Bar Council wants to split the BPTC in two and make law school attendance OPTIONAL

The Council of the Inns of Court has also thrown its weight behind the radical new plan

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The Bar Council and the Council of the Inns of Court (COIC) have proposed splitting the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) into two parts, with law school attendance compulsory for only the second half.

According to an addendum added to the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) ‘Future of Training for the Bar’ consultation earlier today, the councils suggest dividing the vocational course into two separate sections.

Part one “will consist of the knowledge-based parts” of the BPTC, such as civil and criminal procedure and evidence. According to the paper, these will continue to be “centrally examined by the BSB”. Perhaps more controversially, both the Bar Council and COIC suggest at this stage law school attendance should be optional:

Candidates will be entitled to prepare separately for part one by any method they think fit or can afford, including by private study, having the choice but without the requirement of attendance at any particular provider’s course.

Part two will then see wannabe barristers tackle “the remaining skills-based elements of the BPTC”, which will include modules such as advocacy, drafting, ethics and conferencing skills. It is at this point that students will have to attend law school. The addendum stresses that progression to part two is dependent on students successfully completing part one.

With law school attendance optional for the first half of the course, the Bar Council and COIC believe the move will help reduce the cost of pursuing a career at the bar. Currently, students hand over in excess of £19,000 to secure a place on the BPTC at a London provider.

Furthermore, the councils hope that part one of the course will be a filter for weaker students. They suggest “part one would act as an effective early signal to some candidates, before they incurred greater fees and expenses.” Continuing, the addendum said:

Providers of part two would be able to concentrate on a cohort of students who had the comfort and confidence of knowing that they had already attained the standards set by the BSB in a key part of the course.

Under the proposals, students will still have to have obtained a law degree or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) prior to attempting the BPTC, and will still need to complete pupillage before they can practise as a barrister.

The development comes just weeks after the BSB’s director of strategy and regulatory policy, Ewen Macleod, suggested that the BPTC and pupillage could be rolled into one. Speaking to Legal Cheek, Macleod confirmed that the potential new super-BPTC “is an option [the BSB] would consider providing if it met the professional standards”.

Other options in the BSB’s consultation, which closes on 31 January 2017, include keeping things as they are or rolling the BPTC into a bar-focused law degree.

Read the addendum in full below:

59 Comments

Anonymous

This is a great idea; better way of providing the course, fairer to those students who don’t really have a chance to pass the course (because they can avoid incurring the high costs of the skills training)

(8)(0)
Anonymous

Good idea. But BPTC providers and their private equity owners will go on a lobbying frenzy to stop these changes. They have invested millions into this and are set to make a massive loss. BPTC lecturers will also find themselves on the dole.

So great news all round..

(1)(1)
Anonymous

So important that the BSB don’t take the quantity of responses in favor of the current system into account for this very reason.

(0)(0)
Sheffield hallam Llb

Can’t wait to start my BPTC and BAG myself a pupilage at a TOP chambers

(6)(11)
Just Anonymous

So, if I’ve understood this correctly, the proposal is that students can study Criminal and Civil Procedure privately, in their own time. By so doing, they can avoid the extortionate BPTC costs of being taught these subjects and thus only incur costs for the advocacy modules in the second half (assuming they get that far.)

Personally, I think that’s a horrible idea.

Firstly, by its very nature, legal procedure, when separated from real world examples and cases, is dry, dull and tedious. The best way to learn it is by putting it into practice through advocacy. That is precisely what students currently do on the BPTC (at least, that is what I did), and this students will lose under these proposals.

Secondly, do not underestimate the value of being around other students. Other students whom you can ask questions of or bounce ideas off. When I did the BPTC we all helped each other and assisted each other. Learning everything in complete isolation from other students would, in my opinion, have been far more difficult and would probably have resulted in a rather superficial understanding of the relevant rules and principles.

That said, if I’ve completely misunderstood what’s being suggested here, please don’t hesitate to put me right.

(33)(13)
Anonymous

The knowledge part of the BPTC boiled down to “learn the CPR” (and the CrimPR, but who cares about that). Anyone with half a brain and a half-decent textbook (Blackstone’s Civil Practice Commentary is great for this purpose) could pass this course.

The place where the BPTC adds value (if anywhere) is skills training, and keeping that area fenced off until you can show you’re able to learn and retain the requisite knowledge is entirely sensible.

Maybe this will manage to get the course costs below the staggering cost it now stands at.

(10)(5)
Just Anonymous

“Anyone with half a brain and a half-decent textbook … could pass this course.”

Nice rhetoric. But the evidence is against you. In 2015, only 58% of all students passed civil litigation at first sit:

https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media/1689116/central_examination_board_report_august_2015.pdf (page 2)

The reality is this. This material is hard. It’s meant to be. Passing these exams is difficult, and takes hard work and effort. Can people do it through private self-study? Absolutely, yes. But I don’t see the merit in making things far harder than they have to be.

I also think you fail to appreciate the distinction between passing exams and being a good lawyer. Learning material dry from a book with no interaction from teachers and fellow students, although it might be sufficient for passing a test, is not a good way to obtain a fully comprehensive understanding of the legal rules and principles that you actually need in real-life practice.

“The place where the BPTC adds value (if anywhere) is skills training, and keeping that area fenced off until you can show you’re able to learn and retain the requisite knowledge”

I notice you completely miss my point: that the skills training greatly assists you in learning and retaining the requisite knowledge.

(19)(1)
Anonymous

“The reality is this. This material is hard.”

Even if the material is hard (which I dispute), barristers make their living getting to grips with difficult law with nothing but their own wits and a stack of books to assist. The CPR should be a relative doddle. If it’s not, you shouldn’t be a barrister.

The statistics you cite are only testament to the flaws of the present system. Too many poor candidates sit the BPTC – this is unfair to those candidates and their more capable peers. The BPTC costs a fortune. There are widely acknowledged problems with access to the profession (partly as a consequence of its cost). This proposal is aimed at remedying all of these issues.

(4)(5)
Just Anonymous

“barristers make their living getting to grips with difficult law with nothing but their own wits and a stack of books to assist.”

And fellow members of Chambers to bounce ideas off and otherwise request advice from.

You overlook that bit. And it is vitally important.

(9)(2)
Anonymous

I can kind of see what you mean about the useful support network provided by having fellow students around. However, unless there is some critical, creative thinking or debate needed, it’s better just to grit one’s teeth and simply do the dry, monotonous studying needed. The people who faff about with study groups or study buddies are often the weaker candidates who think that kind of stuff counts as genuine learning. Apart from issues involving morale, nobody needs fellow students around for stuff like learning legal procedural rules.

(5)(0)
Anonymous

You’re still free to attend school to prepare for the first part of the BPTC and benefit from all the advantages that you list, but you are not forced to do so.

I think this is a great idea because not everyone benefits from class attendance (and even those who do may prefer self-study for financial or scheduling reasons). We’re all adults here – as long as we’re talking about theoretical knowledge that can (and to a degree must) be learnt from a textbook, courses should be voluntary.

(7)(0)
Anonymous

I broadly agree, Just Anonymous.

Most barristers forget very quickly (or are loath to admit) just how clueless they were at the vocational stage. For the great majority – i.e. excluding those with a background in legal work – even the most basic mechanics of a civil claim or a criminal prosecution are new and alien. I don’t believe self-study could achieve a proper, practical grasp of the ‘hows’ of procedure let alone the ‘whys’. I suppose a really comprehensive set of written and video materials might allow successful self-study, but I don’t believe even the best of what’s available now (Sime, Virginia Dunn’s books, Rose etc) comes close to that: they’re more like digestible supplements to the course.

Generally, it is very difficult for an absolute novice to learn practice by textbook.

As for peer learning, with any group instruction there will always be some gaps in the understanding of some students at some points that can’t be filled in the classroom simply for lack of time. When a thread gets lost it often stays lost for the rest of the session. The explanations and suggestions of other students outside the classroom are valuable in filling those gaps.

I remain convinced that an easy practical improvement would be to cut the BPTC in half so that only crim and civil litigation, with some outline drafting, are taught as a reduced course with everything else being done later through the Inns and chambers during pupillage for those who get it. That way you should be able to study a cheaper and quicker first-stage compulsory course, and the unsuccessful (therefore most) students will be risking less.

(8)(0)
Pantman

The way you gain the knowledge for part one is optional – either in a traditional college environment, or through self study, or somewhere in between.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Nobody who could pay for a BPTC place would choose self-study. The ‘choice’ is illusory. The numbers sitting the exams would just increase. You’d have all the present BPTC students plus a whole new cohort who couldn’t afford a place or couldn’t get a place.

(0)(1)
Pantman

Anyone can get a place, so it comes down to those who want to study, but cannot pay. So, this seems an equitable solution.

(1)(1)
Anonymous

I meant a place at a BPTC provider, of which there are a limited number. They have to be accredited.

There would certainly be an unlimited number of exam seats under this proposal. That’s the problem.

(0)(1)
Pantman

The BPTC providers have excess places, there is no problem getting on a course if you meet the minimum standards.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Are you sure? How do you know many more students could be admitted by the providers? Surely they turn away plenty with the minimum requirements.

(0)(1)
Anonymous

I think the Inn’s has said that the “skills stage” will still cost £12k. An improvement on the current extortionate fees, but still expensive.

(3)(0)
Not Amused

God this is a stupid idea.

“They suggest “part one would act as an effective early signal to some candidates, before they incurred greater fees and expenses.””

No. The people who have unrealistic ambitions are not behaving rationally. There is no hope that they will suddenly behave rationally if you simply ‘give them more time’. What you, as the body in charge, must instead do is TELL THEM NO. For goodness sake. This problem is not going to go away if you just give another subtle hint. At some point we actually have to man up and intervene.

The fat cat little capitalists will already be rubbing their ghastly hands with glee over this one. Just watch the inflated price for ‘preparation course’ soar. So splitting the course will inevitably lead to it costing more. WE know this, or we ought to know it, because it is entirely bloody foreseeable. We cannot carry on having ridiculous hopes and expecting they will come true.

The Bar Council are too damn spineless to insist on a 2.1 for goodness sake. This is just another extremely expensive car crash where the only people who benefit are private equity.

Meanwhile the poor but extremely bright child is not going to say “oh, I think the Bar Council just winked at me, so I’m perfectly fine taking this COLLOSSAL risk with my future hopes and dreams and not bothering with tuition”. No. They will say “what a pathetic profession, run by a bunch of highly committed morons. I’m off”.

Just limit the course to kids who have already obtained pupillage. Have the Inns run it again and slash the costs. Or copy the accountants and make the course part of the pupillage year (if necessary extend pupillage – although I don’t think that is necessary).

We had more social mobility in the 60s. When we weren’t even trying. The current lot of social mobility do-gooding has been the most harmful nonsense we have ever seen. We had a system of Bar Exams taken in the summer holidays. It worked. It was cheap. THE END. Everything we have done since has been worse.

The Bar Council – never knowingly competent.

(9)(3)
Anonymous

I completely disagree with your critique of this plan NA.

Contrary to what you’ve said it weeds out the weak candidates by making part 2 unavailable unless you complete part 1. (“progression to part two is dependent on students successfully completing part one.”)

The vast majority of people who fail the BPTC do so at the knowledge stage not the skills stage. Requiring they have the knowledge before the skills are taught is entirely sensible. It will mean that those who really have no shot at it ‘fall at the first hurdle’ and therefore avoid the more expensive part of the course, i.e. the skills based part.

(4)(0)
Anonymous

Add in that the option of doing part 1 by independent study is bound to act to depress fees for cramming courses – if they rise too high, people always have the option of doing it themselves.

(0)(0)
Not Amused

The flaw in your analysis is this:

1) The reason kids don’t fail the skills stage is because the skill stage is extremely easy and in no way consistently taught or examined.
2) The very small number of kids who do fail at the knowledge stage is insignificantly small.
3) The knowledge stage is itself, and will no doubt be under this new scheme, extremely easy.

The problem is not the handful of people who fail the course. Yes the course was a waste of money for them. But the far more serious problem is the people who pass the course and can’t get pupillage. There are hundreds of these every year (is it not even ‘nearly a thousand’?).

That is the problem. The new proposal will do nothing to prevent the problem.

Further it will create new problems where:
– poor but bright kids either worry excessively about (and risk being put off by) fees for Part 1
– poor but bright kids think the whole thing looks like a sham in favour of rich kids who can afford the Part 1 training
– the providers will use the opportunity of two parts to ramp up costs. We are told Part 2 is £12,000. So the minute Part 1 ‘preparation course’ costs more than 6k I’m right …

If the Bar Council wasn’t so stupid it would foresee these problems.

(0)(4)
Anonymous

NA, you talk about ‘poor but bright’ kids, but this isn’t a social mobility issue identical to university entrance. They are adults who will already have a law degree/GDL plus some work experience under their belts, but that only applies to the youngest.

(0)(0)
Not Amused

“NA, you talk about ‘poor but bright’ kids, but this isn’t a social mobility issue identical to university entrance.”

No. It isn’t. The social mobility problem of the Bar is far more acute than the general social mobility problem of our universities.

So it’s rather more important that the Bar Council don’t screw this up even more.

(1)(1)
Bumblebee

Not Amused,

Unfortunately, you’ve got your facts wrong. The ‘number of kids who fail at the knowledge stage’ is NOT insignificantly small. In fact, it’s huge (especially on the first sitting). Google the stats….

(6)(0)
Junior barrister

I completely and vehemently agree with this. I don’t understand why they are fannying around when the solution (ie limiting the BPTC to those who have pupillage) is patently obvious.

The one point I disagree with is the contention that there was “more social mobility in the 60s”. Every chambers has a few”deadwood” senior juniors who got into the Bar 30/40 years ago because they were posh and well-connected, but who would never make it now. The social make-up of my chambers is certainly progressively less posh the more recently qualified the barristers.

(3)(1)
Pantman

I completely and vehemently agree with this. I don’t understand why they are fannying around when the solution (ie limiting the BPTC to those who have pupillage) is patently obvious.

Because there will always be chambers that recruit after students have either graduated, or are committed to undertaking the BPTC.

http://www.indx.co.uk/pupilbase/?mode=stats&rtype=delay

(0)(1)
Bumblebee

That’s an interesting statistic. Good find and thanks for sharing.

(0)(0)
Junior barrister

Not if the rules were changed so only people with pupillage were allowed onto the BPTC, which is the precise change I’m proposing.

(2)(0)
Pantman

I think that the possibility is that there would be fewer pupillages overall. Those recruiting late (ie basically wanting to recruit pupils who already have a BPTC) would just be trying to mop up those pupils who failed to tenancy – ie they’d be offering third sixes rather than 12 month pupillages.

Additionally your idea would not work, because there are overseas students taking the BPTC who don’t require pupillage in order to practise.

(0)(0)
Junior barrister

I think those chambers (c. 25%) would simply recruit earlier – you are speculating to say they wouldn’t take pupils but only third sixes. However, if as you contend that 25% offered third sixes instead I see no problem with that as ultimately the goal is a tenancy, not a pupillage. The number of tenancies would remain consistent.

My proposal would “work” – either there could be a dispensation for people not seeking pupillage in the UK or the providers could provide separately for such people. I certainly don’t think we should be focusing on those wishing to work outside England and Wales to the detriment of those wishing to work inside it.

(0)(0)
Pantman

No. The people who have unrealistic ambitions are not behaving rationally. There is no hope that they will suddenly behave rationally if you simply ‘give them more time’. What you, as the body in charge, must instead do is TELL THEM NO. For goodness sake. This problem is not going to go away if you just give another subtle hint. At some point we actually have to man up and intervene.

This is an intervention. If they cannot pass part one they cannot progress to part two. That has the potential to, at the very least, reduce their losses.

(1)(1)
Junior barrister

But only a small proportion of those who apply for the course and don’t get pupillage have been unable to pass the BPTC. This is tinkering around the edges.

(2)(1)
Pantman

I’m not sure your stats are correct. Either way, stopping them halfway through is a benefit to those who are not able to pass. That is an indisputable fact – because they would not have paid the fees for the full course.

(1)(1)
Junior barrister

Well, no shit. The point is that that is not a large number of people. It is tinkering around the edges. Tinkering is better than nothing, but it is not as good as proper reform.

(1)(0)
SingaporeSwing

About time. The course is insanely expensive and enriches the private law schools. This should have been done years ago.

(1)(0)
boozemonkey

I study the BPTC at City and am on full scholarships. It’s worse than a joke.

90%+ attendance is compulsory including lectures which are read out in monotonously almost verbatim from slides.

The classes are basic and taught by failed barristers. Every decent set, including where I’m going, says “forget everything you’ve learnt on the BPTC” day 1 of starting.

Sessions include how to revise properly, “what is a flashcard?”….

And the idea that “skills” are developed during any session is probably the poorest sales tactic I’ve heard from them.

And please do fvck off to the gimp above who suggested students learn from each other – 95% of the people on the BPTC have the IQ of a chipmunk.

It’s a tedious rote learning memorisation course. The current regime is beyond stupid and anyone supporting it and/or deriding the Bar Council for wanting to change it (with these changes) is in league with one of these corrupt BPTC providers.

(16)(11)
Just Anonymous

“And please do fvck off to the gimp above who suggested students learn from each other – 95% of the people on the BPTC have the IQ of a chipmunk.”

Interesting. 95% of your fellow students “have the IQ of a chipmunk.” I’m just a “gimp” who presumably knows nothing at all.

In my opinion, a clear sign of intelligence is the ability to realise that you do not know it all, and that other people around you could have something to add to your understanding.

(17)(4)
boozemonkey

Thanks for this Plato. Unfortunately the statistics are out there which show vast majority of BPTC people have 2:1s or below from non universities. Anecdotally in my cohort, I know this to be true. There are many people who are seriously thick, unprepared and hold the class up with stupid questions and non answers every session. The vast majority across the cohort do not have scholarships and basically all decent pupillages go to those with scholarships. Actually c.10-15% of scholarship holders tend to get commercial pupillages. Another 10-15% common law. So the vast majority of people doing this course are paying £18,000 without a scholarship or pupillage/prospect of pupillage.

(1)(12)
Just Anonymous

“2:1s or below”

So you consider those with 2:1s to be unfit for the Bar do you?

That’s very interesting.

It also makes me wonder how precisely you’re defining a “non university.”

(12)(1)
boozemonkey

You’ll find it very difficult, if not impossible, to get a decent pupillage these days without a first. Doesn’t need to be from Oxbridge. And you generally shouldn’t take the BPTC without pupillage and scholarship. Anything Russell Group is OK. Non university = not one of them. You sound badly researched and pissing away a lot of money. Heh.

(0)(12)
Just Anonymous

Well I am certainly pissing away a hell of a lot of money. That I’ll give you.

How the criminal practitioners do it, I have no idea…

(12)(0)
Anonymous

You don’t really need to learn from each other when the course is a piece of piss.

Seriously, the number of self important people here pretending the course is a serious intellectual test. It’s a simple case of putting the hours in, with the only useful classes being advocacy, and the introduction to proper legal drafting.

(0)(1)
Anonymous

You’re at City = you are actually given an introduction to every topic in detail. My BPTC provider doesn’t even bother – just here, read X part of syllabus, do some questions – so please stop whining!

(3)(1)
Anonymous

Come to think of it, I suppose what I wrote above it the ONLY reason that this new plan to streamline the BPTC makes sense – as it saves money.

However, as many commentators above have already eloquently put it, the plan doesn’t stop those students who shouldn’t be on the course in the first place NOR does it really lower cost (the main issues). Sigh.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

As someone who couldn’t afford the BPTC (no, not even with the biggest scholarship available), I am strongly in favour of this. In response to the people in the thread above who say that this option removes the opportunity to engage in a classroom debate about the CPR, I ask this – if it was a choice between this new option or not being able to afford it at all, which one would you pick?

(0)(2)
Mc (Donald's) trainee

The biggest scholarship available covers the full cost plus living costs…

(4)(2)
Anonymous

Where? The course costs £18,000. Over 10 months for rent, if you don’t live near a provider, that would be another £6000 minimum. Food/general living costs another £3000 minimum (which is conservative when you account for travel costs). Not to mention the cost of qualifying sessions, unpaid mini-pupillages/work experience, wig, gown, practitioners texts, suits for interviews, I could go on.

As far as I’m aware the maximum scholarship award is £25k. That would not cover the above mentioned costs. There may be others, please correct me if I’m wrong, but quite clearly scholarships at this level which would actually come close to covering the cost of pursuing a career at the Bar are few and far between. This doesn’t even take into account how poorly paid the Bar is in publicly funded work in the first few years of practice.

There is the option of taking out a bank loan, which many people do, but which wasn’t an option for me. A bank loan is also far from ideal given the financial difficulties many barristers face during pupillage and beyond, which means being able to meet the loan repayments upon completion of the course is not guaranteed.

Whilst not a magic wand, the idea of having the option of doing half the course for free has the potential to make a big difference to the financial barriers to the Bar.

(0)(1)
MC (Donalds) trainee

I’ve never looked into in detail (since I’ve never been interested in the bar) but I’m aware of one person who has around 27-30k in scholarships from an Inn, as well as provided accommodation. I imagine it’s from multiple scholarships, but it would certainly show it’s doable? Even then, if the higher value ones are in the 23-25k mark and you don’t come from London, isn’t the solution to not do it in London?

(0)(0)
Former part-timer

You might also consider doing the course part-time. It’s a struggle but it allows you to work during the day to pay your accommodation. It is possible but you just need to be willing to give up 2 years of your life.

(1)(0)
Anonymous

Agree with this completely.

Civ and crim procedure are rote learning modules. May as well do that at home.

(1)(0)
Mug Punter

This is great news for anyone planning to do the BPTC in future. For those of us who have already done the course, it is a tacit admission by the BSB and by course providers that the Civ Lit and Crim Lit seminars and lectures are a complete waste of time better spent memorising the syllabus by rote. Now why would course providers subject students to seminars and lectures that are a complete waste of time? Could it be because the BPTC is a make-work programme for second-rate barristers that requires bums on seats to justify the extortionate fees?

(0)(0)
Anonymous

A good yet not the best plan by the BSB. The Professional Ethics (PE) module is not taught at the Providers. Students are given supposedly model answer questions and the Ethics Code and they have to read and learn all of that and still in the exams many people still don’t get it right, because the answers, which are suggestive, do not match the exact answers the BSB requires. Professional Ethics should also be in the Part 1 because like Civil and Criminal, it is a rote learning course. The so called lectures are nothing but the Lecturer reading verbatim from the slides, and no time for question and answer sessions. It is my opinion that when the BSB keeps the PE in the second part, and still as a Short answer questions module, and not multiple choice, the BSB can still use that as a trump card to limit the number of students passing the BPTC. After all, an examiner can mark you down on a suggestive answer if it does not match what he thinks the answer should be, even if you have a correct answer. And there is no challenge to that! Unfortunately I am a victim of that: I scored a very competent in the PE Multiple Choice but got a not competent in the 3 SAQ exams. Passing all the other modules and even gaining very competent in the skills modules did not matter. And there went my investment in a law career down the drain, and more so my money. So my say is that the BSB should put PE, which is also a centralized exams, in part 1 and make it multiple choice like Civil and Criminal. The BPTC is a training course and that is what it should be. Another option is to have Civil and Criminal done as part of the qualifying law degree, or the GDL, so when students come to the BPTC they can get what they expect: Training, and not be bugged down with having to cram a substantial portion of a centralized module, leaving not much time to prepare for the skills modules.

(0)(0)

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