The Bar vocational course (BPTC) is changing!

Previously students who wished to qualify as a Barrister have gone on to complete the BPTC.  The Bar Standards Board (BSB) refers to this as the vocational component of training for the Bar.  From September 2020 this will change and anyone pursuing a career as a Barrister who has not already started the BPTC must complete one of the new Bar courses approved by the BSB.  Current BPTC students (including those who started the BPTC in September 2019) have until 2022 to complete the course. 

Why the change?

The BSB has made these changes to make the process more flexible and to widen access to the profession by making the vocational component of the training more accessible and affordable.  Despite initiatives to widen access to the profession it still has a reputation for elitism.  This is exacerbated by the high costs incurred by BPTC students and the financial risks given the limited number of pupillage places and stiff competition to secure them. 

How do I qualify as a Barrister?

  • The academic stage – an undergraduate law degree or any non-law degree plus a graduate law conversion course like the GDL. The minimum undergraduate requirement is a 2.2, but you are realistically likely to need at least a 2.1.
  • The vocational stage – a postgraduate BSB approved Bar course (these now come with a range of names and may form part of another qualification such as an LLM). Graduates are then ‘called to the Bar’ and may then apply for pupillage.   
  • The pupillage/work-based learning stage – a year practising as a pupil barrister at a barristers’ chambers (or other organisation), with the first six months spent shadowing a senior barrister and the second six working on cases as a junior.

In addition aspiring Barristers must:

  • Join one of the four Inns of Court and complete 12 ‘qualifying sessions (run by their Inn) during the academic and vocational stages of training. The Inns also administer the ‘fit and proper person’ test that prospective barristers must pass when they are called to the Bar.

What are the changes to the vocational stage (previously the BPTC)?

  • a course in one part, which may be full-time over a year or part-time over a longer period, similar to the current BPTC;
  • a course in two parts, which may involve face-to-face teaching for both parts or may involve self-study only for one of the parts.  In this route Students do not pay fees for part 2 (the more expensive part of the course) until they have successfully completed part 1. This means that students who fail part 1 are not locked into paying the full fees (as they were on the BPTC). Students can also take a break after completing part 1 and return to part 2 at a later date.

Part-time study options will continue to be available on both of the above routes.  It will also be possible to take the vocational component (at some institutions) as part of an undergraduate degree in law in which study of the subjects of the vocational component are combined with subjects taken as part of a law degree.  Combining the academic, vocational and pupillage components in a barrister apprenticeship has been mooted however this route is not yet available.    

What does this mean for me?

The benefits of the new system include generally lower course fees and the option to divide the Bar course into two parts thereby reducing the financial risk of pursuing such a highly competitive career.  However the importance of gaining insight and experience into the rewards and challenges of a career at the Bar cannot be overstated to ensure that those embarking on this career path are fully aware of the challenges they will face in trying to enter the profession.  This will include committing time to researching and reflecting on the different Bar course options available including how learning is structured and students supported in order to determine the course that best fits their personal circumstances. 

The resources referred to in writing this blog include the BSB website, and Chambers Student.  They all contain information on the new bar courses and providers with details of course costs.  This information is also likely to be available on other law careers platforms.

Valerie Matthews-Lane

Senior Careers Consultant, Warwick Law School

June 2020

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