BSB proposes eliminating degree requirement for barristers

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By Rhys Duncan on

39

Cites possible equality benefits


The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is proposing to eliminate the requirement for students pursuing bar vocational courses to have obtained a degree.

The new proposals, part of an ongoing consultation, would see the current requirement of a lower second class degree scrapped, with law schools permitted to accept students with lower degrees, or without a degree at all.

Instead, whether an aspiring barrister is able to start their vocation studies will be a decision made by individual training providers. They “will decide whether a prospective barrister is ready to start the vocational training, taking into account a holistic view of their training, experience and academic record”.

This may allow for those with “qualifications that can be regarded as equivalent to a UK law degree” to commence vocational bar training without first completing a degree, “the most obvious [example] perhaps being successful completion of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination part one,” the BSB said.

The 2024 Law Schools Most List

The BSB said that the proposed modifications, subject to approval from the Legal Services Board, were planned to take effect from September 2025.

The consultation notes that there is, “the risk of Authorised Education and Training Organisations being either over stringent or not stringent enough in their approach to admissions”, and that action may need to be taken to ensure that their processes are “neither too permissive nor too restrictive”. The consultation confirms, however, that the proposed changes “would not be at odds with the “high standards” principle because a threshold of competence would still need to be met, so there is no lowering of standards.”

Underpinning this push for change, the report says, is a sentiment that “the way we set the standards for academic legal training is overly prescriptive and difficult to understand.” This, the consultation says, “has created a complex system of applications for exemptions from and waivers of, those requirements.”

“We want to simplify and modernise our approach to academic legal training and to remove unnecessary barriers to entry into the profession without any compromise to the principle of sustaining high standards.”

The consultation also proposes removing the existing time limits whereby students must complete their law degree within six years, and commence their vocational course within five years of graduating.

Amongst the potential benefits of the reforms is the possibility that lowering the degree requirement “could have a positive impact on applicants from Black and Asian backgrounds”, with research showing that “graduates who are more likely to achieve a degree classification of lower than a 2:2 are more likely to be from Black, and Asian backgrounds, which under the current requirements could negatively impact such applicants”.

Other benefits may include simplifying the process for overseas graduates, and removing barriers for women, carers, and those with long-term medical conditions who under the current rules may have to apply for time limit exemptions.

Join us on the afternoon of Wednesday 24 January for a virtual pupillage application masterclass in partnership with The University of Law, and featuring barristers from from leading sets Gatehouse, Henderson, Landmark and Radcliffe Chambers. Apply now.

39 Comments

World's gone mad

They “will decide whether a prospective barrister is ready to start the vocational training, taking into account a holistic view of their training, experience and academic record”.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Scouser of Counsel

Some of the best “Oldskool” barristers and solicitors who I ever met in my early days were 60s and 70s call with no degrees.

Defo agrree

Fare point. I dunt have a degrree and I’ve dun well good at the crimnal bar.

Them poshos in civel think their cleverer than us. Butt their not.

No kneed for a peace of paper from universallty, I agrree.

Mad

The satire writes itself.

Alan's Ovaries

Let’s get rid of all training requirements. Anybody can be a barrister, and solicit to do so from street corners. In fact, let’s criminalise degrees, and Received Pronunciation, and make the sale of Flat Whites correspond to a percentage of your income.

World gone mad.

Alex

It’s the position in many countries. There are no ‘rights of audience’ or reserved activities. If someone’s willing to pay you, that’s enough.

But – in a common law jurisdiction, the laws are made by the belief that out the clash of adversarial advocacy comes the best law.

My experience is very different. I’m sorry to say it’s all to easy to sigh with relief when the advocate on the other side is unqualified.

All this will do is make a whole load of very expensive McKenzie friends

Comrade

I know your comment is facetious – but really, there isn’t much reason why this shouldn’t be the case. Sure, maybe with public criminal defence barristers there should be some regulated admission to the profession – but most of the rest of the economy gets on just fine without occupational licensing (regulations still apply of course).

Tbh the whole legal profession could (and probably should) go that way in the long run – let the market decide who is a competent lawyer (it already works this way for every other profession mostly, bar health maybe). At the very least it could be more open like some US states where passing the bar exam is sufficient evidence of capability.

Unlikely to happen in UK though as too many mediocre graduates with a 2.1 in Classics or Modern Language sitting on cushty gatekept six figure salaries – need to keep that supply artificially low somehow.

De Dutchy Boi

Wot u bin smokin’, bruh?

Anon

This could have been a very good April Fools joke. Alas, it seems to be a serious proposal.

All I can say on the matter is that I undertook the BTC two years ago and we are already in a position where those unable to comprehend the material are admitted to the course. I am most definitely in favour of improving equality and opportunities at the Bar for underrepresented groups, but this is certainly not the way to do it. All this will achieve is filling the pockets of course providers, giving more people false hope, and wasting their time attempting to complete a course that they likely won’t be able to. I, for example, know of several people from my own cohort who are still yet to finish taking their assessments (as well as several people who required all three attempts to pass). I’m by no means an outstanding candidate, but one ought not require so much time to complete their studies if they’re capable enough to undertake the course.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable or exclusive to require candidates to have at least a 2:2 degree. I also don’t see how the BSB can trust course providers to be the arbiters of candidate capability. Personally, I don’t think the BTC itself is the issue regarding equality at the Bar. Rather, it’s pupillage applications and the recruitment process, pupillage structure, and the first years as a tenant which require alteration and new initiatives.

Junior

These suggestions would be far less silly if the BSB were not proposing to leave the decision to providers who have a direct financial interest in getting as many no-hopers to pay vast fees as possible.

Anonymouse

This is it. In general I’m in favour of anything that undermines the role of universities as de facto gatekeepers of the upper middle class, but the cynic in me suspects this is further license for course providers to print money at the expense of the gullible.

K k

This is ridiculous, yet another money making process and making BTC into those “MBA Degrees”. I am from minority background, but I most reckon this is ridiculous.

The Secret Bannister

Doubt most of the pupillage providers will be interviewing candidates who don’t have a degree. It’s hard enough to get a pupillage with a 2.1 from a Russell Group that isn’t Oxford or Cambridge as it is.

realist

Hard even w/ an Oxbridge 1st these days at a lot of sets. I know people getting rejected from commercial chambers who have prizes from Oxford, a distinction in the BCL and loads of experience. The pool is insane.

Cessle

And yet the majority of pupils have a 2.1

Alan

Funny how the bar acts, rightly, with outrage at the stripping of the need for a degree, whereas when solicitor “apprentices” are introduced, we’re all supposed to be delighted and not allowed to speak out. Why must the solicitor side of the profession be diluted when the bar is sacrosanct? Solicitors should hold firm on this threat to our profession.

Anon

Solicitor apprentices go through a selection process, still have to do a law degree, the LPC or SQE (depending on when they went through the process), and gain years of experience in a law firm before being admitted. The main difference is that the firm pays for the apprentice’s degree instead of it being self-funded.

In many firms, the final two years of the apprenticeship (once the apprentice has passed the LPC or SQE) are the same as a two-year training contract. There’s a clear difference between that and removing the need for a degree altogether.

Anon

Alan, solicitor apprentices still get degrees and do the SQE. All while having an additional 4 years of experience at a law firm. I’d do at least the tiniest research before commenting but that’s just me 🤷

Chyna

I would have to agree with the above anonymous poster, in that, it would make much more sense to make changes to the recruitment process.
I strongly believe that the requirement for pupillage is where all the problems start – particularly affecting those from underrepresented groups.
I urge the BSB to look at the pupillage process, especially if diversifying and making the Bar more accessible is truly something they are interested in changing.

Thrombo

Wakey wakey!

How short are your memories?

The Bar has never been a graduate profession historically.

A degree wasn’t a prerequisite until the 1980s.

There are still senior barristers around now who were called in the 1970s who never went to University…

Alan

We used to have outside toilets and thought all diseases could be cured with a leach or draining you of blood. Some things need to stay in the past.

Nursie

I see you’ve discovered how to disable cookies and upvote yourself repeatedly, Alan.

What a big boy you are now!

Want to try sleeping without a nappy tonight?

Someone in the know.

Hmm, the responses are interesting. Many years ago I remember sitting at the reception desk prior to pupil intake, those who’d applied, many with African/Indian names, their applications were ‘put aside’. Those, with double-barrelled names, considered English, were readily looked over and considered for entry to chambers. For other members of society, there are many barriers to overcome and some things never change.

We are all people, and those of you who’ve already ‘benefitted’ from having had a ‘leg-up’ the societal ladder, strange you look down on others wanting to climb it? Maybe consider, there but for the grace of God go I….

Alex

I’m not sure I believe this. I’ve sifted pupillage applications for 25 years, and I have never once read out a name in earshot of any member of staff – it would be odd to do so.

In fact, I’ve never known anyone do anything else than pick the candidates they thought would make the best lawyers, and many had names from all over the world.

Middle Class Pupillage Gatekeeper

Keep dreaming mate

Tarquin

It’s just awful bad luck that the bar is full of poshos

Alex

Yeah, you’re right, it’s either discrimination or chance, they are the only two explanations

Barrister from Oz

The law partner I worked for put all applications from graduates who attended government secondary schools into the bin. He’s dead now.

Correlation is not Causation

Scrapping the requirement for a degree in the name of diversity makes no sense. It’s like banning wheels from cars to ensure there are fewer road traffic accidents.

If the bar isn’t diverse enough, and you’ve identified that the underrepresented group(s) are less likely to have a degree, then it’s up to universities and colleges to solve their own diversity problems. Why is the BSB taking it upon itself to artificially correct something it has no control over?

Terminal eye roll syndrome

Bar Council to the BSB: please abolish unregistered barrister status, it’s a scam that only helps providers to sell more courses and imposes a financial burden on the minority of barristers with practising certificates, who have to pay for the regulation of tens of thousands of unregistered barristers.

BSB: lEt’S mAkE iT eVeN eAsIeR tO gEt InTo BaR sChOoL

Who are the decisionmakers at the BSB? Are they actually practitioners, or just quango apparatchiks with no understanding of what they’re supposed to be regulating?

Priorities…

Junior Barrister

BSB desperately finding any and all possible “initiatives” that they can get their teeth stuck into over the next few years in order to justify their jobs and grossly inflated budget. The BSB should issue practice certificates and handle complaints/misconduct hearings – and nothing. It’s just pathetic. And it costs us, the individual barristers, a fortune.

Junior Barrister

Correction to my comment at 9:37pm

The BSB should issue practising certificates and handle complaints/misconduct hearings – *and nothing else*.

Steve from Essex

This country has gone to the dogs.

Anon

If I’m not mistaken there was no degree requirement to be a barrister in the past. At what point was it decided that a degree was needed to become a barrister?

Personally I don’t agree with this proposal, but I don’t think it’s absurd as other comments suggest.

Go Woke, Go Broke

“Cites possible equality benefits” this just says it all…

Failing professions

I can only say that English legal professionals will become undereducated, incompetent, and only seek quick answers like students taking exam questions. If they don’t have intellectual capability to juggle with hard and complex materials, they aren’t lawyers. Exam is just an exam, and it doesn’t test vital academic skills you need to complete a degree. People who pass SQE have done great but lots doubt that will they be able to do legal research? Read cases? Understand how legal principles work in other jurisdictions? Legal practice is not answering a exam questions.

L.

You still need two years of experience on top of SQE. Yes, it is easier to get the QWE sign off but a lot of us are doing it via training contracts, myself included. I do know a few people who’ve qualified as solicitors on the back of their paralegal experience but all of them were paralegalling for a long time, had the backing of their law firm / in house departments and are thriving as NQs. Although of course I’ve also heard about some people doing SQE backed up by dodgy QWE and then acting all surprised that they cannot find NQ positions. I guess the market verifies this very quickly whose experience is better.

Anonymous

I really struggle to understand this decision from the BSB. It seems like a careless thing to do if you allow people to become barristers without prior legal experience. Regardless of how much practice and teaching you get on the Bar Practice Course, not having prior legal background is just detrimental. It honestly seems like a decision just to get more money from aspiring barristers who will wake up with a potentially fancy degree and a mediocre job.

I also feel like it is disrepctful and degrading towards aspiring barristers who complete a three-year undergraduate law degree and go through so much studying, effort, rejections and pain to get to the bar just to come across someone who does the bar course because they think law is “interesting” and they have “good argumentation skills”. Lastly, it goes against the fact that the average layperson does not understand the law. Ttricking someone into believing they could be a barrister without a degree or any intellectual effort by just being admitted to the Bar Practice Course appears to be a money-making initiative by the BSB, which should be condemned.

Anonymous

I know 3 retired Circuit Judges & a barrister who were called in the 1970’s
None went to university & instead qualified from the Inns of Court School of Law
All 4 had successful careers at the Bar

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