A drastic reduction in the role of the Inns of Court in the training of barristers – to the point where barristers would not have to be members of one – and an end to the required period of 12 months for pupillages are on the table as the Bar Standards Board (BSB) takes the next step in its Future Bar Training initiative.
In a further move likely to be fiercely opposed by traditionalists, students on the Bar professional training course may no longer be obliged to attend dinners at their Inn before they can be called to the Bar, while the current minimum financial support chambers have to provide to pupils may rise to discourage students from qualifying as better-paid solicitors instead.
Under the plans, the Inns could no longer be involved in a wide range of activities, including registering and vetting students, supervising student conduct, approving pupil supervisors, and providing advocacy and practice management courses.
Launching a consultation paper, the BSB said: “Many of the possible scenarios explored in this paper may appear to be a significant departure from the status quo.
“Where we consider the removal of prescription, it should not be taken that the activity cannot be done in the future, just that we may not require that it be done as it is now.”
Under one option in the paper, the BSB said: “Although it will remain mandatory for barristers to be called by one of the Inns, we are considering the extent to which membership of that Inn must be mandatory.
“For example, a student could be called to the Bar by one of the Inns without having to be a student or barrister member of that Inn. This may also mean that we would no longer require individuals to be student members of an Inn in order to undertake the vocational stage or qualifying sessions.
“This would reduce prescription and focus the Inns’ mandatory involvement only on the legal requirement that the Inns call students to the Bar.”
The regulator went on: “If this option is taken forward, there would need to be a process for allocating students to an Inn for call, where they were not already student members.
“In this scenario there would be no regulatory requirement for a barrister to join an Inn, either before or after call. We anticipate that, following call, many barristers might still choose to join an Inn but will have an option at this point as to which one to join.”
Under another option, the BSB would take over the role of carrying out educational and ‘fit and proper person’ checks on pupil barristers from the Inns.
It could also assume responsibility for supervising students. “There is no statutory necessity for the Inns to continue performing this function. The Legal Services Act 2007 only requires that the Inns call students to the Bar.”
Students are currently required to attend 12 “qualifying sessions”, including lectures, advocacy workshops, debates and dinners.
The BSB said that whilst they offered a number of benefits, there were also some problems.
“Some students with less knowledge of the profession, particularly for those from BME and lower socio-economic backgrounds, may be more likely to feel intimidated by the environment as they may perceive the majority of the barristers attending are white, male and educated at elite institutions.
“Interviews with students during our supervision visits with providers also highlighted that some of the qualifying sessions were limited in their usefulness and should have more educational substance.”
In one option put forward, the BSB proposed removing the requirement for mandatory qualifying sessions.
“If a student were a member of an Inn (whether this is compulsory or not), that student would then be able to decide whether they would attend events, activities and dining sessions, if indeed the Inns wished to continue to provide them.”
A second option would see the number of sessions cut, or they would be made more educational, while under a third option students could attend the events as part of their learning plans, in a similar way to the new CPD scheme.
On pupillages, the BSB said one option would be to abolish the rule that all pupillages should be 12 months long, allowing training organisations to design the “best possible training plan” for their students.
“It should be noted that we anticipate the majority of chambers would be likely to continue offering pupillages as 12 months long.”
The regulator also strongly hinted that the current minimum financial support for pupils, set at £12,000, needed to be raised at least to the level of the national living wage (£13,650), if not the London living wage (£17,745).
“Unless a pupil has built up substantial savings, or can rely on financial assistance from their family or spouse, pupillages funded at the current minimum level are not financially viable, especially those offered in London.”
The BSB said that if the minimum pupillage award was not “kept in line with, or at least near to”, the minimum wage for a trainee solicitor (£20,900 in London), then “short-term financial considerations” may force aspiring barristers to train as solicitors.
“Such financial pressures would be most acutely experienced by aspiring lawyers from lower socio-economic backgrounds.”
The regulator also proposed that pupil supervisors should be able to supervise more than one pupil and training for supervisors could be opened up to competition beyond the Inns or the circuits, as could the mandatory training for pupils in advocacy and practice management.
Ewen Macleod, director of strategy and policy at the BSB, commented: “By seeking views on these important matters, we are keen to make sure that our rules governing pupillage and qualification remain fit for purpose over the long term.
“There are a number of possible ways to achieve all of this, so we are keen to hear what people think about the issues we have included in this consultation paper.”