Readers of The Student Lawyer will be well aware of the expense and uncertainties surrounding the long road to becoming a barrister. The fees alone for the BPTC at a London law school can come to around £19,000 and this does not take into account the cost of living in a major city, not to mention the difficulties of obtaining pupillage and then tenancy.
Aware that these costs are proving a significant barrier to many wishing to enter the profession, the Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA), a collective of barristers and judges whose aim is to “to provide leadership, guidance and coordination in relation to the pursuit of excellence in advocacy”, has proposed the biggest shake-up to barrister training in years.
In May, the ICCA announced that it had applied to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to be authorised to deliver a new Bar Course in place of the BPTC. The ICCA Bar Course has been developed by “education experts and legal practitioners to deliver new, high-quality vocational content that will give students the best possible preparation for a career at the Bar.” Crucially it would also be significantly cheaper than the BPTC and can be taken flexibly and, in part, remotely in order to better accommodate those who are working to fund their studies or have care or other commitments.
The proposed course would be split into two parts. The first part of the course will taken online and will cost £1,575. Although the exact content of this part of the course is not clear from the ICCA’s announcement, it is described as being “knowledge-based” and will “include a number of bespoke case studies, which will help to apply more abstract knowledge required within the curriculum to real-life scenarios”. Students may take as long as they need to complete this portion of the course and if they decide not to continue, may exit at this stage with no further payment.
The second part of the course is taught in a more traditional in-person setting in London with more of a focus on practical skills, including “practical advocacy courses including essential specialist sessions on vulnerable witness advocacy, youth justice proceedings and expert witness handling.” It will cost £11,520 and will run for 20 weeks with two start dates per year.
If the ICCA’s proposed course is accepted by the BSA, it will start taking applications as soon as September 2019. The course would be run on a not-for-profit basis and with the total cost of £13,095 coming out several thousand pounds cheaper than the cost of the current BPTC (in London at least), competition for the limited places on the ICCA Bar Course is likely to be fierce.
Applicants will need to submit a written application, which will be considered by the ICCA “blind”, meaning that details such as the applicant’s name, gender and university may be removed. Those who get past this first hurdle will need to attend a selection day in London. James Wakefield director of the Council of the Inns of Court, the organisation behind the ICCA, explained that applicants “will be asked to read and assimilate information, apply rules and provide a written piece of advice and do an advocacy exercise. We will be looking for basic competences that we can build on.”
Law schools currently offering the BPTC will no doubt be awaiting the BSA’s decision with bated breath. If the ICCA Bar Course, it will be interesting to see what course they follow. One would expect them at the very least to reduce their fees at the risk of becoming uncompetitive but it remains to be seen whether they will look to adapt their curriculum to follow that proposed by the ICCA.
The Student Lawyer will continue to monitor this story so be sure to check in regularly for updates.