The Legal Services Board has waded into a row about chambers that do not respond to unsuccessful pupillage applicants, warning that such behaviour could undermine diversity and inclusion.
In a letter to the Bar Standards Board, the LSB said that failing to reply to pupillage candidates could ‘go beyond immediate concerns of courtesy and integrity’.
‘It is hard to avoid drawing the conclusion that in a process where many candidates do not even receive a reply, let alone feedback on their application, the power of open and transparent recruitment in achieving a more diverse and inclusive profession must surely be undermined,’ Matthew Hill, chief executive, said.
Earlier this year, law student Noah Gifford said it should be a regulatory requirement for chambers to notify applicants. He told the Bar Standards Board that ‘replying by silence’ damages the integrity of the profession. ‘An easy and proportionate solution to this issue would be to send a simple generic email to all unsuccessful candidates, which, while never pleasant to receive, will always be appreciated,’ Gifford said.
Responding to the LSB, the bar regulator said it ‘would not have been proportionate to move immediately to further regulation in response to Mr Gifford’s letter’. However, it said it is looking at regulation as part of its next three-year strategy and bar training ‘will feed into those discussions’. The Bar Council is also updating its recruitment guidance, it said.
The LSB asked that ‘replying by silence’ become a specific area of focus for future performance assessments.
According to figures published by the Bar Council the number of graduates competing for pupillages rose by over 1,000 this year following last year’s disrupted recruitment season. Some 3,301 candidates applied for just 246 positions via the pupillage gateway in 2021, compared with 2,142 applicants competing for 237 pupillages last year. The figures do not include applications submitted outside the pupillage gateway.
The Law Society's Junior Lawyers Division said the practice of not responding to training contract applicants - particularly those who have been unsuccessful at the first stage – is also ‘very much prevalent’.
‘The JLD does consider that responding to unsuccessful applicants is a matter of good practice and courtesy which all law firms should adopt to acknowledge the effort that goes in to making applications,’ the group said.