BPP’s Holborn campus, London
BPP’s strongest card is its tutors ― they have “a lot of practical experience”, which helps Bar Course students understand “how things would be applied in practice”. While most teachers are “brilliant”, however, it’s a “lucky dip!” As one student puts it: “If your class was lucky you would get the brilliant teachers. If you were unlucky you would get a teacher who would eat food and be on their phone during your submissions.” Insiders tell us there are “very good teachers for civil, crime and ethics”, and students rave about the Opinion Writing module leader: “She is amazing.” The quality of advocacy tuition itself can also be “really high”, although there’s some variation.
Class sizes are an undisputed plus: “Small classes meant that every week you would practice advocacy and be a witness.” The “groups of four for advocacy is unique to BPP and more tutors than not are excellent. Nothing like what I hear about other providers”.
Unique also to BPP is its international criminal elective, which is hard to come by. BPP has one of the largest selections of electives that “cover a broad range of areas”. Apparently, there’s “everything to choose from”. Students mostly get their first choice of electives.
Beware, though, that some view the BPP careers service as “much more geared towards commercial solicitors” and those doing the LPC. That said, BPP does advertise “practice interviews and application workshops for those still searching for pupillage”. Pro bono is another good way to gain experience. There is “plenty of selection for projects. Enough for everyone to take a project,” we are told. But get there early to bag a place on a pro bono initiative you feel passionate about.
One BPP graduate advises: “The Bar Course is difficult. Choose a provider near a lot of pubs.” Fortunately, for anyone brave enough to take on the course, BPP’s centrally-located Holborn campus does match that criteria. It also sits inside the heart of legal London, with the Royal Courts of Justice just a stroll away.
Every Bar Course student at BPP, however, will (at least once) complain about its “woeful” cost. But although it is expensive, “anyone trying for the Bar should be intelligent enough to weigh up the cost and risk. Providing private tuition to a professional standard is not cheap, especially in central London”. Another student tells us: “It helped me get pupillage – so I’d say it’s excellent value”. Indeed, it depends what price you’re willing to pay for that golden pupillage. It’s worth noting that BPP offers a host of scholarships (see below), and there is also nearly £5 million a year in scholarships available from the Inns of Court.
The Birmingham campus
Though not quite on the same scale, Birmingham is not dissimilar to London ― large, busy and plenty to do. As one BPP student puts it: “Those of you familiar with the environment of Canary Wharf (in London) will be able to relate” to the atmosphere in the city centre, where BPP has its campus and has been running the BTC there since 2015. It is of course a few thousand pounds cheaper to do the BTC at the Birmingham campus than it is at BPP’s London Holborn centre.
The lecturers at BPP Birmingham are “knowledgeable and engaging”. They’re generally “laid back, focused and motivating people who clearly want us to reach our full potential,” reports one student. The smaller cohort could have something to do with it, as it allows for closer tutor support and a collegiate atmosphere. Tutors are experienced practitioners, typically drawn from the local Bar, which is strong in the West Midlands and includes top sets such as No5 and St Philips Chambers: “We do not need to look far for advice on vocations and work experience, how to manage our workload or generally for someone who can relate to what we are going through,” says a Birmingham student. Moreover, tutors “know everyone by name”.
The downside of the smaller size of BPP’s Birmingham BTC is that there is sometimes insufficient interest to enable them to run certain electives. Though the choice is broad, not all BTC electives were available last year. The law school is flexible to the extent that they offer BTCers the opportunity to “go to an alternative BPP centre for their options if they wished”. But that’s not always practical.
Note that BPP Birmingham BTCers are expected to do at least five hours of pro bono work in the year. It doesn’t sound like much, but once you start this intensive course your diary might say otherwise. Students say the pro bono opportunities at the Birmingham campus are “eye opening and enriching”.
BPP in Bristol
Described as “a cyclist’s dream”, Bristol is known for its west country charm and hilly cityscape. It happens to have a budding legal sector, but until recently aspiring barristers have had to go out of town to study the BTC at UWE. Since its recent introduction, the BTC course at BPP’s Bristol Study Centre has brought with it fresh winds of competition to the city. BPP’s BTCers are now the new kids on the block.
You’ll also be paying for BPP’s central location. Students cheer that the campus is “only five minutes away from the next Wetherspoons”. It’s also a ten-minute walk from the historic Temple Meads train station. The Bristol Bar Society, where you can find out which chambers offer mini-pupillages, is just down the road.
While it’s not the fanciest building, the BPP Bristol campus is small, so “you won’t feel like a tiny fish in a big pond”. The comparatively lower student to teacher ratio ensures BPP students get “a lot of individual attention”. Recent graduates say it’s “easy to get to know everyone”, and that the campus has a more relaxed feel than its London counterpart.
BPP in Leeds
Further north, BPP’s Leeds campus has a reputation for excellent pastoral care, recent grads tell us. There are “some very caring staff” and there’s “always someone to help you”. The “pastoral care/thoughts for wellbeing” is especially “well-handled”.
This is a refreshing approach to the BTC and it seems that tutors genuinely want to give students a leg up to help them reach success at the Bar: “The tutors are lovely and dedicated”, reports another BTCer. Plus, you are being “taught by practitioners on the local circuit [which] will mean already having local colleagues nearby when in practice”. If you’re planning to stay in Leeds post-graduation, Exchange, New Park Court, St Pauls and Kings Chambers are just a selection of sets that are within walking distance of the law school.
While they may have their students’ best interests at heart, the quality of teaching, though “generally good”, does appear to vary in parts. “Occasional tutors were very good, others relied purely on the teaching materials provided by BPP,” says a recent graduate, to the extent that some classes “would have been as equally well given by a text to speech app”. Ouch. There “were only a few London-only electives”, reports one graduate, adding: “Those available were very interesting”.
The Manchester campus
Conversely, the teaching at BPP’s Manchester campus is said to be top-notch. Multiple sources described the advocacy training and wider instruction as “excellent” or “very good”. One went so far as to say “perfect”, while another described star tutor Peter Wolfenden – around whom a mild personality cult seems to have formed – as “a God amongst men”.
Like many of his fellow tutors, Wolfenden is a practising barrister (at common law set Oriel Chambers). This means links with the profession are strong. Indeed, some Manchester BPP BTCers reckon the academic staff are “a far greater resource” than the official careers service (who are more used to “dealing with LPC students”) when it comes to securing pupillage.
The course itself is highly geared to practice, with a slant towards the personal injury work that is such a theme at the Manchester Bar. This may be something to consider if you don’t want to practise in the North West. A few students commented on this, noting the “PI nature of the course” and “limited understanding of non-Manchester based chambers”. But for those aiming for a foot in the door at a chambers in the North West, BPP is undoubtedly a good launchpad – and reports reach us of a decent employability rate. “All but most hopeless candidates from my year are now in pupillage which is unusual,” a recent graduate tells us.
The law school itself is well-located, just a few minutes’ walk from Manchester’s Spinningfields business district. It’s perfectly well-appointed, but while the Grade II listed building may be stylish it sometimes shows its age. It’s “far too cold”, one recent graduate complains, while the library “sadly felt very reminiscent of my dingy sixth form library”, another hard-to-please student groans. However, a separate room for BTC students “away from the riffraff” in the wider law school library is appreciated. As are the “mostly effective” course books while the online resources elicit only minor grumbles.