A bar training college set up by the Inns of Court has created a stringent application process to stop unsuitable students wasting money on fees – but acknowledges the possibility of a two-tier training system if other providers ‘continue to take students with 2.2s and questionable A levels’.
The Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA), which opens in September, requires students to have at least a 2.1 in undergraduate law or a commendation or distinction in the law conversion course. Candidates must also fill in a lengthy application form and attend a selection event. ICCA seeks to take on just 100 students this year.
Lynda Gibbs, dean of ICCA, said the bar course is ‘one of the most unsuccessful post graduate courses there is in terms of failure rate’ and ‘there are some people who go on bar courses having paid up to £20,000 right at the beginning who would never have stood a chance at passing’. Around 1,700 people enrol on the bar course each year and those who do pass the course often struggle to find pupillage. According to Gibbs, there are roughly 450 pupillages available each year for 2,500 applicants.
Asked whether ICCA’s selectivity could create a two-tier training system, Gibbs said: ‘I genuinely hope that doesn’t happen. We can’t speak for the other providers. But if they continue to take students with 2.2s and questionable A levels we know that statistically they are less likely to secure a pupillage. While students who’ve been on a course that’s already been selective in terms of their academic history are going to be in a better position. But the other providers recruit similarly high achieving students. They won’t all come here.’
Chris Kessling, head of recruitment and admissions at ICCA, added: ‘As soon as you’re selective it’s very easy to be accused of being elitist. Those words have become synonymous which is unfair.’
Gibbs stressed that ICCA is trying to recruit a diverse pool of talent and denied ‘cherry picking’ candidates. The college has employed an equality and diversity consultant to review its application process and conducted ‘blind shortlisting’ in which the names, universities, schools, ages and ethnicities of candidates are hidden.
Kessling said: ‘We’re not in the business of choosing a particular university. We’re in business of spreading message far and wide… We didn’t want people who just had daddy or mummy as lawyers.’
The University of Law said it would not seek to reduce the number of students taking its own bar training course. Andrea Nollent, vice-chancellor and CEO of ULaw, said: ‘Our experience is that students are committed to becoming barristers for a variety of reasons. Not all go on to want to secure pupillage. Many work in house; many of our international students will be doing it for very different reasons.’