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Legal education: Bar Standards Board follows SRA with super-exam proposal

Aspiring barristers may have to take a new exam before qualifying into the profession as proposed by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) as part of a new consultation on how lawyers are trained.

The body has tabled three new proposals for qualifying as a barrister as part of its October paper titled ‘Consultation on the Future Training for the Bar’.

Drawing on the results of the consultation and regulatory objectives, the BSB is aiming to improve ‘flexibility, accessibility, and affordability and sustain high standards.’ In addition to these guiding principles, it settled on reviewing three options for the way in which barristers qualify.

One option dubbed an ‘evolutionary’ approach includes keeping the current system of academic study followed by vocational pupillage with minor amendments.

The second option outlines a ‘managed pathways approach’ giving a range qualification routes and allow providers to offer courses that are more flexible and fit with the requirements of students.

The third has been dubbed by the BSB as the ‘Bar specialist’ approach where students attain a degree and the Bar Course Aptitude Test before taking a new qualifying examination – the Bar Entrance Exam. This would ‘cover knowledge and understanding of academic and vocational learning’ and students ‘may prepare for this exam in any way they choose.’

The ‘managed pathways’ option is the BSB’s favoured option because ‘we think that this would be the best approach for ensuring that education and training providers can develop and offer more flexible modes of study so that that students are able to train in a way that suits them best.’

The consultation lasts until 23 December.

Hardwicke Chambers chief executive Amanda Illings told Legal Business: ‘The good thing is the BSB is consulting on it. As a general principle its important for barristers to adapt to the changing nature of what barristers do to clients. Surely the skills and experiences of what is required to be a barrister are then looked into.

She added: ‘All three options appear for graduates and they might want to consider what other professions do – you don’t have all graduates coming in. You need to make sure there are no unnecessary barriers against talented people and its not hampered in terms of entry. They need to think about students leaving university with £50,000 of debt, and will rack up more debt trying to forge a career as a barrister.

The proposals come as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) pushes on with its ‘super exam’ proposals, launching another consultation in October following mixed feedback on the education reforms. However it said last month it would delay implementation another year as it develops its plans.