FROM DIVERSITY IN LAW: AN INDEPENDENT EDUCATIONAL PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

Promoting diversity: No bars to the legal profession

Stephen Hockman QC speaks to Amy McLellan about the initiatives that are in place to promote diversity

It is too easy to criticise barristers, with their wigs, gowns and traditions dating back to medieval times, for being out of touch and unrepresentative. Those - including myself - who fall back on outdated stereotypes of a profession dominated by white, posh Oxbridge types are quickly corrected by Stephen Hockman QC, the chairman of the Bar Council, the organisation which represents the interests of barristers.

"The fact is, if you look at the statistics, you will see the Bar is already extremely diverse comparatively speaking," says Hockman, who was born in Manchester in 1947 and was called to the Bar (the profession's jargon for passing the Bar Vocational Course) in 1970. "There are a lot of misconceptions about the profession but whether you look at it from a gender or ethnicity point of view, the Bar is already quite progressive."

Around one third of the Bar's members are women and 11 per cent are black and minority ethnic (BME), compared to a national percentage of about 8 per cent. Trainee barristers - known as "pupils" - are roughly 50/50 male and female, and around 17 per cent are from BME backgrounds. But the numbers, although encouraging, leave no room for complacency. "There is more we can do and should be doing," says Hockman.

Diversity is important to the Bar Council because a profession which is founded on respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights should be an agent for social change and inclusion. The profession cannot hope to function effectively or command respect from those it represents unless it reflects society as a whole. What's more, says Hockman, there are substantial commercial advantages in terms of attracting and retaining an excellent pool of talent.

A number of initiatives are in place to make sure women and ethnic minority barristers are represented at all levels and in all areas of the profession. The Bar Council is, for example, looking at ways to encourage more women and BME barristers to become more involved in the running of its various committees. It is also in detailed discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service to make sure there is an appropriately diverse range of barristers doing prosecution work.

But, perhaps most significantly, the Council is looking at how to open the Bar to people from a wide range of social backgrounds, irrespective of gender or ethnicity. There is limited data on the social background of Bar members, something the Council plans to address as part of a wider package of measures to make sure the profession doesn't become a middle-class enclave.

It is expensive to train to become a barrister, which can deter those from lower-income backgrounds. To qualify as a barrister, you must have either a law degree or a good first degree in any subject plus the demanding graduate diploma in law, which essentially crams a full law degree into nine months and can cost upwards of £6,000. The next step is the one-year Bar Vocational Course (the BVC), another £11,600. Would-be barristers must then secure a highly prized one-year apprenticeship, known as pupillage: around 1,500 students study for the BVC every year but there are only 800 pupillages on offer.

The costs of all this study in the face of such fierce competition can be a hurdle too high for many students, particularly those already feeling the pressure from debts accrued during their undergraduate years. Although the jury is still out on the recent changes in the higher education funding regime, the introduction of top-up fees has made these concerns more pressing.

In response, the Bar Council has set up a high-powered working group, chaired by a judge from the Court of Appeal, to ensure the profession's resources really do target those most in need of assistance during those expensive early years of study and training.

"There are some limitations on what any profession can achieve in this respect," admits Hockman, who points out that because a degree is a prerequisite for any candidate, the profession's recruitment policies are largely dependent on the social intake to higher education institutions. "No one profession can revolutionise the social structure of the country but we are trying to do everything we can to make sure lack of means is not a deterrent."

The Bar, with its long and prestigious history, is not short of funds and the four Inns of Courts (societies that provide support and training for the profession) already distribute around £4m a year in scholarships and awards to help students.

"We want to see whether there are ways those funds can be effectively co-ordinated to make sure they reach those who need it most," says Hockman. "We are also looking at whether there is scope for a low-interest loan scheme that could offer temporary relief until someone has established themselves later in life."

The Council also recognises that for many young people, the jargon and traditions of the Bar can be confusing and intimidating and it visits schools and universities to dispel some of the myths about the profession.

"This is a profession that is open to all those with talent, not just for those who are rich, posh or have connections," stresses Hockman. "Yes, everyone has to have a degree but it's very far from true to say everybody comes from an Oxbridge background."

The Council Chair is keen that people from all walks of life get to experience the variety and satisfaction he has derived from a career that has seen him become Head of chambers, deputy high court judge and a specialist in environmental law.

"I've been very lucky in my career and it's not over yet," says Hockman. "It's a very rewarding job and I've got great satisfaction from some weighty cases in the environmental law area."

As he prepares to return to practice at the end of this year, Hockman hopes some of the diversity work of the past year will ensure the profession a strong and sustainable future - and open the door for talented young barristers from a wide range of backgrounds.

See www.barcouncil.org.uk and www.legaleducation.org.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Executive / Marketing Assistant

£18 - 23k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Executive / Assistant is n...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider to the fa...

Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Analyst - Global ERP Implementation - London

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable global business is l...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with excess, cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings