Inns ‘seriously considering’ new course, but will they go it alone or get a university involved?
Legal Cheek can reveal the Inns of Court are quietly putting plans in place to launch a new Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).
The Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA) — an education and training organisation launched last summer and made up of judges, lawyers and academics — is actively considering delivering a new version of the course as early as 2020.
Collectively, the wealthy foursome — Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, Gray’s Inn and Inner Temple — used to be the sole training providers via the Inns of Court School of Law. With competitors entering the market in 1997, the Inns eventually stopped providing the course, then known as the Bar Vocational Course (BVC), in 2001.
How this BPTC 2.0 will be delivered is dependent on the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) new authorisation framework, due to be finalised next year.
Legal Cheek understands that the regulator’s radical bar training reforms could contain a clause that requires all BPTC providers to have university status, something the Inns lack. Keen to prepare for every eventuality, sources within the legal market have told us that the ICCA — which would ideally like to go it alone — has already held talks with at least one university about a possible joint venture.
James Wakefield, director of the ICCA, told us:
We are seriously considering the possibility of delivering a new version of the BPTC in collaboration with another organisation or on our own. This will depend to a certain extent on the outcome of the BSB’s authorisation framework for the course, which isn’t coming out in final form until next year.
The Inns seem keen to put their plans in motion. A job advertisement (screenshot below) — currently live on the Council of the Inns of Court’s website (COIC) — reveals it’s looking to recruit a “project manager” to help launch “a wholly new and radically innovative BPTC.” Continuing, the ad states that COIC is determined to deliver “high quality training” to students at a “reasonable price”. Students starting the BPTC this year could pay in excess of £19,000 for the course, depending on which of the eight providers they study at.
Commenting on the vacancy specifically, Wakefield added:
We are recruiting a project manager to help us carefully work through this decision making and planning process.
This latest development follows the BSB’s decision to open up a limited number of alternative routes to qualification as a barrister. One option, gaining strong support among barristers and students, would see the BPTC split into two parts, with law school optional for the first half. Interestingly, this new approach — which would significantly cut course delivery costs — was first put forward in December by the Bar Council and, yes, you guessed it, the COIC. Could this be the “radically innovative BPTC” referred to in the job ad?
While it’s still not clear which Inns will host the new BPTC, there are some clues out there.
In 2015 we revealed that Lincoln’s Inn was building a bunker under its historic medieval hall. Architects’ drawings, acquired by Legal Cheek, showed that the new “educational suite” would be split over two subterranean floors and include a 150-seat lecture theatre.
Reporting at the time, we suggested that the bunker was potentially being constructed with a view to launching a new Inns of Court BPTC.
But the inn maintained that “the intended use of the proposed building is not as a law school but a state of the art space to provide advocacy training to our student, pupil and barrister members.” Construction, now well underway, is due to be completed next year, and Legal Cheek understands that it is one of the main course location options being considered by COIC.
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