New training routes to qualification
Currently, the most common way to qualify as a barrister in the UK is to undertake the academic stage (through a Qualifying Law Degree or Graduate Diploma in Law) and pass the Bar Professional Training Course (“BPTC”) at one of the 8 institutions approved by the Bar Standards Board (“BSB”). Following the successful completion of the BPTC, a candidate is called to the Bar by one of the four Inns of Court and post pupillage, receives a full practising certificate; at this point the term barrister-at-law can be used. Outside of this ‘common’ route to qualification, Northumbria offer a combined QLD and BPTC known as an MLaw and both foreign lawyers and UK solicitors can cross-qualify as barristers.
The training routes now approved by the Legal Services Board include:
- The current method of qualification (academic stage -> vocational stage -> pupillage)
- A combined academic and vocational stage followed by pupillage – otherwise known as the Northumbria model.
- A new two-part vocational model (academic stage -> vocational knowledge (part 1) -> vocational skills (part 2) -> pupillage). This is a route promoted by the Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA).
- An apprenticeship route where the academic stage, vocational stage and pupillage are all wrapped up into a probable six year programme.
The variety of routes, along with some other curriculum and syllabus changes prescribed by the BSB will help promote flexibility, maintain high standards and lower the costs of training.
BSB oversight of the Inns of Court
In addition to the above, the LSB also approved the BSB to have greater oversight of the activities associated with call to the Bar by the four Inns of Court, including: quality assuring the content of qualifying sessions, or dinners as they used to be known; dealing with student conduct/misconduct appropriately; and ensuring people are fit to be called as barristers. The LSB agreed that the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding, to provide the necessary detail of the relationship, was the right way forward.
What do the changes actually mean?
So, whilst we have some really big changes and the LSB authorisation is a real triumph for the BSB, what does this actually mean for someone who wants to train as a barrister?
The main highlight comes with the introduction of two new managed pathways, i.e. two new ways to qualify. The two-part vocational model will help to de-risk the vocational element and mean students can be assured of their ‘barrister’ knowledge before learning about essential ‘barrister’ skills. The current knowledge element of the BPTC has a fairly high failure rate and this means students might fail their whole Bar Course (and therefore lose around £15,000) because, for example, they can’t pass civil litigation. The two-part vocational stage should help avert this because a student who fails the knowledge part, won’t be exposed to the costs of the skills’ part. NB Not all Bar Course providers will offer a two-part Bar Course.
The most exciting feature of the new managed pathways however, in my opinion, is the possibility of a barrister apprenticeship route. Here a young person leaving school at 18 and undertaking a probable 6-year apprenticeship, either within chambers or as an in-house lawyer, can qualify as a barrister. The apprentice will be able to earn whilst they learn in the environment they ultimately want to work in. Unfortunately, the creation of apprenticeships is not likely to happen soon and convincing traditional chambers that a barrister apprentice offers distinct advantages over the more traditional route of University degree and then Bar School will take time. Additionally, current requirements for the creation of new apprenticeship routes mean that around ten ‘employers’ must lead on its development and this will take some logistical organisation. Hopefully, barrister apprenticeships will not be too far away, especially given that solicitor and chartered legal executive apprenticeships are now becoming widely accepted.
In the short-term, none of the Bar changes will manifest themselves in 2019 and new courses probably won’t start before September 2020. However, there is the possibility that one or two providers might steal a march on the others and start sooner, which for budding barristers will, I am sure, be welcomed