Bar Barometer: Is the Bar changing how it recruits?

The Bar Standards Board/Bar Council Barometer is in its second year and is worth read for legal service anoraks and law students wondering about their career opportunities.   It’s also worth reading by anyone who is involved in legal recruitment, especially those recruiting pupils.

An intriguing fact is that the Bar has been growing slowly but steadily for some time and that growth has slightly accelerated.  It remains to be seen whether this remains the case: with legal aid cuts and the Jackson around the corner, things could get very messy, especially at the the junior end of the Bar.

The reasons for growth may be historic ones (if retirement rates from the profession have slowed relative to entry (say) 10 or more years ago then the profession will grow, for instance.  We know that pupillage numbers have declined and the age profile of the Bar suggests most growth in the 40yr plus categories. This would be consistent with the understanding that this change reflects long standing increases in recruitment relative to retirement.  It would also be consistent with an alternative explanation (voiced to me by several people on Twitter including, in particular, Matt Seys-Llewellyn (@sesssays) who suggested that it may reflect more transfers in to the Bar from Solicitors).  It would be a very interesting shift in approach if the Bar sought to recruit more from experienced practitioners and less from a pool of talented but untried undergraduates/BPTC students.  We do not have the data to know if the supposed trend is real (as Matt suggested to me, the Bar might look at data on age against years call as a proxy).  There’s merit and risk in the Bar taking this approach; it will naturally enough worry about missing out on the brightest talent emerging from the nations law schools and GDL courses.  Conversely, new barristers and their chambers will have a wider grounding and better grasp of their own aptitudes.  Chambers would have to think about how they prise the really good lawyers out of perhaps more stable and prosperous law firms.

The second area of particular interest is around pupillage and tenancies.  The Barometer says 41% of pupils in the last year for which data is available were women, but 52% of tenants were women (2010/11).  This is one year’s data, inconsistent with previous trends, so one should not put too much emphasis on it, but is it possible that Chambers have recruited a weaker cohort of men (who may fit more closely to type) and then discovered that it is the women who perform better?  That would not be a terribly large surprise especially if the women have better qualifications than the men (we have no clue about that from this data but the Law Society’s Annual Statistical Report tends to show strongly better qualifications of women trainees).

There are a number of other interesting statistics worth highlighting.

62% of sole practitioners are men .  It would be interesting to know more about this group.  They appear more likely to be BME practitioners than others in private practice.

There appears to be a dramatic slide in BPTC pass rates from a high of 94% to 66% over three or four years.  It may be this is due to changes made in shifting from the BVC to the BPTC and the increase in pass mark requirement, but the data looks like more of a trend than a step change to me.  There are also some queries about the way this data is reported, so it is not clear when like is being compared with like.  If the trend is real though this raises the question; is the marking of the BPTC getting tougher in response to tougher market conditions?  It’s a concerning idea, but not one without an upside: 85% of pupil barristers get an outstanding or very competent.  Failing could be seen here as a cruel way of being kind.

The decline in pupillage numbers is a pretty steady trend.  There is some volatility but women are more hit by this than than men (making the point about levels of relative qualification even more interesting).  Furthermore, the drop in pupillages also appears to have hit BME students more.  There were 20% BME pupils in 06/07, 13% in 2010/11. Here, as in other areas, there is the potential for missing data (Barristers who will not report their ethnicity, or age or whatever) to have an impact.  Happily, the Bar is getting better at recording this data: an important improvement for the regulator and its members.

A few more nuggets.  Very interestingly, 23% of pupils have no debt.  This is astonishingly high, especially in the current climate.  35% of pupils come from Oxbridge (cf. 5.5% UCL, Kings and LSE).  35% of pupils have a first class degree.  8% of pupils self-id’ed as gay or bi-sexual.  0.2% (3) pupils had third class degrees (the BSB has a special discretion to waive the entry requirements).  It would be interesting to know if they were asked to sit the incoming aptitude test. [*innocent face*]

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