Bar Standards Board publishes reports highlighting diversity challenges in pupillage recruitment

Bar Standards Board publishes reports highlighting diversity challenges in pupillage recruitment

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has put a spotlight on diversity challenges, after publishing reports examining pupillage recruitment.

The reports have been released in efforts to strengthen the BSB’s evidence base around pupillage recruitment, allowing them to inform decisions on future policies.

For years, the BSB’s annual statistical reports on Bar training have highlighted differential rates of securing pupillage, particularly by ethnicity.

As a result, they have undertaken research in two elements – a quantitative analysis focused on recruitment outcomes and a qualitative piece of research looking at the experiences of organisations that have adopted certain approaches to recruitment.

Pupillage Recruitment Research (Community Research)

In 2023, the BSB appointed Community Research to undertake research to understand the experiences of organisations that have adopted different pupillage recruitment approaches and to explore whether these approaches benefit a diverse range of candidates.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

Recruitment Challenges

  • Number of pupils recruited each year are typically very small and the people responsible for recruitment tend to have a limited amount of time to dedicate to the process
  • The impact of changes made to their recruitment process were also hard to measure, as most providers were recruiting very few pupils each year, so changes were slow to make any impact.

Differing Recruitment Approaches

  • There was notable variety in approach to recruitment.
  • While there were some similarities, particularly around selection criteria, no two processes were described exactly the same.

Efforts Towards Diversity

  • Significant effort is made by providers to achieve more diverse recruitment outcomes, both individually and collaboratively.
  • Some providers believe systemic advantages are embedded much earlier than the recruitment stage (e.g. accentism and language use in interviews).

Attracting Diverse Applicants

Attracting diverse applicants is particularly challenging in less diverse areas of law and chambers.

Cultural Bias Issues

Culture is rarely seen as an outright barrier, but affinity bias within the recruitment process is recognised as a potential issue.

Pupillage Recruitment at the Bar (BSB)

The BSB Research Team conducted this study using data on pupillage providers and recruits from 2010 to 2023.

The research aimed to assess changes in the profile of pupils over time, variations in pupil profiles based on the characteristics of the pupillage providers (such as size, location, and practice areas), and differences in pupil profiles at the Bar depending on recruitment approaches of different providers.

Some key takeaways included:

Changes in Pupil Demographics

Increases in female pupils, pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds and state school attendees

Differences by Practice Area

  • Commerical law has the highest proportion of male pupils, with nearly two thirds
  • Family law has the highest proportion of female pupils, with nearly two thirds
  • Immigration law has a majority of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds

Employed vs Self-Employed Bar

The employed Bar has more female and minority ethnic pupils compared to the –self-employed Bar

Recruitment Approaches by Law Area

Commercial law organisations commonly use contextual and blind recruitment, which in turn have garnered a higher proportion of male and white pupils. The insinuation is that contextual and blind recruitment may not always increase diversity.

Impact of Degree and Mini-Pupillage Requirements

Organisations that require a 2:1 degree or a mini-pupillage tend to have higher proportions of pupils from fee paying schools and lower proportions from state schools, as well as lower proportions of female and minority ethnic pupils.

What can the BSB do with these findings?

While the statistical research suggests there has been progress in moving towards recruiting more diverse pupils, it also suggests there may be barriers to gender advancement in some practice areas. It also suggests that barriers remain for pupils from ethnic minorities and lower socio-economic backgrounds.

The qualitative research indicates that although work is being done to improve diversity in recruitment, challenges still remain and progress can be slow.

With this evidence now readily available, the BSB plans to inform the next phases of its work around access to the profession, by working with stakeholders to identify areas where the BSB can support access to opportunities and remove barriers for diverse pupils.

They also plan to continue monitoring changes in the overall profile of pupils and consider the findings as part of their review of Equality Rules.

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