“No class or gender bias at bar”?

The Bar Standards Board has “adopted” and published the report of a major review of pupillage training for the Bar The press release marking this occasion trumpets pupillage as the “best and fairest way of preparation for the profession and there are no plans to change its fundamental nature.”  Much is made of its fairness on the basis that

  • The numbers of men and women undertaking pupillage are nearly equal. Sometimes the proportion of women slightly exceeds that of men.
  • 22.4% of pupils were drawn from a very wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, exceeding the proportion of ethnic minorities found in other professions.

To be sure to ram the point home the press release further adds, “The Bar is proud of the diverse nature of the new entrants and the fact that access to pupillage appears based on ability and merit.”

Those with any knowledge of the body of students leaving law school will have a strong sense that rather more than half the law students with good grades are women and that there is (how shall I put it) a certain essential barristerliness which leads to success in the competition for pupillage.  The report’s own research makes the point rather more clearly than the BSB appeared inclined to do(at p. 37):

  • “The profile of pupils tends to be less diverse than the profile of university students, with a significant drop in representation of working-class students.
  • “There are proportionately fewer female pupil barristers than there are female university graduates.”

In other words, it is harder for female and working class students to get pupillages than it is for male students.

I await the detailed research with interest, to be clear whether the researchers have been able to control for other variable, such as degree grade and type of University in producing this evidence of disadvantage.  I suspect they have as the BSB press release and report also makes much of the ‘prestige’ nature of many pupil’s prior university education, laying the ground for their next defence.  An interesting footnote on that, at the leading Law and Society conference in the US last week, we heard research which suggested that a) prestige was a construction not of the universities but of the prior characteristics of their students (their class, their good grades) and also, most interestingly, that US firms were seeing past this to look at University grades as much or more than they were looking at the status of the graduates University in deciding who to employ.  Hands up who thinks that’s how it works here?

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