in Careers Advice, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience, Uncategorized

Finding a Job as a Barrister is harder than winning at Russian Roulette

Thinking of studying for the BPTC?

(BPTC stands for Bar Professional Training Course – formerly the BVC Bar Vocational Course – also known as IWMLP – an Incredible Waste of Money for a Lot of People)?

The cost in 2015 of studying this ‘course’ is £18,500 according to the University of Law (formerly the College of Law) website if you study at their central London campus.

Not bad, if this guarantees you a life of financial freedom, comfortable living, a large house, holidays in the Caribbean and a very flashy sports car.

Unfortunately if you cough up £18,500 to do this course you have probably just flushed your legal career down the proverbial lavatory and handed over a huge amount of money to pay a University Vice Chancellor’s salary.

397 Pupillages in 2014

There were 397 pupillages offered in 2013-2014. There were 1,071 successful BPTC graduates in 2013. Add these to previous years and you are probably up against a further 7-8,000 graduates from previous years. Take away about 40 of the pupillages for being rubbish and probably not worth bothering with, coupled with a further 100 already reserved for sons and daughters of barristers, and you probably have a more accurate figure of around 250 pupillages in total. Take out at least 100 of these for pre-existing links to the legal profession – eg solicitors, clerks to chambers, parents with connections, and the figure is probably more like 150.

The probability of losing at Russian Roulette is 1 in 60. There are 6 bullets in the chamber and provided the gun is well maintained you play the game with fairly good chances of survival. You have more chance of winning at Russian Roulette than getting a pupillage, particularly if your dad is not a QC.

Barristers usually have one or more of the following attributes:

  1. Son or daughter of a barrister, solicitor or judge.
  2. Attended private school.
  3. Achieved very high A level grades.
  4. Head Boy or Girl at School.
  5. Captain of a rugby, netball or cricket team – school or otherwise.
  6. Achieved a very good degree from a Russell University or Oxbridge.

So many universities offer the BPTC to students with absolutely no chance in hell of ever becoming a barrister due to a lack of any of the above. Even more so a barrister who actually earns any money. How do we know this? We see the CVs afterwards or get the phone calls – “Hello I am a barrister looking for work – have you got any?”.

Stop for a moment and think what £18,500 would buy you.

1. A new car.



This Bentley will set you back £18,500 – currently up for sale on Autotrader as at 6th May 2015.



2. A 10% house deposit on a house for £185,000 (they exist in abundance if you live outside the London housing bubble).

4 bed house



A 3-4 bedroomed house like this one in Stoke on Trent will cost you about £175,000.


3. A fairly decent wedding and honeymoon.

grand hotel


In fact, wedding packages at the Grand Hotel in Llandudno start at just £995, so you really could have a fantastic honeymoon (not in Llandudno).



Have you got any of the following?

  1. A 2.2 or 3rd class degree.
  2. A Levels of less than AAB, ABB or BBB.
  3. No work experience and clearly no effort to get any to date.
  4. No extra-curricular activities of note.
  5. No sport.
  6. No obvious evidence of speaking and advocacy ability.

Don’t even think, just don’t do the BPTC. You haven’t got £18,500 to waste. Honestly.

Chart from the Bar Standards Board showing the amount of applicants and pupillages available between 2009 and 2014:

BPTC students and pupillages
2009/2010 2010/2011 2011/2012 2012/2013 2013/2014
Applicants 3,097 3,099 3,017 3,026 2,941
Enrolments 1,793 1,407 1,670 1,743 1,565
Successful 1,207 1,256 1,066 1,290 1,071
Pupillages (1st six) 431 443 422 514 397

In 2011/12, successful BPTC candidates had the following attributes: 33% held First-class degrees, 28% attended Oxbridge, and a further 64% went to Russell Group universities.

“If you’re tone deaf, don’t go to music school; if you have two left feet don’t go to ballet school”

In 2012 the head of the Bar Standards Board, Lady Deech, made the above pronouncement. Too many students on the Bar Professional Training Course are ‘wasting their money’ because they are simply ‘not up to it’.

However, absolutely nothing has been done to reduce the amount of students undertaking the BPTC since that time because there is no restriction placed on numbers of students by any of the regulators.

As the Head of the Board says: ‘If [students] don’t find a satisfactory career, we’ll be gaining an army of enemies.’ Not sure about this – more likely an army of middle aged BPTC graduates who grudgingly accept 20 years after passing the course that they were thoroughly and most effectively ripped off by an academic conglomerate when they were more naive!

Route via the Training Contract is Closed

As you can no longer simply jump from the BPTC into a solicitor training contract and instead have to pass the LPC as well, you cannot even use the solicitor route as a fall back. It no longer works and makes studying for the BPTC even more ridiculous as far as career decisions go. There are over 5,000 training contracts available each year and the solicitor route has to be the way into the profession of choice unless you fit the 6 point criteria above.

Naturally this article ought to finish by pointing out that a lot of barristers do make it eventually without any of the 6 points – ie no parents, links or Oxbridge etc.. However it takes unbelievable perserverance and effort to achieve this, balls by the bucketload and an extremely loud and confident approach to life.

Do you really want to gamble? Do you? Are you a gambling person? Think very, very carefully before risking your career taking this course.. Chances of success? Slim. Chances of failure? Very high. Should the Bar Standards Board be doing more to control access to this course? Definitely. Not so bad risking £3-5k, but to risk £18k is just unfair to gullible law students, bordering on exploitative.

Average remuneration of a barrister not undertaking commercial work in London? We reckon it is around £50,000 if lucky. Number of years to pay back the loan to fund the course when earning £50,000? 10.

Surely there are better options….

Jonathan Fagan is MD of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He is a non-practising solicitor, and you may detect an element of bias against barristers in the above article. Not at all. Some of my best friends are barristers, although anyone who knows me will also know this is nonsense – I don’t have any friends.

As a final footnote please think twice before spending such ridiculous amounts of money on academic courses that won’t lead anywhere. Get legal work experience instead. It’s so much more useful in the long run.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at