The downward trend in the number of bar pupillages is continuing, reflecting a fall in the availability of work, statistics released by the bar’s regulator suggest. 

The annual number of ‘first-six’ (six-monthly, non-practising) places offered in 2013-14 fell to 397, an 8% drop since 2009/10, according the Bar Standards Board. 

The number of places was down by 23% from 2012/13, but the BSB said the spike in the number of pupillages in 2012/13 reflected a change in rules which allowed pupillage training organisations to recruit earlier than previously. 

A Bar Council spokesman said: ‘It is no surprise that there are fewer pupillages. Where there is less work available, especially as we are seeing in the publicly funded bar, there is a greater competition for work.

‘It would seem chambers and other pupillage providers are seeing that there is less work to hand out and are acting accordingly.’

But although the bar welcomed the fact that chambers were responding to the drop in work, it warned that the lower pupillage numbers could impact on the diversity of the future of the bar.

‘Sadly, the shrinking pupillage pool impacts disproportionately on those from less advantaged backgrounds, who cannot afford the risk,’ the spokesman said.

The statistics also showed that the number of students starting the bar professional training course fell 10% from the previous year, while the number applying for the course remained steady.

There were 2,941 students applying to start the Bar Professional Training Course in 2013/14, with 1,565 commencing the course. This was compared to 3,026 applications and 1,743 starting the previous year.

Overall the number of barristers remained roughly the same at 15,716 – up by 1% from the previous year. Of these 81% were self-employed. 

The retention of female barristers within the profession remains a problem – the number of male and female barristers called to the bar were evenly split, but female barristers only make up 35% of the overall practising profession. Women also account for just 13% of the 1,626 silks at the self-employed bar.

The data also showed that 11% of practising barristers were from a black, minority or ethnic background, unchanged from the previous year.