The chance of securing a pupillage through the main portal system shrank to less than 7% this year, with ethnic minority applicants even less likely to receive an offer than their white peers. Candidates with parents who are barristers or judges remained at a significant advantage.
According to Bar Council figures seen by the Gazette, the number of people recruited through the ‘pupillage gateway’ – a centralised system which accounts for around half of all offers – fell to 135 this year, down from 216 in 2019. Meanwhile the chances of getting an offer fell from 9.4% to 6.6% year-on-year.
White applicants were more likely to receive an offer than Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates. Bar Council research showed that 3.3% of BAME applicants secured a pupillage this year, compared with 8.7% of white applicants. In 2019, 5.8% of BAME graduates got offers versus 11.8% white ones.
The likelihood of securing an offer varied significantly by practice area. Chancery proved particularly competitive, with a success rate of just 2.9% for white applicants and 1.4% for BAME applicants.
Of the 64 applicants who disclosed they has a barrister/judge parent, 11 secured pupillage, a success rate of around 17%. According to Bar Council data, this is significantly higher than any other occupation group listed.
The Gazette understands the Bar Council recently created a working group on race in reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. However, there are concerns that more needs to be done to improve diversity at entry level.
Despite a shrinking pool of pupillages, in June the Bar Standards Board reported a record number of students starting bar school.
According to a BSB report, 1,753 students enrolled on the Bar Professional Training Course in 2018-19, an increase of 134 on the previous year and the highest number of enrolments since the course began in 2011.
Just 43% of UK/EU graduates who took the course between 2014 and 2018 had started pupillage by March 2019.