The BPTC is the compulsory course that all aspiring barristers must complete successfully prior to starting pupillage. The aim of the course, which can be studied either full- or part-time, is to bridge the gap between the academic study of law and the skills that are needed in practice.
Who can apply?
To be eligible for a place on the BPTC you should have either a qualifying law degree (2:2 minimum) or an undergraduate degree in any other subject (2:2 minimum) and a GDL. The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is introducing a compulsory aptitude test in autumn 2012 for candidates starting the BPTC in September 2013. This will test critical reasoning skills and must be passed before BPTC providers can offer places to students.
Increasing competition means that, statistically, applicants with 2:1 or first class degrees are more likely to secure a pupillage. A 2:2 will not prevent admission to the BPTC or pupillage, but it will help to compensate for it with strong A-level grades and/or postgraduate exam results.
A CV that can demonstrate your commitment to the profession, for example by completing mini-pupillages and any other form of law-related work experience, as well as extra curricular activities including public speaking/mooting and pro bono work, will also help.
Which BPTC course?
It is important that you find the course that suits your requirements. You should attend different providers’ open days or evenings and speak to current and former students. Also, make sure you read all the available literature from the different providers before making a choice and contact them and ask questions when necessary.
How and when do you apply for the BPTC?
Applications for a place on a BPTC are made through the BSB’s central applications system, called BPTC Online (see timeline on page 41). The application form itself needs careful attention. You will be asked to:
- provide details of mini-pupillages and other legal experience;
- explain why you want to be a barrister;
- provide examples of exceptional communication/interpersonal skills;
- provide examples of your ability to accurately analyse large volumes of written information;
- provide examples of how you cope with pressure;
- provide examples of how you have developed your advocacy skills since the age of 18 – you will not be able to rely on having once been an angel in an infant school nativity play.
Give yourself plenty of time to think about the content of the form and make sure you re-read it before submitting it because poor spelling, grammar, punctuation and typographical errors will make your application look weak and count against you.
How long does the BPTC take?
The course takes one year full-time, two years part-time or can be integrated as an extension to a qualifying law degree. Course length varies between providers and your chosen BPTC must be at least 30 weeks long, excluding holidays. If you choose a full-time BPTC, you can expect to do a full day’s work every day of the working week.
What does the course cover?
The BPTC is designed to prepare you for pupillage and the early years of practice. The principal skills taught are: legal research, case management, drafting (for example, pleadings, witness statements etc), opinion-writing, conference skills (client interviewing), resolution of disputes out of court (for example, negotiation, mediation) and plenty of advocacy. The knowledge subjects taught are civil litigation and remedies, criminal litigation and sentencing, evidence and professional ethics. In addition, you must take two options – different providers offer different options, so make sure you know before you start the course that your chosen provider offers a range of options that you are happy to do.
Training as a barrister is very expensive as the BPTC can cost more than £16,000 with no guarantee of a job afterwards (see box above for details on fees). Also, do not forget that you will also need money for food, rent, transport and going out.
Thankfully, financial assistance is available from the Inns as well as from the BPTC providers. BPP Law School and Northumbria University offer awards of up to £5,000, while Kaplan Law School offers a 50 per cent fee reduction to its Master/Mistress of Moots scholars and a £2,000 reduction for an advocacy scholar. The City Law School also offers six scholarships, each worth £3,000. For more details, visit the individual law school websites.
If you are not fortunate enough to secure financial assistance from one of the Inns, your BPTC provider or, indeed, your family, then you may have to consider borrowing money to fund your studies. HSBC offers a loan product aimed specifically at BPTC students while BPP in conjunction with Investec offers a loan exclusively for its BPTC, GDL and LPC students.
As with all forms of debt, think carefully about whether or not you can afford to take out a loan, especially as there may be a delay between completing the BPTC and securing a pupillage or other form of employment. It may be worth thinking about taking on a temporary job to help you save up for the course fees, or completing the course part-time so you can combine it with paid work.
Editor’s note: From September 2013 BPP Law School aims to offer 48 places on its BPTC course in Manchester. Fees will be £13,440 for UK students.