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Potter attacks 'gross inability' of Bar students

18 April 2012

Sir Mark Potter, former president of the family division and co-chair of the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) steering panel, has attacked the “gross inability” of students on the Bar Professional Training Course.

He defended the Bar Standards Board’s plans to introduce an aptitude test next year, and said its purpose was the “winnowing out of the bottom ten per cent of all candidates”.

By “an appalling rule of thumb”, Sir Mark said rejected candidates would number around 200 a year.

Speaking at a College of Law discussion on diversity at the Bar, Sir Mark said the BSB’s pilot of the test had produced “some quite remarkable examples which demonstrate by any standards a gross inability on the part of the candidate in reasoning powers and the other qualities which the test is designed to address.

“One can’t think, simply looking at it from outside, that it’s anything but kindness to relieve those particular candidates of their willingness to spend their money.”

He continued: “One of the things which does strike one is that, with the confidence, ambition and drive that motivates so many people to wish to go into the law, quite apart from the desire of many simply to make money, insight is not a universally enjoyed attribute of a number of such candidates.”

Sir Mark said that “normally he would stay entirely quiet on these occasions”, but one of the things the LETR research team would “plainly be speaking up strongly about is the absolute need for full, frank advice at the earliest possible opportunity, and by that I mean at the level of schoolchildren beginning to develop their desires and ambitions”.

The advice, he added, should explain “precisely what is involved, not simply in relation to a profession about which they are likely to have romantic notions but the realities, the hard slog and the possibilities of failure”.

Sir Mark’s comments came in an impromptu reaction to a question from the audience on the fairness of the Bar’s aptitude tests.

He was appointed as co-chair of the LETR’s steering panel alongside Dame Janet Gaymer when the research was jointly commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards in May 2011.

Until now, the research team and panel have been cautious not to speak out on matters that are still the subject of public consultation and research.

LETR published its first discussion paper last month following an extensive literature review.

The paper seeks to discover to what extent the current system is ‘fit for purpose’ and explores the possibility of ‘radical reforms’ to the current system, such as scrapping the idea of a qualifying law degree and replacing pupillages and training contracts with a more flexible form of supervised practice. The deadline for responses is 10 May.

The second phase of the research, running until October, explores the factors that are likely to influence the future structure of legal education and training.

A second discussion paper, on equality and diversity, is to be published within the next few weeks, followed by a symposium in Manchester on 10-11 July.

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Education & Training The Bar