BPP is controversially to bring its BPTC to Brum, despite only nine pupillage places available in all the West Midlands as of yesterday
This is just what hard-pressed pupillage-hunting barristers need at a time when the market is flooded with wannabes — yet another bar vocational course churning you yet more pupil hunters.
The Bar Standards Board — the profession’s regulator — confirmed today that it had given the nod to BPP Law School plans to offer 48 Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) places at its Birmingham outpost.
The controversial decision falls against the backdrop of yesterday’s figures from the Pupillage Gateway showing that chambers across the entire Midlands were offering only nine pupillages.
BPP’s move will pit the school directly against old rivals the University of Law, the only other provider of the BPTC in the West Midlands powerhouse. As of 2012, the university had 88 students enrolled on its Birmingham BPTC course.
While the move may cheer BPP’s bean counters, it is likely to trigger groans of dismay across the bar itself.
The BSB’s most recent training figures are old, dating from 2011-12, but they tell a hard story. As of that date there were 438 pupillages available annually, measured against 1,732 students enrolled on BTPC courses across country.
There is much speculation over why the regulator has not released updated figures, with the more cynical suggesting the reason quite simply is that the disparity has worsened.
Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that both numbers are going the wrong way. In 2007-08, there were 562 pupillages available; and in 2010-11, there were 1,682 BPTC enrolments.
Current BSB figures, such as they are, also highlight that the biggest slice of pupillages — nearly 24.5% — is in criminal law practice, while 13% is in family. Both areas have been butchered by recent Ministry of Justice cuts to legal aid, and as a result are set to offer fewer pupillages.
In addition, the provinces aren’t exactly where wannabe barristers should be heading for pupillages. The regulator’s figures show that only 28% — just 123 places — were offered outside London.
Nonetheless, Anna Banfield, BPP’s director of BPTC programmes, was upbeat about the move:
“This will allow students to study the BPTC in Birmingham where they may live or intend to practise and make it easier for them to develop links with the local bar,” she said.
On the issue of whether the market needs more pupillage hunters, BPP’s dean and chief executive Peter Crisp added:
“By equipping our BPTC students with all the skills they need to succeed, a very high number of our graduates either secure pupillages here in the UK, or use the qualification to further their career overseas, where the BPTC is a highly valued qualification.”
For the BSB’s part, the regulator pleaded its hands were tied in relation to pupillage numbers.
“The oversight regulator, the Legal Services Board, does not allow the BSB to control the number of people enrolling on the BPTC course,” explained a spokesman.
He maintained that the board would publish updated figures on the number of pupillages available across England and Wales “in the next few months”.