I’m a devil who is beginning to really regret their decision of becoming a barrister. There are a number of reasons but the main reason is that my wrists are literally tied by the bar council. I am not that young, I have commitments and people I need to support. I have saved up to devil, at one stage in the past I worked full time and held two part time jobs. Eventually I graduated, paid my law library fees and… became a slave… and this is not my first year…
I pay fees and get treated like crap.
I know there is a process to change masters, I also know that like most things in the bar council there is a “formal process” (which is usually bad) and an “informal process” (which is off the record). Once no one knows about it it’s ok. I’m not trying to be nasty or bitchy, just realistic. A guy I know changed masters using the informal process and he was the butt of gossip and jokes for a few weeks.
I also say my hands are tied because I can’t get any legal work. I make €9.85 an hour selling chips and kebabs to drunk teenagers on Friday and Saturday nights. The job probably offends the code of conduct that governs our profession.
The code of conduct says I am not allowed approach solicitors. I could be disbarred for doing so.
I am not allowed to ask for work. I could be disbarred for doing so.
I am not allowed to advertise. I could be disbarred for doing so.
I am not allowed to advocate on behalf of a client without being instructed by a solicitor YET the solicitor has a right of audience and if the solicitor is skilled enough they don’t actually need a barrister.
I am not allowed to use the skills and abilities that I have learnt throughout my life to make a career in the profession I want.
If, in the event I do actually get work but do not get paid then I have no real recourse. I don’t care anymore about the history or origins of the once noble profession, the cold frank reality is that we profess and vindicate the rights of other people yet we do not have the same rights as our clients. That just does not make sense.
In response, the phrase “you knew what you were getting into” is heard a lot. Maybe so, but you don’t really know until it’s too late, besides which, does that make it right? I feel we are at an important crisis point in the profession, I have seen it for myself at how many are just giving up. I regularly see advertisements for second hand wigs and gowns. There is talk about it now taking 5-7 years for a barrister to establish some form of practice with a bare minimum standard of living. I know of some law lecturers opening telling students not to bother entering the profession.
Recently, I went to a talk about the proposed legal services bill during which the bar council put forward its position to us. They agreed with the premise that legal fees should be reduced. What fees? I looked around and saw the room split in two. The more senior members were nodding in agreement whilst the younger members were glancing at each other in disbelief.
In that moment I realised that there was truth to the allegation that our profession is anti-competitive, not from a particular sector but from the more established people who do not want to change the status quo. If things were to change, become more competitive, then their solicitors might be poached, lured away by younger members who have the audacity to act above their station by trying to do things differently.
While I may not agree with the proposed legal bill, I do believe that at this stage any change is better then what we currently have. Young practitioners are dropping off at a rate never seen before, rumour has it that this year even fewer law students have indicated they are going to come down to the bar. These are desperate times and I do care about the profession… but I can’t for much longer…
The code of conduct says that I am not allowed to bring the profession into disrepute.
I believe the code of conduct is already doing that by forcing people like me to scrape and beg for a living.
Unbind my hands; let me fight for my right to seek work.
If I fail then so be it but at least I tried…
It seems to me that a lot of barristers are paralysed by the choice of do nothing and see how it goes or make a stand. Its surprising that they have no one who is prepared to champion their cause.
Can I ask you, as a barrister, why this is so? Why if things are so bad, do so many of you comply with the acceptednorms?
By the way, my understanding is that if you are a second year devil, you can, rather than changing masters, simply drift away. I'm not sure if this is easier said than done or if it is just a whitewash, but it seems to me that if you just stop doing their work and see what happens, it can't be worse than being miserable.
Best of luck whatever you choose, and at the end of the day at least you can say you gave it a shot, no?
Not literally tied surely? That would be truly weird.
Along with being flaky about the code of conduct? Worried about a bit of slagging? Cant do simple arithmetic- 1,000+ unemployed solicitors cannot brief at all and another 2,500 underemployed solicitors cannot keep briefing an expanding bar?
Can't see a great future here.
Both sides of the profession, solicitors' and bar, are tough. Less work around, great competition. sadly I don't see it changing for the better anytime soon.
I am continually amazed at the rosy view of prospects in law amongst many who have no experience of it.
You pay a subscription, not fees.
You are not allowed tout. Neither are solicitors.
You are allowed have a website.
A barrister is supposed to add value. Why should a solicitor spend his clients money for nothing?
What is stopping you?
If you cannot figure out how to look after yourself, how do you expect others to trust you to look after them?
In response, the phrase “you knew what you were getting into” is heard a lot. Maybe so, but you don’t really know until it’s too late, besides which, does that make it right?
You were told what you were getting into, chose to ignore it and are now moaning.
Solicitors are no fools and have an unerring instinct for finding the right barrister for the job. They are not easily enticed.
Nothing wrong with that. It is common to every profession except the priesthood.
I believe the code of conduct is already doing that by forcing people like me to scrape and beg for a living.
The code of conduct doesn't force you to do anything. It simply limits what you can do, for your own protection and for that of your clients.
I've done a bit of research myself and have come to the following conclusions. I am happy to be corrected.
The UK has the same system as Ireland - Devilling has been "reformed" to allow the devils to scrape a meagre living by some sort of subscription payments by masters. It's not great but then it's meant to be tough starting out. I living can be made once you're in.
NI - Very tough to get in as they strictly limit numbers but once you are in you can make a living eventually if you're good enough and get the right breaks.
Ireland - Has always been difficult to "break in" despite being more accessible than the UK and NI. However way too many Barristers about, work had fallen off massively due to the death of the Celtic tiger.
There are definitely some reform needed in the Irish legal system as a whole. I don't personally think the proposed bill is the way forward. That said every profession is having the same issues at the moment. I remember interviewing Xmas temps (retail jobs) a couple of years back with 10+ years experience as Architects! There are many complicated issues here but the main one is a massive over supply.
Am I right is thinking the attrition rate (number that go an do something else) for new barristers is around 60-70%?
The issue of over supply in both legal professions is well understood by most on this forum but nobody can agree on how this can be tackled.
Were the Law Society to ' cap ' student numbers there would be accusations of this action being calculated to keep Solicitors fees high and lest we forget the Competition Authority could take action. Previous mechanisms used to limit entry were subject to sucessful legal challenge.
Were Kings Inns to cap student numbers the same thing applies and in the meantime students of both professions pay heavy fees / dues / subscriptions ( call them what you want ) to enter a profession where its very hard to make a living.
Students complain about the costs and say the numbers should be limited but these are the same people who would cry foul were they kept out - they remind me of people demanding more stringent law enforcement and then bitch when they get done for speeding.
I have a relative who recently retired after a very sucessful career as a Barrister but I know he could not have stayed at the Bar in his early years were it not for his good fortune in being married to a woman of substantial ' independent means ' who financially ' carried ' their family.
Sorry, but England & Wales has a very different system in terms of how barristers practice and are trained. Very briefly, by this I mean barristers practice from sets of chambers rather than a central Law Library, and trainee barristers undergo a pupilage in chambers after their BVC course (this is the equivalent of the King's Inns BL course) .
Also unlike here where all BL's graduating from Kings Inns get to devil and qualify for practice, in the UK the vast majority (about 2/3rds) who do the equivalent BVC course do not get a pupilage and cannot practice. However those that do get a pupilage are paid by their chambers. However, getting a pupilage is no guarantee of succeeding as the pupil must then get a tenancy i.e. a permanent place is chambers to continue to practice. It's all swings and roundabouts really!
The chambers system is run to a large extent by clerks who distribute the work amongst the barristers within their chambers. This means the junior members of chambers are usually given their fair share of work and can make a living.
A few things that could be done, such as masters paying for their devils fees, provision of a minimum income eg a few grand, or a rule that devils can bill for the work they do are good examples of this. On the one hand, it would ensure that there is at least some hope for junior barristers to make a few quid, but on the other it could be seen by the competition authority as discouraging barristers from taking on a devil, especially those barristers who have a lot of useful contacts and knowledge to pass to their devil but who don't really need a devil.
Perhaps a system whereby there are no fees for barristers in their first two years? As this cost is borne by the law library in general rather than the specific masters it would not discourage barristers from taking a devil. Equally, perhaps a system whereby solicitors are encouraged to give minor issues e.g. motions and such directly to devils rather than give them directly to the main barrister only for some random devil to show up in court anyway? I know a lot of solicitors get annoyed that they don't know who is going to turn up for them in court on any particular day.
On the other hand, the system of solicitors and barristers is highly personalized and I assume most solicitors would not be happy picking a random name from a list.
In any event, it is axiomatic that any efforts to assist barristers in their first few years is not going to act as a direct or indirect barrier to entry.
In reality, I don't think the ops ideas of advertising or approaching solicitors directly looking for work would be a good idea, because solicitors by and large would not like this. The advertising already there is not really affecting most solicitors choice of barristers, and logically if it were permitted it would mean that people like the op are drowned out of the market by the more established barristers who can pay more for advertising. The net result is more expense and less competitive advantage to the young barrister. Similarl, approaching a solicitor for work would seem desparate; solicitors want barristers who can provide specialist services not those who are eager to take cases.
However, I'll bow to the ops views in this area as he is the one in that position. I would just say that his views might need a bit of further consideration.
I wonder though. Certainly they are given work by the clerks, but to whose advantage is this?
Consider the following scenario:
A snewly qualified olicitor contacts a chambers to do some small claims court / magistrates court / tricky pro bono work. The chambers gives them barrister X, the most junior member of the chambers, because he is eager to do any work, and the more senior barristers aren't bothered with that type of work. The solicitor is very happy with the work done by barrister X and, in turn, the chambers for providing him.
As the solicitors practice grows, he starts to get better paid high court / crown court / corporate work. Out of gratitude and because of good service in the minor matters, he decides to keep using the chambers and, in turn, wants barrister X. But the clerk, seeing that some better work is coming in, suggests that they switch to barrister Y, a more senior member. The solicitor may have sufficient loyalty to barrister X to keep them, but it wouldn't be too hard for a cunning clerk to scare the solicitor by reminding them that barrister X hasn't done this type of case before, but barrister Y has. Thus, chambers could lead to a system whereby the junior people are bringing in the work by doing the low paid stuff, while the se I or people are getting the cream.
Of course this can happen here too, but at least the loyalty built up by barrister X is their own, and they are not beholden to a clerk who can take their goodwill and divert it elsewhere.
Another scenario is where the junior person becomes so good at doing the low paid hard work that the clerks are reluctant to take them away from that. Legal work does not always have a correlation between pay and work/skill required and often times the easier work is of higher value than the lower paid to the barristers e.g. a high value straitforward high court case vs a complex district court case. For the solicitor as well as the chambers, having someone good doing the lower end work can mean repeat business. In our system as a barrister becomes busier he can select his preferred cases, but in a chambers they do not have such luxury. It is perhaps only when they become more influential in the chambers that they can select their work. Thus, a talented individual barrister may not rise as quickly in a chambers as they would here.
Again, it is very hard to comment on the two systems without seeing someone being involved in both. But it makes sense that chambers would have the same power structure as most other organisations ie the pyramid where those at the top make the most money relative to their efforts, while those at the bottom do a greater proportion of the work for less money. This was alluded to in a letter to the Irish times by a senior counsel last year. Of course, the criticism of the Irish bar is the same - too much lucrative work in the hands of the top few - but I don't see how that can be improved upon with chambers and it seems to me that it would make matters worse.
Easiest way to cap numbers is to make the exams much, much harder for both streams.
to what end though? I mean, you either know the law or you don't? Unless you are suggesting that there are people passing the professional exams who don't know the law, then I don't see what changes could be made there.
Besides, the trend appears to be to liberalise the professional qualification standards by the introduction of more places to obtain the qualifications. These new universities will be unwilling to toe the line in relation to making the exams harder to reduce the numbers qualfying.