13 December 2018

Future Bar Training

We are working to change the training and qualification process to become a barrister. Subject to Legal Services Board approval, the new Bar training rules will come into force in early 2019, although some of the changes within the new rules will take longer than this to implement.

Please keep an eye on this section of our website for up-to-date information about the changes and their precise timing.

Future Bar Training (FBT) is our programme of regulatory change, focussing on
education and training for the Bar. The aims of the FBT programme are to make the qualification process for becoming a barrister more flexible, accessible and affordable whilst at the same time maintaining standards of entry.

Below, you can read a summary of all the changes to the training and qualification for barristers that, subject to Legal Services Board (LSB) approval of the new rules, will start to come into effect from 2019.

We have also updated relevant pages throughout the Qualifying as a Barrister section of our website to indicate in appropriate places what is changing as result of FBT. We will update these webpages at regular intervals during 2018, 2019 and beyond as and when all the changes come into effect. These updates will include, where necessary, more detail about the new training and qualification system.

If you would like to read a copy of the actual new training rules themselves, these were published in draft form in July 2018 when we consulted on the drafting of the new rules. Subject to LSB approval, a final version of the new rules will be introduced into the BSB Handbook in early 2019.

Transitional arrangements

If you have already started the Vocational Component (BPTC) or Work-based Learning Component (pupillage) of Bar training you do not need to be concerned about any changes to the process that may start in the future as a result of the FBT programme. Transitional arrangements will be put in place to enable those currently in training or planning to start in 2019-20 to complete their training under the existing arrangements.

 Future Bar Training (FBT) - What's changing?

Since 2014, the BSB has been undertaking a thorough review of the way in which barristers train and qualify in England and Wales. We have consulted extensively with the profession, students, education providers and other interested parties about those parts of the current process that work well and those that work less well. We have done this to develop an accessible, more affordable and flexible training system that can continue to attract the brightest talent to the Bar and develop it in such a way as to sustain the high standards rightly expected of barristers.

Our review has now reached the stage where, subject to the Board's review of responses to our last consultation on our proposed rules and final Legal Services Board approval, new training rules will come into effect early next year. Here, we summarise what is changing and, equally importantly, what is not changing. The new rules are an evolution, not a revolution.                                                                                  

The importance of the Professional Statement

One of the changes that we introduced early on during our Future Bar Training (FBT) programme was to publish the Professional Statement for Barristers incorporating the Threshold Standard and Competences.  This describes the knowledge, skills and attributes that all barristers should have on "day one" of practice.  

The Professional Statement is the bedrock on which our subsequent FBT reforms are built. The various components of Bar training are designed to ensure that anyone who starts practising has proved that they meet the standards outlined in the Professional Statement and have therefore demonstrated they have all the necessary competences to be a barrister.

The Statement helps prospective barristers understand the standards to which they must aspire and helps training providers to understand what the ultimate outcomes of Bar training must be.

Maintaining the core components of Bar training but making it more flexible

The knowledge and skills acquired by barristers during their training are essential but what is less certain is the best order for these skills and knowledge to be acquired. This is why our new rules permit what will be known as Authorised Education and Training Organisations (AETOs) to offer the three essential components of Bar training in a variety of different ways - "training pathways" as we call them. (The term AETO will include what are currently known as BPTC providers as well as Pupillage Training Organisations.)

The three components of education and training for the Bar will remain:

  • academic learning (gaining knowledge of the Law itself);
  • vocational learning (acquiring barristers' core skills such as advocacy); and
  • pupillage or work-based learning (learning to be a barrister "on the job").

Within the new system, however, the three components may be attained by means of four approved training pathways:

  • Three-step pathway: academic, followed by vocational, followed by pupillage/work-based component (This is the same as the current mandatory pathway.);
  • Four-step pathway: academic component, followed by vocational component in two parts, followed by pupillage or work-based component;
  • Integrated academic and vocational pathway - combined academic and vocational components followed by pupillage or work-based component; and
  • Apprenticeship pathway: combined academic, vocational and pupillage or work-based components.

As to which pathways will be available to students from 2019, this depends on what applications we receive from prospective AETOs. The new rules permit us to authorise delivery of any one of these pathways. We have issued much more detail about the pathways and the criteria under which we will authorise new courses in a Authorisation Framework. Any applications for authorisation under the Authorisation Framework must meet our criteria of accessibility, affordability, flexibility and sustaining high standards.

The Bar to remain a graduate profession

Completing a law degree (or degree in another subject followed by a Graduate Diploma in Law(GDL)) which covers the seven legal foundation subjects and legal research skills will still be necessary to become a barrister in England and Wales.

What is changing is the concept of having "Qualifying Law Degrees (QLDs)" which are jointly approved by the BSB and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). This is because the BSB and the SRA are taking divergent approaches to qualification as solicitors and barristers and the previously agreed "Joint Statement" will be ceasing. If you want to become a barrister, as long as your law degree that is compliant with the QAA subject benchmark statement for Law, your law degree or GDL course covers the seven legal foundation subjects and the skills associated with graduate legal work such as legal research then this will be sufficient to meet the requirements of the Academic Component of becoming a barrister.

There is more information about this change - and what it means if you want to become either a barrister or a solicitor - available in our Common Protocol on the Academic Component of training, which we have published jointly with the SRA.

Confirming the Inns' role in education and training

Our October 2017 consultation considered the role of the Inns of Court in the education and training of barristers. After considering the responses we received to the consultation, the Board made the following policy decisions which will be reflected in the new training rules and their supporting documentation. The BSB will:

  • continue to oversee students intending to become barristers in England and Wales, but with strengthened oversight arrangements between the Inns and the BSB;
  • continue to require student membership of an Inn;
  • require AETOs to check prior educational attainment;
  • continue to require the Inns of Court to administer the "Fit and Proper Person" test and other checks made before somebody is permitted to be Called to the Bar;
  • require a Standard Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check to take place;
  • review the wording of the declaration made when students are Called to the Bar, and its associated guidance;
  • continue to delegate matters of student conduct to the Inns (subject to reviewing roles and responsibilities and agreeing appropriate BSB oversight of the process); and
  • continue to require a minimum number of professional development events provided by the Inns which are known as "qualifying sessions".

The issue of whether to retain "qualifying sessions" as a mandatory part of Bar training generated a lot of interest. When deciding to retain them, we concluded that qualifying sessions should not only be aligned to the Professional Statement but should also focus on public interest matters such as the advocate's role in the rule of law and integrating trainees into a "community of practice" through interactions with more experienced practitioners and the judiciary. The Inns are uniquely placed to provide this important function and we have been considering in more detail with the Inns how many sessions would be appropriate and the detail of the oversight arrangements to be put in place. We also believe that more of this activity should be available to prospective barristers outside London, through coherent collaboration between the Inns, circuits and regional training providers.

You can read more about joining an Inn of Court online.

Changes to pupillage

There will be a number of changes in relation to the rules governing pupillage. As interesting as what IS changing, is what is not changing!

  • Pupillage will continue to be an essential element of training for the Bar, so all prospective barristers will continue to have to complete this component of training successfully in order to be authorised to practise.
  • Whilst we expect that the majority of barristers will continue to obtain this component of learning via a traditional "pupillage", our new rules introduce greater flexibility with a view to encouraging a wider range of AETOs to offer this component. This "work-based learning" might, for example, be offered by employers offering training to future members of the employed Bar.   
  • Any chambers or other organisation already approved by the BSB to provide pupillage, or new organisations wishing to do so, must apply to become an AETO if it wishes to continue or to start providing pupillage or work-based learning. We will provide guidance to help you through the authorisation process. We have already been in contact with all chambers, and organisations that currently provide pupillage, to start this process. There will not be a renewals process. AETOs providing pupillage will be subject to risk-based supervision by the BSB.
  • Any organisation providing a pupillage can maintain the system of having pupil supervisors supervise only one pupil at a time.
  • The new rules, when they come into effect in 2019, will permit supervisors at the self-employed Bar to supervise up to two pupils (one practising and one non-practising). Greater flexibility will be permitted in the structure of pupillage supervision for the employed Bar, subject to approval through the authorisation process.
  • The normal duration of pupillage (and other forms of work-based learning) will continue to be twelve months (or part time-equivalent) although the new rules do permit it to be longer exceptionally - up to no more than 24 months - as long as this is authorised by the BSB.
  • The normal duration of the non-practising period of pupillage (or work-based learning) will stay the same - six months for full-time 12-month pupillages. A provisional practising certificate can be applied for after this time. An AETO may exceptionally apply for a variation to this norm as part of the authorisation process.The minimum funding award for pupillage or work-based learning is to be set in line with the Living Wage Foundation's recommendations. For example, if the award were to have been made on this basis in 2018, it would have increased from £12,000pa to £17,212.50pa in London, and £14,765.63pa outside London. All pupillages starting from 1 September 2019 onwards will be subject to the Living Wage Foundation minimum funding level.
  • AETOs will be required to assess pupils in line with the threshold standard and competences specified in the Professional Statement. This is a change to the current requirement to complete the pupillage checklists. We are currently testing this with a group of early adopters and developing guidance before rolling it out as a requirement for all AETOs in autumn 2019.  The current rule granting automatic exemption from the pupillage funding rules for transferring lawyers will be removed, but AETOs may continue to apply for exemption in individual cases;
  • Refresher training will be mandatory for all pupil supervisors, and will be required every five years, or after three years for someone who has not supervised any pupils in the intervening time. The BSB will prescribe outcomes for pupil supervisor training. More information will be published in due course.
  • The need to complete courses in Forensic Accountancy and Practice Management during pupillage or another form of work-based learning, will cease. A new mandatory Negotiation Skills course will be introduced and will need to be completed during this component of training. The compulsory advocacy course will remain and will still need to be completed during the non-practising period of pupillage or work-based learning. Pupils who have trained under one of the new pathways, (ie those how have only taken an AETO set Ethics exam during the vocational component), will need to take and pass the centralised Ethics exam during pupillage.

You can read more about the current requirements for pupillage and the Work-based Learning Component online.

A new curriculum and assessment strategy

Aligned to the Professional Statement, we have also undertaken a complete review of the curriculum and assessments for prospective barristers. The aim of this was to ensure that all newly qualified barristers are enabled to meet the requirements of the Professional Statement by their first day of practice.

The curriculum and assessments review has led to a number of important changes. These include:

  • splitting the assessment of Professional Ethics between an assessment set by AETOs during the vocational component and a BSB centrally set and marked examination during pupillage or work-based learning, and making the centralised assessment of Professional Ethics an open book exam, thus better reflecting the real-life environment in which ethical questions are dealt with in practice; 
  • splitting the way that Civil Litigation is assessed into two papers - a closed book "Civil Litigation and Evidence" exam and an open book "Civil Dispute Resolution" exam;
  • removing the current "Very Competent" and "Outstanding" grade boundaries from centralised assessments and thus focusing the outcome of a student's performance on whether they have achieved the minimum threshold standard required; and
  • removing the need to complete courses in Forensic Accountancy and Practice Management during pupillage or another form of work-based learning, and introducing a new mandatory Negotiation Skills course to be completed during this component of training; retaining the compulsory advocacy course during pupillage or work-based learning.

A new Curriculum and Assessments strategy will be published soon as will the precise dates when these changes will be implemented.

Taken as a package, we believe our changes to the training and qualification system strike just the right balance between reforming what needs to change and maintaining the proven, long-standing methods for training barristers. We think this more flexible, less prescriptive approach will stand the Bar in good stead for many years to come.

We believe the reforms will help to make Bar training more accessible, more flexible, and more affordable for prospective barristers while sustaining the high standards of entry expected within the profession. They will give the public confidence that newly qualified barristers have been rigorously trained and assessed and that they will provide them with a high standard of service.

If you have any questions about any aspects of FBT and what they mean for your plans to train and qualify as a barrister, please contact us at futurebartraining@barstandardsboard.org.uk