The chairman of the bar has called for legislation to cap the number of places on legal professional training courses, amid growing concern over debt-laden students unable to secure jobs.
Nicholas Lavender QC said he would also like the bar to adopt solicitors’ recruitment practices, so that prospective barristers secure a pupillage while at university, before committing to the expense of the bar professional training course (BPTC).
In an interview with the Gazette, Lavender (pictured) said: ‘I have no doubt the bar, and I suspect solicitors, would like to be able to limit the number of students taking the professional training courses. We are all very concerned that so many take the courses but are unable to find work in the profession.’
But, he said, the professions were powerless to act on the issue. ‘It may be something that government could consider doing as part of its review of legal regulation or following the report of Sir Bill Jeffrey on the provision of advocacy,’ he suggested.
‘Government could come to a view that it would make sense to legislate to place a limit on the numbers. I’d want them to do that.’
Lavender would not comment on whether colleges behave irresponsibly by permitting so many to take the courses, but said: ‘Law schools have a responsibility to their potential students to make sure they know what their prospects are when they commit to the courses.’
A champion of social mobility, Lavender is keen to bring forward the point at which prospective barristers apply for pupillage. Most chambers recruit students during their BPTC year, which he says is too late.
‘Solicitors recruit law students at the end of their second year at university. Similarly pupillages should be awarded in the last academic year, before students commit to the expensive BPTC,’ said Lavender.
The bar, he said, has been ‘singled out’ for public spending cuts not faced by others in the public sector. Over the past six years, he claimed, criminal barristers’ fees have fallen by 31% (37% in real terms) – and now they face further cuts of 30%.
Lavender said this month’s protest action against the cuts had generated good publicity and showed the strength of feeling in the profession. ‘It is a matter of regret that the government has so alienated the legal profession that it felt obliged to take action,’ he added. He remains ‘hopeful’ that the government will listen and change its proposals.