Black candidates least likely to find a pupillage, research finds

Pupillage: Students carrying heavy debt

Candidates from Black backgrounds are much less likely than other candidates to secure a pupillage, a report from the Bar Council has found.

Those who received free school meals also fared disproportionately badly, as, to a lesser extent, did women.

The report analysed the 2021 figures from the centralised Pupillage Gateway, run by the Bar Council, which is used by 60-70% of pupillage applicants and around half of training providers.

There was an average of 150 applicants for every pupillage advertised on the gateway. Some 246 pupillages were available and there were 2,660 applicants.

Fewer than half of all applicants (47%) were from White backgrounds in the UK, but they accounted for just over 60% of pupillage offers made through the gateway.

White candidates were more than twice as likely to receive an offer of pupillage as those from ethnic minority backgrounds – just over 10% compared to just over 4%.

Candidates from Black backgrounds had the lowest success rate in terms of receiving an offer of pupillage (2.5%), compared to those from Asian (5.4%) and mixed backgrounds (5%).

When the figures are broken down by type of legal work, family law had the highest success gap between White and other candidates in terms of offers (5.8% compared to 2.1%).

This was followed by general civil work, mixed practice and crime, where 4.9% of White candidates received offers compared to 3.1% of ethnic minority candidates. The success gap for Chancery and commercial work was smaller, at just over 1%.

Male candidates made up only 38% of pupillage applicants, while 58% were women, with the rest declining to state their gender.

However, when almost 43% of those offered pupillages through the gateway were men and 52% women.

The percentage of men who received offers was 8.8% across all practice areas compared with 7.1% for women.

The success gap between men and women in obtaining pupillages was largest for commercial and Chancery work.

Pupillage applicants from less wealthy backgrounds were less likely to receive offers than other candidates. Some 8.7% of candidates who did not receive free school meals received offers of pupillage compared to 5.5% of candidates who received them.

As shown by previous reports, studying a subject other than law at university was not a disadvantage when applying for pupillage, while those candidates with first-class degrees or ranked outstanding in the Bar Professional Training Course were at an advantage.

Over half of all applicants have debt of £20,000 or more, with over a third having debt of £40,000 or more. The average total debt per adult in the UK is approximately £32,000.

Researchers described their conclusions about the correlation between success rates and protected characteristics as “tentative” and said they planned to carry out an “in-depth statistical review” later in the year.

The number of pupillages offered on the gateway had recovered “somewhat post-pandemic but is not back to pre-pandemic levels”.

In its annual diversity report published earlier this year the Bar Standards Board (BSB) reported an increase in the percentage of pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds, from 19.4% to 23%, the highest ever figure.

Mark Neale, the BSB’s director general, said its latest figures suggested that the fall in pupillages caused by the pandemic was not as severe as previously thought, dropping by 21% rather than 35%.

“We are pleased to see some signs of recovery but the report shows that the pandemic is continuing to have an impact on the market for pupillages and that it has hit the publicly funded Bar, and especially the criminal Bar, hardest.

“We note that the report also suggests, as we have found, that White candidates disproportionately secured pupillage compared to candidates from ethnic minority groups.

“These remain causes for concern and the BSB will continue to monitor the market for pupillages closely.”

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