The Bar course (formerly known everywhere as the Bar professional training course or BPTC, but now known by different names at different providers) is the vocational stage of training for aspiring barristers. This year, the Bar Standards Board has made changes to Bar training that are designed to make the courses more flexible and more accessible. Aspiring barristers will still need to complete the three stages of training – the academic stage (either a law degree or, for non-law graduates, the conversion course), vocational stage (the Bar course) and the professional stage (pupillage) – but there are now choices at the vocational stage.
This is the ‘old’ route to the Bar. You undertake a law degree (or non-law degree and a GDL), then move on to the Bar course and finally pupillage.
This is a new take on the old route. You undertake a law degree (or non-law degree and a GDL), then undertake the Bar course split into two parts. You will not move on to the second part of the Bar course (also the most expensive part) until you have passed the first part of the course, meaning that you only pay for the parts that you undertake. Once you have successfully completed both parts, you apply for and complete a pupillage before becoming a barrister.
The first ‘two’ steps of the three-step route are combined into one (you complete the academic and vocational training together) before undertaking pupillage. This could be in the form of a tailored LLM from a course provider or other equivalent qualification.
This will combine all the stages of Bar training into one programme (ie you would finish your apprenticeship with a degree, vocational qualification and a period of work-based learning to your name). However, at the time of writing this route is not yet available.
All of the vocational courses are accredited by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and full details of the courses and providers can be found on its website: www.barstandardsboard.org.uk.
Before registering on a course, candidates must have joined an Inn of Court and passed the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) to ensure they have the required critical thinking and reasoning skills to succeed. The BCAT must be taken between April and August and costs £150 for UK students.
The Bar course is required to follow a syllabus that ensures barristers have the right level of skills and knowledge to demonstrate a high standard of professional practice. The qualification and training route that you choose may affect how some of the below subjects are delivered, but you will learn the following subjects and skills:
- civil litigation and evidence
- criminal litigation, evidence and sentencing
- professional ethics
- advocacy (court or tribunal appearances)
- opinion writing (giving written advice)
- conference skills (interviewing clients)
- resolution of disputes out of court.
In addition, you will select two elective modules, from a choice of at least six, in which to specialise (which may, again, vary by your provider). Most of the course providers use audiovisual technology for assessments and to provide feedback.
How to apply
Applications should be made directly to an authorised training provider in the November of the year before you wish to start the course (courses usually start in September each year). A second round of applications (similar to clearing) often takes place prior to the course commencing, though it is recommended that you apply earlier. Candidates are required to have a minimum of 2.2 at degree level but some providers may ask for higher. The application process for the course will test your suitability for the Bar. You may be assessed on your academic work, communication skills, written skills, other achievements and motivation for becoming a barrister.