The Bar Council has set up a website for those interested in a career at the Bar. The press release puts it in these terms:
“The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, along with the four Inns of Court, has today launched a new careers website to provide a range of accessible information to school and university students. ‘Become a barrister’ (http://www.become-a-barrister.com) is a new portal for anyone interested in a career at the Bar and includes a series of films and case studies aimed at demystifying entry to the profession.”
Having watched two of the films (both aimed at undergraduates) the message is reasonably plain. Barristers have fun, they make a lot of money (sic) and they are not predominantly white, middle class or male (er, double sic). If there is a theme it is, if deep down, in your bones, you feel you have got what it takes, you should go for it. It’s the X-Factor approach to entry into the profession. I resist the urge to make a joke about the decision-makers having man-boobs. Well, I nearly resist.
Partly prompted by a twitter conversation with Adam Wagner and given current concerns about entry into the profession I was interested to see how prominently the issue of numbers figured in the promotional material. Does this new site tell would be entrants unequivocally the difficult odds they face? The issue becomes doubly interesting given the immediate past Bar Chairman’s indication that the mismatch between BPTC places and pupillages was a moral issue. It’s a hot topic. It’s a moral issue. Surely, the numbers will be up there in lights?
I should state in fairness that my due diligence has only been able to extend so far. I have scanned the main pages of the site, looked at the FAQs and watched two of the films aimed at undergraduates. The first of these, as far as I could see, made no mention at all of the ‘numbers problem’. The second film I watched (the route to the Bar) said these things:
- Less than half of those trying to succeed will get in.
- It is possible but very difficult to get in with a 2:2
That seemed to be it. The 2:2 point is undoubtedly right, but the ‘less than half’ point is, on any figures that I am aware of wrong, unless one takes the rather narrow point that 1 in 6 (my best guesstimate of those seeking to pass from BPTC to tenancy) is indeed less than 1 in 2.
To present such minimal, one might say misleading, information is hardly putting the ‘moral problem’ of entry into the profession front and centre. Nor do the FAQs mention the numbers issue. They do quote figures suggesting ethnic minorities are well represented at the Bar, but interestingly do not disclose the figures on women or socio-economic grouping. Funny that. Some of this data is, however, published by the Bar Council and available elsewhere (see here for a summary). It presents a less favourable view of the Bar’s diversity record.
One justification for the site is that it is aimed at promoting the bar as a diverse profession. By encouraging those from diverse backgrounds to believe they have a decent chance of entry the Bar hopes to improve its diversity record. It is a laudable aim, and there is some good stuff on the site, but the site is aimed at all entrants to the profession and encouraging diversity is not a reason for papering over the difficulties that all groups (particularly the groups apparently targeted by the main content of the site) face in seeking entry into the profession.
A site aimed at “demystifying entry to the profession” should, particularly when it comes from the profession, present with reasonable prominence, information on how easy or hard it is to get into the profession. Any student seeking to join the legal profession will be asking themselves, What are my chances? In my view, the answer to that question should be reasonably prominent and it should be accurate. Rather than answer the question, the Bar asks candidates a question, do you have the X-Factor? Cher Lloyd, she’s filling her form in right now.
Postscript: the Bar Council have now put a link to some entry statistics under the FAQs section of the site.