Not as bad as we thought

GraphsDavid Wurtzel considers the results of the Bar Council’s 2012 “Bar Barometer”.

‘The Bar will shrink’ has been a common cry of alarm over a number of years. First, the Bar lost its monopoly over the rights of audience in the Higher Courts, then solicitor advocates entered the market in force and then Legal Aid declined, student debt rose and the number of pupillages dwindled. And yet, according the 2012 Bar Barometer, the self-employed Bar as a whole has instead expanded. Using the latest statistics available, between 2010 and 2011 the largest increase (1.2%) in the previous five years took place. At the same time, the proportion of women and of BME barristers has steadily if slowly gone up.


Bar Barometer is published by the Bar Council’s research department and is based on the secure database maintained by the Bar Council and the Bar Standards Board. It largely originates from the Annual Chambers Return. In 2011 there were 15,581 barristers holding practising certificates; they were made up of 12,674 self employed barristers and 2907 employed barristers. It is the latter who have declined in numbers.

Diversity

Currently, the self-employed Bar is 67.6% men and 32.4% women (up from 30.9% in 2007); 79.8% white and 9.7% BME (up from 9.2% in 2007, in raw numbers from 1109 to 1235). The employed Bar is 53.3% men and 46.7% women; it is 66.2% white and 12.3% BME. The figures for ethnicity do not add up to 100% since some barristers do not declare it.

The Bar professional

The report has a detailed breakdown of the make-up of those who train for the Bar. The perception that the BPTC providers pile in the students and accept all comers regardless is not borne out. The number of applicants steadily rises but the numbers of those who enrol have steadily declined. Clearly, the efforts to warn applicants about their chances (including a letter approved of and signed by the Chairman of the Bar) seem to have had little effect. The numbers of those applying for the BPTC course were 3100 in 2011, up from 2870 in 2007. Enrolment however fell from 1932 in 2006-7 to 1442 in 2011. Since there were 1684 validated places the providers are in fact under-recruiting.

Who is the student population? More women than men have taken the course in each year since 2006-7. In some years the figures were roughly equal; in 2010-11 there were 52.1% women and 47.7% men. In terms of ethnicity (amongst those who declared it), and looking over the last five years, whites outnumbered BME students in two years, BME students outnumbered whites in two years and in 2010-11 they were roughly equal (600 BME ; 618 white). Breaking those figures down between students who were domiciled in the UK and those who were not, 20.3% or 140 of UK domiciled students were BME and 70.5% or 485 were white. Looking at the remainder, 460 or 77.% of non-UK domiciled students were BME and 133 or 22.5% were white. Using only those who declared their ethnicity, and putting to one side those who did not declare it, the BPTC population was 51.3% UK domiciled and 48.7% overseas. It is useful to remember that the ‘English’ Bar is in fact made up of a very substantial percentage of colleagues who come to this country to study and to be Called but who return home to work. This should also be recalled when trying to reckon how many students in fact are looking for pupillages.

New Entrants

Apart from a dip in 2009-10, the number of new tenants has gone up from 499 in 2007 to 541 in 2010-11. At the same time, the number of newly employed barristers has gone down from 228 to 191. In terms of gender, we are approaching parity although the figures vary, year on year. Looking at both the employed and self-employed Bar together, the percentages were 55.8%/44.2% in favour of men in 2010 and 52.2%/47.8% in favour of women in 2011. However if you add up the numbers, the average for those two years is 51.5% men and 48.5% women. The percentage of BME barristers gaining tenancies or employment has been higher than their overall representation within the profession. The figure went up from 11% to 12% between 2010 and 2011, or in numbers, from 70 to 88. Meanwhile, women have made some headway in the overwhelmingly male domination of Queen’s Counsel, from 9.5% (116 women) in 2007 to 11.8% (176 women) in 2011, while the number of BME QC’s went up from 44 or 3.6% in 2007 to 78 or 5.2% in 2011.

Call

With the decline in the numbers of those doing the BPTC there has been a decline in the numbers of those Called to the Bar. For the three years starting in 2007-8 the majority of those Called were women (52 or 53%). In 2010-11, despite being a minority of those taking the BPTC, men were the majority (51/49) of those Called. In 2011, two thirds of those who were Called were British, and one third were non-UK nationals. In terms of ethnicity, 53.3% were white and 43.7% were BME.

Pupils

For those who think that you stand a better chance of obtaining a pupillage if you study at a particular provider, it is striking to note that in 2010-11, 32.4% of pupils had obtained their pupillage before they started the BPTC. The number of first six month pupillages rose from 515 in 2005-6 to 562 in 2007-8 but have been in decline ever since. The steep drop (17.4%) occurred back in 2008-9 when the numbers fell from 562 to 464. Since then it has been steadier: 460 in 2009-10 and 446 in 2010-11 (3.8% fewer than in 2008-9). The number of second six month pupillages has also fallen from its 2007-8 peak (555) and in 2010-11 stood at 477, or 8% fewer than in 2008-9. In 2010-11 and for the first time in these statistics, there were more (541) new tenancies created than there were second six month pupillages (477).

In terms of gender, the proportions fluctuate widely from year to year, making the near-parity achieved in 2007-8 something of an aberration. In 2008-9 there were 280 men to 210 women; this altered radically in 2009-10 when there were 184 men to 223 women, a situation which reversed itself again in 2010-11 when there were 241 men and 181 women. In terms of ethnicity, the situation also fluctuates but the trend has been downwards: 107 pupils or 20.3% were BME in 2006-7 but only 58 or 13.1% in 2010-11. Although in each year the percentage of BME pupils was clearly above that in the Bar at large, it has been the case that they have not kept up their proportional share of pupillages while the raw numbers have declined. Bar Barometer does not break down the percentage of BME new tenants.

Whatever the future of the publicly funded criminal Bar, the most popular choice amongst the pupils is criminal law: 28.6% did a criminal pupillage, with commercial law coming second at 14% and general common law at 12.8%.

The academic record of those who obtain pupillages is outstanding. 34.9% had Firsts (a jump of 11.4% over the previous year) and 54.5% upper seconds. In the BPTC, 23.2% received an Outstanding mark while 61.3% were found to be Very Competent. Where they were educated remains weighted: 34.5% went to Oxford or Cambridge; next was Bristol (3.6%) and Durham (3.1%). 55.9% went to a state school; 39.6% went to a fee paying school. Barristers’ Working Lives, published a year ago, details which disciplines within the Bar have the highest and lowest percentages of Firsts, Oxbridge graduates, state vs. fee paying school leavers and indeed women and BME barristers.

The picture of the indebted student is true, for a majority. The largest group of pupils (22.5%) had no debt at all and a further 2.5% had debts of less than £1000. However 15.3% had debts of £1000-9,999, 21.7% had debts of £10,000 to 19,999, 15.5% had debts of £20,000 to 29,000 and 10.6% had debts of £30,000-39,999. 6.1% had debts above £40,000.

Insofar as one can infer social background, 81% came from a professional background; 5% had a lawyer parent. Pupils unsurprisingly are young: 34% are under 25, and a further 53% are 25-34. Only 7.9% stated that they had children.

Conclusion

What statistics tell us is what we make of them. Bar Barometer should be read alongside Barristers’ Working Lives to get the fullest picture of who we are. The Bar has not dwindled quite yet. It is becoming more diverse and the academic record of those who want to join the Bar remains very high.

David Wurtzel is the consultant editor of Counsel

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David Wurtzel

David practised at the criminal Bar for 27 years and is a door tenant at 18 Red Lion Court. Prior to his retirement, he was a consultant in the CPD department at City Law School and consultant editor of Counsel. David is a member of the Counsel Editorial Board.