Pupillages dropped below 400 for the first time in decades while the number of students applying for the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) fell below 3,000, statistics from the profession’s regulator revealed.

There were only 397 first six pupillages offered in 2013/14, down 23% from 514 the previous year, according to the latest figures published by the Bar Standards Board.

The BSB pointed out that the spike in numbers in 2012/13 was due to a change in the registration timetable rather than a resurgence in the number of places.

The overall trend in first six places has been downwards over the last five years, dropping from 431 in 2009/10, while the number of second six places has remained steadily in the mid-400s.

Commenting on the figures, a Bar Council spokesman said: “Where there is less work available, especially as we are seeing in the publicly funded Bar, there is greater competition for that work.

“The Bar Council has always said that pupillages should only be created where there is enough work to sustain the pupil as tenant.”

Creating more pupillages than there are potential tenancies, he said, prolongs the period of insecurity and potential exposure to mounting levels of debt for prospective barristers.

He added that the “shrinking pupillage pool” will have a disproportionate impact on students from less advantaged backgrounds, who cannot afford the risk, which will in turn reduce the diversity in the profession.

The number of graduates willing to fork out up to £18,000 for the year-long BPTC has also fallen over the last five years, from 3,097 in 2009/10 to 2,941 in 2013/14.

The number of barristers called to the Bar annually dipped, from 1,754 in 2009/10 to 1,346 in 2012/13, before rallying slightly up to 1,456 in 2013/14.

The statistics show that men and women are joining the profession in about equal numbers, while the percentage joining from a BME background has dropped slightly.