Due to the competitive nature of a career at the Bar, the Bar Standards Board has now introduced a compulsory Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) for all prospective BPTC students.
Becoming a barrister can provide individuals with many benefits: the profession offers independence, the opportunity to regularly be involved in advocacy, intellectual stimulation and not to mention the vast amount of money that can be on offer in some areas of the law. Consequently, many students have the aspiration of one day becoming a barrister.
However, although the profession of a barrister can be highly lucrative, actually becoming one is tough task. Let’s look at some statistics provided by the Bar Standards Board website for example. In 2010/2011 only 444 pupillages were secured, a drop from 460 from the year before. Additionally, in 2009/2010, 2,657 students applied to study the BPTC whereas only 1,432 students were successful. More interestingly, in 2010/11, 1,852 students were called to the Bar. It is therefore apparent that the number of individuals who passed the BPTC and were called to the Bar, in comparison with the number of available pupillages on offer, is worrying, especially when you consider that all the BPTC graduates from previous years will still be in contention and will also be applying for that elusive pupillage.
From the outset, it must be asked whether the BCAT will even assess these attributes.
These statistics provide concrete evidence that becoming a barrister is tough. A barrister also requires certain attributes, such as high levels of intellect, confidence, determination and many more rare but important traits and characteristics. From the outset, it must be asked whether the BCAT will even assess these attributes. In answering this, the Bar Standards Board has said that the BCAT ‘will test students’ critical thinking and reasoning, the core skills required for the BPTC’. Perhaps this is one major justification for the introduction of the BCAT.
So how much is it to take the BCAT? Well it is £150 for UK and EU students, and £170 for students from the rest of the world. It is fair to say that these fees are quite expensive, but given the fact that there is no limit on the number of times you can take this test, it is foreseeable that students who have the strong aspiration of becoming a barrister will continue to take the test until they pass, with the result that in certain circumstances some students will have spent a considerable amount of money on trying to pass the test.
Clearly such a major change in the price has to be justified somehow…
Students also have to pay £40 just to sign up to the application process for the BPTC, meaning they will be paying £190 before they have even been accepted, let alone enrolled, on the BPTC. Looking at the impact of the fees on a wider scale, it is worth remembering that some universities are charging up to £9,000 per year for undergraduate degrees, and BPTC fees at some providers are rising to nearly £17,500 for 2013/2014. There has been much talk over the last few years about the need to provide disadvantaged students with better opportunities to become a barrister, therefore avoiding discrimination and providing realistic opportunities. Surely the combination of all fees involved in becoming a barrister will deter students who are a low income off the profession, so how is diversity being achieved through financial considerations?
As a result there may be a slight decline in the number of students actually enrolling onto the BPTC…
The major justification put forward in favour of the introduction of the BCAT is that such a test will directly assess whether students possess the skills that are vital in order to survive the BPTC. It is hoped that individuals who realistically do not have the ability to succeed at the Bar will become aware of this after the completion of the BCAT test. As a result there may be a slight decline in the number of students actually enrolling onto the BPTC, which will therefore ease the amount of competition that there currently is for pupillage.
As indicated above, competition at the Bar is fierce. A lot of students are embarking upon the BPTC who may not have the required skills and determination to ever succeed, and prospective BPTC students are regularly advised to ‘have a reality check’. Even the Inns of Court have a ‘health warning’ explaining that a career at the bar can be rewarding, but additionally very hard.
Clearly, the Bar Standards Board had to do something, but whether the £150 fee for the BCAT is reasonable is certainly questionable.
Mani Singh Basi has recently graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in Law, and is currently studying for an LLM. It is Mani’s aspiration to become a barrister, and he has a place to study for the BPTC in 2013. www.twitter.com/msbasi17