Yesterday I urged the assembled luminaries at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum to do something about the scandalous situation surrounding entry to the Bar (according to one estimate by the Bar Council itself, as few as one in eight students who do the BPTC get a pupillage).
Rather than go on about unsuccessful pupillage-seekers’ misery, or law schools’ fat profits, I focused instead on how bad it looks to the rest of the world that all it takes to get the title of English barrister is a spare £16k and a 2.2 degree.
This racket has been going on for a good while now, and internationally the message is sinking in that what is perceived to be the top legal qualification in England can be bought (in the US, on the other hand, where entry to Ivy League law schools is tightly controlled, becoming a top lawyer is seen as requiring brains)…
The reality may not be so simple – you certainly need brains to get a pupillage and practise as a barrister – but by not limiting entry to the BPTC we’re allowing a perception to develop that’s damaging the UK legal profession’s reputation. In a very competitive global legal education market, where the English Bar has a high symbolic value, that’s dangerous.
My solution? Only allow people to do the BPTC if they have a pupillage. Sure, that would mean a change to the way chambers recruit, and less money for law schools, but it would be manageable. And isn’t it the job of the ongoing Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) to make big, important calls like this?
Predictably, my suggestion was met with the ever-convenient “diversity” argument. It always surprises me how people are prepared to play the diversity card so cynically; usually it means they either have a vested interest in something (i.e. it pays them quite nicely) and/or they don’t fancy the upheaval of change.
Not that diversity isn’t important. And I admit that the elite, pupillage-only BPTC I’m proposing would favour Oxbridge types. That’s why I think we need to open up the path from the solicitors’ profession to the Bar more widely for the candidates who want to make the switch at a later stage.
Again, there were lots of sharp intakes of breath and shaking of heads from the law school representatives in the audience when I suggested this. But, then, what do you expect when you’re trying to get turkeys to vote for Christmas?