Bar Council chair questions oversupply of aspiring barristers


Bar Council chairman Nicholas Green QC has warned of growing concerns over the employment prospects for aspiring advocates completing their barrister training.

Speaking at the 25th annual Bar Council conference on Saturday (6 November), Green told delegates he had “real qualms” about a system of education that encourages Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) providers to educate more and more law students.

After leaving university with substantial debts often exceeding £30,000, Green (pictured) said that students then “invest further in professional training only to find that the door into the profession is very small and the waiting room massively crowded”.

He stated: “It is clear to me from my many discussions with students, that many are seduced into a long, tortuous and expensive qualification processes where there is no realistic prospect of them ever being absorbed into the profession.”

He added: “With student debt on the rise and likely to rise further if the Government lifts the lid on university fees, surely we have a moral responsibility not to encourage those students who, on any realistic view, have no prospect of ever succeeding?”

Approximately 1,800 students pass the Bar exams each year and go on to compete for 400-500 pupillages on offer, creating a large pool of unemployed barristers, many of who become paralegals.

Green welcomed the work the Bar Standards Board (BSB) is doing to address these issues via the introduction of an aptitude test, which is currently being piloted. He said it was a step in the right direction but that he “doubts it goes far enough”.

He commented: “At one level, the oversupply of young lawyers intensifies competition for places, helps maintain quality and creates a paralegal workforce, which keeps costs down.”

He added: “On the other hand, to a profession which places such a premium on ethics, I cannot but feel that there is a moral dimension to our work which we are overlooking. This seems to me to be one of the major issues of the day and one which the profession needs to grapple with sooner rather than later.”

Separately, BSB chair Ruth Deech questioned the costs of vocational training for barristers, with some leading law schools charging around £15,000.

Against a background of impending spending cuts and industry reform under the Legal Services Act, Green said the Bar must expand its markets by exploiting international work and increase the range of work undertaken.

New business models, such as procurecos, were encouraged by Green as a means of picking up work from major corporations and local authorities.

Green said: “In my estimation there are hundreds of millions of pounds worth of work which the Bar could obtain, but which it is presently unable to service because of a perception by clients that we are not easy to contract with.”

In addition, Green noted that the Bar must gear itself up to welcome direct access clients. But Green said the Bar must continue to work closely with solicitors, whether in-house or in private practice.

He said: “Change does not mean a destruction of old, longstanding, friendships. There will be, over the next few years, some jockeying for position, but at the end of it, it will become plain to our solicitor colleagues that not only do we remain complementary to their skills, but we will also have work to allocate to them. We should be promoting greater symbiosis as the way forward.”

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