2 May 2024

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today published two reports on pupillage recruitment at the Bar. The objective of this research was to strengthen our evidence base around pupillage recruitment to inform the development of the BSB’s policies, including our forthcoming consultation on the Equality Rules.

The BSB’s annual statistical reports on Bar training have for a number of years highlighted differential rates of obtaining pupillage, particularly by ethnicity. In order to expand our evidence on recruitment to pupillage, the BSB undertook research into two elements - a quantitative analysis focused on recruitment outcomes, and a qualitative piece of research looking at the experiences of organisations who have adopted particular approaches to recruitment. The quantitative analysis was undertaken internally by the BSB using existing data on pupillage providers and pupils, while the qualitative research was undertaken by Community Research for the BSB based on interviews with pupillage providers and other stakeholders. We have also produced a summary of the findings of both reports.

As has been noted in the BSB’s annual Diversity at the Bar reports, and again shown by the analysis in the quantitative report, the profile of pupils has changed over time. For example, there have been increases in the proportions of female pupils, pupils from minoritised ethnic backgrounds (particularly from Asian/Asian British backgrounds) and an increase in the proportion of pupils who attended state schools. The analysis also reveals that the profile of pupils often differs markedly dependent on the type of organisation, in particular the practice area of the pupillage provider.

The qualitative research highlighted some of the challenges associated with encouraging greater diversity. Chambers are typically recruiting small numbers of people each year and the people responsible for recruitment tend to have limited time to dedicate to the process. The impact of any changes made to their recruitment processes were also hard to measure as most providers only recruited a small number of pupils each year, so changes were inevitably slow to make an impact. There was considerable variety in terms of the approaches adopted to recruitment across providers - while there were some evident similarities (in particular around the selection criteria employed), no two processes described by pupillage providers were exactly the same. It was evident that much effort is expended by pupillage providers to recruit for more diverse outcomes – both in collaboration with other organisations and individually.

Despite the commitment of many chambers to promote diverse recruitment, the research identifies continuing challenges:

  • Some pupillage providers noted that while applicants from diverse backgrounds were making it through the initial application and potentially the first interview, for the final interview it became more difficult to ignore the ‘polish’ of more advantaged candidates.
  • Some providers mentioned that it can be difficult attracting diverse applicants to less diverse areas of law (and less diverse chambers). However, several pupillage providers also recognised that there could be an issue with affinity bias in their recruitment process.
  • This may help to explain the finding of the quantitative research that overall, organisations using contextual or blind recruitment did not have higher proportions of successful women candidates or successful candidates from minoritised ethnic backgrounds than organisations that did not use these approaches.
  • Many chambers attach weight as part of the recruitment process to the completion of a mini-pupillage, but there is no consistent and fair process for allocating such mini-pupillages, with some chambers offering them on a first come first served basis.
  • Where chambers required a mini-pupillage at their own organisation as a condition of consideration for pupillage itself, success rates were lower for women, candidates from minoritised background and from state schools and higher for white candidates from fee-paying schools.

The BSB will use the evidence outlined in these two reports to inform the next phases of its work on equality and diversity, including the revision of the Equality Rules. In publishing these reports, the BSB also seeks to encourage the Bar to continue to reflect on implementing more inclusive approaches to recruitment.

Commenting on the research, Mark Neale, the Director General of the Bar Standards Board, said:

“Recruitment to pupillage has become steadily more diverse in recent years.  This is good news and reflects the commitment of many chambers to a more inclusive approach.  This important research shows, however, that the profession has much more to do.  There is inconsistency in recruitment methods and, despite the adoption by many chambers of blind or contextual recruitment approaches, “polish” still plays too big a role in final decisions.  The Bar also needs to consider carefully the case for a fair gateway to mini-pupillages, which are given much weight in the recruitment process, but which are not allocated on a fair and consistent basis.”


Notes to editors

About the Bar Standards Board

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