Chambers are ‘very likely’ to stop recruiting pupils in the coming years because of financial pressure, the bar regulator has warned, after reporting record numbers of bar school students enrolling last month.

Mark Neale, director general of the Bar Standards Board, said ‘many chambers are still uncertain about their intentions’ but it is ‘very likely that some pupillages will be withdrawn’ in the years ahead.

‘There is no risk to current pupils – current pupils are in some cases having their pupillages extended in order to get the full range of experience to meet the professional statement…The question is what the knock-on effects will be, and whether the financial pressures will cause chambers to withdraw pupillages from 2021 and subsequent years,’ Neale told a BSB meeting.

The regulator is considering relaxing the mandatory recruitment timetable it introduced in November, which requires chambers to recruit in line with the pupillage gateway schedule. 

‘We are not minded to move away from current mandating of the pupillage timetable which is important for diversity reasons, but we may want to allow for more flexibility,’ Neale said. ‘For example, to allow chambers to make offers after the deadline - though not before - within fixed window, so that where chambers are in two minds at the moment they can, if their position clarifies, continue to recruit after the existing deadline.’

In June, the BSB announced that a record number of students enrolled on the Bar Professional Training Course course in 2018.

According its annual report, 1,753 students enrolled at bar school in 2018-19, an increase of 134 on the previous year and the highest number of enrolments since the course began in 2011.

Meanwhile, 2,142 people applied for 206 pupillages through the Bar Council’s portal system this year. Since lockdown, 19 pupillages have been withdrawn and a further 16 decisions have been deferred until later in 2020.