Pupillage schemes set for controversial overhaul

The Bar Council may require chambers to take on a specific number of paid pupillages and limit the number of places available on the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) as part of a shake-up of the profession’s recruitment rules.

The proposals are currently being considered by Lord Neuberger’s working party, which was set up last November and which is looking into access and diversity at the bar.

In its ‘Entry To The Bar’ interim report published today (5 April), 24 proposals were put forward. Neuberger believes 17 of those proposals must be investigated further due to their controversial nature.

Limited Bar Course places and specific numbers of paid pupillages fall into this category along with the introduction of a voluntary aptitude test for students to ascertain the likelihood of obtaining pupillage.

Others include the requirement for chambers to reveal the outcome of pupillage applications to education providers before students are required to commit and pay for the BVC.

Part-time pupillages, extending the part-time BVC, introducing an online version with the Open University and being allowed to work outside the law while on pupillage were also mooted.

The submissions are part of a bid to make the bar more representative, diversifying the profession from its Oxbridge roots.

At present around eight out of 10 barristers come from social groups ‘A’ or ‘B’ and seven out of 10 in the major commercial barristers’ chambers went to public school and Oxbridge.

Neuberger said there is a perception “amongst the less well-off that the bar is a place for people from public school and Oxbridge. The fact that the bar is a very competitive profession certainly doesn’t mean that it should only recruit from the social or economic elite.”

Less contentious were seven proposals that the working party thinks should be implemented immediately.

These suggestions include the introduction of the bar loan scheme, as revealed by The Lawyer (7 March). These soft loans would be on ‘preferential terms’ and would run alongside Inns’ scholarships and awards schemes, which currently total just less than £4m annually.

Neuberger said the proposals on their own appear to be only incremental steps, but “as a package will hopefully provide a level playing field for people trying to become barristers from any socio-economic background”.

The working party is now launching a consultation on the proposals. Responses are due by 31 May, with the group set to report its findings by the end of the year.