Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

The Bar must reassess the £127,000 dream

The Bar must reassess the £127,000 dream


The profession might pay a heavy price if it fails to meet the financial needs of aspiring barristers, writes Matthew Rogers

The Bar Council chairman, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, recently told the Guardian that students starting university this year may have to spend up to £127,000 to qualify as a barrister. Training costs
are a major challenge for a profession often criticised
for its lack of diversity and social mobility.

To make matters worse,
cuts to legal aid in the criminal and family sectors and the rise in court fees have led to an increase of self-representation, which has left young barristers with less work and, in turn, made student debts more difficult to pay off.

In 2014, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) launched Future Bar Training, a programme intent on reforming the current training regime to create a more flexible system that will attract a more diverse cohort of young lawyers equipped for a changing market and with the ability meet the expectations of consumers.

Last summer the BSB launched a consultation, which asked barristers, law professors, and Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) providers
to examine the possible approaches to reform.

Respondents highlighted
the difficulty of striking the
right balance between quality standards and the costs of studying the BPTC. Course providers were criticised for pricing out talented applicants and not offering value for money, while others suggested the intensive 'people-led' training made it difficult
to reduce costs without compromising on quality
or increasing numbers of students in a group.

The consultation led to
three proposed options for future routes to qualification. Option A ('evolutionary') proposes to keep the existing three-stage sequence but liberalise the training while removing a significant amount of prescription from the course.

Option B ('managed pathways') would accept additional routes, including
a combined law degree and vocational training, similar
to the current University of Northumbria qualification, a vocational training programme that is integrated with pupillage, or a modular approach that enables candidates to commit
to training one step at a time.

Option C ('Bar specialist') would establish a qualifying examination open to any candidate, which would test legal skills and knowledge. Candidates could prepare
any way they chose, including
a law degree or graduate diploma. Upon passing out, they would be required to undertake a training course, shorter than the current BPTC, which would focus on developing foundation skills for advocacy. Pupillage would then follow.

This summer, a Future Bar Training debate will discuss these options with interested parties, including barristers, students, and training providers. Later in the year, the options will be fully formed and published for consultation, with a view to implementing them from the academic year 2018/19.

If the BSB fails to achieve substantive reform, the profession will pay the price. Training costs should never
deter aspiring barristers
blessed with the academic talent, advocacy skills, and determination to achieve
their dream.

Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal