Bar to set up clearing house for students

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The Bar is to set up a clearing house for students seeking pupillage in chambers to save them writing a hundred or more separate applications in a desperate attempt to secure a place. Peter Goldsmith QC, the new chairman of the Bar Council, is exp ected to announce the move in his inaugural speech today.

Aspiring barristers have to complete a law degree, then one-year vocational training courses, before applying for pupillage, a one year training year in chambers.

Competition has grown in recent years, as the recession has cut the amount of court work available, reducing the number of pupils chambers can afford, forcing students to apply to as many potential employers as possible. Chambers recruit individually under a system evolved when places were filled far less on merit than on personal contact and recommendation. They do not advertise, or even recruit at the same time.

For the student, the task involves writing a convincing application to each chambers, while chambers, with little or no support staff, have to process as many as 500 serious applications.

Mr Goldsmith, 44, a specialist in commercial law, is the youngest chairman of the Bar Council. Educated at grammar school in Liverpool, and Cambridge, he has expressed concern about the problems of young barristers, and has made the point that if entry is not working satisfactorily, the Bar is weakened. He is anxious that it should be open to free competition.

He was chairman of a working party which reported in 1993 which reported that the Bar's law school turned out 860 new barristers each year when there were fewer than 500 permanent tenancies in chambers. A quarter of the 7,700 strong Bar qualified in the past five years.

He is expected to propose a pilot clearing house scheme for pupillages starting in autumn 1996, on the model of the university admissions procedure, where students send one application to a clearing house, and it is passed round to different chambers. Details have still to be worked out, but the first trial would be those chambers volunteering to take part, with more joining in successive years, eventually to include all places.