What is the Bar professional training course (BPTC)?
The Bar professional training course, or BPTC, is the vocational course that all barristers must complete. The BPTC takes the academic study students have already undertaken and applies it in a more practical context.
You need to take the vocational BPTC before beginning the practical stage of training to become a barrister, the pupillage.
Getting a place on a BPTC course and becoming a barrister isn’t just about your academic eligibility; it’s a very competitive process. Each year there are over 3,000 applications for 1,500 or so places.
As well as a willingness to enter the fray, you’ll need:
- a law-based undergraduate degree (at 2.2 or above)
- if you are converting to law, the CPE or GDL, or a postgraduate law degree
- to pass the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT)
- Inns of Court membership.
Each of the nine providers has their own selection process, but all will look at your grades, the efforts that you’ve already made towards becoming a barrister, your communication skills and your references.
The Bar Council actually issue a ‘health warning’ for would-be barristers on their chances of success. In London, the BPTC can cost over £17,000 (with some providers). Each year there are around 1,500 BPTC graduates, but only 450–500 pupillage places available. Fail to get a pupillage spot within five years and you’ll need to retake the BPTC.
What does the BPTC involve?
The course is made up of four areas. The Bar Standards Board (BSB) breaks these down as:
Case work skills
- Case preparation
- Legal research.
- Opinion-writing (giving written advice on cases)
- Drafting (writing various types of documents required for litigation).
- Conference skills (interviewing clients)
- Advocacy (court or tribunal appearances).
- Civil litigation and remedies
- Criminal litigation and sentencing
- Professional ethics
- Optional subjects.
You’ll need to pick your two optional subjects from a selection of at least six (these vary from course provider to provider). For example, BPP Law School offers:
- Company law
- International trade
- Property and chancery
- Intellectual property
- Public international criminal law
- Personal injury and clinical negligence
- Professional discipline
- Employment law
- Family law
- Judicial review
- Advanced criminal litigation
- Advanced commercial litigation.
The BSB monitors and provides the accreditation of all BPTC courses.
Doing the BPTC on a full-time basis takes an academic year. BPP Law School, the University of Law, the City Law School, Manchester Metropolitan University, Northumbria University and UWE all offer a part-time course that takes two years.
The way the course is assessed does vary slightly from course provider to course provider. Generally speaking it’s a mixture of multiple choice, written papers and practical exercises demonstrating your conference, advocacy and negotiation skills (often filmed for review).
You’ll be assessed throughout the year on each of the subjects and awarded an overall grade at the end of the course: outstanding, very competent or competent. Below 60 per cent and it’s a ‘not competent’ mark and a fail.
Don’t think about having any sneaky lie-ins either; an attendance rate of less than 90 per cent is also a fail.
How and when to apply
Applications for all BPTC courses are made via the Bar Standards Board's online system (£58 application fee) at www.barsas.com
The system opens for first-round applications at the beginning of November, and closes in early January. All these applications are considered at the same time, with offers made at the start of March. The clearing round opens in April.
You can only apply once a year, so put all of your choices on your application, not just your first choices.