Joining Patterson’s List at the Victorian Bar
Practising lawyers will already know that barristers are lawyers with specialist skills as independent advocates and advisors.
To be admitted to practise as a barrister in Victoria you will have to:
- be a practising lawyer;
- pass the entrance examination set by the Victorian Bar to qualify for a place in the Readers' Course;
- satisfactorily complete the Readers' Course (two months); and
- work under an approved mentor at the Victorian Bar for a further period of seven months following the Readers' Course.
The Victorian Bar conducts an annual presentation during Law Week (in May every year) at which barristers talk about the ways they came to the Bar and their experiences as a barrister. Currently called Step Up to the Bar, this presentation is recorded and may be viewed at any time on the Victorian Bar website.
Having decided that you want to become a barrister, you must first pass an entrance examination before being offered a place on the Readers’ Course (see more detail below). The entrance examination is known as the Victorian Bar Entrance Exam. To be offered a place on the Readers’ Course conducted in March and September each year you must first pass the Entrance Exam, and pass it well.
In order to gain a place on the Readers’ Course applicants must achieve the minimum pass mark set at 75%, with only the top 40 candidates offered a place on the Readers’ Course.
To assist applicants wishing to sit the Entrance Exam the Victorian Bar conducts a general information session at which the chief examiner gives an overview of the structure of the next exam, including making available an updated reading guide.
The schedule for exam information sessions appears on the Victorian Bar’s website. These sessions are normally conducted outside business hours in the Neil McPhee Room, level 1, Owen Dixon Chambers East, 205 William Street, Melbourne. A recording of the most recent session and further detailed information will also appear on the Victorian Bar’s website.
In addition to the exam preparation seminars, copies of past exam papers and sample answers are available on the Victorian Bar’s website to assist applicants with their preparation for the Entrance Exam.
The Entrance Exam is three hours long and is in partial open-book format. Candidates are supplied with relevant statutes, or sufficient extracts of statutes, relevant to the subject matter of the questions. There is a non-refundable application fee of approximately $515 prior to sitting the examination. The exact fee may vary from year to year, so this should be checked on the Victorian Bar’s website.
The Entrance Exam schedule appears on the Victorian Bar’s website, and will normally be conducted at a convenient CBD location close to Owen Dixon Chambers. Be aware that there will be a fixed date for receipt of applications to sit the exam after which applications will not be accepted.
Once you have received your exam result you may receive an offer to commence the Readers' Course.
The Readers' Course is a comprehensive introduction to life as a barrister. Beyond oral and written advocacy and legal practice, readers are taught ethics, forensic skills, how to run a sole practice, marketing and practice development, etc.
Places in each Readers’ Course are limited to 40 readers. There are regulations governing the allocation of places. In particular, you should refer to s 6(7) of the Reading Regulations regarding allocation of places.
If you are offered a place you will be expected to participate in the next Readers' Course, approximately two months from the date you receive notification. Deferrals are granted only in exceptional circumstances. If you are not offered a place there is no bar on sitting the Entrance Exam for future intakes, but the application fee is payable each time the examination is sat.
The Readers’ Course runs for a total of two months. Its objective is to enable readers to effect a successful transition to life at the Victorian Bar. Stating the obvious, all readers will have successfully completed law degrees and the Entrance Exam so there is an assumption of knowledge of core legal principles. Therefore the course aims to build on this existing base of knowledge with a focus upon the particular skills demanded of specialist advocates.
During the course, readers are exposed to the whole gamut of court and trial practice, including out-of-court preparation, interlocutory appearances, opening and closing addresses, the examination and cross-examination of witnesses, legal argument and submissions. Emphasis is placed upon the importance of forensic and strategic thinking, the development of coherent case theories, the anticipation and resolution of evidentiary issues, and effective and persuasive communication both orally and in writing.
Extensive use is made of oral exercises, moots and mock hearings, giving readers the opportunity to develop, practise and polish oral advocacy skills, observe different styles of advocacy, and receive feedback from experienced judges and advocates. The oral advocacy component of the course is assessed twice. Successful completion of the final assessment is a precondition to signing the Roll of Counsel, that is, joining the Victorian Bar.
Another significant component of the course is dedicated to the development of written skills, including pleadings, affidavits and submissions. Participants are required to submit a number of written exercises, which are reviewed by experienced members of the Victorian Bar giving detailed feedback.
Rules of ethics and principles of good conduct are central to the work of barristers. The importance of adherence to those rules and principles in practice, and learning how to deal with ethical issues when they arise, are recurrent themes in the course.
Barristers are sole practitioners, responsible for running their own businesses. The course assists in preparing participants to conduct their own practice, from emphasising the importance of independence and excellence when providing legal services, to the nuts and bolts of relationships with clients, solicitors, clerks, colleagues, the Victorian Bar and the wider community.
At the time of writing (2018) the Readers’ Course fee is $6,275.00. The exact fee may vary from course to course and year to year, so this should be checked on the Victorian Bar’s website.
Other essential steps
Prior to commencing the Readers’ Course, if you are currently a practising lawyer, you must undertake before the date of commencement to:
- remove your name from the letterhead and business name of your former practice; and
- surrender your current practising certificate.
There are no exemptions from completing the Readers’ Course, or any part.
Every reader must have a mentor during his or her reading period.
For the seven months following the Readers’ Course, your primary place of business will be in your mentor’s chambers, which you shall occupy rent free while you receive briefs and build your practice.
Any barrister in active practice and a member of the Victorian Bar with 10 years standing on the Roll of Counsel may be a mentor, but must not be a Queen’s Counsel (QC) or Senior Counsel (S.C.).
You should consider choosing a mentor:
- who works primarily in the practice area that you are interested in practising in;
- who you have briefed and enjoyed working with, or who comes recommended by other solicitors or barristers;
- who is available to oversee your reading period;
- who has a compatible personality; and even
- who has a different practice area from your own but is a complementary practice area that might give you breadth to expand your practice in the future.
A mentor should be approached once you have decided to sit the Entrance Exam. Once you are offered a place in the Reader’s Course you should seek a commitment from your potential mentor as soon as practicable.
Your mentor is responsible for setting you up with an appropriate workspace in their chambers, for showing you around the facilities and introducing you to other barristers. Your mentor is the person from whom to seek initial advice on your briefs, no matter how simplistic the inquiry.
Patterson’s List has many barristers who are willing and able to discuss coming to the Victorian Bar and providing advice to prospective readers on finding a mentor.
Some members of Patterson’s List able to provide advice (with areas of practice described in parentheses) are:
- Hugh Foxcroft QC (commercial) T: 8600 1768
- John Ribbands (general) T: 9225 8440
- Graham Devries (family) T: 9225 7782
- Romauld Andrew (commercial) T: 9225 7326
- Ken MacFarlane (family) T: 9225 8130
- Tom Hutchings (family) T: 9225 7888
- Rohan Barton (crime) T: 9225 8081
If you would like to speak to a barrister of less than five years’ call who has recently done the Entrance Exam and Readers’ Course, then you may like to contact:
- Anna Parker (family) T: 9225 7888
- Nicholas Phillpott (commercial) T: 9225 8046
Rob Patterson, head clerk to the List, may also be contacted on (03) 9225 7918 to put you in touch with potential mentors, and provide further information about joining Patterson’s List.
At the end of the reading period (that is, nine months from commencing the Readers’ Course) you will need to move into your own chambers, or alternatively share chambers with another barrister. The Victorian Bar offers chambers to barristers on a monthly tenancy basis through Barristers Chambers Ltd (commonly referred to as BCL). You are entitled to practise without chambers, or from privately run chambers.
The Victorian Bar also has a senior mentoring scheme whereby a barrister who is a Queens Counsel (QC) or Senior Counsel (S.C.) offers additional support and opportunities for the reader to expand their contacts at the Bar. By the end of the Reader’s course all readers must have a senior mentor.
Again, Patterson’s List has several Queen’s Counsel (QC) or Senior Counsel (S.C.) who are willing and able to act as senior mentor to readers.
Why join Patterson’s List?
The clerks on Patterson’s List have detailed knowledge about the barristers on their list and can provide lawyers and others with information about the availability of barristers as well as advising on the choice of barrister. The clerks take care of the administrative aspects of your practice as counsel. Your clerk will organise your bookings and provide messaging, telephone and accounting services.
Patterson’s List will provide, amongst other things:
- Fee negotiations
- Delivery and collection of briefs
- Message service
- Management of members' accounts
- Ongoing education and skills development for members
- Information on court listings
- Certifying of bills of cost
Patterson’s List is a medium sized list of barristers with plenty of work for those just starting out life as barristers. The List operates in three principal areas of practice in almost equal size: commercial, crime and family.
You will become a valued member of Patterson’s List.
Remember that you are a sole practitioner, but well supported by the List and its clerking and administrative staff. This support includes such things as:
- understanding that you may choose not to work: if you do not wish to work on a particular day or for a particular period, that is your choice. You simply notify the clerk as to your availability (or otherwise) as early as practicable;
- discreetly chasing up solicitors over outstanding fees;
- offering opportunities to present to solicitors at seminars on areas you practise in.
Formally, Patterson’s List has an agreement with the Victorian Bar, which includes provisions such as the commitment by the clerk to comply with the terms of all rules, rulings, directions and regulations applicable to it and in force from time to time made by the Victorian Bar Council. The Clerking Regulations and Clerks (Audit & Trust Money) Practice Rules (see below) apply to clerks licensed by the Victorian Bar. These clerks have also been approved by the Bar pursuant to section 88 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014 (Vic) to receive trust money.
Applying to join Patterson’s List
After you have received an offer of a place in the Readers' Course, you may apply to join a clerk’s list. Each year there will be published on the Victorian Bar’s website a series of dates advising when applications for a place on a clerk’s list may be submitted, when interviews may take place, and a date from which offers to join a list may be made.
See the Victorian Bar’s website for the latest guidelines as to due dates and further information.
Your application to join Patterson’s List may be made by opening the link below.