The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) is, for the vast majority, the final stage of studying on the path to pupillage and a career at the Bar. Given its non-academic essence, a handful will go on to do master’s degrees, possibly exploring further their chosen area of law. However, for many, the BPTC represents a unique and unusual foray into postgraduate education.
There are many issues to consider before applying for the BPTC. Funding, choosing a course provider, and location all have to be given some thought. Then there is the issue of which ‘mode of study’ to pick – full-time or part-time? Most course providers will offer you a choice of studying over four days a week for one year, or attending in the evenings or on weekends for two years. What follows is an overview of the main pros and cons of studying the course on a part-time basis.
Simply put, studying the BPTC part-time takes more commitment than doing it over one year. Whichever way you choose, it is an intense course with a lot to take in and a startlingly high failure rate. Doing it part-time does not make this easier. For example, there is generally less contact time with tutors. In addition, the majority of the assessments will take place at the end of the second year, meaning that everything you are taught at the beginning of your first year will have to be continually revised and refreshed. This can occasionally be exacerbated by the fact that the syllabus can change even while you are on the course, and so effort is required to make sure that what you are learning is still relevant. A study by the Bar Standards Board showed that as a percentage, fewer part-time students seem to get ‘Outstanding’ grades at the end of the BPTC than their full-time counterparts.
A further disadvantage is that as most part-timers fit in their BPTC work around their employment, the intensity of the course does not usually feel as though it is thinned out by completing it over two years rather than one. This means double the amount of time spent studying (and revising) while fitting in work, qualifying sessions, and other commitments. Whichever option you pick, the BPTC will be tough and challenging. The part-time mode should not be viewed as a ‘soft’ option. The last session on a Sunday afternoon for weekend students, or on a Friday evening for those studying during the week, is exhausting.
However, it is possible that future pupillage providers or employers will view the extra commitment favourably. The nature of life at the Bar requires efforts at self-assessment and evaluation, and the part-time study option equips students better for this due to the organisation and time-management required to do well on the course over a longer period of time. A student with an ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Very Competent’ grade on the part-time course will have had to work harder and more efficiently than someone with the same grade on the full-time course.
The main advantage of studying part-time is the ability to combine studying with work, which is far harder to do when studying full-time. Your ability to do the course part-time in this respect will come down to the nature of your employment, your course provider, and whether or not you need to attend in the evenings or on weekends.
Consequently, the part-time cohort of students is a diverse group, and there is a great opportunity to get to know a wider variety of people than you might meet on the full-time course. The main disadvantage with regards to work is, of course, the reality of having to open up your law books in the evenings or on weekends. As described above, your level of commitment will need to be weighed up when considering how best to meet the demands of your work and studies.
Applying for pupillage will not just come down to your grades, but also your experience and your ability to demonstrate aptitude and commitment to your chosen area of law. Taking part in moots, completing mini-pupillages, and volunteer work will enhance any application. Doing the course part-time gives you an extra year to acquire the experience you need. There are some pro-bono opportunities run by BPTC course providers that can be done from home, and are therefore tailored to part-time students who might otherwise miss out. Again, this will come down to the flexibility of your employment, as well as your location. The key point is that studying part-time will enable you to spend longer on improving your chances of acquiring pupillage.
During your time on the BPTC you will be required to complete twelve qualifying sessions at your Inn. These can be difficult to find time for, especially around examinations. Another advantage of studying on the BPTC part-time is therefore having an extra year to complete all of the qualifying sessions.
A potential hurdle is that some sessions, such as dinners and lectures, start in the early evening, and it can be hard to attend if you have a full-time job or need to attend classes in the evenings. Many of the Inn societies, such as debating and mooting, also meet at a similar time. However there are also several qualifying sessions, such as advocacy training and residential trips, that are run on the weekends, and so finding something at a suitable time is usually manageable for everyone.
Whether you study full-time or part-time, the BPTC is an expensive course. There is usually little or no difference in the fees between the two modes of study. However, the part-time option enables you to have two attempts at applying for scholarships from the Inns of Court, as you can apply in the year before you are due to commence the BPTC as well as during your first year. The part-time course also affords the opportunity to spread out the payments over two years, which may be more manageable. For example, from 2014 at the University of Law it will be possible to pay the fees in twenty instalments over two years.
Finally, the careers departments at BPTC course providers and universities are excellent sources of useful information and advice. Studying part-time gives you an extra year of invaluable help for things like CVs, cover letters, interviews and pupillage applications.
On a personal note, I have to say I am glad that I decided to study the BPTC part-time. So far the positives have outweighed the negatives, and I am sure that by the time I have finished the course I will have given myself a better chance of obtaining pupillage than I would have done had I studied full-time. This is mainly down to the ability to spend more time gaining experience while still working, which would not have been manageable had I done it in a single year.
Hopefully this overview will give any potential applicants some food for thought about how to get through the BPTC. However you decide to do it, I wish you the best of luck.