Most law students claim to be indifferent to whether the places where they do their vocational training are known as law schools, colleges or universities. But they also display a strong preference for providers which are perceived to be high status. Hence the rise of the University of Law, BPP and Kaplan – all of which have various tie-ups with elite City law firms to deliver the LPC – at the expense of stricken Oxford Brookes and other smaller providers.
It's logical, then, that the law schools are keen to keep up with each other's latest moves. In this respect, the College of Law's recent morphing into the University of Law has left BPP – which is a mere 'University College' – particularly anxious to follow suit. Sadly, though, things haven't been going so well for the US-owned professional education titan...
Back in 2009, Essex beautician Georgina Blackwell caused a media storm when, without any legal training, she represented her mother in a High Court dispute against a large property company – and won. Sniffing a PR opportunity, BPP Law School immediately – and very publicly – offered Blackwell (pictured below) a full scholarship to do its then-newly launched LLB...
...but it would put pressure on chambers to fund the course – and could lead to it getting scrapped altogether, writes Lancaster University's Angus MacCulloch
The plight of thousands of aspiring barristers who invest large sums of money to undertake the BPTC, but are increasingly unlikely to secure pupillage, has encouraged a lively debate in and around the profession (see, for instance, contributions from The Law Horse, Alex Aldridge and BPP Law School CEO Peter Crisp).
In this debate competition law looms like a spectre; often being referred to but rarely being discussed.
It is also worth remembering that any question regarding access to the Bar is equally applicable to all other branches of the legal, and other, professions.
The Bar isn’t being singled out for attention, it just happens to be in the cross hairs at the moment.
The competition law issue is essentially very simple. The Bar Standards Board (BSB), as a professional body and regulator, controls the entry requirements for the profession. The competition authorities become concerned when it appears that the rules put in place by the regulator appear to favour the interests of the profession over that of others. The Competition Authority’s task is to ensure that the market for legal services operates in a manner which best serves the interests of the consumer.
When deciding who can practice at the Bar the rules should ensure the quality of legal services and, by facilitating healthy competition, ensure low prices and increased accessibility, by means of direct access or otherwise.
I’ll take a look at a few of the suggestions made for reform and tease out the competition problems before I pitch in my own thoughts.
On Sunday BPP Law School chief executive Peter Crisp became the latest – and most unlikely – person to (indirectly) lend his voice to the growing chorus of warnings against doing the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).
Speaking to The Sunday Times(£), Crisp said that he does "not advise going into criminal practice at the bar".
Now, wannabe lawyers, when a man who does very well out of the hundreds of students doing the BPTC each year at his venerable institution says don’t go to the criminal bar – which, of course, supplies a substantial proportion of the 450 annual available pupillages – it means there is REALLY SOMETHING VERY, VERY WRONG at the criminal Bar.
From that, you can draw the conclusion that even if you do get a pupillage at a criminal set, you’re probably still shafted: another very good reason not to do the BPTC unless you want to practise civil law (and are clever and good at advocacy).
Don’t believe me?
Silk returned for its second series last night, enraging the country’s more pedantic legal professionals – many of whom took to Twitter to vent their spleen at the show with outbursts along the lines of:
But there’s no such thing as female robing rooms!?
How dare they suggest our ethics could be compromised by the legal aid cuts!?
Judges can’t tell juries to find people guilty, god dammit!
We would never, ever use a euphemism like “swimming in the ladies pond”!
Meanwhile, there has been a huge spike in LLB, GDL, LPC and BPTC applications as a generation of youngsters aspire "to be the next Martha Costello".
Recently the actor Philip Glenister (pictured below), of Life on Mars and Mad Dogs fame, told the Guardian: “I look at my eldest and think, if you want to be an actor and earn some money, become a barrister. You can still wear a wig and get dressed up, but you earn. So let's get down the Old Bailey for a taster!”
And there you have the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) oversubscription problem in a nutshell. Want a cool, creative job, where you’re the centre of attention, and a secure, regular income too? Become a barrister.