The future of Bar training is already here

Following a five-year review, three consultations and concerted efforts to make it more evenly distributed, the new age of education begins in autumn 2020 – Catherine Baksi's guide to the regime and its providers

A shake-up in the rules for training barristers marked the end of the single Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) as the compulsory vocational training stage for aspiring barristers, and the introduction of a variety of shorter, more flexible and much cheaper options.

The old BPTC, provided by eight institutions on 14 sites, cost up to £19,070 for the one-year course. So far, eight ‘authorised education and training organisations’, to use the clunky language of the regulator, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) – or course providers or Bar schools, for the law student – have been approved or conditionally approved to provide the new courses, which generally start in September 2020.

At the time of writing, they are: the Inns of Court College of Advocacy; BPP University; City Law School, University of London; Northumbria University; the University of Law; Nottingham Trent University; Cardiff University; and the University of the West of England.

Manchester Metropolitan University has also expressed an interest in providing a course from September this year, and the BSB expects to authorise the provider in time for courses to start in the autumn.

The flexibility that the regulator sought to encourage has led to a dizzying array of courses, with no single, unifying name. While this might be confusing for students considering which course suits them and offers the best chance of securing a pupillage, prices have tumbled – all those listed below include the £870 fee levied by the BSB.

The changes followed a five-year review of the future of Bar training by the BSB and three consultations on the vocational training component.

To get a place, students must have at least a 2:1 undergraduate degree (2:2s will be considered exceptionally on an individual basis), and have passed the graduate diploma in law (for those whose degree was not in law) and the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT). They must also have joined one of the four Inns of Court (Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple).

All courses cover the same mandatory key subjects, but some providers offer two-part or part-time courses, as well as options linked to a masters degree. Scholarships are available from course providers, the Inns of Court and other organisations.

The centralised applications system has closed and students must apply to institutions individually using the different proscribed methods.


Inns of Court College of Advocacy: Bar Course

Until 1997 the Inns of Court School of Law (ICSL), was the sole provider of the compulsory postgraduate training course for barristers.

ICSL left the market in 2001, but in 2017 with the creation of the Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA), the Inns signalled their intention to return to the legal training market.

Last spring, the ICCA threw down the gauntlet to other providers, announcing that the fees for its new two-part course would be £13,095 – which was 30% lower than the most expensive London-based BPTC at the time.

Part One, comprising the knowledge subjects of criminal litigation, evidence and sentencing and civil litigation, evidence and ADR, is delivered online. Students must pass an examination, taken in London, before they can go on to take Part Two, which is taught face-to-face at premises across the four Inns of Court in London, and is made up of the skills subjects of advocacy, conference skills, legal research and opinion writing & drafting, together with an online ethics module.

Part One takes a recommended 12-16 weeks and costs £1,575; while Part Two lasts 20-22 weeks, with four days a week teaching, and costs £11,520.

There will be no more than 100 places, but there are two intakes a year, the first starting in September. Applications opened in December 2019 and closed on 10 January 2020.

The ICCA, which has no degree-awarding powers, has partnered with the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London to act as its validating body, and students will be awarded a Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) in Bar Practice upon successful completion of the course. It has successfully registered with the Office for Students as a higher education provider, which was a condition of the BSB authorisation.


BPP Law School: Barrister Training Course

BPP Law School’s full-time Barrister Training Course, lasting 8.5 months, will cost £13,870 in London and £12,620 at its sites in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester. Students will typically study for 10 hours per week, split across three or four days, culminating in the award of a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice.

The course is structured in two distinct parts and students can study Part One (Preparing for Pupillage 1: classroom to courtroom) as a standalone course and pause their training before studying Part Two (Preparing for Pupillage 2: practice, papers and people). Taken separately, students are awarded Postgraduate Certificates in Legal Practice (Bar Parts 1 & 2).

A part-time course is available in London, which takes 23 months, with students studying 10 hours on one weekend a month.

For an additional £2,130 in London, or £1,880 elsewhere, students can choose to graduate with a LLM Legal Practice (Bar) by completing an extra professional project.

Applications are open and candidates who apply before 6 April 2020 will be automatically considered for a £1,000 scholarship.


City Law School, University of London: Bar Vocational Studies

City Law School offers 312 places on a traditional, one-year full-time Bar Vocational Studies course, starting in September.

It can be completed via a choice of three courses – Postgraduate Diploma in Bar Vocational Studies (£16,500), Postgraduate Diploma with a specialism (£18,500) or an LLM with a specialism after completing a dissertation or a clinical legal education project (£19,500). There are 48 part-time places on the same courses.

City Law School has also created a flexible two-part course, similar to that on offer from the ICCA, and costing £14,000 (£2,500 for Part One and £11,500 for Part Two).

The first part is studied online and is designed to enable students to study from any location at times that suit them with the support of tutors, before part two brings them back in to the classroom.

There are two intakes a year, with the first course starting in July 2020 and, up to 36 places available on each. Applications are considered on a rolling basis and remain open until either the course is full or one month before it begins.


Northumbria University: Bar Course

Starting in September, Northumbria University offers four post-graduate Bar Courses. Students can take the one-year Bar Course for £12,000, at the end of which they are awarded the Bar Course Post-Graduate Diploma.

For the same fee, students can study for the Bar Course LLM, completing an additional 10,000-15,000 word dissertation, or a combination of work experience gained in the student law office and an 8,000-10,000 word piece of written work.

It also offers a flexible two-part training route, through a one-year, part-time Bar Knowledge Course (worth 40 credits), which costs £3,000 and a one-year, part-time Bar Skills Course (worth 80 credits), the fees for which are yet to be confirmed. Successful completion of both (120 credits) is the equivalent to completing the Bar Course and leads to a postgraduate diploma.


Nottingham Trent University: Barristers Training Course

Nottingham Trent offers the six-month full-time Barristers Training Course for £11,750, but to celebrate the launch of the new course, students enrolling for this September will get a £1,000 reduction in tuition fees, taking the cost to £10,750.

After a two-week introductory period, during which students will practise legal research and case analysis, the course will be taught using seven example briefs (four criminal and three civil) from commencement to trial, with students responding to instructions to counsel. It culminates in the award of a Postgraduate Diploma upon successful completion.

It also offers a nine-month Masters (LLM) BTC, with an additional module: Advanced Advocacy, Advice and ADR. The fee is £14,500, minus the £1,000 launch award for 2020 entry.


University of Law: Bar Practice Course

Starting in July or September, the University of Law will run a 10-month Bar Practice Course, costing £13,000 in London or £11,750 in Birmingham and Leeds (also available in Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham for the September start). Students will attend classes typcially timetabled over two or three days per week. A part-time course, starting in September, will be typically timetabled every third weekend with teaching over one or two days.

For an extra £3,000 (London) or £2,700 (elsewhere), students can complete a Master of Laws (LLM) as part of the programme by completing pro bono work experience, extra study modules or a written dissertation.


Cardiff University: Bar Training Course

From September, Cardiff University is offering the traditional one-year, full-time postgraduate diploma course, lasting 10 months and taught over two semesters.

Costing £17,450, it is the most expensive course on offer. For the same price, students who complete an 8,000-word research project or ‘reflective portfolio’ will get a masters qualification.

Both courses offer the opportunity to marshall with a judge and/or undertake a mini-pupillage; along with pro bono projects working for real clients, under supervision.


University of the West of England: Bar Training Course

In Bristol, the University of the West of England is also offering the traditional course, as either a postgraduate diploma or with a masters degree added on. The full-time diploma course, studying the seven compulsory modules takes nine months and costs £13,500.

Students opting for the masters qualification, do the same nine-month course and then have a choice of completing further optional modules or a dissertation, which they can take up to 12 months to complete. It costs £15,500.

Both courses can be completed on a part-time basis over two years, for the same fees.

This is an introductory guide to the courses on offer. Full details, including non UK/EU fees, visa and foreign language requirements, and scholarships on offer are available from the providers. 

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Catherine Baksi

Catherine Baksi @legalhackette worked as criminal and immigration barrister before becoming a journalist. Previously a reporter at the Law Gazette, she is now a freelance legal affairs journalist and writes for The TimesThe Guardian and a range of other legal publications including Counsel. She is the author of the website Legal Hackette’s Brief.