The Bar Professional Training Course: overpriced and redundant

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  • How more redundant and overpriced has the course become since you did yours?

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  • No more overpriced, as I was at City Law School who haven't raised the fees. I imagine equally redundant, unless there have been curriculum changes.

    To be clear, the problem is the course itself. It's not - in my opinion - a problem with the teaching, which at City at least was very good. Limited parts of the course which are relevant to what I now do have proven useful - although the things I wish I had learnt, but didn't, are staggering to list. The BPTC as designed was nothing like the preparation for pupillage it could and should be.

    It's the sheer scale of the opportunity cost, when allied to the financial cost, that makes the BPTC worthy of criticism.

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  • This is a good argument well made. I'd like to know what chambers think about it? Would a longer pupillage at a lower salary benefit bar students better than an expensive and potentially elitist uni course?

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  • An alternative would be to just have entirely centrally set BSB exams, and the students don't need to go to law school at all: we just read the White Book and Blackstones etc... and then sit the exams - simple!
    As for drafting, opinion writing and advocacy, these courses could be provided by the Inns using some of their current scholarship money (and perhaps a modest fee).

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  • An excellent article bulging with points well made. For the conspiracy theorists amongst us however, are such points not beside the point? It seems that the Bar Council have taken it upon themselves to keep an entire industry in legal education afloat, and that is an objective unlikely to be achieved with stream-lining, cost-cutting and limiting training to those with real life pupillages.

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  • The BPTC is a great course! Quit whining. You learn practical skills, and if you want you could also learn academic skills. Your learning is in your own hands to be honest. You could decide to read every case in the white book, or you could just decide to show up at your law school doing the bare minimum. Life is what you make it.

    I am currently doing the BPTC at the College of Law - recently rename The University of Law. I can say that the course is *EXCELLENT*. I even love the course more than I loved University.

    The world is your oyster. Shut up and stop moaning.

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  • Since "the market" seems to have all the answers nowadays, why don't we ask "the market" what it wants?

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  • I agree with the title of this article; and would go further to say that the same is true for the LPC. The only group of people who appear to publicly say that the Bptc is value for money is the course providers.

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  • I teach on the BPTC. And I realise why students are disgruntled. But there are some other issues to consider.

    When you get your practising certificate, you can practice in any court (civil or criminal) in England and Wales. That is why you have to study both halves of the great divide. If you want a practising certificate which is civil only or criminal only, then perhaps then we could have a civil only BPTC or a criminal only BPTC.

    The fees are high, but not because all the providers are making a profit. City Law School, where I work, does not make a profit. The cost of premises in Grays Inn and nearby are ASTRONOMICAL. When you then factor in the staff-student ratio which is FIXED by the BSB, you end up with high costs to staff the course. Would BPTC students really like to have class sizes of 15-20? It would bring the fees down considerably. But I don't think that large class sizes are what students want.

    Then there is the factor of library and computer provision - again fixed by the BSB in their specification; x copies of this book per y students and x number of computer terminal available per y students.

    The other bugbears cited in this article, like the need to use the White Book, 100% attendance are again, dictated by the BSB.

    I and my colleagues work tremendously hard to give my students the best postgraduate teaching we can. We work hard, and over and above our job descriptions and contractual hours.

    If you think that alternative training for the Bar is needed, so be it. But bashing providers like City Law School who simply tries to fulfil the requirements dictated to us is deeply unfair.

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  • Hardly, the BSB charges law schools £400 for each student they take on the course. £400 * however many nationally = a lot of money for the BSB. Protecting the law schools? Yes, but more importantly protecting themselves.

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  • Good opinion piece. Also agree with Anonymous 8 March 5.53pm. There ought to be a centrally set exam which students can choose how to study for: through a course provider (whether full time or part time) or through private study. Something more like the New York Bar. The Inns could usefully provide the advocacy element (which they already do to a large extent, with their high quality advocacy courses). This would help make access to the Bar less prohibitively expensive, as well as more flexible for the more mature applicants who already have a career or those who have parental responsibilities.

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  • To Anonymous at 5:47pm on 9 March

    Firstly, as I've said in my comment above (but couldn't fit into the article) there is no complaint here against the quality of teaching, which at City I found to be excellent. Don't think the staff aren't appreciated - students who hate the course recognise that it is the fault of the curriculum, not the schools themselves. Kudos, too, to City for not following the fee-hike.

    I can't agree with your second paragraph though. Firstly, you don't get your practising certificate following the BPTC, you get it following pupillage, and the areas in which you are competent will largely follow the area in which you did pupillage, irrespective of what you did on the Bar Course. Were I to be instructed on a sexual offences case having done a commercial pupillage, I would be bound to decline the instructions. The BPTC doesn't get people to practising certificate stage, it gets them to exactly six months' short of it. Just because the practising certificate is not civil/criminal specific, it doesn't mean practitioners can do both - in fact, I'd suggest not so many are competent to do both.

    Secondly, even if you were correct as of last year, QASA blows a hole through the entire system. I could be a civil practitioner with great aptitude and competence for criminal law, but unless I do sufficient work in that area to get my 5 judicially assessed trials a year, I will be legally barred from doing criminal work.

    The BPTC at the moment teaches the 75% of pupils who do purely civil law an entire 6 months' of criminal practice that they previously could say they'd probably never need. Now it's teaching 6 months that 75% of pupils will be actually prohibited by the regulators from using.

    The provision at City is costly - the venue in Gray's Inn is expensive (necessarily so, versus Northampton Square?) and the Library superb. I agree that the BSB requirements are largely to blame for excessive cost.

    Class sizes are less of an issue - I don't think 15-20 would be too high, except for advocacy. The issue is more the speed at which a class is capable of moving, and in absence of any policy of setting by ability or specialisation, each BPTC class moves only as fast as its slowest student. Restricting the course to pupils, and arranging by speciality, would be necessary steps to reducing the time to 6 months.

    Once again - this is not an attack on the teaching or other staff at the schools. It is a timely attack on the failure of the BSB to produce a curriculum that does the one thing it was supposed to do: prepare students for actual pupillages.

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  • The real scandal is the position of the Inns. I remember that in the old days they kept their charitable status by providing education for the Bar exams via the Inns of Court School of Law.
    Instead, no doubt because it is considered easier, they have out sourced the role to (what have become) private equity run institutions. The Inns must be one of the biggest funders of the BPTC (in scholarships). I don't see how it is in keeping with charitable status to continue making huge donations to private equity every year.
    I am not the least surprised; because I am not an idiot, that out sourcing to private equity has caused hugely inflated costs. I don't think you can blame private equity necessarily, it is what it is. But you shouldn't let ruthless capitalists near our children (both because it is morally wrong to hamper diversity and because it is economically stupid to hamper diversity). Those who do should hang their heads in shame rather than fool themselves that giving out a 'scholarship' is helping anyone at all.
    440 pupillages a year isn't it? Let the Inns reconstitute their school of law and teach 500 a year. Use the scholarship money for that and pad out the teaching staff by making it compulsary to teach on the course if you're going to apply for silk (you'd find a deluge of juniors of a certain call would volunteer).
    Stop subsidising the return for private investors. Stop wringing our hands and pretending there is nothing can be done.

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  • I am another pupil and I regret going to the Bar. I spent a fortune on the Bar Course and have no guarantee of recruitment at the end of pupillage. In retrospect I wish I'd accepted an offer from a Magic Circle law firm who were prepared to pay my LPC + living costs and offer me a starting salary of >£40k. I am sure there are many bright people out there who choose to go to law firms because they can't afford / don't want to pay £17k + living costs just to 'have a shot' at being a barrister.

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  • I agree with Barrister @9:05am. I have been saying similar for years and was seriously disappointed when the Wood review effectively dismissed the idea in a paragraph (on the apparent basis, if memory services, that it couldn't possibly be right to have such a quick route to practice).

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  • I read these posts with interest, having qualified some 30 years ago, but with offspring who may shortly be following in my footsteps.
    I would begin by observing that the OP's case is so cogently and attractively presented and argued, that I would almost be prepared to offer him a tenancy on the strength of this one piece of writing. It would do credit to most people currently pracising at the Bar !
    The Bar course teacher who posts above, says that class sizes of 15 - 20 would significantly reduce costs but would be unwelcome. Why so ? I am sure that when I did my Bar finals course, the class was of this sort of size.
    Also why not have some price competition amongst the providers based on class size, if class size is such a significant factor in cost ? There could be the Platinum option with a class size of 5, the Gold option with a class size of 10, the Silver option with 15 and the Bronze option with 20. Whilst I can see already the complaints of elitism and unfairness, surely this would promote diversity by bringing down the costs for those who opted for the larger class sizes.
    Truly, it seems that the Bar has lost its way here as in so many other areas.

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  • @ Barrister (another)

    Your claim that the Inns have outsourced their educational role is simply untrue. The Inns have done nothing of the sort. The changes to legal education have all been imposed by Central Government in the teeth of protests from the Inns of Court. The Inns would very much love to be in charge of legal education and to get rid of the franchised schools, that these exist is entirely the fault of the Bar Council which was blinded by the prospect of £ signs, and to reform the training of barristers and has fought a long battle to put a stop to the stupidities of the BSB and the LSB. Unfortunately, the Lib Dems, who are the main drivers of this ludicrous situation in the name of 'transparency' and 'public accountability', will not listen despite the ever increasing size of the evidence pile that is mounting up.

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  • With the greatest of respect you are agreeing with me. You accept the Inns have outsourced their obligation. You simply state that they have not done so voluntarily. I think that is very much a matter of perspective.
    You see the Inns chose how they use their £5million per anum (I went away and checked how much given in scholarships roughly is). Neither the Bar Council, the BSB, nor indeed the Liberal Democrats are forcing the Inns to hand the money over to private equity. Those bodies you mention might well be part of the problem. However I think 'blame' is too emotive a concept; as I said above ‘capitalism is what it is’. What we need to do is to look to the body (or bodies) who can actually change the disgusting situation in which we now find ourselves. The fact that it is disgusting has been true for at least the last decade and is surely no surprise to anyone.
    The Inns are the best placed to solve the problem. They could do so by withholding their £5million from certain providers. They could do so by using their £5million to set up a new not-for-profit provider (and staffing it in the way I suggested above) for 500 pupils and competing. They could adopt the other good suggestions made above and insist on a far shorter course. They could act as the big law firms do and use their buying power to keep down costs (this failure is to my mind surely the real source of disparity between LPC and BPTC costs ...). The fact that they do nothing is what I find deeply troubling. Personally I do not think that anything excuses that failure to act.

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