Future Routes to Authorisation Improving Access to the Bar?

If becoming a barrister was not difficult enough already, it’s about to get even more difficult.

The BSB has released a consultation inside which is an in-depth analysis on how they are looking at three different approaches to changing the current system of becoming a qualified barrister.

The three options are set out in the consultation as:-

Option A/Evolutionary Approach: This is the current BSB system which requires students to have a obtained a minimum 2:2 degree and undertake both vocational training (BPTC) and a work based learning (pupillage).

Option B/Managed Pathways Approach: This is a new system that has four sub-sections, combining legal education, vocational training and work based learning in order to better suit individual needs, as students can personally tailor the system. The four subsections of this are:

  1. Academic legal education followed by vocational training and work based learning (same as Option A).

  2. Combined academic and vocational learning followed by work based learning.

  3. Academic legal education followed by combined vocational training and work based learning.

  4. Modular format- components of qualifications are acquired over time (somewhat of an apprenticeship pathway).

Option C/Bar Specialist Approach:- The third and final option will be a condensed version of the current system with a few changes. Option C will flow as follows: a degree will be attained followed by the Bar Course Aptitude Test. In addition, a new qualifying examination will be introduced: the Bar Entrance Exam (BEE). This will test individuals on their legal knowledge and their application of it. Finally, students must undertake a three month approved skills course followed by work based learning.

The consultation seeks to increase the threshold of the BCAT for the new intakes of 2017. This would decrease the number of intakes that BPTC providers will have, as the ‘talent pool’, so to speak, will include fewer people.

The implications of Option A are that, although it keeps the current system intact, there are elements which will be adjusted. The BSB is looking to reduce the prescription of class sizes. Therefore, providers can have a larger intake of students. However, as outlined in the consultation, this will come at an increase in costs. The consultation also showed statistics from the 2012 Cohort of BPTC students where it was reported that the average debt per student was £40,000. Figures such as these make the course unattractive to students wishing to pursue a career at the Bar.

In addition, the BSB is likely to reduce and even remove all elective modules on the current course. Without electives, it is likely that the purpose of the course will be lost, as the core modules work in conjunction with the elective modules. As a result of this, the core modules of advocacy, opinion writing and drafting will be learnt in isolation without any relevance to an area of law.

Out of all of the options suggested, the BSB currently favours Option B, as it provides flexibility to students and legal educational providers. Therefore, it is likely to create new providers (as cited in the consultation, ‘new routes, new providers.’) Although there is flexibility on how a student wants to arrange their managed pathways, the requirements have not become any more lenient. The 2:2 minimum requirements will still apply but there will be no BCAT assessment for students opting for this pathway. As well as having the ability to create your own individual Bar Course, the BSB have indicated that it is likely that the Managed Pathways approach will cost less than the current system.

Option C is my personal favourite. In simple terms, it is basically a condensed version of the current Bar system but with a few changes, and it is likely to be a lot cheaper than the current system, at an estimated £12,000 for the course to be completed in London. The skills based course will last 12 weeks and will be based on the current BPTC curriculum, including advocacy and writing courses. However, the main issue that arises from this option is the fact that there is no need to have a qualifying law degree (LLB) or conversion diploma (GDL). As a result, you will have people will no legal knowledge competing for a place with some who will have studied law at an advanced level. This could be seen as a positive or a negative; positive as it will put law and non-law students on the same playing field when sitting the BEE exam and negative because a group of individuals may be put at a disadvantage for not having a reasonable level of legal knowledge.

I have laid out the provisions of the BSB new proposal; it is up to you to determine if any of these Options (A/B/C) will help further your future career at the Bar and which option you would choose. I can see why the BSB felt the need to be innovative in their recruitment process for the Bar - often those who fall into the social-mobility group are unrepresented in the legal sector. By having several routes to the Bar, we could see an increase in diversity at the Bar. Perhaps the BSB really does know what they are doing; only time will tell if any of these Options become a reality in the near future (estimated to be implemented in 2018).

You can find the full BSB Consultation here (all quotes and figures in this article have been found on this document) - feel free to have a read and start a discussion in the comments below!

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