Research: Average barrister earnings equate to £60,000 salary

Bar Council claims overheads account for ‘half of a barrister’s turnover’

money

Bar Council research has claimed that a barrister practising in England and Wales will trouser earnings equivalent to a salary of £60,000.

Using data collated during the practising certificate renewal process, the Bar Council has stated that 22% of barristers earn between £90,000 and £150,000.

Highlighting a vast earnings gap within the profession, the stats — released earlier this week — show that while 16% of barristers (roughly 2,500) earn over £240,000, 13% of the profession (around 2,000) have to make do with £30,000 or less.

But this isn’t the full picture. These earnings estimates do not factor in that key overheads need to be deducted. A spokesperson for the Bar Council told Legal Cheek:

Such expenses include the costs of staff, office space, travel, insurance, pension and sick pay, which together account for about half of a barrister’s turnover.

With this in mind, the earnings figures given by the Bar Council — which represents barrister across England and Wales — dramatically reduce.

Those who at first glance appear to be taking home around £240,000 per annum are actually earning £120,000. And perhaps more worryingly, a member of the bar receiving £30,000 in fees a year is pocketing just £15,000 after expenses are deducted. Based on the Bar Council’s methodology, the average barrister is earning a salary equivalent to £60,000.

Whichever figure you take, the earnings gap is stark. According to Legal Cheek’s Chambers’ Most List commercial specialists such as Atkin Chambers, 2 Temple Gardens and 4 Pump Court all offer their pupils an award of around £70,000. Commanding large fees from clients (usually businesses), it’s not uncommon for pupils, once qualified, to see their earnings rocket.

The same cannot be said for those trying to forge a career at the publicly funded bar. Pupils at criminal sets can take home as little as £12,000 in their first year of training. Salaries do rise post-qualification, but as many criminal barristers will confirm, not by much.

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42 Comments

Anonymous

He said, “One day you’ll leave this world behind
So live a life you will remember.”
My father told me when I was just a child
These are the nights that never die
My father told me

(7)(3)
Anonymous

It is absolutely right the Bar Council is publicising this issue. Additional problems include late payment and compulsory discounting of fees after the work has been done. It is very worrying for the future of the profession that it is so difficult to earn even a modest income.

(18)(0)
Rumbold

Very true.

I remember as a pupil doing work that, only after the event, would I be told was “a favour” to a firm of solicitors.

Likewise, I remember my clerks agreeing discounts on fees after the event after solicitors rang up with petty complaints such as the client thinking I wasn’t as old or experienced a barrister as they would expect for the fee, and even one who demanded a discount because the client was unhappy that I wouldn’t lend her a tenner (I did not have a tenner on me at the time!)

Needless to say I left that set and moved to a Chambers with far better clerks and never had any of that nonsense again.

(28)(0)
Anonymous

If they’re that small, then someone already likely to know who it is from the story about the tenner. Might as well just be honest.

(1)(1)
Anonymous

As you’ve pointed out, salaries vary widely according to type of law, set, location, etc., so an average salary figure isn’t particularly useful.

(13)(1)
MM

The high street end of the junior bar is in crisis due to the cuts in legal aid, the cuts in the budgets of public bodies (councils/CPS/Home Office etc) and the rise of ‘solicitors’ agents’. These factors have taken away all of the entry level work that junior barristers used to cut their teeth on and pay their rent with. Its driving many of them (myself included) into in house practice if they don’t have the means to spend five years in a loss leading practice. The problem will come further down the line when the current crop of QCs and Judges retire and there isn’t a pipeline of new recruits to fill the expertise gap they will create.

(24)(0)
Reed Smith NQ

Yay, I pull in more than the fancy barristers! All aboard the Dolla train!

(10)(6)
Irwin Mitchell Trainee

I pull in more than most criminal barristers, and I get paid in a currency I’m pretty sure my managing partner made up…

(11)(5)
Anonymous

All that effort to earn less than an NQ at a mediocre joke shop like the Shed. Fvck that.

(8)(2)
Not Amused

What a measured and sensible story on barrister pay. How utterly refreshing!

It is though, absolutely wrong that the Bar Council is publishing this information. I raised this with them at the time. They are compelling us all to give them private and sensitive information – and then they are publishing it. The fact it is partially aggregated or partially anonymous is irrelevant. By what right does a defunct ex-regulator compel an innocent person to disclose private information and then publish it?

What a total joke actions like this make of data protection laws. How utterly violated I feel by the disgraceful publicity seeking shits that are the bar council. What a thoroughly disreputable pile of dishonest and incompetent shysters they are.

The sooner I can disaffiliate from them the better. I am honest. I am honourable. I am respectable. They are not.

(9)(23)
Anonymous

Just to be clear – reading between the lines, you’re not a big fan of the Bar Council?

(16)(1)
Rzbg

Typical brief fee for a small claim: £300

Minus £50 vat
Minus £50 tax
Minus £50 chambers rent
Minus £50 travel e.g. to Bristol from London at peak time

What a steal! I’m raking it in!

(3)(1)
Dave Barrister

Slightly butchered maths but about on the money.

Most practitioners who (thank god, the work needs doing) are set on areas of the Bar unable to properly privately fund, find some sort of lucrative, privately paying, ‘soul-selling’ (I acknowledge that is a perjorative term and NA might, quite properly, take offence) work on the side; this funds the practice they enjoy which cannot possibly financially sustain the average adult’s expected existence. That is before we enter the often devicive anti-fre-market arguments around what highly skilled, public facing experts should reasonably be paid.

Notwithstanding the views of privacy and data protection, and some members’ views on our largely incompetent regulator, the attrocious lack of funding in certain areas of the Bar does need highlighting if it is ever to be addressed, lest we all rue the day the rule of law breaks down and ‘summary justice’ drops further off the scale of justness…

(2)(1)
Not Amused

I have always been much more offended that barristers may be doing work that they don’t want to be doing, just so they earn money. That seems to me to be a recipe for disaster. I have watched silks from certain divisions ‘pop up’ in work which is not obviously related and the experience was not edifying. I do worry about the public.

I am not sure anyone would want me ‘popping up’ in a Crown Court (least of all me) so I do wish other people would do the same. Although, I do know life is hard, I prefer the idea of nationalising the criminal bar, rather than this ‘getting a job on the side’ solution.

Everything else is a matter of taste. I am a lawyer and I love my areas of law. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. The idea that I am rattling around doing stuff I can’t stand solely for the money is untrue, I am glad to say.

(2)(6)
Anonymous

If that’s so then why the hell are you on legal cheek every hour of every day?

(6)(0)
Chumbawumba of Counsel

When I was in Chambers (one of the KBWs) I would often have two small claims in the morning and two in the afternoon.

Given they were so easy you could prep them on the train, it was easy money.

Now if your Chambers was only giving you one a day, there’s your problem.

(5)(4)
Lord Harley of Council

When was this? It’s impossible now to do more than 1 hearing in a day because the courts block list everything and there’s no guarantee that your 10am hearing with a time estimate of 1hr30mins will even get called on until 3pm. Of course it’s not usually that bad but you and the clerks have to assume the worst when taking bookings.

In theory, you could have multiple hearings if you knew they were going to be in front of the same judge but that’s impossible to know when your diary starts filling up 3 months in advance.

(12)(0)
Anonymous

Even better, you get sent away to come back another day – I had one where they did that to me twice!

(1)(1)
Chumbawumba of Counsel

2007-2011 before I moved on to a better class of work.

Not possible now? Pity.

(2)(0)
paperbag

Figures are tosh.

“Those who at first glance appear to be taking home around £240,000 per annum are actually earning £120,000. And perhaps more worryingly, a member of the bar receiving £30,000 in fees a year is pocketing just £15,000 after expenses are deducted”

How do you get to this? It’s wrong. You don’t mention the % for deductions, but it’s usually about 10-20% rent, 5% extraneous travel and the like. The virtue of self-employed deductibles means you also make cost savings against day to day expenses most people have to pay e.g. laptops, phones.

If you’re earning 240k gross, you might earn 200k after expenses and yes, about 120k after tax, but AFTER TAX. It’s still a 200k income.

The money is very good at the bar if you’re in decent sectors. The criminal bar is a joke, it has always been a joke and it’s not news to anyone. If you’re in a halfway OK common law set with a pupillage award of over 35-40k, you can make 50-100k in your first few years and 100-200 after 5+ years. Commercial sets, 100k or more after your first or second year.

On the whole, of the bar top 30, those at the lower end will probably earn as much as those at MC law firms, partner earnings excluded. Midway about the same or more as a US law firm. In the top 15 or so sets, probably more and in many cases, much more, than US law firms.

Deductibles don’t half a barrister’s income as this article suggests.

(17)(1)
Junior Civil/Public Tenant

Yes they do.

I’m in my second year of tenancy at a decent set where most of my colleagues (almost everyone above 3-4 years call) is in the bracket earning at least £90,000-£150,000. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there. Clearly I am in no way complaining about that, being grateful for my good fortune.

But in my first year chambers’ fees alone were often 30% of my receipts, despite a generous chambers subsidy for new tenants. Other expenses are at least another 10%. If I could afford to replace benefits provided in employment like health insurance and a pension (I can’t), it would hit 50%. Instead I put aside 60% of all receipts and hope for the best when next year’s tax bill comes around (which as we all know, will be tax and a half). Those maths apply having already factored in the deductibles you mentioned.

Again, none of this is a complaint. I’m far more fortunate than many of our colleagues at the Bar who work just as hard as I do and are probably much more clever than I am. Its not lost income, its just the cost of running a business. Personally at least I’m happy with the trade off between those extra costs versus the freedom given by self-employment.
But these are the realities. My experience has been that overheads do half a barrister’s income.

(16)(2)
paperbag

10-20% is generally market rate for chambers’ fees.

http://clients.squareeye.net/uploads/xxiv/documents/Bar_Top_30_report_2013.pdf

Page 4, you can see chambers contributions. Rates haven’t changed since 2013/4.

And you’re looking at subsides for first few years. Some sets release first year tenants from paying rent at all. Generally, it’s about 30% of gross, if that, on deductibles, not 50%.

I don’t know the circumstances surrounding your rent, but if it’s in excess of 20% and you’re being subsidised, I don’t know what to tell you.

(1)(1)
The Bar Necessities

It isn’t always that simple.

Some places (particularly in the Inns) charge both a percentage fee (effectively a clerking fee) and room rent on top. Obviously, in those cases the clerking fee is usually set at a lower level. However, room rent is not based on earnings, so has a bigger impact on lower earners (often junior tenants). It is fair to say, however, that many sets subsidise new practitioners.

That could easily run to 25–30% of earnings. By the time you’ve chucked in travel and the various other costs of business (vehicles, computer equipment etc) then one could be looking at around 40% , and that’s before you’ve paid into a pension etc.

Of course, it is also right to say that this is a worst case scenario. Looking at my last set of accounts, I think expenses ran to about 30% of receipts (net of VAT).

(2)(0)
W

Yes, but rule to which there are exceptions is generally c.30%. Not 50%. 20% rent and fees. 10% travel. If over 20% rent and fees, then more generous subsidies should be made. If paying 30% as bloke above on rent and fees, despite “generous” subsidies, you’re being ripped off. Sets work on an individual basis so said individual isn’t going to know unless his mates are telling him their numbers.

(0)(0)
Anonimoose

To Junior Civil/Public Tenant:

You talk about the freedom provided by self-employment, which I respect, but say that you cannot afford health insurance/pension plan currently (which would possibly otherwise be provided by an employer). I must qualify my opinion by saying that I am not a barrister, (and whilst I hope to go to the Bar in the near future I accept that it might not work out for me), but I would have thought that getting a payment plan and decent self-employed health insurance would be a number 1 priority for junior tenants?

You say you cannot afford those things, and I take your word for it, but I am wondering how many junior tenants take a risk when they *can* actually afford it. Surely foregoing holidays abroad (as just one banal example) for a few years is worth the sacrifice long-term for a pension, or for health insurance when you have to suddenly stop working due to unforeseen illness and your income disappears overnight!

(0)(1)
W

It’s not that bad – company pensions are scarcely worth the money, and you won’t be able to claim them until you’re halfway dead anyway at this rate. Public sector pensions are generous, but mostly not in the private sector; you’re better off putting the money into property.

Private healthcare isn’t necessary when you have the NHS, but yes, personal insurance in case something serious happens to you, is reasonably wise to cover part or all of your after tax income. The chances of that happening to most individuals during the first 20-30 years of their career is relatively remote, and I would suggest in most cases the expense of paying the insurance, getting them to pay out (which will be a struggle and in most instances they would pay a fraction of your take home) combined with the premiums you would receive after, make the whole thing not particularly worthwhile. The whole insurance industry is based on not paying out to anyone and getting their money’s worth if they do pay out; a lot of sets like Hardwicke and Keating pretty much exclusively represent insurance companies which refuse to pay out over reasonable claims.

(1)(0)
Cynical solicitor

Given that you can’t use apostrophes correctly, I hope I don’t have the misfortune of instructing you.

(0)(1)
A very respectable honourable lawyer

What would any respectable honourable barrister be doing a small claim for?
Of course you can juggle more than one case in the same court in one day. Just have a word with the usher . From the comments in here, I doubt anyone is a barrister here.

(0)(8)
God.

One of the main reasons I ascertain the majority of people who post here are juvenile delinquents is because they are incapable of making a reference to who or what they are referring to. This is clearly an offshoot of “Infidels of Britain” site. There are no learned people here.

(0)(6)
Rumple Tick Tock

Not to mention the “expenditure” from loitering around Hampstead heath.

(0)(0)
WigMan

I sometimes wonder how much people at my level of call (5 years or so into tenancy) earn, so this is all very curious data. I’m at a specialist civil set, and looking at my last 12 months’ income (receipts), it’s about £190,000. Rent is 15% (which is pretty typical). There are travel expenses (some would be paid by the client) but it’s probably no more than 5% of income. Insurance, subscripions, memberships are probably another 5%. However, I think those expenses are set off by the tax savings–as chambers rent, travel expenses etc are all tax deductible. You can also legitimately deduct in relation to some expenses like mobile phone bills, computers etc. The formula I tend to apply when deciding how much of my fees (net of VAT) I get to keep is 50% (net of tax, National Insurance, chambers rent, expenses etc). Seems, over the last 5 years, to be a fairly accurate predictor. This probably isn’t that much higher a percentage than someone earning £100,000+ via PAYE and having to pay higher rate of tax on it. I accept they get paid sick leave, pensions etc but I won’t pretend to be good enough at maths to calculate the impact of those.

I have no doubt that if I chose to go to a US or MC firm instead (which I had the option to do), I’d be earning as much or more by this stage, and I’m never going to earn anything like a partner would. However, if I went down the Big Law route, I’d have to work on areas of law that I don’t find very interesting (a purely personal preference, I’m sure others find commercial law thrilling), and so my overall quality of life would probably be lower. I have better stories to tell, as well, and love my work. Added to the greater freedom of self employment, I’m generally fairly content not to be raking it in.

(2)(0)
W

Just for clarity, you’re doing a bit better than you indicate at first sight. You’re grossing c.190k, you’re losing c.25% deductibles, c.142.5k net of deductibles then, and yes, perhaps c.90k net of tax. So yes, roughly 50% of gross, but PAYE doesn’t work *that* differently besides deductibles in terms of the end result, so you’re on a c.145k PAYE salary. Which for reference is better than a MC firm, you’d expect c.130k at 5PQE at Linklaters or 120k at 4PQE. But marginally worse than a US firm, although per hour it probably evens out. Other benefits like pension really aren’t worth mentioning – although perhaps they’re worth maybe c.5k a year at a MC firm. 10k would be toppy.

Not that I necessarily think you have a better deal overall because it’s a lonely job and self-employment at the bar, in my view, is largely illusory.

(0)(0)

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