Oxford and the major legal centres of Manchester and Birmingham became the also-rans this week in a race to extend barrister training beyond London.
The Bar Council's choice of seven institutions which it will validate to offer its vocational course left key sections of the Northern circuit unrepresented, and brought a setback for plans to expand legal training in Oxford.
Successful bids to end the Bar School's monopoly on running the Bar Vocational Course from September next year came from the BPP Law School in London; the College of Law in London; the Inns of Court School of Law in London; Nottingham Law School; the University of Northumbria at Newcastle; the University of the West of England in Bristol and Cardiff Law School.
Manchester Metropolitan University, De Montfort University and the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice - a collaborative venture between Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University, were among those which fell at the last fence.
The Bar Council said institutions had been selected through an "exhaustive and independent process" overseen by a panel of experts led by Sir David Calcutt QC. The panel took into account the standard of facilities available, the location of the course in relation to other institutions, the strength of support from the local Bar, and the aim of achieving a regional spread.
But critics were quick to point out that the last two factors appeared to have played a minor role in selection.
Rodger Pannone, former Law Society president and a member of the court of Manchester University, said the high standing of the Bar's Northern circuit had the potential to attract many top-quality candidates for barrister training. "It would be regrettable if there was not the facility to be trained in this region," he said.
Nigel Savage, incoming chief executive of the College of Law, commented: "My own concern is that the outcome of the process means that there will be no course in a major provincial centre."
A spokesman for the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice simply said news of the chosen institutions had brought "deep disappointment".
Nigel Bastin, the Bar Council's head of education, said it was recognised that there was a gap in provision for the Northern circuit and it was hoped this could be remedied. "There is no reason why institutions should not apply to run courses from 1998. But we would hope people will recognise the growing difficulties of recruitment in this area," he said.
* Martin Mears, the controversial Law Society president who backs stricter controls on student numbers in legal training, was the runner-up in the other big legal contest resolved this week.
He was knocked out of his post by the "modern moderate" Tony Girling, managing partner of Girlings, East Kent.