The Bar Council began talks on opening up training for would-be barristers this week with a warning that a limit might be set on the market.
Members of the council agreed last year to end the Bar School's monopoly on running the Bar Vocational Course, after students and the director general of fair trading raised concerns over the selection system and entry restrictions.
It was decided that "suitable academic institutions" whose courses were approved and validated by the Bar should be allowed to offer the BVC. But as the Bar's validation steering committee launched its consultation paper, Peter Goldsmith, co-chairman of the committee, urged institutions to think carefully about the drawbacks of an open market.
He drew attention to the experience of the legal practice course for trainee solicitors, where an open-door policy had led to "misery" for a growing number of students who had been unable to find a training place on completing the course.
"Those students have spent a lot of time and money, only to have their hopes dashed.
"We want to see whether institutions would be interested in avoiding this in the case of the BVC by placing some limit on the number allowed to offer the course," he said.
The consultation paper warns that demand for the BVC, which has been rising dramatically for several years, is falling off. The number of applicants dropped from 2,300 for the 1993/94 course to 1,400 for 1994/95.
The paper says candidates' "more realistic" assessment of the chances of gaining a pupillage (a training place with a set of chambers) may well have been a significant factor in reversing the previous trend.
Another issue would be students' ability to meet fee levels, which are likely to be in excess of Pounds 5,000.
The paper adds: "Unless there is some known limitation on the number of institutions offering the course, any institution will be uncertain how many students it will be able to attract and whether they will be enough to meet its minimum requirements.
"It is important that there is a choice of institutions available to offer the course and that good institutions are not put off by the prospect that there will be too many providers in the field,' the report suggests.
"This would suggest that a limitation on the number of institutions to be validated will be necessary in the first instance."
Institutions have been given until June 16 to respond to the consultation paper.