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COVID-19: Regulator predicts drop in pupillage numbers

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Knock-on effects of pandemic likely felt by students seeking training spots over next two years, according to new BSB impact report

The bar regulator has warned there will likely be a drop in pupillage numbers over the next two years in response to the global pandemic.

In what won’t come as a surprise to many of our readers, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) anticipates there is likely to be an impact on the number of pupillage spots up for grabs in 2020 to 2022, as chambers adjust to the economic disruption resulting from COVID-19.

Again, unsurprisingly, the report predicts the biggest impact will be on pupillages that are in areas of law most affected by court closures, particularly criminal and family.

Securing a coveted pupillage spot is no mean feat, even without a global pandemic to contend with. 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 BSB report goes on to flag a number of “potential risks”, including whether the bar will remain an attractive career prospect to students, the continuing viability of the range of vocational bar training courses on offer, and the impact on the efforts to improve diversity at the bar. The regulator does, however, “stress that these risks have not materialised so far”.

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The report, released this week, is based on the BSB’s engagement with 157 chambers, 133 of which currently have pupils.

BSB director of regulatory operations, Oliver Hanmer, said:

“While we are pleased that chambers and other organisations demonstrated a laudable commitment to sustaining pupillages, we are very conscious that many face continued financial pressure due to the consequences of the health emergency. We are doing our best to encourage and facilitate chambers to support as many pupillages as possible.”

The report follows research published by the Bar Council in April that suggested a third of chambers were considering ditching their recruitment plans in response to the pandemic.

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