One of the issues faced by aspiring Barristers in the final year of their undergraduate degree is choosing a BPTC Provider. Making such a choice is, of course, contingent on receiving an offer from a BPTC Provider at all.
Till now, the actual competition for getting a spot on the BPTC has not been as intense as getting into a top UK Law School. (The Bar Standards Board’s website informs me that at the time of writing 3000 students apply for approximately 1800 spots.) However, this is set to change with the introduction of an aptitude test for those seeking to start the BPTC in September 2013. Such a test has been piloted by Kaplan Law School and is considered to be a way of closing the gap between the number of students taking the BPTC and pupillage opportunities. Prospective students are supposed to go to Kaplan for a selection day where they are expected to undertake an interview, an oral advocacy exercise and a written advocacy exercise. It now seems that such a scheme will be implemented by BPTC providers across the country. There is also a de facto requirement in some of the more selective providers that prospective students should, at the least, have a 2.1 undergraduate law degree (or its GDL equivalent).
While it may diminish opportunities for aspiring lawyers (and may even be seen to be a restriction on free trade), there are some advantages to such a scheme. It will prevent the admission of those who have an unrealistic chance at gaining pupillage at the England & Wales Bar and will save them between £10,000-£16,000 on tuition alone. This will in turn reduce the pressure for tenancy positions in each set. On the other hand, this will have a ripple effect on English law students in Commonwealth jurisdictions as it sets the academic qualification threshold much higher. These tighter academic regulations will affect the number of Commonwealth students coming to England to study law, despite almost none of them posing any threat to the number of pupillage opportunities in the UK. Whether this will affect the number of international Barristers overall can only be gauged in a few years time.
For now though, students are still in the fortunate position of being able to choose between providers. The first issue that many consider is workload but specifically, where would the workload be the least! To be honest, the BPTC workload is quite intense across all the providers as you have to sit 12 assessments/exams within 9 months. But different providers have their assessments at different times of the year, so the intensity of your workload varies according to when your assessments are and if there are several grouped together back-to-back! (Only 3 exams, criminal litigation, civil litigation and professional ethics are centrally set by the Bar Standards Board.)
What does vary is the quality of teaching, teacher-student ratio, education materials, extra curricular opportunities and careers advice. Here I can only confidently speak about my own experience at the College of Law Birmingham:
- All of my teachers were legal practitioners and thus they have a very holistic understanding of the legal system and teach accordingly. This means they often dip into their own personal experience to explain procedures, concepts and rules rather than just repeating the content of course textbooks.
- We receive fantastic educational materials from the College, in addition to the textbooks and practitioners books, which are useful both during the course and afterwards when people are doing their pupillages. Not all the providers have criminal litigation and civil litigation handbooks for instance filled with useful explanatory flowcharts, skills guides, etc.
- We have a wonderful Pro Bono programme. A lot of College of Law students get the opportunity to represent clients on Employment Tribunals, do placements at the Refugee Council and Citizen’s Advice Bureau, etc. I think the opportunity for student volunteers to appear in front of an Employment Tribunal is an invaluable one as it not only places a volunteer in the middle of a pressing inter-personal and legal issue but it also provides them with the chance to familiarize themselves with the relevant law and become accustomed to case preparation. To appear as an advocate in a real case in England is also an exceptional opportunity for those from other jurisdictions, as it will give them a real sense of how the English legal system operates. (I will write more about acting as a student volunteer in a future post)
- The College maintains excellent contacts within the legal community from senior court judges to pupil Barristers. As the College of Law Birmingham is the only BPTC provider in the Midlands, we get to interact with many of the Barristers and Judges of the Midlands Circuit and the Birmingham courts through practitioners evenings, advocacy competitions and court visits. It should be mentioned here that Birmingham has one of the largest concentrations of courts in Europe, so there are a lot of legal proceedings to be seen!
- The reputation of the College of Law is well established in the UK and abroad. My own tutor group is testament to this as most of the students are from different parts of the world!
- The BPTC tuition fee at the College of Law, particularly at the Birmingham campus, is competitively priced.
- And personally, I was also lucky to have a wonderful group of classmates who were intelligent and funny, which allowed for a particularly congenial classroom environment. Of course, that is subjective and not everyone is lucky in that respect.
Even if you haven’t applied to go to the College of Law, maybe some of the factors mentioned above will help you choose between the providers you have selected.
All the other BPTC providers have their merits as well but to learn about those institutions, it would be best if you looked at one of their homepages through the links provided in the side bar or, better yet, spoke to students who have graduated from there. If you do have any comments or feel that I should explain some points in greater detail, please do comment.