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BPTC students hit record numbers — but securing pupillage remains a big problem

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1,753 bar hopefuls enrolled in 2018

The number of students enrolling on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) hit record highs in 2018, according to new stats released by the bar regulator — but securing a precious pupillage remains a major hurdle for the majority of aspiring barristers.

The Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) latest stats report reveals 1,753 students enrolled on the vocational course in 2018 — an increase of 134 on the year before and the highest figure for enrolment since the course began in 2011.

But the uptick in numbers only adds to the intense competition to secure pupillage. The report shows that just 43% of UK/EU bar grads who started the course between 2014-18 had commenced pupillage by March 2020. This figure increased to 47% for those enrolled from 2014-2017.

“The likelihood of gaining pupillage varies widely by degree class and BPTC overall grade in particular,” the BSB said, “with ethnicity and first degree institution also appearing to be influencing factors.”

This year’s recruitment round saw 2,142 people submit at least one application via the Bar Council’s Pupillage Gateway. There were just 206 pupillage spots up for grabs.

The report found that when controlling for BPTC grade and first-degree classification, those who attend a “Top 10” UK university (in the eyes of the The Times and Sunday Times‘ ‘Good University Guide’) were more likely to have bagged pupillage compared to their non-Top 10 peers.

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The BSB goes on to provide the following example: “55% of those with an upper second class degree and very competent BPTC grade who went to a UK university ranked in the top 10 had commenced pupillage. In comparison around 48% of those with a first class degree and a very competent overall grade on the BPTC who went to a university ranked 11-50 in the UK had commenced pupillage.”

Again controlling for both degree class and BPTC grade, the BSB found that UK/EU bar grads from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds who enrolled from 2014-18 were less likely to have commenced pupillage than those from white backgrounds.

BSB director of strategy and policy, Ewen MacLeod, commented:

“We remain concerned by the continuing disparity between the chances of white and BAME students in securing pupillage. We need to investigate further why this disparity exists but, to address any possible unfairness in selection, our programme of reforms to bar training includes a requirement for those seeking to offer pupillage to demonstrate an organisational commitment to equality and diversity.”

The stats come amid a period of change for law schools and the way they train their barristers-to-be, with a number of the big market players (The University of Law, BPP Law School and City Law School) slashing the cost of their courses and offering more flexible study options.

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40 Comments

Anonymous

They should probably highlight that almost 50% of these 1,753 students are overseas students who have no intention on securing a pupillage in the UK.

(18)(2)

Anonymous

Or that the BAME representation at the bar 14.7%, is higher than the national population ratio, 14.4%.

(13)(6)

Anonymous

How about comparing white and BAME students by degree, BPTC grade and whether they attended a top 10 uni? If the problems are at schools and the uni/schools barrier you cannot place any fault at the professions.

And as for the top 10 and the rest, a first from the rest is no better than a 2:1 from a top ten in these days of rampant grade inflation.

(24)(4)

Hmmm

There are loads of BAME people from Oxbridge and RG unis on the BPTC.

This isn’t about going to unis that aren’t ‘good enough’

(18)(3)

Anonymous

But what’s the data on the “loads of BAME people from Oxbridge and RG unis on the BPTC”?

(5)(1)

Anon

The Times publishes a list each year of people from each Inn who secure a BPTC scholarship, and thus have a BPTC place.

Try this for yourself. Google each name that likely belongs to a BAME person. Almost all will have attended Oxbridge or RG unis, and the Inns give very few scholarships to those outside those unis.

My own BPTC class had 3 BAME people – one from Oxford and two others from Warwick and LSE respectively. None of them secured pupillage.

(3)(1)

Anon

That would be comparing apples with apples and that does not suit the SJW.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

“We remain concerned by the continuing disparity between the chances of white and BAME students in securing pupillage. We need to investigate further why this disparity exists but, to address any possible unfairness in selection, our programme of reforms to bar training includes a requirement for those seeking to offer pupillage to demonstrate an organisational commitment to equality and diversity.”

Institutional racism. No need to sugarcoat it. They don’t see BAME people as capable equals – only as photos of victims of war to encourage charity panhandling, as part of barristers being virtue-signalling ‘nice people’.

They prefer to recruit people exactly like them, and all the typed ‘commitments to equality and diverse’ aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.

(28)(29)

Anonymous

“Institutional racism”? Bollocks. Show me disparity of bar entry taking into account educational institutions first. Unless there is a material difference on that data, then the problem is not with the Bar. Someone with a 2:1 from Manchester Metropolitan is not a “capable equal” with someone with a 2:1 from UCL.

(14)(5)

Anonymous

Again, plenty of BAME people on the BPTC from Oxbridge and RG unis.

Many younger BAME people in the UK are the first in their family to attend university. In many African and Asian cultures, education and securing top exam grades is a very high priority for immigrants to the UK and for their children.

Absolutely incredible that there are people in the legal profession who sure sincerely think BAME applicants lack the requisite intelligence to become lawyers.

(3)(10)

illiterate peasant

Unless you can provide actual, substantive data about the number of Oxbridge and RG grads on the BPTC who achieve highly and go on to fail at pupillage, your opinion is absolutely meaningless. Same goes for: “absolutely incredible… lack the requisite intelligence to become lawyers”, unless you can actually provide evidence that this is the case, you are simplifying an issue (lack of representation of BAME people at the Bar) down to one underlying cause (the horrible racist Bar!) when multiple other factors are demonstrably at play.

(8)(1)

Said it once said it again

The BSB needs to limit the BPTC to those with a pupillage or with no intention of practising in the UK.

(18)(0)

Anonymous

This. A thousand times.

That being said splitting the course into parts (and stepping in with one obviously superior and not for profit provider) is a very sensible start and to be applauded. When I was doing the BVC it was blindingly obvious, by about day 2, to plenty of (generally domestic) students that they’d made a mistake/been misinformed by careers advisers etc., and simply had no prospect of pupillage. By that point however they had already committed £17k (at it was then) plus expenses (not to mention a year of their lives) – at least the new system allows for an earlier exit ramp…

(7)(0)

David Cheese

6 of the 8 current providers are public, not for profit Universities.

The 2 private providers have the highest rates of students doing pupillage.

The new ‘obviously superior’ provider is staffed by people who used to work the ‘obviously inferior’ providers, both public and private

(3)(1)

anonymous

Thanks. I didn’t say that all present providers were not for profit (though genuinely surprised to hear that there are 8 providers – subconscious London bias at play!). Very fair point re: ‘superior’ however. I was referring to perception with the ICSL being the original and based in the Inns etc. but wouldn’t want to give the impression that that really matters… The reality is that no one (or, more accurately, no one on the pupillage committee of a London based commercial chambers which is all I know) cares where you studied the BPTC or the relative merits/demerits of any particular institution or what grade you got as between VC/Outstanding (competent might raise a question mark). It is what you have done before (or, perhaps, since) that matters.

(1)(0)

F

Shame

(0)(0)

law32

I think the figures about disguise fairly significant variables between practice areas. It is very difficult to get pupillage at a top Commercial or Commercial Chancery set in London. There are at most 40/45 pupillage places in total at those sets. The success rate is well below 50% even for applicants with top grades and degrees.

(7)(1)

Anon

Finally a topic Alex and Tom are experts in: the difficulty of getting pupilage

(15)(1)

DJ Savage

10/10. That’s what I come to Legal Cheek for.

(2)(0)

Tom

*Pupillage

(0)(0)

Anon

Here are points for Ewen MacLeod and the BSB to consider from a person belonging to an ethnic minority group:

1. Instead of accumulating data and statistics do something about it. You have been talking about social mobility for the past 20 years but really what have you done? This has lip service written all over it!

2. Challenge chambers and other pupillage providers about their recruitment strategy I.e a person scoring points for securing an internship in Australia is someone more likely to have the means to afford it and be from a privileged background. They will be more likely to be shortlisted for an interview.

3. Force chambers to outline and publish their shortlisting criteria. If they want a 1st class degree say so. If they only want Russell Group or Oxbridge then make it clear. Stop wasting applicants’ time and you’ll have fewer applications to wade through.

4. Perhaps encourage anonymised applications where names are not disclosed, that way a person’s identity or ethnicity is not obvious. It will be purely merit based.

5. Have an independent person or organisation (external from a set) on the pupillage panel to oversee selection and interviews. Barristers are legal experts not experts in recruitment. Underlying bias may slip through!

(9)(4)

Gaslighting and Stonewalling

Absolutely love these ideas, particularly having some sort of HR or independent person involved in recruitment. God knows they have that already for chambers’ marketing to generate ££££££.

I know too many barristers who went to the same public schools as their Head of Chambers’ kids. Parental income seems to trump any BCL, job or advocacy experience – this is wrong.

Remember, some barristers would rather be seen as ‘nice people’ than actually be ‘nice people’.

For people paid for their advocacy skills, it’s surprising how little they want to advocate on behalf of the inequities BAME people experience beyond a #BLM hashtag.

(4)(15)

Anonymous

9:42’s suggestions are not about race discrimination. They address socioeconomic discrimination, which is rampant, and THAT discrimination is the main reason for any statistical variation between BAME and white applicants, BAME applicants falling disproportionately in the lower socioeconomic groups. Only point 4 addresses a potential issue targeted at race, and it is “common sense” crap, since the research has show no link between name and application outcomes. The BSB needs to stop obsessing about women and race, and looked at socioeconomic discrimination, which it ignores entirely.

(6)(3)

Anon

There is actually a big overlap so not crap as you may suggest- you’re short sighted!

(1)(2)

Property barrister

The difficulty with Point 2 is that you can’t arbitrarily discount parts of a person’s CV simply because it was probably a result of that candidate being more wealthy. If that internship in Australia gave the candidate international commercial awareness, or specific knowledge in one of Chambers’ practice areas, we cannot artificially give it the same weight as doing photocopying at a firm in Luton.

The key solution is universities or the Inns creating more, targeted, opportunities for less privileged people to gain seriously valuable commercial experience.

Point 3 makes an unfortunate assumption that chambers actually have shortlisting criteria! I think many that do have scoring criteria often do set them somewhere on their websites, but it would be a positive step to require chambers to both have some kind of written criteria and to publish it.

I would definitely recommend Point 4, and am surprised the BSB hasn’t made it mandatory. It removes both un-conscious biases and also mitigates against possible nepotism.

Point 5 is a nice idea in an ideal world, but I think most members of a set would simply say, “And who’s going to pay for that?”

(4)(0)

Anon

I think point 2 is that it is that a higher percentage of BAME are more likely to come from a less privileged background. You make a good point about about commercial experience and that is important. I don’t see the Inns or the BSB funding these placements but it will be wealthy parents.

I think you used the wrong comparator- perhaps the same type of work experience in Luton will not be looked at in the same way compared to Australia. A foreign internship or supporting charities abroad always ticks their boxes.

(1)(1)

Anon

Here are points for Ewen MacLeod and the BSB to consider from a person belonging to an ethnic minority group

1. Instead of accumulating data and statistics do something about it. You have been talking about social mobility for the past 20 years but really what have you done? This has lip service written all over it!

2. Challenge chambers and other pupillage providers about their recruitment strategy I.e a person scoring points for securing an internship in Australia is someone more likely to have the means to afford it and be from a privileged background. They will be more likely to get shortlisted for an interview.

3. Force chambers to outline their shortlisting criteria. If they want a 1st class degree say so. If they only want Russell Group or Oxbridge then make it clear. Stop wasting applicants’ time and you’ll have fewer applications to wade through.

4. Perhaps encourage anonymous applications where names are not disclosed that way a person’s identity or ethnicity is not obvious. It will be purely merit based.

5. Have an independent person or organisation (external from a set) on the pupillage panel to oversee selection and interviews. Barristers are legal experts not experts in recruitment. Underlying bias may slip through!

(1)(1)

Anonymous

What problem are these suggestions meant to address. BAME community represents 14.4% of the UK population and 14.7% of the Bar. BAME pupillage ratios are above that national average. So I don’t see any case that there needs to be anything done.

(13)(5)

Anon

Do you have problems with English comprehension?

‘Again controlling for both degree class and BPTC grade, the BSB found that UK/EU bar grads from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds who enrolled from 2014-18 were less likely to have commenced pupillage than those from white backgrounds.‘

This makes it very clear that there are actually fewer BAME people than White ones in pupillage.

(6)(15)

BSB not fit for purpose

It is clear that the BSB is not really interested in meaningfully forcing a diversity agenda forward. The stats amply demonstrate that the racial inequalities continue to be perpetuated at the Bar and unless and until the BSB gets a proper handle on it, things won’t change.

(99)(41)

Anonymous

Bollocks. BAME entry ratio to pupillage is above BAME representation in the UK population. And for applying for judicial roles or silk it is a massive bonus card. There is nothing that needs to be done and things don’t need to change.

(13)(12)

Urgh

Double dare you to be a big brave boy and tell your employer this, so you don’t have to sit through another ‘boring diversity lecture’.

The racism in the legal profession really is disgusting. Black applicants have my full sympathies.

(9)(13)

Anonymous

I quite enjoy the diversity courses. I ask questions they cannot answer, because they expect everyone to drink the kool aid like sheeple.

(6)(1)

Anon

Brilliant point.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

And many sets have people who seem to think there is institutional racism at the bar when the data show that is not the case. There is your problem right there. Focus on the intake processes of the better universities, buddy, that is where there might be something to be done.

(3)(3)

Anon

Deluded and ignorant!

(0)(0)

Former Bazza

The BSB, and ” The Bar ” are equally complicit in all this. Firstly there is no such thing as ‘The Bar” Chambers are made up of self-employed individuals all with different, views, and attitudes about a whole host of things.

Chambers will engage in the debate by saying, we no longer specify degree classification or having to graduate from a RG Uni, deleting schools, and unis attended, but it is all smoke and mirrors. Trust me at the point of interview , with a different panel than that who did the first sift you can ask a few subtle questions in an effort to illicit whether the candidate being interviewed is similar to those in Chambers, by way of example

Interviewer : What is your most notable achievement in the academic sense
Candidate: Being a Vinerian Scholar

Interviewer: Tell me what your favourite Sport is
Candidate: Eton Fives

Interviewer: What made you want to be a Barrister, I see you did not read law as an undergraduate
Candidate: Well it was my Father who is a QC at x chambers said I should do something other than law.

So within 3 questions the panel can tell , notwithstanding the annonymisation of stuff on the application, the candidate probably went to Eton, definitely went to Oxford, and whose father is a Silk.

See what I mean. The starting point is chambers should be candid and say absent a first, and for some sets not any old first but a top first, your application will not be successful .

The Bar is not homogenous , where as city law firms broadly are.

(7)(9)

Lord Harley

A Vinerian Scholar will get pupillage offers by virtue of coming top in the year on the BCL. And rightly so.

(13)(0)

Former Bazza

Lord Harley, you have mist entirely the point of my thread.

@Wigwearer, sets that only take Oxford grads, will still only take Oxford grads, despite the anonymisation. If there are four left in the running for two places, and two are from Oxford and two from Warwick, it follows they will take the Oxford graduates.

Chambers need to be candid about this. That said, if you waste an application or applications on sets who have only taken on those with top firsts from Oxbridge for the last 15 years, and you have a 2:1 from Durham , then you deserve all you get. It means you will make a crap Barrister as you clearly cannot read. It is all in plain view on their website.

I did what was the BVC, and one of my peers and now very close mate, was turned down for interview at a leading public law set for not coming top in his year at a leading Russell Group Uni. That was the feedback he got. He came second in his year and is now doing remarkably well as a tenant in a MC commercial set.

(3)(1)

Anon

BSB need to deal with with sets directly and actually do something instead of collating data for their tick box exercise then sit back for the rest of the year.

(14)(1)

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