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‘A golden opportunity to promote the cause of talent has been missed’

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In not distinguishing between graduates of Russell Group and non-traditional universities, the Legal Education and Training Review has left future lawyers vulnerable to international competition, argues pupil barrister-to-be OccupyTheInns

So much has changed since I began on my journey to become a barrister — and I am not ashamed to admit that my own views have been altered during a period of great evolution personally. Today I am a more cautious and wiser individual. Nevertheless on some issues my opinions continue unwavered. In the week that the LETR has published its findings, I consider it appropriate to repeat a long held belief: that the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) should be restricted to graduates from the Russell Group. In failing to impose this barrier it is my submission that the authors of the report have made a grave error…

When I wrote of a Russell Group-only BPTC entry policy last year I was hopeful that by putting pen to paper I would catch the eye of senior legal policy makers and bring about change. Alas, I failed. The BPTC will remain open to all-comers, continuing the absurd situation of having graduates from the best universities in the land rub along with “graduates” from re-branded technical colleges with the word “university” in front of their names. A golden opportunity to promote the cause of talent has been missed.

It is true that a very small percentage of these technical college students may possess a latent talent that may, if nurtured, flower into the ability to practise at the Bar. If we are to improve the diversity of the profession, these students must be encouraged. This is surely where the idea of a Bar aptitude test comes in — or should come in. It is these individuals who would benefit from such a test, not the graduates of Russell Group universities who have proved themselves time and time again, at GCSE and A-Level, and module after module at the best universities. Restricting the Bar aptitude test to students outside this sphere, rather than forcing everyone to do it, wouldn’t only be fairer, but it would reduce cost at a time when money is scarce for everyone.

In respect of the theme of money, I was delighted to see that the LETR report is pro-apprentice. While not an appropriate route for barristers, apprenticeships make a great deal of sense for solicitors, whose incredibly valuable yet not particularly academic job arguably requires no university preparation. During my recent travels in some challenging locations in Asia I was fascinated to see the way the family trade was often passed from father to son, continuing years of tradition. It is of course what the people of the British Isles would understand as an apprenticeship. However did we as a society forget the virtues of such a simple yet sensible process that involves no students loans? I for one am delighted to see it make a re-appearance.

Notwithstanding the positives, my fear is that LETR does not go far enough when taken as a whole. If there is one thing that my gap year has taught me it is that we in the West are facing far greater competition than before from emerging economies such as China and India. If the legal profession of England and Wales is to succeed in this battle we must allow the very best to rise to the top unencumbered by notions of political correctness. This principle applies not only to education but practice also. I only hope, as I prepare to return to commence pupillage at a leading set of criminal barristers’ chambers in September, that it will be to a country that enables me to reach my full potential.

OccupyTheInns was called to the Bar in July 2011. He will commence pupillage in autumn. There’s more from OccupyTheInns here.