Sloppy Reporting Obscures Bar’s True Pupillage Problems

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By Alex Aldridge on

A contributing factor towards lack of diversity at the Bar, and the oversupply of wannabe barristers, is poor reporting of the issues by the legal press, says Alex Aldridge

For journalists, stats-based pieces can be a pain, because they require meticulousness and frequently more work than straight reporting of events. Often you just don’t have the time you’d like to devote to them.

Having covered the legal profession for a while, and gone through the legal education process myself, I’ve got an advantage over most journalists writing about this area. With that in mind, here’s my commentary on Lawyer2B’s rather misleading piece on the ‘Bar Barometer’ statistics published yesterday – starting with the most misleading bits first.

Lawyer2B is in italics. I’m in bold.

The results for 2009-10 further showed that 72.5 per cent of pupils were from a white ethnicity background, while a mere 15.5 per cent were from black and minority ethnic [BME] backgrounds.

A mere 15.5%? The most recently-recorded equivalent BME figure for the general population is 8%. This figure is likely to have been shown to have risen when the 2011 census data is released in July, but not to more than 15%. So ethnic minorities are actually overrepresented among pupil barristers. The reporting here obscures the fact that the junior Bar’s problem isn’t with ethnic diversity, but socio-economic diversity.

52 per cent of pupils [as in pupil barristers] attended a state school; 35 per cent attended a fee-paying school and 13 per cent chose not to disclose where they went to school.

35% attending a fee-paying school is huge relative to the general population, around 7% of which went to a fee-paying school. This is where the junior Bar’s diversity problem is, not with ethnicity.

[In 2010-11] 1,618 students were enrolled onto the full-time and part-time BPTC, up from 1,509 in 2009-10.

This is a mistake by Lawyer2B. The 2009-10 figure featured in the report refers only to full-time BPTC students. 1,793 full-time and part-time students were enrolled on the BPTC in total in 2009-10, so numbers on the course have not gone up but, encouragingly, declined – for the fourth consecutive year.

Pupillage numbers have plummeted for a third year running for 2010-11, giving less than 27 per cent of Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) students a chance of securing a job

‘Plummet’ is a rather dramatic choice of verb to describe a drop of 14 pupillages across the whole country (446 first six pupillages were registered in 2010-11, down from 460 in 2009-10). And the 27% chance of securing a pupillage calculation fails to account for all sorts of stuff, including the fact that 20-30% of students who do the BPTC are from abroad, with many having no intention of practising in this country, and the competition current Bar graduates face from jobless graduates from previous years.

At the risk of coming across as a terrible arse-kisser, my editor at Guardian Law, Ros Taylor, managed to do a great job of highlighting some interesting parts of the data in just two tweets:

“… nearly half had debts of >£10k, tho’ 19% had none at all. 23% Oxbridge, 4% UCL, 46% Russell Gp, 51% had law degree. 7% had lawyer parent”

“Bar Barometer… reveals women secured 48% of pupillages in 2009/10, men 40% (rest of data missing); 23% had firsts”