White students dominate Bar pupillage intake

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Dec 12, 2017
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Almost 40 per cent of white students with upper second class university degrees succeeded in obtaining pupillage, compared with 20 per cent of ethnic minority students

Ben Birchall/PA

White students are twice as likely to obtain pupillage places in chambers than their counterparts from ethnic minorities, the profession’s watchdog has found.

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) found that race and socioeconomic status had a far greater impact on success at the Bar than gender and disability, which did not have “a significant predictive effect”.

While nearly 40 per cent of white students with upper second class university degrees succeeded in obtaining pupillage, only 20 per cent of ethnic minority students were successful, the research found.

The disparity narrowed for students with first-class degrees, with about 60 per cent of white students obtaining pupillage compared with 42 per cent of those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The study focused on women, ethnic minority students and those from lower socioeconomic groups and was based on 25 interviews with those studying on the Bar professional training course and 25 pupillage applicants.

Four broad themes emerged from the research: participants tended to see the Bar as the preserve of a “privileged elite”; they said there was a lack of access to accurate information about training for the Bar; the financial costs of training and access to funding were important factors; and there should be more information and support from higher education institutions and the board itself.

BSB officials emphasised that it was important “not to jump to any conclusions” about why there was a difference in attainment between ethnic minority and white students.

“We know that the Bar is trying very hard to encourage equal opportunity and accessibility for anyone with the talent and desire to become a barrister,” Vanessa Davies, the board’s director-general, said.

The research “suggests that the Bar and providers are having some success in this regard in relation to gender and disability but that more research is needed to understand why the differences in attainment in relation to ethnicity and socioeconomic background seem to persist”, she said. 

There was “a perceived lack of diversity” at the Inns of Court, which had made some students “feel that they would not fit in”, she added.

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