PE-backed barrister group hires Bar’s biggest-ever pupil cohort

The Barrister Group (TBG) has used some of the private equity funding it secured this time last year to recruit what it believes to be the largest single intake of pupils at the Bar.

It has also been reorganising its over 240 barristers and redesigning its direct access offering.

The 10 new pupils were hired using a blind recruitment system designed in-house which relies on its own tests rather than traditional academic or vocational results and grades.

All have been told that they will have an opportunity for tenancy after completing their pupillage – TBG said that, unlike at traditional sets – provided the pupils achieve the requisite professional standards – there would be no competition or a limited number of tenancies.

TBG, previously known as Clerksroom, became the first chambers to accept private equity funding, after agreeing an eight-figure minority investment from LDC, part of Lloyds Bank.

Harry Hodgkin, chief executive and co-founder of TBG, said its three-stage blind recruitment process was, as far as he knew, unique.

The first stage of this year’s process required candidates to complete an anonymous questionnaire that tested standards and competence.

TBG said that just over 500 did so, “fewer than half of those who started it”, reflecting the “deliberately demanding” nature of the test. The pass rate was 77%.

Those who passed had to complete a questionnaire on their suitability – both to be a self-employed practitioner and to work at TBG.

This was again anonymous, with an email address the only information they had to provide at this point. Of the 285 who completed this, the top 10% in both tests went on to the interview stage.

For the interviews, 30 candidates had to provide a mini-business proposal, or skeleton argument, about a particular practice area they wanted to work in, which they had to present to a panel of three.

Unsuccessful candidates at stage 2 received feedback from the person who marked their questionnaire, highlighting one thing they did well, one thing they could improve on, and general comments. Unsuccessful interview candidates received the same from each interviewer.

TBG said it ran a pre-recruitment webinar to explain its recruitment process and is putting together webinars for unsuccessful and future candidates to explain what worked during the process and what did not.

Mr Hodgkin added: “This is a new dawn for Bar recruitment. We are now in a position to invest in recruiting the best people from the most diverse range of backgrounds possible and ensuring they receive the work and experience they need to kickstart their careers.

“We then have significant resources to help them build flourishing practices.”

TBG barristers have been reorganised into two groups. There are specialists – which it defines as those who spend more than 75% of their time in a particular area of work – and these are being marketed to the top 250 law firms by specialism.

The majority of members do not meet the definition and are instead TBG House barristers. TBG House targets both niche law firms and bulk suppliers of work, such as insurers and local authorities, where TBG can use its strength in technology.

“It’s a twin-track approach,” Mr Hodgkin said. “House is the central hub, with the specialisms around it.”

He said Barrister Connect, TBG’s direct access barrister service where volumes of traffic were “increasingly quite substantial”, would be formally launched this summer, following a “quite complicated” technological investment.

The aim was to expand direct access to new audiences, such as SMEs, where there was a “huge untapped opportunity”, as well as educating the public, who were often still unaware that they could instruct barristers in this way.

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