With the Pupillage Portal once again opening it’s doors in April and the publishing of the ‘Bar Barometer‘ from the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board, it is time to address the fundamental question of whether the opportunity of attaining a pupillage is more than just a mere roll of the dice?
Whilst I cannot dispel any myths in respect to attaining the elusive pupillage, I can however draw some conclusions from the available statistical information and hopefully elevate the tone of this debate by seeking to draw a clear understanding and some closure upon the issues which are dogging the profession, whilst hopefully answering the often asked question is there really no ‘bar to the Bar’?
From the outset, I need to point out that the formulation of both my opinions and conclusions are shaped by the various detailed reports from the pupillage statistics for 2009-2010, which have been made freely available from the Bar Standards Board, all of which are available to view online. Importantly, the statistics that are outlined below address pupils and pupillage attained through the Pupillage Portal application process and not those derived through non-OLPAS application route.
How many pupils attain a 1st Six Pupillage through the online Pupillage Portal?
In 2009-10 there were a total of 2,841 applications made to chambers through the Pupillage Portal, for only 460 places of a 1st Six Pupillage. The gender make up was as follows; 1,214 (42.7%) were male and 1,452 (51.1%) were Female. (Note that 175 (6.2%) applicants’ details were missing).
The data provides a very sobering thought for anyone seeking to join the profession, as in real terms the figures presented would suggest that there is only a 16% chance of attaining a 1st Six Pupillage.
So now it is important to identify the pupillage credentials of those 460 pupils, or in other words, from the 2,841 applications what does it take to make it across the finishing line to attain a pupillage.
How much weight does education play in the pupillage selection process?
Given the information provided, there is a very clear division between those pupils who attended a ‘Russell Group University’ and those that did not. Therefore, it is clear from the evidential statistical data that the education of a pupil could be still considered as a principle factor in the pupillage selection process.
For clarity, The Russell Group describes itself as an association of 20 major research-intensive universities, namely: Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Imperial College London, King’s College London, Leeds, Liverpool, LSE, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen’s College Belfast, Sheffield, Southampton, University College London and Warwick.
So how many of the 460 pupils attended a Russell Group University?
From the illustrated data, 109 (23.7%) pupils attended Oxford/Cambridge University, 103 (22.4%) pupils attended a ‘Russell Group University’ (excluding Oxford/Cambridge) and for 53 (11.5%) there was no available data.
Therefore, 46% of pupils who attained pupillage through the online Pupillage Portal attended a ‘Russell Group University’ and specifically 22.4% of that collective attended either Oxford or Cambridge University. This information in my opinion would demonstrate the propensity that the selected educator of a pupil continues to remain as important today as it has ever been.
Excluding the unavailable data of 53 (11.5%) pupils, 195 pupils attended non Russell universities and it is my judgment that these figures send out a very clear message which reinforces the notion that the profession is still very much guided by the university an individual has attended. Students who achieved their academic qualifications from a ‘Russell Group University’ would statistically stand a better chance of obtaining a pupillage. Controversially, the ‘Final Report of the Working Party on Entry to the Bar’ led by Lord Neuberger in 2007 recommended that the Bar should try to cast its net more widely across the university spectrum. Evidently whilst the number of pupils from a non ‘Russell Group University’ continue unabated, the profession still has a long way to go to demonstrate a level playing field.
Does my qualifying degree play an important part on the path to pupillage?
As identified, attaining a degree from a ‘Russell Group University’ would certainly support the higher number of individuals who have attained pupillage, but crucially when the statistics are drilled down attaining either a First or Upper Second degree are prerequisite in becoming a pupil, which could present some uncomfortable reading for the 361 (23%) full time students who embarked upon the BPTC in 2009 -2010 who held a Lower Second Class degree.
Pupil Barristers by degree classification 2009/2010
First = 108 (23.5%)
Upper Second = 243 (52.8%)
Lower Second = 39 (8.5)
Third = 2 (0.4%)
Other = 9 (2%)
Missing data accounts for 55 (12.8%)
So does age really play its part in obtaining a pupillage and should I consider the Bar as a change of career especially if I have a family?
Another controversial issue that brings the profession into question is whether there is a ‘bar to the Bar’ with regards to age and whether age is a significant factor of consideration for pupillage. From the statistics driven from the Pupillage Survey 2009 – 2010 the ages of the 460 pupils were made up as follows:
137 pupils aged under 25 (30%)
216 pupils aged 25-34 (47%)
35 pupils aged 35-44 (7.6%)
14 pupils aged 45-54 (3%)
4 pupils aged 55-64 (0.9%)
1 of pupil aged 65+ (0.2%)
(Note 53 equalling 11.5% of pupils failed to provide a response)
From the figures presented, it is my considered opinion that as 11% of the 460 pupils were over 35, it would suggest that the Bar is not a profession that would appear to fully embrace an easy transition as a choice for those embarking upon a second career. Interestingly it is recognised within industry that individuals who have reached their 30’s – 40’s are the stereotypical age group that seek to engage upon second career. Another factor which should also be taken into consideration, are those individuals who often embark upon continuing a career or embrace a career change after raising children. The latest figures identify that only 41 (9%) of pupils said that they had children, whilst 360 (78%) of pupils stated that they did not, (note 13% did not disclose any information).
The roll of the dice
Whilst the information presented here is just a snapshot of recent research, it is by no means exhaustive, however it does in my candid opinion draw some soul searching questions for any individual thinking of embarking upon a career at the Bar. Key issues such as education, age, and realistic opportunities to join a set of chambers are incredibly relevant and are all matters of which an individual should seek to reach a considered opinion upon. Ultimately, the statistical figures speak for themselves and despite the measures by the Bar to engage upon the 57 recommendations for the promotion of social mobility at the Bar as outlined by Lord Neuberger, individuals who enter the path to pupillage will have to recognise both the rewards and shortcomings of this very much revered legal profession.
Stephen (AKA) Justin Time.