COVID-19 and Bar courses

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing uncertainty around whether the 2020/21 academic year will begin as normal. While universities remain hopeful that they'll be able to run courses due to start this autumn as planned, this depends on the lifting of government restrictions.

Institutions will only reopen fully once it's safe for them and their students to do so.

If you're worried about a course you're due to start this September, regularly check your university's website for the most up-to-date information. If you contact your institution to enquire about your course, please be patient when awaiting a response.

From September 2020 the way that barristers qualify in England and Wales will change with the introduction of new Bar courses, which will effectively replace the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Find out more about these new qualifications

Final enrolment on the BPTC took place in September 2019. From September 2020 new entrants need to complete one of the new Bar courses which:

  • Make up the vocational component of Bar training.
  • Have different names depending on the provider. Look out for courses titled Bar Course, Bar Training Course (BTC), Bar Practice Course (BPC), Bar Vocational Course (BVC) and Bar Vocational Studies (BVS).
  • Need a 2:2 or above for entry, along with a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) if your fist degree wasn't in law.
  • Take one year to complete full time.
  • Require applications to be made directly to the organisation delivering the course.
  • Cost between £11,750 and £17,450.

Why change the route to qualifying as a barrister?

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) say that the new qualification rules make training to become a barrister more flexible, accessible and affordable than ever before. What's more the changes also provide the Bar with a more diverse pool of talent, while giving students the power to choose between different routes to qualification.

How do I become a barrister?

As before you'll still need to complete an academic component (typically a law degree or an unrelated degree and then the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)), vocational component (postgraduate course, previously the BPTC now a Bar course) and a work-based learning component (usually pupillage). Additionally, aspiring barristers must join one of the four Inns of Court and complete 12 qualifying sessions.

Now, under the new rules there are four routes to qualification instead of just one:

  • Three-step pathway - academic component, followed by vocational, followed by pupillage or work-based component.
  • Four-step pathway - academic component, followed by vocational component in two parts, followed by pupillage or work-based component.
  • Integrated academic and vocational pathway - combined academic component and vocational component followed by pupillage or work-based component.
  • Apprenticeship pathway - combined academic, vocational and pupillage or work-based component. The provision of barrister apprenticeships is still being discussed; as such this route is currently unavailable.

You can also integrate a Bar course into an LLM degree, making the course eligible for a postgraduate loan.

What about those already studying a BPTC?

There are transitional arrangements in place for students who have yet to complete a BPTC, having started their course prior to 2020. Current BPTC students will be able to continue via the traditional route and have until 2022 to complete the course.

If BPTC students still have assessments to complete after spring 2022 they will need to take the new centralised assessments for civil litigation and professional ethics. For more information see BSB - Transitional arrangements - BPTC students.

What are the new Bar courses and where can I study?

Courses that will replace the BPTC include the:

  • Bar Course
  • Bar/Barrister Training Course (BTC)
  • Bar Practice Course (BPC)
  • Bar Vocational Course (BVC)
  • Bar Vocational Studies (BVS).

While course providers title their programmes differently, it's important to note that all courses lead to the same outcome - completion of the vocational component of Bar training.

A range of institutions, known as Authorised Education and Training Organisations (AETOs), have been authorised by the BSB to provide courses. These are:

Other providers may be added to the list before September 2020. Check BSB - Authorised Education and Training Organisations for an up-to-date list of AETOs.

Search for Bar courses.

You'll need a minimum 2:2 for entry onto a course. However, some providers set their own entry requirements and some courses may require a 2:1 or higher. Check with your preferred university before submitting an application.

All students must also be fluent in English (to a level equivalent to at least IELTS 7.5) and apply to join an Inn of Court by 31 May of the year they intend to start a course.

You'll also need to pass a Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) before you start a course. The test assesses applicants' critical thinking and reasoning, but not their legal knowledge. It consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and takes 55 minutes to complete. Students have until the end of July in the year in which they intend to start a course to pass the BCAT. It costs £150 for UK and European Union (EU) applicants and £170 for international students. More information and a practice test is available at TalentLens - The Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT).

All applications for Bar courses need to be made directly to the course provider. If you plan to complete the vocational component immediately after your degree or GDL, you need to apply in the autumn of your final year or the first term of your conversion course respectively.

What do Bar courses involve?

The new courses will equip students with the skills they need to become pupils and then fully-fledged barristers. They'll cover a range of subjects to ensure that you acquire the specialist skills, knowledge, attitudes and competencies required.

You can study a Bar Course, BTC, BPC or BVC:

  • in one part, which may be full-time over a year or part-time over a longer period
  • in two parts, which may involve face-to-face teaching for both parts or may involve self-study for one part
  • as a longer course, which combines the academic component of Bar training (usually a degree) with the vocational component in an integrated course.

The emphasis of all new Bar courses is on learning through practical work, with many exercises based on briefs similar to those that barristers receive in the early stages of their career.

The courses will cover a number of compulsory subjects including

  • advocacy
  • civil litigation and evidence, incorporating dispute resolution
  • conference skills
  • criminal litigation, evidence and sentencing
  • drafting
  • legal research
  • opinion writing
  • professional ethics.

In advocacy classes, students will have to research the law in relation to a case, as well as court procedure to enable them to make their submissions. They will then present their cases in mock courtrooms where they are expected to think on their feet and respond to opposing arguments.

How long do Bar courses take?

It takes one year to complete a Bar course if you study full time, but two-year, part-time options are also available.

The amount of time you spend in the classroom will vary but on full-time courses you can expect between 10 and 16 hours a week. Many institutions will leave one day a week free for pro bono work, court visits and networking events.

How are they assessed?

Assessment varies between providers but they all test knowledge through written exams. Advocacy and conference skills are tested through practical exercises, often involving actors and both seen and unseen elements.

Civil and Criminal Litigation assessments are set and marked centrally by the BSB. From early 2022, there will be a centralised assessment for Professional Ethics during the pupillage/work-based learning component. In the mean time Professional Ethics will continue to be assessed during the vocational component by the provider.

How much do Bar courses cost?

The good news is that Bar course fees are generally lower than BPTC fees, but the cost of courses varies depending on what and where you study.

Fees range between £11,750 and £17,450 so compare providers carefully before making a decision.  

To study BBP University's BTC and the University of Law's BPC it’ll cost you between £11,750 and £13,000 depending on which campus you choose. Nottingham Trent University charges £11,750 for its BTC, while Cardiff University charges the highest fees at £17,450 for its Bar Training Course.

If you incorporate an LLM into your studies the cost can be considerably higher.

Is funding available?

Trainee barristers can apply for financial support from their Inn of Court. These provide approximately £4million each year to students. A few barristers' chambers also offer money towards the cost of training.

You could also take advantage of the scholarships and bursaries that are offered by universities. Find out more about funding postgraduate study.

If your course incorporates an LLM and results in a Maters qualification you could be entitled to a postgraduate loan worth up to £11,222 in the 2020/21 academic year.

How do I choose a Bar course?

  • Location - You may choose to study in the area where you hope to practise once you've qualified as a barrister, particularly as law schools are likely to have good links with the Bar in their area.
  • Cost - Fees vary between courses and if you're funding it yourself this is something you need to think about. You may also want to consider the Inn of Court scholarships, as well as whether the provider itself offers any scholarships, to help you out.
  • Reputation - What does the legal world think of the institution? Are the academics well known in the sector?
  • Course structure - How's it taught? What opportunities are there for extra-curricular activities such as pro bono? Are the class sizes reasonable?

Find out more

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