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Bar courses: a student’s guide to new barrister training 2020-21

updated on 15 September 2020

The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) has been replaced by a range of new Bar courses. To become a barrister, students must pass a Bar course approved by the Bar Standards Board. All approved Bar courses lead to the same destination – being ‘called to the Bar’, which enables you to apply for a pupillage. Here is LawCareers.Net’s guide to Bar courses.

The new range of Bar courses replaced the BPTC as of September 2020. Bar courses are now provided in one or two parts, and the courses provided by different universities also vary in fees, contact time with tutors, materials provided and learning styles catered for. 

Bar courses are titled differently depending where you study (eg, 'ICCA Bar Course’, ‘Bar Practice Course’, ‘Barrister Training Course’ and more). But all Bar courses are assessed the same and lead to the same postgraduate diploma needed to be ‘called to the Bar.’ Students must pass their Bar course to be eligble for a pupillage, the final stage of qualifying before being able to practise as a barrister. 

What are the requirements to qualify as a barrister?

Qualifying as a barrister is a three-stage process. You must complete:

  • The academic stage – an undergraduate law degree or any non-law degree plus a graduate law conversion. The minimum undergraduate requirement is a 2.2, but you are realistically likely to need at least a 2.1.
  • The vocational stage – a postgraduate Bar course (see more about the new Bar courses below).
  • The pupillage/work-based learning stage – a year practising as a pupil barrister at a barristers’ chambers or other organisation, with the first six months spent shadowing a senior barrister and the second six working on cases as a junior.

In addition, prospective barristers must join one of the four Inns of Court and complete 12 ‘qualifying sessions’ run by their Inn – this takes place during the academic and vocational stages. The Inns also administer the ‘fit and proper person’ test that prospective barristers must pass when they are called to the Bar after graduating the Bar course.

The vocational stage of training can be completed in the following ways:

  • Three-step route: similar to the old route. The academic stage (a law degree on its own or a non-law degree plus law conversion) is followed by the vocational stage (a postgraduate Bar course). The Bar course is followed by the third and final step - pupillage.
  • Four-step route: the academic stage, followed by the Bar course divided into two parts, followed by pupillage. One part of the Bar Course may be delivered through self-study (ie, no tutor contact). In this route, students do not pay fees for part 2 of the course until they have successfully completed part 1. With part 2 the much more expensive part of the course, this means that students who fail part 1 are not locked into paying the full fees (as they were on the BPTC). Students can also take a break after completing part 1 and return to part 2 at a later date.
  • Integrated route: combined academic and vocational stages (where the Bar course is integrated into an undergraduate law degree) followed by pupillage.
  • Apprenticeship route: academic, vocational and pupillage components combined in an apprenticeship. However, while plans for barrister apprenticeships have been discussed, this route is not yet available.    

Part-time study options are available on the three-step and four-step routes.

The Bar course can be combined with a master’s (LLM) qualification, which makes it eligible for postgraduate student loan funding.

Students will have up to two attempts to pass each of the new Bar course assessments.

What are the transitional arrangements for BPTC students?

BPTC students will be able to continue on the current route and have until 2022 to complete the course.  

For students who started the BPTC in September 2019, as well as those who started the course before 2019 but have not yet graduated, the BSB provides the following information on the timings of assessments:

Civil litigation assessments

  • Spring 2021
  • Summer 2021
  • Spring 2022

Professional ethics assessments

  • Spring 2020
  • Summer 2020
  • Spring 2021

Assessments set by course providers

  • Summer 2021
  • Spring 2022

BPTC students with assessments still to pass after Spring 2022 will be affected in several ways, including that they will need to take the new centralised assessments for civil litigation and professional ethics. Full details are on the BSB website.

Bar courses

Here are the institutions and Bar courses that enable students to complete the vocational stage of barrister training. To secure a place on one of the below courses, students must apply directly to the particular university or law school.

University/law school

Name of Bar course

Locations

Routes offered

Annual start dates

Study format

Fees

BPP University Law School

 

Barrister Training Course (BTC)

Birmingham

Bristol

Leeds

London

Manchester

Course in 1 part

Course in 2 parts

Course with LLM

September

 

 

 

Full time

Part time

Course in 1 part (£12,620 outside London or £13,870 in London)              

Course in 2 parts (£14,000 outside London, £15,000 in London)

Part 1 only (£4,000 outside London, £4,500 in London)

Part 2 only (£10,000 outside London, £10,500 in London)        

Course with LLM (£13,630 outside London, £15,130 in London)                  

City University London

 

Bar Vocational Studies (BVC)

London

Course in 1 part

Course in 2 parts

September (course in 1 part)

July/March (course in 2 parts – Part 1)

September/ February (course in 2 parts – Part 2)

Full time

Part time

Online learning (Part 1 of 2-part course)

Course in 1 part (£16,500)

Course in 1 part with specialism (£18,500)

Course in 1 part with LLM (£19,500)              

Course in 2 parts (£14,000)

Part 1 online only (£2,500)

Part 2 only (£11,500)

The Inns of Court College of Advocacy

ICCA Bar Course

London

Course in 2 parts

August/January (Part 1),

September/ March (Part 2)

 

Full time

Online learning (Part 1)

Course in 2 parts (total £13,095)

Part 1 only (self learning including textbooks and BSB intake fee - £1,575)   

Part 2 only (including BSB intake fee - £11,520)

Northumbria University

 

Bar Course Postgraduate Diploma

Newcastle

Course in 1 part

Course in 2 parts

Integrated MLaw (Course with undergraduate law degree and LLM)

September

Full time

Part time

Course in 1 part (£12,000)

Part 1 only (£3,000)      

Part 2 only (£9,000)     

LLM (£12,000                

MLaw (£9,250 a year undergraduate fees)          

Nottingham Trent University

Barristers Training Course (BTC)

Nottingham

Course in 1 part

Course in 1 part with LLM

September 2020/March 2021 (Course in 1 part)

September 2020 (Course with LLM)

Full time

Course in 1 part (£11,750)

Course with LLM (£14,500)

The University of Law

Bar Practice Course (BPC)

Birmingham

Bristol

Leeds

London Bloomsbury

Manchester

Nottingham

Course in 1 part

 

Course in 1 part with LLM

July/September

Full time

 

Part time

Course in 1 part (£11,750 outside London, £13,000 in London)

Course in 1 part with LLM (£14,450 outside London, £16,000 in London)

 

The BSB has said that the following other universities have also expressed intentions to develop Bar courses under the new system:

  • Cardiff University;
  • Manchester Metropolitan University; and
  • University of the West of England.

LawCareers.Net will bring you details of these universities’ courses as and when they emerge.

Case studies: the Inns of Court College of Advocacy and The University of Law

To give students a better sense of the different learning options now on offer, LawCareers.Net spoke to Chris Kessling, head of recruitment and admissions at the Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA), and Jaqueline Cheltenham, director of the Bar Practice Course (BPC) at The University of Law, about what their courses involve in more detail.

ICCA

The ICCA Bar Course is delivered in two parts, with part 1 comprised of online learning, focusing on the knowledge subjects of criminal and civil litigation, evidence and sentencing. Part 2 is taught face-to-face on site at the ICCA and focuses on the practical skills of advocacy, conference skills, legal research, opinion writing and drafting.

Students do not pay the fees for part 2 until they have completed part 1 of the course, eliminating much of the financial risk involved under the old BPTC route.

Chris explains how the online-learning first part of the course works: “Part one has a guided pathway of 12-16 weeks, but this timeframe is not compulsory and it is perfectly acceptable to take longer, which is a necessity for students who may have work or caring commitments.

“We do not provide a tutor for academic support during part one, although students will have access to a tutor for pastoral support,” he continues. “It is important to be clear about this because if a student feels strongly that they need someone to go and see about their studies on a daily or weekly basis, this would not be the course for them. One of the questions that we ask students – which you can also see on our website – is why they think the ICCA Bar Course is for them. We recognise that there are other courses out there that will suit some students better than our own course.”

As Chris explains, the ICCA has invested heavily in ensuring the quality of the online learning in part 1: “One of the most important things a tutor can do when teaching the kind of black-letter law subjects in part one is to bring them to life by showing what seemingly dry procedural law would look like in real-life situations as a practising barrister. We have thought carefully about how to provide this beneficial and interesting context without the presence of tutors.

“To give an example of our approach, some months ago we invited a variety of barristers from different sets of chambers to set out exactly how they would approach making an application involving the relevant procedural law. This was then turned into a series of scripts and professional actors were hired to perform them in Blackfriars Crown Court. It was filmed so that students are able to gain a 360-degree view of the court proceedings, including from the barrister’s, judge’s and jury’s perspectives. The best online learning is quality content that is engaging. Our course aims to motivate you and drive you forward so that you can’t wait to go into court yourself.

“Students are provided with a vast question bank of multiple-choice questions which reflect the nature of the multiple-choice assessments. The guided pathway tests students at every stage so that by the end of the course, every student should be able to self-certify that they are ready to take the centralised assessment.”

The University of Law

The University of Law’s BPC is taught continuously in one part and involves face-to-face learning with tutors throughout the course. Like all new Bar courses, the BPC comprises the knowledge subjects of criminal and civil litigation, evidence and sentencing, and the skills subjects of advocacy, conference skills, legal research, opinion writing and drafting.

Students also have the option to combine the BPC with an additional master’s qualification, which can be gained in the following three ways:

  • Pro bono pathway: Students carry out pro bono work throughout the year, providing free legal advice to members of the public under the supervision of a supervising solicitor. At the end of the year, the students writes a critical reflective review of their pro bono experiences.
  • Dissertation pathway: Students complete a dissertation in addition to their BPC studies.  
  • Optional modules pathway: A range of optional assessed modules involving contact time with tutors.

The BPC also provides the option to study knowledge and practical skills separately or together. “There are two different ways that students can undertake the course full time,” explains Jaqueline. “The first is to start the course in July and sit centralised assessments in December. In this option, students study civil and criminal litigation from July to mid-September, then practical skills and advocacy are brought in from September onwards once they have covered the basics principles of litigation. Revision sessions will then run concurrently with skills training so that students are fully prepared for the assessments.

“The second option for full-time students is to start in September, following the more traditional academic timetable. Students who take this route study litigation, advocacy and practical skills simultaneously throughout the course, and sit the centralised assessments in April.”

Jaqueline continues: “We believe in teaching the practical skills alongside the litigation, so that even in our July-start course, students will have benefited from exposure to advocacy and other skills before they sit any assessment. This puts the litigation in context and makes it much easier to understand.”

Supplementary online learning is another important resource for students: “The virtual learning environment is a valuable resource that sets out required learning and reading in an engaging way. It also includes short videos and demonstrations. We provide an app, ‘Synap’, which enables students to practise the kind of multiple-choice questions that they will face in the litigation assessments. It also has a ‘space learning’ feature which tests students on the sorts of questions that they have failed previously to help them improve.”

More flexibility, more to think about

Current Bar courses offer one immediate positive for students – generally lower fees than the old BPTC system and the vital option to divide the Bar course into two parts, which eliminates some of the financial risk of pursuing this highly competitive career path.

But with a much wider range of choices in terms of course structure and fees, prospective barristers will need to spend time familiarising themselves with all the options to make an informed decision about where they study.

Josh Richman is the senior editorial manager at LawCareers.Net.