The Inns of Court should build a “large co-working space”, possibly on one of their “grand gardens”, to increase the number of pupillages, the president of the Middle Temple Students Association has said.
The call came as the Bar Standards Board (BSB) published figures showing that the number of students sitting its Bar professional training course (BPTC) hit record levels in 2018-19.
Fewer than half (47%) of BPTC students enrolled between 2014 and 2017 had found a pupillage by March 2019, and this is set to worsen this year with some chambers withdrawing or delaying pupillages as a result of Covid-19.
Writing for the Bar Council’s Counsel magazine in her own capacity, and not behalf of her association or Middle Temple, Camila Ferraro said there were now almost 3,000 applications for only 435 pupillages each year.
“This means that a very high proportion of aspiring barristers who successfully complete their examinations are not successful,” Ms Ferraro said.
“In light of these figures, I would like to see the Inns and BSB start a new conversation regarding pupillage. A detailed review of this matter may highlight some potential solutions.”
Ms Ferraro said that “according to some barristers”, current limitations included “a lack of space or resources” in chambers.
“In my opinion, one solution could be the creation of a large co-working space with built-in collaborating environments – following the models of Regus or WeWork.
“This may be difficult to execute, but a conversion of one of the grand gardens to such an infrastructure may help chambers to expand their practice.
“Additionally, a lesson learned from the Covid-19 pandemic could be that a large percentage of work may be conducted from home. Chambers might be able to increase their intake without necessarily requiring additional space.”
Ms Ferraro added: “It is disheartening to see that the constraints faced by chambers are slowing down the industry growth that the profession may benefit from.”
The BSB said the total of 1,753 BPTC students for the academic year 2018-2019 was the highest figure since records began in 2011. Almost half (47%) were from overseas.
The proportion of students domiciled in the UK or EU coming from BAME backgrounds rose to 40% in 2018-19, a rise of 10 percentage points from 2012-13.
The percentage of female students has also risen, from 52% in 2011-12 to 56.5% in 2018-19.
The BSB produced figures tracing the success rates of BPTC students, broken down by university ranking based on the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide.
It showed that for the 50% of BPTC students graded as ‘very competent’ and domiciled in the UK or EU, coming from a ‘top 10’ university gave them a far better chance of getting a pupillage.
For those with a first-class degree from a top-10 university and a ‘very competent’ pass, their chance of securing a pupillage was 71.6%. For those from a ‘next 40’ university, it fell to 47.6%.
Students with an upper second degree from a top-10 university had a 55.6%, chance, compared to 36.5% for the ‘next 40’.
When controlling for degree class and BPTC grade, students from BAME backgrounds were less likely to have commenced pupillage than those from white backgrounds.
Some 45% of those from white backgrounds with an upper-second class degree and ‘very competent’ BPTC grade had begun pupillage, compared to around 25% of the comparable BAME cohort.
The report showed that a disparity remained even when the ranking of the first university attended was also taken into account, although the disparities were less, and the chances of pupillage greater, for all higher-performing BPTC graduates and for higher-performing students from higher-ranked universities.
Ewen MacLeod, BSB director of strategy and policy, said: “Record numbers of BPTC graduates are now seeking pupillage at a time when the number of pupillages available is under pressure.
“We are working hard to support the number of pupillages that will be available this autumn. We have, for example, issued a waiver which will allow this year’s cohort of students to begin their pupillages even if they have not yet received their vocational training results.”
Mr MacLeod added that the BSB remained concerned by the disparity in the success rates of white and BAME students in securing pupillage.