Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Own Goal

I have the greatest respect for the Bar; at their best they are the finest and most principled advocates you can find. Surely the integrity of the Bar and the incorruptibility of our courts are the reasons that cases from around the world that involve huge sums are so often heard in the English courts.
The popular view of the Bar is that they are out-of-touch overpaid elitists and in some cases that is partly true: the best barristers are indeed the elite. There are not cheap, either, but neither are the best surgeons.  The constant chipping away of the Bar's independence and the salami slicing of their fees is something that I deplore, because the losers will be ordinary people who face the awesome power of the state without the protection of powerful advocacy. I remain wedded to the notion that it is better that ten guilty men go free than for one innocent man to be condemned because that is an outrage that we cannot accept. 
The real losers are those on the lowest rungs of the Bar ladder. My son has a good friend (whom I consider to be a friend of mine) who has achieved a decent degree from a fine University, passed his Bar finals and been called by the Middle Temple. There he has hit the brick wall, in common with three quarters of his cohort, of being unable to find the pupillage that would permit him to practice. Consequently he works at a lower-level legal job. Even if he were to achieve that magical pupillage he would be working for very little money; few barristers get near a living wage before their thirties.

Having said that, and supporting the protesting barristers as I do, I feel that the learned lady who carried an expensive designer handbag before the cameras, to have it immediately identified and priced by the Daily Mail did a lot of damage to her cause. That's a shame.

On a personal note,I am very happy that the two lawyers in my immediate family are solicitors who have wisely chosen to stay away from crime, and to enter the sunlit uplands of commercial law.


  1. It's depressing that our society is so obsessed with appearances, and so easily persuaded by specious, self-serving sniping, that merely carrying a certain handbag can be used to derail an attempt to warn us of a disastrous situation deliberately being created in the judicial system. Who cares what she was carrying? What does it matter? What matters is that the government is shutting the courts' doors in the face of ordinary people. And rags like the Daily Heil pretend to represent their interests? Rampant hypocrisy.

  2. The spin put on this by the BBC and other media outlets was really quite appalling. 'Fat Cat lawyers out to milk the system' was clearly the order of the day. The reality, as BS so rightly points out is that most criminal bar practitioners are lucky to earn £30K. Out of that they have to pay rent to Chambers, tax, travelling expenses and all their admin costs. They often have to work through the night and at weekends to prepare cases for the next day. How many of the Daily Fail's readers would be prepared to do that for £15K net I wonder?

    Yes, there are some 'fat cats' like Michael Mansfield who earn megabucks but they are few and far between and they are rarely (if ever) to be seen in the lowly Mags where 95% of criminal cases are dealt with. I was relieved not to have been sitting on Monday...As a fellow lawyer, (solicitor) I honestly would have found it hard to resist being with them on the picket line!!

  3. The Daily Mail is referred to as the Daily Heil or Daily Jackboot in these parts. Its a disgraceful rag pandering to peoples worst prejudices. It uses such inflammatory adjectives such as "fury" or "outrage" where no such fury or outrage is ever detected.
    A rag of the worst kind. Leave it on the stand is the best advice I can offer.
    Its not even fit to wrap your fish and chips in

    1. But not necessarily the Steptoe and Son usage !

  4. There is a use for the Daily Hate Mail, but a more suitable product is available in the supermarket in a choice of pastel colours.

    You have to be into middle life now to remember the flavour that printer's ink imparted to fish and chips - that was stopped by some law or regulation a long time ago. I doubt whether the ink used nowadays in the world after hot-metal would taste nearly as good.

  5. Oh dear - this is all a bit one-sided. Beyond the tedious arguments about legal aid (which began many years ago and was foreshadowed in its present heavy cost-cutting by Labour) and which clearly needs reforming, there is a broader issue of wholesale reform of the legal profession. Surely the whole division between solicitors and barristers and the archaic concept of barristers' chambers needs looking at? Another issue is the vast over-supply of lawyers so that there is now a growing tail of not-very-competent and not-likely-to-succeed people around.

  6. While I have no sympathy with the govts approach to this problem, I do have some sympathy with the observation made about reform of the legal profession, and the over supply of lawyers...

  7. I am in the same position as your and your son's friend. I was fortunate to have an alternative route to qualification in the event of my failing to get a pupillage, which was to cross-qualify as a solicitor under the old Qualified Lawyer's Transfer Regulations. The Regulations required those called to the Bar to take an accounts and ethics exam and complete twenty four months' paralegal work experience, i.e. similar to a lawyer from another common law jurisdiction seeking to qualify in this country. I will be admitted to the roll this month under the scheme. Cross-qualifying back to the Bar in future is now open to me. This route to qualification, however, is now firmly closed to graduates of the Bar Professional Training Course. The overwhelming majority of them have very little hope of ever practising as barristers. If you or any of your readers are interested, Radio 4's Law In Action discussed the abundance of law graduates vis-a-vis the scarcity of training contracts and pupillages in a recent episode: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03fb8nm.

  8. The over supply of lawyers can be put down to the sweeping away of the old limits at the Inns of Court and the Law Soc used to have prior to around 1992. The competition bods thought the legal profession was a closed shop and should be open to everyone to waste their money. The flood gates were opened and many took the exams and few make it in to profitable practice.

    It is true these days for the majority public work- crime, family etc is not a money spinner as it once was. I can remeber when it was a real gravy train. The pendulum has swung too far, but not helped by the old way of paying fees.

    There needs to be change not only in the legal profession but the courts ----which are still behind the curve.

    Too many cases that don't deserve the Crown court and too many people going to jail that could be dealt with elsewhere.

  9. I have more than one Mulberry handbag and even as a lowly solicitor on legal aid rates I have no shame in admitting that I do. I work damn hard and what I spend my money on is my affair. How many journalists have these handbags? I think we should be told.

  10. It was later reported that the bag was actually a present to the lady in gratitude for looking after a terminally ill relative.

    There actually IS money for what the government wishes to spend it on. Legal aid is not one of those things. As things stand, due to the means testing, civil legal aid is out of the question for MOST people. Similarly, criminal legal aid. Having to defend an accusation in the courts could ruin all but the truly well-to-do.

    MoJ response to latest consultation awaited and imminent. May have more to say then.

  11. A Guardian article from today on the related topic of the ham-fisted attempts by the responsible bodies to educate law graduates of their incredibly poor chances of practising as lawyers: http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/jan/21/law-students-hard-graduating.


Posts are pre-moderated. Please bear with us if this takes a little time, but the number of bores and obsessives was getting out of hand, as were the fake comments advertising rubbish.