Just last month, The Lawyer highlighted the astonishing lack of transparency surrounding the Legal Practice Course, neither the SRA nor the Law Society publish the number of LPC students who take up the course each year. The same complaint cannot be applied to the Bar Standards Board, which produces a plethora of data about the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) each year.

Thus, we know there’s some positive news for those wanting to take up pupillage: in 2018 there were 568 new pupils at the Bar. That’s a 15-year high and up 43 per cent on the nadir of 397 in 2013/14.

But the BSB’s transparency also means we once more see the truth everyone knows, but which still bears repeating – far more students embark upon the BPTC than will ever get pupillage. Of the more than 3,000 who applied in 2018, 1,753 secured pupillage– that’s a success rate of 58.4 per cent, meaning that more than four out of ten fail to make the grade.

The number of students completing the BPTC far exceeds the number of pupillages available

Many BPTC students who hail from overseas come to study in the UK because their legal systems are based on ours. The majority of those have no intention of joining the Inns of Court or practising in England & Wales, so the numbers are somewhat distorted, but when the BSB filters them out – as it handily does – the data for British students tells its own story.

Of the UK/EU students who completed the BPTC in 2015, for example, just 52 per cent secured pupillage. Of the 30 students finishing the course at Northumbria University that year, 19 are without pupillage five years down the line. You can’t pretend those are great odds.

How many BTPC students who passed the course between 2015 and 2019 have secured pupillages?

Northumbria has consistently been the weakest law school for getting its students into pupillage. There is less of a gap between the other seven providers, though the most successful is probably City University. Even there, four in 10 students can expect to progress no further in their dream of a career at the Bar.

It’s good that pupillage is competitive. Only the best should make it. But what was old news a decade and more ago is still true: aspiring barristers are still gambling a lot of money chasing a very small number of jobs.

Oh, and about that positive news we cited at the start? The pandemic is expected to cause a dip in pupillage recruitment over the next two years. Best of luck.

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