The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is to launch a consultation this summer setting out the rule changes it needs to implement its fiercely contested training reforms, and among them will be a new route to qualification similar to solicitor apprenticeships.
It follows the regulator’s decision to open up a “limited” number of routes to undertake the training needed to become a barrister beyond taking the Bar professional training course (BPTC).
Speaking to Legal Futures, Dr Vanessa Davies, director-general of the BSB, said there was no “particular reason” for not having barrister apprenticeships, although the market would be much smaller than for solicitors.
However, Dr Davies said the “only credible” providers of an apprenticeship scheme would be big employers such as the Government Legal Service or Crown Prosecution Service, though discussions with them were yet to begin.
“The legal departments of large multi-nationals might also be interested. What we need to do is get the message out there that this is now available.
“We need a regulatory framework which permits more than one route to becoming a barrister – that’s the point.”
The proposal forms part of the BSB’s ‘Future Bar Training’ initiative, looking at how barristers should qualify in the future.
It initially consulted on three options: an evolutionary approach much the same as at present, a ‘managed pathway’ approach involving various routes to authorisation – the option preferred by the BSB – and a Bar ‘specialist’ approach which would create a new qualifying examination.
A fourth emerged late last year, put forward by the Bar Council and Council of the Inns of Court, to break up of the BPTC into halves to reduce costs for students. The first half would consist of knowledge-based learning of procedure and evidence, which could be carried out at home.
This was strongly supported in the consultation, and Dr Davies said the proposal was “very likely” to feature in this summer’s consultation. But for it to become reality, a training provider would have to come forward with a robust and viable alternative to the existing BPTC, she said.
Another proposal outlined by the BSB in a policy statement last month would allow universities to combine the BPTC with a master’s degree in law, enabling students to retain access to the student loan system.
The BSB said Northumbria University had already been granted permission to do this in an initiative described by the regulator as a “positive development”, giving students “a more widely recognised qualification”, whether or not they went on to a pupillage.
The BSB said that students who continued to take the traditional year-long BPTC could benefit from changes in the way ethics was taught and assessed.
The regulator described four models for future training – year-long BPTC with improved ethics element, new BPTC in two halves, combined BPTC with master’s degree, and the modular or apprenticeship approach – as “the only likely models which will be proposed to us for authorisation” at present.
“We agree with those respondents who have argued that having too many routes for qualifying at the Bar would offer no benefit and create confusion for both course providers and students.”
The regulator used the policy statement to kill off a number of other ideas that emerged during its work on training.
A plan to insist that barristers had achieved at least a 2:1 in their degrees before progressing to the BPTC was ditched – it will stay at a 2:2. The proposal that barristers should no longer need to be ‘called to the Bar’ by an Inn of Court was also scrapped.
The BSB said it would continue to specify the seven foundation subjects which made up a qualifying law degree and retain the Bar Course Aptitude Test.
In its business plan published last week, the regulator said it would begin work on an ‘authorisation framework’ for approving new training courses in the next three months.
Consultation on the rule changes would begin this summer, followed by a review of proposed new curriculums in the autumn and, in the first three months of next year, an application to the Legal Services Board, for permission to make the rule changes.