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Bar shadow programme extended as barristers warn of regression to a 'privileged elite'

'The Bar is in grave danger of once again becoming a rich person's game, like it was in the 50s and 60s,' says silk

23 February 2016

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With diversity a hot button topic, the Bar Council has announced the expansion of its programme giving sixth-form students from under-represented backgrounds an insight into life as a barrister.

The council has already run its Bar Placement Week scheme in London for eight years and recently extended it into Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, and Bristol. Now, it has reached Liverpool.

Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, said: 'Extending the reach of Bar Placement Week can help open the way for students who may not have considered a career as a barrister.

'This initiative is about widening the talent pool and showing those with potential, irrespective of their background, what it means to be a barrister.'

The week will include careers discussions, advocacy training, a talk from a local judge, and three days shadowing a barrister in court and in chambers.

The initiative is one of several run by the Bar Counsel in partnership with leading charities to open access to the profession.

'The Bar is a small and specialist profession and opportunities to gain career experience like this can be few and far between - especially outside of London,' commented Doerries. 'I am delighted to see barristers giving up their time to offer students this unique opportunity.

'For all we know, the QC's of tomorrow could be amongst those taking part in this programme.'

A lack of diversity within the profession continues to make headlines, however. The latest round of silk appointments saw just 25 women among the 107 lawyers promoted to the rank of Queen's Counsel.

In SJ's latest Bar Focus, professor John Flood has argued that schemes which assist disadvantaged students in obtaining pupillages and better data-gathering processes are the only way for the Bar to improve diversity and avoid marginalisation.

'Students from minority ethnic backgrounds tend not to attend Oxbridge or Russell Group universities. They therefore lack the initial foundations to gain pupillages and entry to chambers,' he explained. 'They don't have the social connections that ease the way into mini-pupillages and internships.'

Meanwhile, in a separate article, Louisa Nye, a barrister at Landmark Chambers and chair of the Young Barristers' Committee, has opined that the Bar is becoming less diverse because of the underrepresentation of women and BAME groups, who tend to practise in areas which were grossly affected by legal aid cuts.

'Why would a young person decide to go into a profession where they can see that work will not be available, and they will not be able to afford to meet the debt they have incurred in getting there?' she said.

'The cost of becoming a barrister is still exorbitant. We are in danger of having a Bar that reflects the 'privileged elite' of 20 years ago.'

This fear was echoed by John Cooper QC who, in an exclusive interview with SJ, explained how he had suffered from 'mockery and significant bullying' when he was called to the Bar because of his working class background.

'The Bar is in grave danger of once again becoming a rich person's game, like it was in the 50s and 60s. Whereas the Bar once allowed people like me - those of limited means - into it, now people like me wouldn't survive,' he said.

'If we're not careful we'll go backwards because of the enormous cost of education and a lack of legal aid work for youngsters to test their skills.'

Earlier today, Doerries told the Guardian that students beginning university may have to spend up to £127,000 to qualify as a barrister.

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