Pupil barrister numbers down nearly a third in 30 years

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By Aishah Hussain on

757 in 1991 ⤵️ 542 in 2020

The number of pupils has shrunk by almost 30% over a period of 30 years, new research by the barristers’ regulatory body has shown.

There were 757 bar grads starting pupillage in 1991, which fell by 28% to 542 in 2020, according to a report published by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) which details trends seen in retention and recruitment at the bar across a 30-year period from 1990 to 2020.

Throughout the 1990s, particularly the first half of the decade, the data shows there was a far higher number of pupils in comparison to the numbers seen during the 2000s and 2010s.

From a peak of 882 pupils in 1993, the number decreased year on year until it plateaued at around 450 pupils each year from 2009 until 2015. It then showed an increase from this point during the latter half of the 2010s to a lesser peak of 605 in 2019.

The BSB said these patterns may be related to “changes in the regulation of pupillages”, as it was not a requirement that pupillages were paid until January 2003.

Overall, the number of those undertaking pupillage decreased every decade since the 1990s. In total, 8,078 individuals undertook pupillage from 1990-2000; compared to 5,541 from 2000-2010; and 4,840 from 2010-2020.

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The data further shows the proportion of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds rose by five percentage points over the past 30 years to 18.8% on average.

However, the increase was driven by a rise in pupils from Asian backgrounds, from 6.3% to 9.5%, and mixed backgrounds, from 1.9% to 4.4%. The proportion of pupils from Black backgrounds remained the same at 3.8%.

Responding to the BSB’s report, chair of the Bar Council Derek Sweeting QC said: “This is an important report with findings that will help inform the Bar Council’s future support for the profession.”

The drop in numbers only adds to the intense competition to secure pupillage. This year’s recruitment round saw a whopping 3,301 bar hopefuls compete for 246 pupillages through the centralised Gateway.

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