor.

This  question  is  testing  your  problem  solving  ability.  Detail  what  the  issue  was,  why  it  was  difficult  and  then  what  you  did  to  resolve  it.  If  you  are  talking  about  a  group  activity,  do  not  put   ‘?we‘?  -­  they  are  interested  in  what  you  did.  As  with  all  your  answers  use  this  question  to   differentiate  yourself  i.e.  make  it  personal  and  substantiate  what  you  say  with  specific  examples.

Aspects  of  a  good  answer  might  be  as  follows.

  • Use  initiative  to  act  on  opportunities.  Become  a  leader  before  other  people  view  you  as  one.  Healthy  organisations  often  reward  those  who  take  the  lead,  not  just  those  with  formal  management  roles.
  • Take  responsibility  for  own  objectives:  set  priorities.  Display  a  “?can  do“?  attitude  even  in  demanding  situations.  Try  to  solve  problems,  rather  than  to  pass  them  on  to  other  people.
  • ?Go  the  extra  mile?  when  asked  to  do  tasks.  Go  beyond  your  job  description.  Do  work  that  gets  you  noticed.  Show  enthusiasm:  this  will  be  noticed  and  you  will  eventually  be  rewarded.
  • Take  ownership  of  problems:  anticipate  potential  problems,  take  pre-­emptive  action  and   act  quickly  to  resolve  problems.  Develop  innovative  practices.  Value  innovative  thinking.
  • Learn  new  skills  that  will  enhance  capability.


? Flexibility  

Describe  a time that you have had to change your approach to a project or task halfway through. What changes did you have to make? Why did you need to make these changes? What was the outcome?

This  means  that  you  are  able  to  modify  your  approach  to  achieve  a  goal,  and  you  are  open  to  change  and  new  information;  you  can  rapidly  adapt  to  new  information,  changing  conditions,  or  unexpected  obstacles.  Legal  recuiters  are  often  looking  for  the  following  aspects.


1.  Values  need  for  flexibility:  

  • Accepts  that  other  people’s  points  of  view  are  reasonable  or  valid.
  • Acknowledges  that  people  are  entitled  to  their  opinions,  and  accepts  that  they  are   different.
  • Steps  into  colleagues’  tasks  when  needed  or  required.

2.  Demonstrates  flexibility:  

  • Works  creatively  within  standard  procedures  to  fit  a  specific  situation.
  • Understands  policies  and  can  work  within  them  to  meet  office,  work  group,  team  or   individual  goals.

3.  Adapts  approach:  

  • Changes  one’s  approach  as  required  to  achieve  intended  outcomes.
  • Prioritises  actions  effectively  in  order  to  respond  to  numerous,  diverse  challenges  and   demands.

4.  Adapts  strategy:  

  • Changes  the  overall  service  plan  and  implements  new  practices  when  original  approach   and  assumptions  are  no  longer  valid.
  • Able  to  shift  strategic  focus  and  activities  quickly  in  response  to  changing  organisational  priorities.

? Teamwork

Teamwork  is  considered  crucial  to  functioning  well  as  a  trainee/junior  in  a  corporate  law  firm.  

Please  give an example of a situation where  you were required to work in a team to accomplish an important objective and describe your role in achieving  this objective.

A  law  student  who  is  good  at  teamwork  might:

  • Believe  that  working  together  with  others  or  in  teams  gives  higher  synergies  to  self  and   the  teams,  and  therefore  is  positive  and  enthusiastic  about  teamwork  and  team  building.
  • Contributes  significantly  when  working  as  a  member  of  a  team  or  when  working  as  a  team  leader  to  build  a  strong  team;  respects  all  the  members  of  the  team  and  cooperates  with  every  team  member  and  the  team  leader.
  • Provides  help  and  support  to  those  team  members  who  are  in  need  of  help  and  support,  and  shares  relevant  knowledge  and  information  with  all  the  team  members  including  the   team  leader.
  • Maintains  the  required  level  of  communication  in  terms  of  quality,  quantity  and   timeliness  with  the  team  members  and  the  team  leader.
  • When  working  as  a  team  leader,  facilitates  developing  team  goals  with  team  members’  participation.
  • Motivates  the  team  members  while  working  as  a  leader  of  the  team  or  even  when  working  as  a  member  of  the  team,  building  up  high  team  morale;  creates  a  sense  or  feeling  of  cohesiveness  among  the  fellow  members.
  • Is  good  at  resolving  the  conflicts  that  might  arise  due  to  diverse  personalities  of  various   team  members.
  • When  the  members  seem  to  err  from  the  shared  mission,  goals  and  priorities,  brings  them   back  on  the  desired  focus.
  • Seeks  for  each  and  every  member’?s  active  and  enthusiastic  participation  all  the  time  and  accordingly  motivates  the  members  who  seem  to  be  getting  disinterested  or  tuned  out  from  time  to  time.
  • Makes  every  member  feel  that  each  one’?s  work  or  contribution  is  equally  important.
  • Shares  credit  for  success  of  team  with  all  the  others  in  the  team.
  • Celebrates  the  team’?s  success  together  with  all  the  others  in  the  team.
  • Makes  sure  that  the  various  teams  do  not  become  islands  in  themselves  and  form   unnecessary  boundaries  around  them.

? Defining qualities of the candidate

 What can you tell us about yourself that sets you apart from other applicants, and which are convincing reasons why we should  recruit you?

In  a  sense,  your  answer  to  this  question  is  to  some  extent  governed  by  your  personal  qualities  not  covered  elsewhere  in  the  form.  Here  are  some  further  competences  which  might  be  relevant  here.


A  trainee  will  be  expected  to  upholds  the  principles  of  the  current  SRA  Code  of  ConductSome   aspects  might  include:

  •  Holds  to  a  laudable  value  structure  all  the  time  and  in  all  the  situations.
  • Practices  integrity  while  dealing  with  everyone  and  therefore  is  regarded  as  trustworthy   person.
  • Does  not  turn  and  twist  the  information  to  gain  something  or  to  score  a  point  in  an   underhand  manner.
  • Uses  confidential  information  confidentially.  Does  not  divulge  the  confidential  information   even  under  any pressure.
  • Does  not  indulge  in  any  kind  of  corruption  or  corrupt  practices.
  • Motivates  others  to  practice  integrity  by  being  an  example  to  others.


Some  aspects  might  include:

  •  Can  envision  the  advancement  and  growth  opportunities.
  • Possesses  abilities  for  high  degree  of  conceptualization,  strategising  and  analysis.
  • Demonstrates  high  achievement  orientation.  Therefore,  emphasises  commitment, accountability,  action  orientation  and  results.
  • Adept  at  interpersonal  relationships  and  puts  emotional  intelligence  in  action.
  • Excellent  communicator.
  • Uses  his  excellent  influencing  skills  for  bringing  out  the  desired  consensus,  decisions  and   actions.
  •  Very  good  at  decision  making  processes  and  once  decisions  are  reached,  displays  firmness  and  decisiveness  in  implementation.
  • Displays  required  flexibility  and  adaptability  in  different  situations  and  times.
  • Is  great  team  builder  and  team  player.  Provides  necessary  support  and  cooperativeness.
  • Possesses  high  commercial  awareness  and  business  acumen.
  • Develops  many  next  line  leaders.

? Communication skills

 All solicitors at [X] work with a wide range  of people so need to be able  to persuade, influence and display effective communication skills. Describe  a situation when  you have had to communicate effectively.

You  should  think  of  various  forms  of  effective  communications,  e.g.  oral  presentations,  written  papers,  written  papers,  drafting,  interviewing  or  advising  (on  the  LPC),  practical  legal  research  (on  the  LPC),  blogging,  participating  in  podcasts,  and  how  you  have  adapted  your  method  of  communication  according  to  the  target  audience.  Your  answer  is  bound  to  be  more  compelling  if  you  can  give  concrete  examples.  Some  related  specific  competences  are  given  as  below.


One  scenario  where  persuading  skills  can  be  important  is  the  job  interview,  but  the  following  tips   are  valuable  in  many  other  settings.

  • Focus  on  the  needs  of  the  other  party.  Take  time  to  listen  to  them  carefully  and  find  out  about  their  interests  and  expectations.  This  shows  that  you  are  really  interested  in  them  and  they  are  then  more  likely  to  trust  and  respect  you.  It  will  also  make  it  easier  for  you  to  outline  the  benefits  of  your  proposal  in  terms  they  understand.
  • Argue  your  case  with  logic.  Do  careful  research  on  your  ideas  and  those  of  your   competitors  (if  there  are  any)  and  make  sure  that  any  claims  you  make  can  be  verified.
  • Use  positive  rather  than  negative  language:  instead  of  saying  “?You’?re  wrong  about  this”?,   say  “?That’?s  true  but  ….”?,  “?That’?s  an  excellent  idea,  but  if  we  look  more  deeply  …..”?  or  “?I   agree  with  what  you  say  but  have  you  considered  ….”?.  


Some  aspects  might  include:

  • Believes  that  listening  strengthens  the  quality  of  communication,  interpersonal  relations,   human  relations,  emotional  intelligence,  conflict  management  and  team  management.
  • Every  interaction  requires  one  to  respond  and  since  the  quality  of  response  depends  on   the  quality  of  listening,  tries  to  improve  quality  of  his  listening  constantly.
  • Thus,  listens  to  understand  the  other  person  and  not  just  to  react,  reply,  control  or  manipulate  the  other  person.  By  understanding  the  other  person  properly,  can  respond  or  act  in  the  best  possible  manner.
  • Generally  respects  other  people  and  demonstrates  openness  and  trust  through  his  body   language  and  spoken  words.
  • Then,  paves  way  to  influencing  the  people  in  right  directions  by  diagnosing  the  issues  and   concerns  of  others  in  a  better  way  for  effective  problem  solving.
  • Promotes  a  more  participative  style  of  managing  by  involving  people.

? Conflict and pressure

The success  of [X] is built on the self-motivation and applied  effort of all its employees, as demonstrated by their ability to work through setbacks coping effectively with conflict and pressure.  Describe  a situation when  you have had to deal  with conflict and pressure. Which other people involved?  What did you learn about yourself?

Some  aspects  might  include  the  observations  that  the  law  student:

  • Recognises  the  fact  that  conflicts  are  quite  natural  in  any  organization  and  yet  these  need  appropriate  redressing  to  move  on  with  apt  solutions,  thereforeis  willing  to  take  up  the  responsibility  of  managing  and  resolving  the  conflict.
  • Can  think  through  clearly  in  a  conflicting  situation.
  • Keeps  his  eyes  constantly  on  the  desired  goals  and  therefore,  does  not  drift  away  from  them  despite  conflicting  arguments  and  points  of  views.
  • Listens  well  and  patiently  all  the  conflicting  arguments  and  presentations.
  •  Controls  the  people  and  their  communication  patterns  in  the  discussions  that  takes  place   when  resolving  a  conflict.
  • Facilitates  the  innovative  and  creative  thinking  of  the  people  caught  up  in  the  conflict.
  • Does  not  take  sides  of  any  particular  set  of  people  or  their  thinking.  Rather,  tries  to   facilitate  working  out  genuinely  appropriate  and  optimal  solutions.
  • Contributes  his  own  inputs,  ideas,  creativity  and  analysis  to  supplement  the  missing  or  erroneous  information  and  thus  uncover  the  real  issues  and  reasons  that  led  to  the  conflict.  Then  proceeds  to  help  find  the  answers.
  • Gains  agreements  without  leaving  behind  any  bitter  taste  or  disrupting  the  human   relationships.
  • Is  proactive  and  as  far  as  possible  anticipates  the  conflicting  situations  and  dissolves  them   well  before  they  turn  into  conflicts.

? Commitment to excellence

Describe  an occasion when  you have demonstrated commitment to a task or project  that resulted in you exceeding expectations either for yourself  or others. What steps did you take? What was the outcome?

You  will  be  able  to  achieve  the  excellence  in  any  skill  or  competency  only  if  you  rehearse  or  practice  the  learned  skill  a  large  number  of  times.  Knowledge  alone  is  no  guarantee  for  achieving  great  levels  in  skills  or  competencies.  For  example,  only  if  you  start  swimming,  you  will  become  a  swimmer;  mere  knowledge  of  swimming  or  great  theories  of  swimming  will  not  automatically  make  you  even  an  ordinary  swimmer.  Knowledge  surely  helps  and  is  a  must  but  without  doing,  it  is  of  no  use  to  you.  Implementation  of  knowledge  is  the  name  of  the  game.  Wisdom  is  in  knowing  what  to  do  and  how  to  do  but  the  virtue  is  doing  it.

It’s  said  that  you  should  become  both  consciously  and  unconsciously  competent  in  your  strive  for  excellence.  Consciously  competent  means  gaining  the  knowledge  about  the  skill  to  be  mastered  and  begin  practicing  the  knowledge  gained  (example:  gaining  knowledge  on  how  to  swim  using  proper  styles  of  swimming  and  start  swimming  using  the  right  styles  of  swimming).  On  the  other  hand,  unconsciously  competent  means  keep  practicing  the  knowledge  gained  till  you  gain   mastery  in  the  skill  (example:  you  have  now  become  an  expert  swimmer  since  you  have  been   swimming  using  the  proper  styles  of  swimming  over  number  of  hours  and  you  can  now  give  yourself  9  on  10  or  even  10  on  10).  For  greater  success  in  life,  you  should  try  to  reach  the  unconsciously  competent  level  in  the  skills  required  by  you  for  your  professional,  personal,  family  and  social  activities/tasks/projects.

? Personal challenge

Describe  a significant challenge that you have faced  outside of your academic studies ideally from the last 2 years. How did you initially analyse the challenge? What approach did you take to solving it? What did you learn from this challenge?

  • Successful  answers  to  these  sorts  of  questions  need  to  be  as  concrete  as  possible.  Supply  specific  detail  on  the  situation,  the  actions  taken  and  the  results  achieved.  Figures  can  be  particularly  useful  in  this  context.
  •  Your  example  need  not  be  very “significant”.  Go  for  something  you  genuinely  believe  to  be  a  real   achievement  rather  than  give  them  something  you  think  they  want  to  hear  -­ it’ll  be  more  convincing.  The  important  thing  is  to  set  it  in  context.  Explain  why  it  was  significant  to  you  -­ if  you’re  unsporty,  uncoordinated  and  broke  your  leg  six  months  previously,  learning  to  stay  upright  while  sliding  a  few  hundred  metres  downhill  may  well  have  been  a  major  achievement.    
  • A  useful  device  is  the  Trojan  horse  technique,  which  allows  you  to  smuggle  in  other   examples  as  in  “  I  considered  selecting  one  of  several  achievements,  including  x  and  y.  However  I   have  chosen  z  because…....”    

Aspects  of  a  convincing  answer  might  include  the  following.

1.  Recognises  Lack  of  Success:

Acknowledges  areas  where  expectations  are  not  met,  and  provides  reasons  which  may  or  may  not   involve  self.

2.  Remains  Positive:

Re-­energises  after  loss  or  failure  or  after  encountering  a  significant  hurdle  to  readdress  the  situation  and  to  overcome  it;  approaches  new  situations  with  continuing  positive  outlook,  despite  previous  disappointments.

3.  Takes  Responsibility:

Acknowledges  personal  responsibility  for  outcomes,  even  when  not  all  elements  of  a  situation  are   within  direct  control  but  could  have  been  personally  managed.

4.  Learns  from  Mistakes  and  Successes:

Analyses  situations  on  an  ongoing  basis  to  improve  own  performance;  designs  a  personal  action   plan  to  address  own  issues  constructively  and  decisively.

5.  Shares  Learning  with  Team:

Deals  openly  with  failure  by  bringing  team  together  to  define  specific  problems  and  present  solutions;  may  involve  team  in  diagnosis  and  in  developing  solutions  to  effectively  transfer  knowledge  into  the  organisation.

? Mitigating circumstances

Are there any important mitigating circumstances why you feel the exam  results you have listed do not fully reflect your abilities?

There  may  be  good  reasons  why  you  ‘underperformed’,  due  to  recent  bereavement,  or  illness  and   disease,  and  these  should  be  set  out  with  reference  to  documentary  evidence  where  possible.

Additional information

If applicable, please  state any additional information which you think is relevant and supportive to your application or which you think has not been covered adequately in this form.

This is a good opportunity to do precisely that!




How talk of the Unions went very Pete Tong for David Cameron



At first, nobody knew what he was going on about. David Cameron appeared to have some weird pathological obsession with Len McCluskey of UNITE, like somebody who acts oddly around someone that find deeply attractive. It is of course a tried and tested weapon of the Conservative Party; the notion that the Unions have secret ‘beer and sandwiches’ in Number 10, and they periodically hold the country to ransom. And yet, the truth is that David Cameron is quite unable to party as if it is 1979. Cameron’s attempts to capture the atmosphere of a Nation at ease with itself was simply returned with derision, as no-one clapped for him, in contradistinction with other names, when a long list was read out at the Wimbledon Gall Ball this year. The ‘Cameron brand’ has, despite the best attempts at mitigation against re-toxification, been tarred with the corruption brush, in the perception of many, with the close relationship between News International, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks. Cameron has kept reminding us he saved this country from the brink of bankruptcy, when the fact is the economy has done extremely badly in the last three years. This is all about the political process and the economy.

Conveniently enough for Ed Miliband, the political process and the economy constitute two thirds of Jon Cruddas’ extensive policy review for Labour (the third leg of this tripos being society.) Whilst Falkirk was bad, the public is not altogether pleased with the extensive lobbying which appeared to culminate in the Health and Social Care Act. Private US ‘not for profit’ “health maintenance organisations” appear to have infiltrated the language of senior health policy wonks, and yet the problems of trade unions in private healthcare providers have not gone unnoticed. The main problem for David Cameron is not many people actually object in principle to the idea of democratic representation through Unions, and as for the idea of groups of people ‘holding the country to ransom’, the effect of the 1 Trillion Pound bailing out of the investment backing sector is not a trivial one. Boris Johnson and others proudly continue to ‘defend the competitive advantage’ of the City, with the Serious Fraud Office visibly impotent to deal with alleged LIBOR  fraud offences in the City’s own back yard.

It is not so easy to argue that there should be a no special relationship between Labour and the Unions, as Labour historically was invented as the vehicle to represent working class citizens in parliament. Members of Unions can of course ‘opt in’ to any political party they wish, but why should they wish to have the protection of the Unions in the first place? David Cameron would be onto a winner if Unions were unpopular, but the unpalatable fact for him is that Union membership is actually on the increase. The protection of employment rights, with the Unions in a pivotal rôle to bargain for the rights of workers, has never become more relevant. With the eligible time period for unfair dismissal having gone up form one year’s continuous service to two years, and with the quantum of the unfair dismissal having gone down, there has never been a better time to protect the worker. The worker is of course part of the ‘One Nation’ economy that Ed Miliband wants, it is part of the notion that we all have something to contribute to society in One Nation, and the process of participation politically of members of Unions (not whole Unions) has been approved.

Unions matter because they can speak up for the living needs of workers, whether this is the national minimum wage, or the living wage which is widely predicted to form part of the 2015 Labour manifesto. Members of Unions are much more accountable than the private equity shareholders who have profited through the rent seeking opportunities of the Health and Social Care Act. Unions could also be pivotal in bridging the gulf between the most extremely well paid and the worst paid. By having members of Unions on the renumeration committees in public companies and private limited companies, there will not only be an apparent perception of participation of the workforce, but there will also be active participation of the workforce in decisions promoting the ‘success’ or profitability of a company. This has already been working well in Germany, and Ed Miliband and Lord Stewart Wood are already most familiar with this aspect.

To be honest, this was a ‘cheap shot’ for David Cameron and it was inevitable it would explode dramatically in Labour’s face. While the BBC’s Nick Robinson will wish to chuck water on frying oil, his case is weakened by Tony Blair’s remark that Ed Miliband has shown remarkable leadership; and we know how much ‘they’ love Tony Blair. As usual, Ed Miliband will be called ‘weak, weak, weak’, but fundamental to all this is that the “political class” grossly underestimate the level of insight which ordinary voters have. It does not matter how this is all packaged by the BBC any more. Labour members think the way the country has been run stinks. Even hardcore Conservative voters are finding it hard to learn to love Cameron any more. Cameron’s in deep shit. And he knows it.

Now recruiting – new President of BPP Legal Awareness Society (closing 17/7; interviews 22/7)


The BPP Legal Awareness Society is a flagship leader in the BPP Students Association community.

The current brochure is available at:

As you’ll be aware, I myself presented 4 workshops on commercial awareness earlier this year in Holborn. Successful delegates who attended my workshops nationally were awarded a certificate of attendance.

As I hope to be leaving BPP soon, with much sadness, the last thing I should do is to appoint a new President and new Committee for next academic year (2013-4).

*The positions are: President (in charge of events, internal stakeholder meetings at BPP), Vice-President (assisting the President), Publicity Officer (self-explanatory), Events Co-ordinator (self-explanatory). Please feel free to propose an Officer for an ‘unmet need’.*

The selection committee will consist of me, Sonia Goodman (President of the BPP Commercial Awareness Society, London), and a member of the current student engagement team at BPP.

To be eligible to apply for any of these positions you must meet all of the following selection criteria:

1. A student enrolled on a BPP course of any discipline, at any site, for the substantial part of academic year 2013-4.

2. A commitment to hosting Society meetings of any nature, consistent with student conduct at BPP and with the stipulated aims of the BPP Legal Awareness Society. The Committee will be responsible for organising hosting of these meetings through room bookings at BPP, and will be responsible for all security at meetings.

3. The President and Committee will specifically extend the strategy of promoting commercial awareness, and endeavour to promote this value both locally and nationally.

All applications for any of the posts on the Committee must be received by 4 pm on this email address by Friday 12 July 2013.

Please do not hesitate to contact me on email should you have any inquiries. To apply send me an email as well. The email address is:

To apply:

Submit a brief statement containing

1. Name and relevant correspondence details
2. Educational past and present

3. Explain, in no more than 150 words, why you would like to become a student representative of the BPP Legal Awareness Society.

4. Why do you think commercial awareness, or an insight into how companies function, is important in the legal profession, and how can it best be promoted? (Please do not write more than 200 words.)

5. What position would you like to apply for and why do you think you are suited for this rôle? Please provide brief reasons. (Please do not write more than 100 words.)

6. What positions of responsibility have you held before? Also list any relevant extracurricular activities which you feel may be helpful. (Please do not write more than 200 words.)

7. Please add any further information which you feel will be useful for your application. (unlimited)

Shortlisting will occur in the week beginning Monday 15 July 2013, and students will be invited for interview on Wednesday 17th July 2013. We will be unable to contact unsuccessful applicants.

Interviews will be held on Monday 22 July 2013. It is likely that I will interview with Sonia Goodman or Shabnan Aziz, incoming Chief Executive of BPP Students, if either of them are available. Appointments will be made on that day.

Best of luck!

Shibley, BPP Legal Awareness Society President 2011-3.

Response from Shibley, President of the BPP Legal Awareness Society, to the Legal Education and Training Review

The Legal Education and Training Review 2013 report can be viewed here.




There was much to welcome from today’s publication of the “Legal Education and Training Review” , from our perspective of the BPP Legal Awareness Society. It is one of the biggest student societies across all campuses and all disciplines at BPP, and we are totally independent of BPP University College itself and its various schools. This allows us to pursue our own projects our way.


BPP is a unique institution, based in a number of centres in England. I myself graduated from Cambridge, and did my research degree there. I have just, however, completed 7 (non-continuous) years at BPP, having done my Graduate Diploma in Law, Bachelor of Laws, Master of Business Administration and Legal Practice Course with them. They are one of the few places in the country with specialist units in both law and business. However, BPP is very much “a profession-facing organisation” which specifically trains people in behaviours, skills and knowledges bespoke to the legal, finance and business professions. There is therefore a high density of skills within our particular network. Students at BPP have been very keen in the last two years to devote their time voluntarily to supporting our activity at the BPP Legal Awareness Society.


We hold our fortnightly meetings at BPP Law School, Holborn. The LETR (“Legal Education and Training Review”) advised that it does not wish to make ‘commercial awareness’ a formal requirement of the academic part of legal training, regulated for solicitors by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). However, it did wish to promote its importance in the overall legal curriculum. BPP Law School Holborn runs the traditional and accelerated Legal Practice Courses (LPC), and is therefore well suited to host also this entirely student-run activity. With my committee, we host meetings discussing recent transactions and general trends in commercial and corporate law.


I personally have also completed a Master of Law in Professional Legal Practice, covering six big areas of commercial and corporate law, at the College of Law. I therefore, on behalf of our society, where I am President, welcomed very much the emphasis on “commercial awareness”. I feel the Report, published today, went a long way to explaining why lawyers might benefit from such a training.


Not everyone will end up for the whole of their careers in a large commercial or corporate set, but it is essential I feel for all professional law firms to understand why and how all businesses fail. Some law firms unfortunately fail. This could be due to poor marketing of products and services, poor strategy analysis and implementation of a business model, inability to apply commercially innovative approaches, inability to forecast, budget or cost basic processes, and so it goes on. Understanding this at  an international level is essential for some work. The legal profession faces substantial opportunities and challenges both here and abroad in the next 20 years or so, and the LETR was able to provide a compelling reason why commercial awareness is essential.


In my own society in January 2013, I hosted four workshops for law students from all over the UK, providing one hour sessions in each of marketing, strategy, innovation and leadership. These were very well received, and each student received a certificate of attendance. You can even view the talks and download the materials here. Whilst I myself have a disability, I think communication is a vital skill. There’s no point instructing a highly intelligent and capable lawyer if he or she cannot communicate basic concepts well. Students who attend our meetings become conversant in the language of business, and understand why it is so important, beyond their application forms for training contracts. In an informal setting, we are able to lay the foundations for a lifelong commitment to continuous professional training, and develop skills such as problem identification and solving in a pleasant way.


We always talk about issues that simply are not covered in the core or elective parts of the Legal Practice Course, and students who have attended our meetings in the last two years have provided us with very positive feedback. I was interested to note the existence of societies from other legal providers, but I really do feel we are a leader in the national student community when it comes to many competences of the lawyer of the future the LETR introduced us to today. Commercial awareness is very much at the forefront of these.


Shibley, BPP Legal Awareness Society



June 25th, 2013

Chris Grayling would like to help you enter solicitors' training!








Verbal reasoning tests are designed to identify an individual’s level of ability to understand and respond to questions about information provided in a passage of text. A candidate is advised to read a given passage of text and then consider the questions which are presented as statements corresponding to the passage. They are then required to decide whether the statement given is true, false, or whether he or she cannot say, given the information contained in the passage.

Consider the following passage about Chris Grayling and “price competitive tendering”:

Price-competitive tendering for criminal defence services will be introduced this autumn under accelerated plans revealed by the justice secretary this morning. In a written ministerial statement, Chris Grayling announced an eight-week consultation on the plans will begin in April – but said that the tender for contracts will open in the autumn. The government expects the first contracts to go live in the autumn of 2014. In a statement issued in December 2011, the government said it would consult on the introduction of price competition in autumn 2013. However Grayling said today: ‘Given the need to achieve savings as quickly as possible, we have decided to accelerate that timetable. The Labour government had sought to introduce price-competitive tendering, but abandoned its proposals after strong resistance from the profession, especially from smaller firms. Grayling said that, through the Legal Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the government had already sought to reduce legal aid spent on civil cases, but he said that criminal defence represents by far the largest element of the remaining legal aid spend, accounting for over £1bn a year.


The first thing to note that the length of this passage is about 180 words. The length of passages vary in verbal reasoning tests, but this would be a reasonable length. It’s unlikely you will get a story which is politically charged, involving law, or from the news; so this type of article would definitely not be used in a verbal reasoning test.

However, I should like to use this passage and a number of worked examples to illustrate techniques used by people who set these tests.



Chris Grayling is the first Lord Chancellor to hold a Doctorate in law.

No information is given about Grayling’s qualifications in this article. You may know that he studied history as an undergraduate student at Cambridge, and indeed holds a degree in that. However, this is inside information. The answer is therefore ‘CANNOT SAY’, as nothing in the passage leads you to say it is either true or false.


Chris Grayling announced a four-week consultation.

This statement is DEFINITELY FALSE, as the passage states clearly that Chris Grayling announced an eight-week consultation. 


According to Chris Grayling, Labour abandoned its proposals after strong resistance from the profession, including from larger firms.

This is difficult as we are told that Labour, “abandoned its proposals after strong resistance from the profession, especially from smaller firms.” Larger firms might have protested against the said proposals, for all we know, so the statement is, as far as the candidate is concerned, NEITHER TRUE NOR FALSE.


According to Chris Grayling, the government has already sought to reduce legal aid spent on civil cases, but he said that criminal defence represents a very small element of the remaining legal aid spend.

The second half of this statement is clearly false, given the information given at the end this passage, making the entire statement FALSE. If part of your statement in the question is FALSE, that makes THE WHOLE STATEMENT FALSE.


The government expects the first contracts to go live before 2016.

Given that the government expects the first contracts to go live in the autumn of 2014, it must be true that the government expect the first contracts to go live before 2016.


Good luck! And just remember – if you pass that verbal reasoning test thanks to this – just remember that it was Chris Grayling who helped you take your first steps into the legal profession!





If every unemployment statistic is a tragedy, what was every 'excess death' at Mid Staffs?




It never fails to amaze me how certain policy strands run in parallel along a disastrous course, but silos in journalism mean that you’ll never get people joining the dots.


One example of this is the competitive tendering in legal services which Chris Grayling MP is currently shoehorning through, despite overwhelming opposition from lawyers including QCs. Everytime the unemployment figures up, or we have another revival in youth employment, Chris Grayling used to be the guy on TV saying that ‘every statistic is of course a personal tragedy’. Curiously you never get this phrase said about any excess death from the NHS which happened out of the ordinary. The concept that it is impossible to measure excess deaths at all will be alien to any professional in clinical negligence, who will be able to follow through the well-worn logic of duty-of-care of a clinician, failure of that duty causing breach, and that breach causing damage provided that there is not remoteness. We all know that the media is prone to hysteria, and indeed John Prescott once advised me not to believe everything written about ‘one’ in the papers. And an issue undoubtedly is that some are using what happened at Mid Staffs for their own agendas. You’d be forgiven for thinking some reports have the sole intention of shutting down the entire NHS as a national health service, blow all its credibility to smithereens, and to prepare its purchase price for the lowest bidder in a Government which has relish in outsourcing and privatisating the State infrastructure.


However, the sensationalism which was embraced whether there were any ‘excess deaths’ or not is perhaps distasteful at best, and frankly rude at worst. Mortality ratios are supposed to be the ‘smoke alarm’, but now that the inferno has happened, it is not time to remove the batteries from the smoke detector. The public inquiries at Mid Staffs I feel were essential. I don’t feel that this is an issue which could have been discussed behind closed doors ‘in camera’. It might be feasible to hold no-one accountable as the ‘culture’ is so widespread, but that has not led professionals to escape liability ever before for fundamental breaches in care, such as poor note-keeping, unprompt investigations, poor conduct and communication, from the professional regulators. The frustration has been there appears to have been very little accountability, and this is significant whether one feels the role of the justice system should be fundamentally restorative, retributive or rehabilitative. A certain amount of hysteria has instead engulfed proceedings at Mid Staffs, with the recently reported hostile behaviour towards Julie Bailey, remarkable campaigner and founder of ‘Cure the NHS’.


However, Julie has never wanted to ‘Kill the NHS’, but is deeply hurt about what happened to her Mum. Deb Hazeldine is very hurt about what happened to her mum. Any reasonable daughter would. These are times for reports of personal tragedies. Whilst we all have to move on, it is important to acknowledge accurately the distress of what happened, and this is precisely what we achieved in the Francis Inquiries. The accounts in those Inquiries are not figments of anyone’s imagination. It is even possible that we may have to learn from what happened there for other NHS Trusts. There is a trail of logic which goes that ‘efficiency savings’ were in fact cuts which included relative staff shortages, despite more being spent on the NHS budget overall including for salaries for certain personnel; this meant that key critical frontline staff were overstretched, there were genuine clinical events in patient safety which went beyond ‘near misses’, but they were not adequately dealt with. The Francis Inquiries should not be used to draw closure on the matters for the Labour administration, which I broadly supported. The reaction to the situation, a real one of personal tragedy, should not in my view a retweet of a blog which says that standard mortality ratios are unreliable, however correct that blog might be. This for me is not in any way personal – I like and respect very much people on all sides of what has been a highly charged discussion. I have known some of them for ages, and I will continue to support them publicly and in private.


We are not at the end of the solution of what happened in Mid Staffs, and for the time-being we should honestly recognise that.




David Cameron's holiday, like an individual's tax arrangements, is actually none of your business


Why would you want David Cameron not to take a holiday? Perhaps you think that he should be chained to MI5 or MI6 24/7. Maybe you have some especial thing about him wanting to spend time with his wife or his family?

This  “mean-mindedness”, about individuals feeling that it is their business to deprive David Cameron  of a small break, beggars belief.  More’s the point, it is even more astonishing that they inflict their views about this unimportant manner in such an impersonal public manner. It is a characteristic of all organisations that there is enough people in the team for operations to run smoothly. I am not saying that David Cameron, as Prime Minister, is simply a manager and we can run the country without him. But to think it is worth spending time writing about how he should not have a holiday, or even criticise him for his choice of destination, is petty, when you consider the real choices that this country faces. Should the UK government seek to crack down on aggressive tax avoidance unilaterally or is it simply an extension of shareholder primacy under the company law of many jurisdictions, not just ours? Should we seek to have more NHS services run by the private sector, so that they possibly can be run not at a loss, but to seek to deliver higher quality or value, even if returning a profit? Whatever your ideological viewpoint, these are more interesting questions that all parties need simply not to sit on. Labour didn’t do anything for years on tax avoidance, and contributed in introducing the private sector to the NHS. This may upset you: but David Cameron’s holiday is none of your business. That’s why you won’t find his holiday snaps in the newspapers, because it would be an unlawful invasion of his privacy.

A third of people will like you whatever you do. A third of people will dislike you whatever you do. A third of people will be completely indifferent whatever you do. The fact that people are concerned about David Cameron’s holidays, in the news, is more of an artefact that the media choose to report this, say, ahead of events in Syria. Or, even better, they have finally become exhausted by their own reportage on UKIP. The enthusiasm of scrutiny on this parallels the amount of disproportionate interest given to the Eton Entrance Scholarship examination past paper. The general paper is not testing the tenacity of bigoted right-wing beliefs, deeply engrained in the education system. Nor is it testing whether people are ‘fit to rule’ the country. Such paranoid beliefs simply serve to confirm what the Left hate being criticised about – the politics of envy. They also show deeply prejudiced opinions which reasonable people should find deeply worrying.

What, though, is weird about this entire thing is that people writing newspapers are generally not working class, not even in the Daily Mirror. And some of the people protesting the most loudly about class issues have graduated with good degrees from the University of Oxford in an arts based subject such as English. It is not long ago that black and ethic minority candidates, from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds, felt pressurised to study a vocational subject such as engineering, law or medicine, to maximise their chances of succeeding in life. But taking this argument to another extreme, nobody would wish for Oxford graduates in English to avoid deliberately discussing these topics on class or lifestyle which deeply interest them. Freedom of expression is extremely important as a qualified human right, and so long as listening to somebody exerting their freedom of expression is not automatically taken to mean ‘tolerance’ of those views, it should be a right to be defended strongly. It is clearly worrisome if professional politicians should wish to censor those people with views which are extreme, but not unlawful or illegal.

But then again this is not the first time that this country would get its knickers in a twist about the difference between the law and ethics. Tax avoidance is actively frowned upon by the professional bodies of accountancy, and everyone knows it’s complex. All sorts of people making tax decisions for entirely personal reasons, including ISAs. People’s tax affairs are none of your business. You can argue that the tax affairs of Google, Starbucks or Amazon impact upon society, but, so long as it is legal, it is strictly speaking, it is none of your business. If you have a serious gripe against the economy, tax, or the NHS, you can remedy your grievance by voting for a party which more represents your views on May 8th 2015. However, if you are interested in David Cameron’s holiday, or Eton scholarship exam questions, just realise it’s pontificating. Lazy journalism. “Entertainment”. It’s nothing interesting, or intelligent. It certainly doesn’t make this country a better place.

The English dementia policy: some personal thoughts


The last few years have seen a much welcome progression, for the better, for dementia policy in England. This has been the result of the previous Government, under which “Living well with dementia: the National Dementia Strategy” was published  in 2009, and the current Government, in which the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge in 2012 was introduced.

Dementia is a condition which lends itself to the ‘whole person’, ‘integrated’ approach. It is not an unusual for an individual with dementia to be involved with people from the medical profession, including GPs, neurologists, geriatricians; allied health professionals, including nurses, health care assistants, physiotherapists, speech and language specialists, nutritionists or dieticians, and occupational therapists; and people in other professionals, such as ‘dementia advocates’ and lawyers. I think a lot can be done to help individuals with dementia ‘to live well'; in fact I have just finished a big book on it and you can read drafts of the introduction and conclusion here.

It is obviously critical that clinicians, especially the people likeliest to make the initial provisional diagnosis, should be in the ‘driving seat’, but it is also very important that patients, carers, family members, or other advocates are in that driving seat too.  I feel this especially now, given that there is so much information available from people directly involved in with patients (such as @bethyb1886 or @whoseshoes or @dragonmisery) This patient journey is inevitably long, and to call it a ‘rollercoaster ride‘ would be a true understatement. That is why language is remarkably important, and that people with some knowledge of medicine get involved in articulating this debate. Not everyone with power and influence in dementia has a detailed knowledge of it, sadly.

I am very honoured to have my paper on the behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia to be included as one of a handful of references in the current Oxford Textbook of Medicine. You can view this chapter, provided you do not use it for commercial gain (!), here.

I should like to direct you to the current draft of a video by Prof Alistair Burns, Chair of Psychiatry at the University of Manchester, who is the current National Clinical Lead for Dementia. You can contact him over any aspects of dementia policy on his Twitter, @ABurns1907.  I strongly support Prof Burns, and here is his kind Tweet to me about my work.  I agree with Prof Burns that once individuals can be given face-to-face a correct diagnosis of dementia this allows them to plan for the future, and to access appropriate services. The problem obviously comes from how clinicians arrive at that diagnosis.

I am not a clinician, although I studied medicine at Cambridge and did my PhD on dementia there too, but having written a number of reviews, book chapters, original papers, and now a book on dementia, I am deeply involved with the dementia world. I am still invited to international conferences, and I personally do not have any financial vested interests (e.g. funding, I do not work for a charity, hospital, or university, etc.) That is why I hope I can be frank about this. Clinicians will be mindful of the tragedy of telling somebody he or she has dementia or when he or she hasn’t, but needs help for severe anxiety, depression, underactive thyroid, or whatever. But likewise, we are faced with reports of a substantial underdiagnosis of dementia, for which a number of reasons could be postulated. Asking questions such as “How good is your memory?” may be a good basic initial question, but clinicians will be mindful that this test will suffer from poor specificity – there could be a lot of false positives due to other conditions.

At the end of the day, a mechanism such as ‘payment-by-results’ can only work if used responsibly, and does not create an environment for ‘perverse incentives’ where Trusts will be more inclined to claim for people with a ‘label’ of dementia when they actually do not have the condition at all. A double tragedy would be if these individuals had poor access to care which Prof Burns admits is “patchy”. In my own paper, with over 300 citations, on frontal dementia, seven out of eight patients had very good memory, and yet had a reliable diagnosis of early frontal dementia. Prof Burns rightly argues the term ‘timely’ should be used in preference to ‘early’ dementia, but still some influential stakeholders are using the term ‘early’ annoyingly. On the other hand, I wholeheartedly agree that the term ‘timely’ is much more fitting with the “person-centred care” approach, made popular in a widespread way by Tom Kitwood.

I am still really enthused about the substantial progress which has been made in English dementia policy. I enclose Prof Burns’ latest update (draft), and the video I recorded yesterday at my law school, for completion.

Prof Alistair Burns, National Clinical Lead for Dementia

Me (nobody) in reply



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