Nadine Radford, a member of the general council of the Bar, said examination of the numbers embarking on a career was long overdue.
'We must find a more realistic method of entry,' she said. 'We allow hundreds of students to go on believing that if they pass the exam and attend the regulation dinners they will in due course be able to practise as barristers.
'We are aware of only 500 pupillages available next year. This means we are setting people up to fail.'
Ms Radford proposed a split pupillage, with three months' pupillage, instead of the usual six months which comes after the academic qualification, being undertaken before Bar school.
This would allow the intake to be monitored and matched with current needs, as well as giving students an introduction to practice.
The profession also failed its pupils and young practitioners by not continuing the education process, she said.
Ms Radford proposed a system, similar to that operated by the Law Society, where continuing education won merit points. A number of courses had been devised, but she said: 'Those most in need of them are the most consistently absent.'
She said controlling pupils would help raise standards throughout the profession, and that more must be done to fight incompetence. She emphasised that there was no right of a tenancy for life.
'This profession has no room for unremedial incompetence,' Ms Radford said. 'We are in the best position to sort the wheat from the chaff and we must not turn a blind eye.'