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A new law school is being built in a bunker under Lincoln’s Inn to deliver a not-for-profit BPTC

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Exclusive: Inns of Court fight back against private law schools

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A revolutionary state-of-the-art bar school is being planned for London as the Inns of Court aim to re-enter a market they left seven years ago, Legal Cheek has learnt.

The school is set to be built in a bunker under Lincoln’s Inn, which will be further excavated and fitted with a glass roof. It would offer a revised model of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) that would significantly undercut established powerhouse commercial rivals on fees.

In a move that would profoundly shake-up the bar school market, the four inns are understood to be co-ordinating a launch for as early as September next year of a combined online and face-to-face lecture course.

Legal Cheek understands that the online side of the course would include all knowledge-based elements — in other words, everything except advocacy and negotiation training. Only students passing the online section’s exam would be allowed to progress to the second part of the course.

It is anticipated that the total length of the course would be significantly shorter than the current BPTC, with sources at the inns suggesting it would run to less than an academic year.

The course would require Bar Standards Board approval and accreditation, but proponents have told Legal Cheek that with a fair wind, the course could be off the ground in a little more than a year. Regardless, it is anticipated that the inns’ new BPTC would be up and running no later than September 2017.

Plans to take head on giant commercial providers such as the University of Law, BPP Law School and London’s City University law school fall against the backdrop of ongoing development plans at Lincoln’s Inn.

Yesterday, officials unveiled what they described as an “advocacy suite” at the inn. The development includes a 150-seat lecture theatre with breakout room, all of which will be housed underneath Lincoln Inn’s east terrace complete with glass ceiling to allow in natural light.

Photography was forbidden at yesterday’s brief public viewing of the architects’ plans, but above is a recreation of how it would look. Indicated below is a mark where the law school is set to be located.

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Legal Cheek’s sources would not speculate on student numbers for the proposed course or on the fees that would be charged. However, they were clear that the inns are keen to revamp the heavily criticised current BPTC and offer a new breed at a considerably lower cost.

The inns currently dispense some £5 million worth of scholarships annually, and it is understood that officials are increasingly irritated that the money effectively swells the coffers of private and other BPTC providers.

It is understood that inns would rather reallocate a large chunk of that cash to running their own not-for-profit BPTC, which would be offered for as little as half the cost to students as currently charged by the big commercial providers.

Doing so would cause upheaval in the market. The inns have not been involved in the legal education field since they off-loaded the Inns of Court School of Law to City University in 2008.

Indeed, historically the Inns of Court were the core providers of barrister education and training. Lincoln’s was founded in the early 13th-century and its medieval hall and gateway are still architectural highlights, along with the late 17th-century New Square in the centre, and the Victorian gothic Great Hall.

Currently, eight providers offer the BPTC with about 1,500 students enrolled annually.