Legal Cheek

Bar Council backs cheaper, two-part BPTC run by the Inns of Court

Barrister super-exam?

The chair of the bar has thrown his support behind a new barrister training programme, to be run by the Inns of Court.

Rumours about a new Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), to be taught by the Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA), have been circulating, and gaining more traction, since summer. Now, Andrew Langdon QC, a criminal barrister and the chair of the bar, has said:

“We support the initiative taken by the Inns to design a professional course that is cheaper and that does something to stem the flow of those who pass the final exam but have very little chance of obtaining pupillage.”

The word ‘cheaper’ may have caught your eye. Indeed, speaking at the Bar Council’s annual conference Langdon expressed fear over the bar’s loss of young barristers, many of whom are deterred from the costs likely to be incurred during training. With the BPTC costing up to £18,520 and criminal law sets sometimes paying its pupils less than £15,000, we understand the fear. Legal Cheek readers can peruse the prices of all the BPTC providers on The BPTC Most List 2017-18.

The plan is, then, to launch a course which splits out the cost, and the course, into two parts.

As per Bar Council proposals, stage one “will consist of the knowledge-based parts” of the BPTC, such as civil and criminal procedure and evidence. Stage two will then see aspiring barristers get to grips with “the remaining skills-based elements of the BPTC,” which will include modules such as advocacy, drafting, ethics and conferencing skills.

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Sound familiar? The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has recently committed to the roll out of a solicitor super-exam, which it said would be split into two parts, one completed pre and one completed post training contract. However, Legal Cheek brought you the news last month that there’s a movement afoot to push together the two exams, so that both can be taken before a training contract.

Though there are no plans for the split BPTC to act as a sandwich for pupillage, the proposed new BPTC’s big area of controversy is this: it’s been suggested law school attendance would only need be compulsory for part two. Legal Cheek also understands the Inns will be placing stricter entry requirements on its new BPTC.

Controversy aside, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and now the Bar Council have indicated support for these radical reforms. But uncertainty does persist over cost and other key areas. The BSB itself, as part of its consultation into the future of bar training, noted:

“We are aware of a potential conflict of interest that may arise if the ICCA enters the market for bar vocational training. If the Inns of Court, through the ICCA, decide to offer vocational training, and there is a continuing requirement for student membership of an Inn, ICCA may be seen as a more favoured provider of training, disrupting competition for students in an open market.”

And, as reported by Legal Cheek, the Inns’ lack of university status may be an issue too. In June, sources told us the ICCA had already held talks with at least one university about a possible joint venture, but that it’d rather go it alone.

It’s also still not clear which Inns will host the new BPTC, though there are some clues out there.

Inner Temple, for one, is planning on building an “education and training centre” for wannabe barristers. The radical redevelopment includes a 120-seat lecture theatre and break out spaces.

And 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.

A computer generated image of what the bunker will look like when complete

While the profession continues to iron out the creases, Langdon has said it’s “vital” barrister training is addressed. “We will wither on the vine if we do not take care of the most junior barristers,” he concluded.