BPTC and pupillage could be rolled into one under new proposals

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New route to qualification “needs to be more flexible and affordable”, BSB tells Legal Cheek


The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) could be combined with pupillage to create a new route to qualification as a barrister, if Bar Standards Board (BSB) proposals are given the green light.

Speaking to Legal Cheek, the BSB’s director of strategy and regulatory policy, Ewen Macleod, confirmed that the potential new super-BPTC — as we like to think of it — “is an option [the BSB] would consider providing if it met the professional standards”.

As part of the BSB’s consultation on the ‘Future of Training for the Bar’, Macleod said the new route would be reliant on “legal education providers and chambers coming together” and deciding on how such a course would be structured.

The new route to qualification — which “needs to be more flexible and affordable”, according to Macleod — is just one of a number of “preferred” options trumpeted by the bar’s regulator.

According to the report, the BSB is also considering combining the LLB and BPTC to create a new bar-focused law degree. Fusing general legal education with practical skills required for the bar (such as advocacy), the BSB hopes this could create “a cheaper route” to qualification as a barrister in England and Wales.

Other options — which are still very much on the table according to the BSB — include the “evolutionary” approach. This route keeps the “existing academic, vocational and pupillage sequences”, but hones in on “liberalising” training and increasing the “flexibility” of pupillage.

According Macleod, this equivalent means-style route to qualification could be an alternative to pupillage, with a greater focus placed on students gaining the practical skills required for life at the bar, away from a traditional chambers setting.

The BSB welcomes the views of law students, with the consultation period ending on 23 December.

Read the proposals in full below:


Bar Council Member

Just to put this in context, when the BSB presented their proposals to the Bar Council last Saturday they caused uproar by referring to pupillage as “work experience”.



But it is


Oh great

BPTC-LLB? What a great idea. Pupillage numbers stagnate so let’s encourage thousands more prospective barristers to lock themselves into dreaming of the bar before we have any idea whether they have have the academic or other capabilities necessary to actually get a pupillage.



Extremely irresponsible, there are now more barristers than ever before, whilst there is less work available than ever before.

Why would you encourage more people to embark upon this path?

The best way that chambers and course providers could work together would be to not allow someone onto the course without having secured pupillage.


Female lawyer

100% agree, although there might have to be exceptions for those planning to practice in foreign jurisdictions. I can’t see any reason not to do this, except that it would cause the course providers to lose money.



Surely it’s about time that the number of people ‘wishing to practise in foreign jurisdictions’ starts to be curtailed. There’s no way the BPTC can give them exactly what they need, and it’s a disgrace that the level of fluency required for non-native English-speakers is as low as it is.

The BPTC should just become a very small educational boot-camp for the 400 or so people a year who get pupillage. Of course, the ignorant would start branding this ‘elitism’, but it’s actually an extremely efficient way of making sure that the unlucky many don’t plough almost 20k into a pointless year of unnecessary training/education.




With 400 people a year, surely then the inns could provide financial support to those who need it and support the legal aid chambers who don’t have the resources to offer pupillages.


Female lawyer

Disagree that we should push out foreigners. Frankly given that England imposed its legal system on innumerable countries around the world the least it can do now is to continue to let lawyers from those countries qualify here if they wish. I don’t think that studying and even doing advocacy alongside people without native fluency should hold anyone back.



It’s very well known that the non-native English speakers often cause a lot of frustration to others in advocacy classes. Everyone should be evenly matched when practising and learning; the £18,000 fees should not include having to help non-English speakers. A BPP BPTC tutor once said “they learn from the native-speaking students, not just from the tutors.” In which case maybe a discount for those native speakers, then!


Unimpressed barrister

The BSB seem to have completely ignored the profession again. The option put forward by the Inns of Court and the Bar Council doesn’t even appear in this list of options…

It appears from this interview that we’re either going to require students to decide that they want to be barristers at the age of 18 (to enroll on the combined LLB/BPTC) or require chambers to dedicate more time, money and energy in training pupils who haven’t had the basic grounding from the BPTC (good luck with that). Not to mention the negative impact either option will have on social mobility at the Bar.



The profession doesn’t seem to care – only 2 sets bothered to furnish responses to the FBT consultation document …



It does. It’s option C. The BSB has clearly decided to publish routes rather than specific application of any route by a provider. Option C would allow for the Inns proposal. Arguably option B would too.

I did the survey. The Inns seemed to think they had this sewn up and would just get their way. Self study litigation followed by a 12k course for a few months.

By offering options to consult it seems to have left you not amused…


A Barrister

The BSB is not fit for purpose.

End of.



You ain’t seen nothing yet!


Non-LLB pupil

When roughly 50% of pupils are non-law grads, it surely doesn’t make sense to provide an LLB-BPTC when that isn’t what chambers are looking for…



I’ve been saying this should happen for years.

1) have a 2 month crash course in civil and criminal procedure, with some basic advocacy in the summer before pupillage.

2) start pupillage. Pupillage combined with the rest of the old BTPC, minus stuff like ADR, opinion writing can be reduced to 1 or 2 classes, 1 class on e.g. drafting orders etc. Take an elective in something you are actually working on in chambers.

It would cut a lot of the guff out, and would be more beneficial for people to learn on the go.



Your point 2 doesn’t actually make ANY sense



You’re clearly thick then.



Drafting opinions is a massive chunk of the work. Need to spend a decent amount of time on it.



Pupillage is no more than a discriminatory apprenticeship, certainly at the CommBar., or more correctly work experience for Oxbridge students. Oh I know there will be protests of “we do not discriminate” but the evidence is clear. This may be unfair but when did Fountain Court , XXXIV Old Buildings, Essex Court, Wilberforce, 3 Verulam Buildings et al last offer pupillage to a non Oxbridge student?
The whole system needs change just to save the profession but I fear the BSB will take so long to implement change that it will all come to nothing. One can only hope that the BSB moves quickly and implements change within months rather than years.



No one is arguing that the Commercial Bar isn’t discriminatory. Of course it’s discriminatory – it discriminates so as only to allow entry to the very brightest students.

The fact is that the very brightest students go to Oxbridge. It really is as simple as that.



And there it is the blind irrational bigoted thought of the Oxbridge set. Bumblebee makes my case for me in thinking only the brightest students go to Oxbridge how about Kings,Bristol, UCL, LSE, Warwick, Edinburgh, Durham all top law schools who turn out excellent students who have little to no chance of pupillage because the myth that Oxbridge turns out the best.


Female lawyer

I agree that the top sets basically only consider people with Oxbridge firsts. I also agree that by doing so they are failing to consider a lot of equally talented people. But surely the point is that this doesn’t matter to those sets — only considering people with Oxbridge firsts is a quick and easy way to reduce the applicant pool to a manageable size and assures them that all of the applicants will be reasonably intellectually able. If they choose from that pool they will find an applicant who is talented and able to do the job well. Which is what they’re looking for. I don’t think that sets are looking for “the most talented person” – what would that even mean? Of course sets recognise that in offering pupillage to two people out of 200 applicants they are turning away talented people who would do the job equally well.

So yes, there is discrimination, yes it is arbitrary (except to the extent that the Oxbridge “brand” is valuable), but ultimately it’s not illegal and it’s not harming the sets, so why would they change?



Your points are well made save for the fact that the “cookie cutter” approach taken by Chambers does not make for good thinkers, they are all the same not rising stars with their own thoughts, new approaches and new ideas. I want a better pupillage system that allows the cream to rise to the top irrespective of what university they went to. I want the best of the best for UK’s legal community and I want access to the best as a business person. The BSB has the power to change things but do they have the willingness to upset the BVC – BPTC or whatever it is called this week?


Not Amused

” I want a better pupillage system that allows the cream to rise to the top irrespective of what university they went to”

This is as nonsensical as saying – I want the best sprinters in Team GB regardless of how fast they run.

We have a system of differentiated standards at university level. If you want to nationalise our universities and set one single academic standard then lobby for that. But at the moment you are just dishonest.


The Bar Necessities

The problem with this approach is that you chart out the course of a child’s life at 17.

If a kid has a life plan, goes to a school that encourages applications to Oxbridge, and applies herself at school, then that child can (maybe) go to Oxbridge. She then has the twin advantages of the prestige of an Oxbridge degree and a system of education that is very effective at creating polished young adults.

But if chambers strongly prefer to recruit from Oxbridge, they miss out of all the children who either didn’t get on with the methods of teaching of modern secondary schools, who didn’t know that an Oxbridge education mattered and so didn’t stretch themselves at A-Level, who didn’t go to schools who pushed their brightest toward Oxbridge, etc etc etc. Inevitably, some of those children will grow up to be young adults who would be better barristers than the people who get the pupillages. Ultimately, it is chambers’ loss if they don’t get those pupils.

Not Amused

The problem with your argument (and it’s an old one) is that you attempt to over play the importance of a tiny percentage of people. We are talking about the *super bright*. There are very few in any society. Like the *super fast* or the *super musical* you can actually spot them by 17.

Arguments about not deciding at 11 are trotted out by tired old lefties trying to stop poor kids getting above their station. But you can actually tell by 11 too. But while 11 is an emotive age, thus strengthening the impact of this weak argument, 17 is not.

Moreover, as you well know, no one (absolutely no one) says “only Oxbridge allowed”. What happens is that generally the *super bright* go to Oxbridge (thank goodness and thanks to the tireless work of the admissions dons who have prevented US type ‘places for wealthy donors). Those who don’t go to Oxbridge will go to one of the other 8 of the top 10. Those who don’t go to one of those are EXCEEDINGLY rare and are more likely than not to have stopped being *super bright* by the end of their substandard undergraduate degree.

You are talking about a tiny minority within a tiny minority – *super bright* kids outside the top 10 unis. What proves our system works is that sometimes they crop up. Sometimes they do go to the top sets. But not often and not every year.

Because being *super bright* like being *super fast* requires constant effort and training. The idea of the incredibly bright kid who would be a genius if only he did some work is a myth that parents tell themselves because they can’t face the reality that their kid is just normal. At university level in the UK (and this is a national disgrace FYI) *only* Oxbridge offers proper and rigorous academic training.

So although no one says Oxbridge only, it would be a statistical aberration if the end results were not skewed in favour of 1) the *super bright* and 2) the best trained of the *super bright*.

We don’t like admitting it. It is a British cultural trait. We pretend that intelligence is not an ability. We pretend it requires no work. We pretend that everyone is as clever as everyone else. They are not.

There are supplementary issues. I would like there to be some pressure of the other 8 of the top 10 unis to improve their standards. Instead there is bugger all pressure on them because people like you perpetuate (tired and old) arguments which let those institutions off the hook.

Of UK universities can you name the one where the academics have the highest number of weekly required teaching hours? It’s not hard to work out.


Complete horseshit.

Children develop at different paces. Some are subjected to awful educations that stunt them, only to catch up later in some cases.

Laughable that you compare athletic natural talent to academics.

Not Amused

I hope you employ similar policies when selecting a surgeon …

The Bar Necessities

But that is exactly how we choose surgeons…

I couldn’t give a monkeys where my surgeon attended university. But the NHS training system is rather good at ranking medical students, helping them work out where their strengths and weakness lie by rotating them during their foundation years, giving them intensive training programmes under the tutelage of senior surgeons, making them take more exams (some of which are very rigorous), and weeding out those who don’t have the aptitude. University doesn’t feature heavily at all.

It is a reasonably effective system. It did an good job of making sure that the chap who operated on me last year (who, for what it is worth, did his undergrad medical degree at the University of Madras, his postgrad at the University of Calcutta, followed by years of surgical training at hospitals literally all over the country) is a highly skilled and competent surgeon. And he did an excellent job of fixing me up.

It works because the NHS is good at playing the long game. They don’t need to find the medical student most able to perform the operation I had at the end of their medical degree. They just need to make sure that the medical students with the potential, drive and temperament to be able do that operation in twelve years time are going into the right specialty programmes to get the the training they need so that they can fulfil their potential.

The Bar could learn a lot from this.

The Bar Necessities

“This is as nonsensical as saying – I want the best sprinters in Team GB regardless of how fast they run.”

I don’t think you can see the flaw in your argument. Let me show you, by heavily over-extending your analogy.

Let’s imagine that Team GB selects its sprinters by doing nothing more than getting a load of 18 year old sprinters together and having some races to see who can run the fastest. Consider the following two competitors.

Competitor A has grown up in a nice, middle class home. His parents took him to a fee-paying running club five times a week. There, he had the benefit of one-on-one coaching. Not just in how to alter his stride to run more efficiently, but in how to train effectively, what exercises he needed to do, what he ought to eat etc. A’s parents made sure he had the opportunity to put this into practice by paying his running-club fees, making sure he had the right foods, giving him a gym membership, and making sure he had time to do all his training. His running coach was an ex-Olympic athlete who encouraged him, made A believe in himself and did everything he could to make sure A did the best he could.

Candidate B didn’t have any of that. He trained by just running, by himself, when he could. Nobody encouraged him, nobody tried to help him. He didn’t have a proper sprinter’s diet, or access to a gym.

Now lets imagine that, in the races, A consistently beats B. In your system, you would say that A is the fastest runner and therefore the best person for Team GB. But a clearer thinker might ask what B would be like if he has the benefit intensive coaching and training, proper encouragement, the right diet, access to a gym etc.

I don’t know the first thing about judging potential in sprinters, so I couldn’t say how much of a difference it might make. I’d like to imagine the selectors know how to work it out.

The trouble is, barristers don’t really know how to judge potential in barristers. They just pick the best on the day they see them. And reject all those who aren’t as good, but have the potential to be better. Because they don’t realise they should look for potential, less still know how to find it.

Not Amused

The problem with your emotional argument is – no one knows how to test for ‘potential’ as you define it.

Plenty of lefties try. It’s why Emily Thornberry has a job. But if she hasn’t realised this ‘potential’ by now, she never will.

Equality of outcome is a path of lunacy. Instead we have a meritocratic system based on objective outcome. Anything else is demonstrably unfair. A should be picked every time.

And before you try any leftie twaddle – you will find me amongst the many people spending our time and money trying to reach B at a young age and give him the same benefits A gets.


Thanks for your view. Clearly misplaced and ill-founded and without basis. You seem to not understand what is meant about “let the cream rise to the top” so it is difficult to discuss anything sensible with you. As for my honestly you do not know me and cannot make a judgement so again your argument is light on evidence and based on assumptions so worthless.


I feel uncomfortable with the use of the word ‘discrimination’ when talking about Oxbridge in this context. Discrimination in its broadest sense would, of course, include the act of simply not considering any applicant who does not have an Oxbridge degree, but the fact of the matter is that young people can ‘control’ whether or not they have an Oxbridge degree. Even if that means doing the UCAS process a couple of times, or re-taking A-Levels, or going there as a mature undergrad student… It’s not like you only get one shot at the age of 18 to get into Oxbridge. The opportunity to go is there for those who really are hungry for it.

However, candidates *cannot* choose whether they are female, or of colour, or homosexual. They are the ones that face real discrimination in many walks of life, and have done so at the Bar for years. The Bar and Oxbridge have been working hard to ameliorate this situation for years now.

People who did not get into Oxbridge, and then cry ‘discrimination’ when they struggle to obtain pupillage at the most prestigious sets, are watering down a term that has real, negative effects on plenty of lives. The people who do this seem to be acting under the assumption that chambers believe that Oxbridge = most intelligent. Of course it doesn’t. But we just can’t change the fact that doing at least 8 obligatory essays a term and having the opportunity to debate and analyse concepts in the Oxbridge tutorial/supervision system gives Oxbridge students an incredible edge when it comes to interviews in the Bar app process. It’s not a question of intelligence; it’s a question of training. (N.B. I don’t have an Oxbridge law degree!)



What drivel. Are you seriously suggesting that students resit years just to fit into a system that does not even understand what an International Baccalaureate is. “A” levels are not fit for purpose and the UK Gov thinks they will reinvent the Baccalaureate and call it the British bacc. all this does is removes the UK student from the World ranking list on IB students something the Gov will do anything to avoid. Some students cannot afford to resit exams just to meet Oxbridge requirements. Not to worry just discriminate against them.


Anon 10:56

So you I take it that you were disagreeing with me when I said that Oxbridge bias should not be treated as a form of “discrimination” akin to prejudice against candidates based on their gender or ethnicity?

The state of public exams in this country is, I agree, getting steadily worse and worse. However, Oxford and Cambridge don’t go on grades alone – other kinds of formal tests, interviews, etc. If anything, they’re now more likely to take people deserving of it than somewhere like LSE which demands similar grades and doesn’t work anywhere near as hard at access. People need to get rid of the angst that comes with not having gone to Oxbridge and just work as hard as they can to get a First at whatever institution they’re at, plus good legal work experience and all the other necessary things.



Click on “Chambers Most List”, right above where you are writing. You will see that eg. 2/5 of Fountain’s new tenants are Oxbridge educated, Wilberforce is 3/5, Essex Court 4/5, 3VB 3/5. There’s clearly a preference for Oxbridge candidates but your suggestion that it is impossible for non-Oxbridge candidates to get pupillage at these places is demonstrably false.


The Bar Necessities

The problem is that practice at the bar is radically different between different practice areas. The skills that a criminal pupil needs are vastly different to the skills a commercial-chancery pupil needs. It is very difficult to reduce this down to a core syllabus, so the BPTC teaches to the lowest common denominator. The result is that nobody is well served.

The solution is probably outcome-focused: anyone wanting to practice at the bar must first pass an open book exam about procedure and evidence. I’d make it less crime-focused (why on earth is it necessary for everyone to memorise the rules for admitting hearsay in criminal trials, for example) and require a working knowledge of procedure in the ET, Tribunals and Family Courts. I’d also suggest a working knowledge of jurisdictional issues is important.

The rest of the skills—advocacy, drafting, advice writing, ethics (which, contrary to what some people seem to think, is very important), practice management etc could be taught to pupils with a pre-pupillage course and an expanded pupils’ advocacy course.



Most pupils are crim pupils. And in many civil areas knowledge of criminal procedure is needed quite frequently.

Unless there is a much more targeted process in which the set concerned or groups of chambers with similar fields of practice provide bespoke vocational training – so effectively double pupillage – the BPTC will always be general. And the idea that chambers would or could invest in pupils to that extent is laughable.

Two choices: either vocational training is restructured as being limited to pupils and then focused, or it stays as general preparation for practice that could be in any number of areas. There’s nothing sinister about either choice.

And it will be expensive whatever happens: expensive for the individual, for the Inns or for chambers. Someone has to pay.


Not Amused

If we limit the course to those who have already secured pupillages then you could fund every student fully from existing Inn scholarships.

The problem is the toxic mutual support relationship between the BSB and the BPTC course providers. In my day we called corruption corruption. The providers should not be giving the BSB money.


The Bar Necessities

“Most pupils are criminal pupils”
No, not even close. For the last year that I can easily find the statistics for (which is 2011/12, from the Bar Barometer 2014), 24% of pupillages were criminal pupillages. Given that it is increasingly difficult to have a criminal practice as a new practitioner, I would expect there are even fewer criminal pupillages now.

“And in many civil areas knowledge of criminal procedure is needed quite frequently.”
I haven’t used my knowledge of criminal procedure once in the three years since I sat my Criminal Litigation exam, nor have I used my knowledge of criminal evidence. Nor has anyone I know who doesn’t do crime. Understanding how the criminal courts work is no more important than knowing how any of the other specialist courts work.

I should stress that I’m not against teaching a working knowledge for all of the main courts and tribunals, which would include the mags and Crown Court. But I cannot understand why the BPTC focuses on criminal practice in the way that it does. It means that for 76% of pupils, much of what they learned is totally useless.



Yeah, all fair. I should have said – because I meant to say – that the single biggest group is criminal. Though it is a more meaningful comparison to split the rest into their very different civil practice areas and treat them as groups in themselves, because family, employment, shipping, IP etc, should be viewed as discrete fields of practice with little overlap. Looked at like that the crim pupils come out as overwhelmingly the biggest group.

FWIW, the heavy emphasis on contract and PI in the civil teaching seems to me to be just as useless for many civil pupils as is the criminal part of the syllabus.

As for your practice not needing any criminal procedure knowledge, fair ’nuff; I should have “some civil areas”.



Scrap the whole thing – you should be able to qualify on the basis of an exam. That may well include an oral advocacy element. But the basic premise that entry to practise is limited to the whim of chambers is wrong – it is essentially anti-competitive, closed shop.

How would “qualified” barristers get work – easy, like anyone else in the real world: they’d do pro bono stuff, they’d do things cheaply for “friends”, they’d get work experience, they’d try to make a name for themselves…

Sure enough, you would probably have to limit the level of work they did for a few years, and add some form of oversight, but it’s not really that outlandish. Just limit to civil claims of less than £25,000 or criminal of under six months custodial, and raise that through oversight as the newly qualified barrister/solicitor advocate reaches certain milestones. Every case they do they have to submit a copy of their case file for examination, a selection are examined, and the judge has to write a brief report.

Yes, there will be failures. But people will fail on their own merits. Not on the basis of whether they are wearing the right tie.

We really wouldn’t tolerate this in other fields.



This is the biggest load of nonsense I have ever read. You are suggesting that any idiot should be permitted to represent people whose liberty is at stake (any idiot can pass the BPTC). Zero quality control, apart from some phantom “oversight” (are you suggesting that self-employed barristers should be giving up their time to oversee thousands of younger barristers, many of whom are hopeless, for no apparent reward?). 5 times as many baby barristers as there is work (so nobody can make a living and those who are excellent but poor will be forced to drop out so that those who are thick and rich can spend a few years playing at being a barrister or working for Daddy’s friends).

Only an idiot with no chance of pupillage would make this suggestion. Cop on.



PS Believe it or not, assessment for pupillage and tenancy is merit-based and nobody could give a shit what tie you are wearing.


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