Guest Post: Future Bar Training? A Soft and Uncertain Launch

The Bar Standards Board has today “launched” what it calls an “ambitious new programme to reshape legal education and training” and has asked the Bar for its help.[1] However, it’s not entirely clear what has been launched, nor is any real indication given of what’s coming next. Called ‘Future Bar Training’, we are told to expect, “a number of workshops and open consultations on different work streams” over the next three years, but the press release is somewhat thin on detail. Barristers are told to watch out for what is on the horizon, but not much else. There’s no BSB consultation open,[2] despite the press release stating that ‘Future Bar Training’ will be “underpinned by a fully consultative approach”.  As we tell our students in Contract Law, it is a well-settled principle of law that an agreement to agree is void and unenforceable because it is so uncertain.

What we do know is that ‘Future Bar Training’ is underpinned by four high level aims:

  • “focusing training regulation on what is demonstrably required for professional practice;
  • ensuring that the regulatory structure does not stand in the way of candidates for the Bar from the fullest range of backgrounds;
  • aligning the regulation of education and training with our wider targeted and proportionate approach; and
  • maintaining standards for authorisation to practise as a barrister in a changing market.”

The use of ‘demonstrably required’ in 1. is interesting and, arguably, sets up the BSB for a fall if the evidence base used for its regulatory interventions on education and training are not suitably robust. Certainly, the Legal Education and Training Review[3] (LETR) did not really provide all that much in the way of new empricial data, and other regulators, like the SRA, have commissioned and are using further work to inform their post-LETR policy responses. Is 1. an indication of the same from the BSB? The second aim is laudable – the Bar, like the solicitor’s profession, does not reflect the society it serves and needs to be far more diverse, particularly at the senior levels. Exactly how progression/retention can be better served through regulatory interventions on education and diversity has, however, also been hard for me to fully understand. The third aim seems to suggest a greater move towards outcomes focused regulation. Here, the BSB sets out a work stream that involves, “making our rules covering education and training less prescriptive and ensuring that they are proportionate, transparent, and address the main risks.”

The thing that really irks me, however, about this launch is the narrowness of the call for participation: the BSB “tells the Bar: we want your help”. Simon Thornton-Wood, the BSB’s Director of Education, says that the ‘Future Bar Training’ project is a “real opportunity for the Bar, the public, and the regulator to work together to shape a new era of legal education and training.” Nowhere are legal academics, pedagogic experts, members of other legal professions or the other legal regulators mentioned. I’m sure the LSB will be surprised, saddened even, at being left out of the picture.

This press release, this ‘launch’, feels very rushed. Last autumn,[4] the BSB published a framework for how they were going to respond, in policy terms, to LETR. Little has been publicly said by them since that point. And today’s press release doesn’t really tell us much more.

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Steven Vaughan is a Lecturer at the Law School, University of Birmingham. His full bio can be found here: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/law/staff/profile.aspx?ReferenceId=66986

[1] https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases-and-news/bsb-launches-ambitious-new-programme-to-reshape-legal-education-and-training/

[2] https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/about-bar-standards-board/consultations/

[3] http://letr.org.uk

[4] https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/qualifying-as-a-barrister/letr-next-steps/

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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