The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is a compulsory course that all aspiring barristers must complete successfully prior to starting pupillage. The aim of the course, which can be studied either full- or part-time, is to bridge the gap between the academic study of law and the skills that are needed in practice.
The course takes one year full-time, two years part-time or can be integrated as an extension to a qualifying law degree.
Course length varies between providers but your chosen BPTC must be at least 30 weeks long, excluding holidays. If you choose a full-time BPTC, you can expect to do a full day’s work every day of the working week.
WARNING: You should be aware that in March 2017, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) recommended reforming the Bar Professional Training Course.
It said the BPTC must become “a less risky and more valuable investment (both financially and personally) for those who undertake it” and has suggested splitting it into two parts.
It added that while “for the immediate future the current BPTC will of course have to continue, at least in the short term, to provide training for those who have already been accepted onto the course,” after 2018/19 when the licences of current course providers expire, proposals for alternatives to the BPTC should be considered.
Who can apply?
To be eligible for a place on the Bar Professional Training Course you should have either a qualifying law degree (2:2 minimum) or an undergraduate degree in any other subject (2:2 minimum) and a GDL.
A few years ago The Bar Standards Board (BSB) introduced a compulsory aptitude test for candidates wanting to take the BPTC. This tests critical reasoning skills and must be passed before BPTC providers can offer places to students.
Increasing competition means that, statistically, applicants with 2:1 or first-class degrees are more likely to secure a pupillage.
A 2:2 will not automatically prevent admission to the BPTC or pupillage, but you need to be aware that the odds of gaining pupillage will be stacked against you if you’ve only graduated with a ‘Desmond’. Even students with the top grades face intense competition for pupillage.
A CV that can demonstrate your commitment to the profession, for example by completing mini-pupillages and any other form of law-related work experience, as well as extracurricular activities including public speaking/mooting and pro bono work, will also help.
Further reading: How to think like a barrister
Which BPTC provider?
It is important you find the course that suits your requirements. You should attend different providers’ open days or evenings and speak to current and former students.
Make sure you read all the available literature from the different providers before making a choice and contact them and ask questions when necessary.
Further reading: Ten factors to consider when choosing a BPTC provider
How and when to apply for the Bar Professional Training Course
Applications for a place on a Bar Professional Training Course are made through the BSB’s central applications system called BPTC Online. The application form itself needs careful attention. You will be asked to:
- provide details of mini-pupillages and other legal experience;
- explain why you want to be a barrister;
- provide examples of exceptional communication/interpersonal skills;
- provide examples of your ability to accurately analyse large volumes of written information;
- provide examples of how you cope with pressure;
- provide examples of how you have developed your advocacy skills since the age of 18 (having once been an angel in an infant school nativity play does not count).
Give yourself plenty of time to think about the content of the form and make sure you re-read it before submitting it: poor spelling, grammar and typographical errors will make your application look weak and count against you.
What does the Bar Professional Training Course cover?
The BPTC is designed to prepare you for pupillage and the early years of practice. The main skills taught are: legal research, case management, drafting (for example, pleadings, witness statements etc), opinion-writing, conference skills (client interviewing), resolution of disputes out of court (for example, negotiation, mediation) and plenty of advocacy.
The knowledge subjects taught are civil litigation and remedies, criminal litigation and sentencing, evidence and professional ethics. In addition, you must take two options – different providers offer different options, so ensure before you start the course that your chosen provider offers a range of options that you are happy to do.
Further reading: Five tips for prospective BPTC students
Training as a barrister is very expensive as the BPTC can cost more than £19,000 with no guarantee of a job afterwards. Also, do not forget that you will also need money for food, rent, transport and going out.
Thankfully, financial assistance is available from the Inns of Court as well as from BPTC providers. For example:
- BPP Law School offers 10 scholarships of up to £4,000.
- The City Law School offers 10 scholarships for the full course fees of certain courses, including the BPTC.
For more details, visit individual law schools’ websites.
If you are not fortunate enough to secure financial assistance from one of the Inns or your BPTC provider, you may have to consider borrowing money to fund your studies. BPP in conjunction with Future Finance offers a loan exclusively for its BPTC, GDL and LPC students.
As with all forms of debt, think carefully about whether or not you can afford to take out a loan, especially as there may be a delay between completing the BPTC and securing a pupillage or other form of employment.
It may be worth thinking about taking on a temporary job to help you save up for the course fees, or completing the course part-time so you can combine it with paid work.