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Pupillage review backs £12,000 minimum

24 May 2010

A review of pupillage training for barristers has recommended an increase in the annual minimum award from £10,000 to £12,000.

Derek Wood QC said £10,000 was “too low a sum in modern times”, given that the minimum salary for trainee solicitors was £18,590 in London and £16,650 outside.

Wood delivered a hard-hitting report to the Bar Standards Board on the BVC course in 2008, recommending an aptitude test to weed out students who lacked communication skills (see Solicitors Journal 152/30, 29 July 2008).

In his latest review on pupillages, he accused some chambers of making deductions from payments to pupils for clerks’ fees or chambers’ overheads.

“These and similar practices are a flagrant breach of the rules,” he said. “They should be expressly forbidden.”

Wood said that waivers from the minimum salary should be granted sparingly.

“Nevertheless we fully recognise the current difficulties in which chambers undertaking publicly funded work find themselves,” he said. “These problems may well be exacerbated in the case of small chambers.”

He went on: “It will, however, be right for the BSB to continue to look very carefully into applications, mainly made by publicly funded chambers, especially small sets, to be allowed to advertise an unfunded pupillage.

“But it must also be borne in mind that if the turnover of work in chambers is insufficient to fund a pupillage it may also be insufficient, by the same token, to provide a pupil with adequate training. A careful balance will have to be struck.”

Wood found that 22.4 per cent of pupils came from ethnic minority backgrounds, exceeding the proportion in other professions.

An even higher percentage, over 26 per cent, had first-class degrees, with only ten per cent having lower seconds.

A majority of pupils, 60 per cent, came from Russell Group universities with almost half of these coming from Oxford or Cambridge.

“It is essential that the Bar modernises its approach to pupillage,” Wood said.

“While there is a lot to be commended in the present system, it also presents challenges in the extent to which it meets modern expectations for a properly supervised system of vocational training and preparation for practice.”

Baroness Deech, chair of the Bar Standards Board, said the BSB supported an increase in the minimum funding for pupillages.

“Above all, the board is keen to ensure that attaining pupillage is a fair and open process for all those who apply as well as a guarantee to everyone that someone who undertakes pupillage will be properly skilled at the end of it,” she said.

“Making sure that this happens is vitally important in the interests of consumers, for encouraging a strong and diverse profession and for the public interest.”

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