One of the lessons my parents taught me as a young man was to never discuss money publicly. I continue to follow this rule, but for today's column I will make an honourable exception which I hope you will excuse.
I do so because I am discovering first-hand as a pupil barrister how challenging finances are at the junior Bar and believe that it would be of wider benefit to go into more detail.
The minimum pupillage award, as most readers will know, is a mere £12,000 annually. As somebody with a longstanding commitment to human rights, whose pupillage is based on predominantly publicly funded work, it is this amount which I receive. £1,000 monthly a long way does not go — and sometimes I do wonder if I ought not have chosen to be a client!
Based in a key regional centre, rather than London at this stage, I have had to purchase an appropriate motor car in order to travel freely — a significant off balance sheet outlay for which I have used prior savings. In addition, there has been a substantial deposit for my relatively modest dwellings. Furthermore, there is petrol, monthly rent, food and utility bills, gym costs and my single extravagance: membership of a very competitively-priced private professional's club boasting excellent networking opportunities.
This has taken me considerably over the £1,000-a-month threshold. I am fortunate that I have a family with a large appetite for legal advice who have hired me on a retainer to assist them with legal matters. The catch to this is that I shall most probably find myself working on Christmas day! Already several weekends have been spent firing off advices to my particularly demanding father. However I make no complaint at this. That is the arrangement we have come to, and I must honour it. It is only by effectively working two jobs that I can make a fist at survival. My concern is for the barristers, and the barristers of the future, who do not have access to this sort of additional source of flexible work.
With other careers providing far superior remuneration at the early stage (although often not at a more senior level, where the talented legal aid silk's early hard work pays off), there is a real risk of the best talent turning their backs on the Bar. Furthermore, the formidable diversity of the Bar could be undermined as those from less wealthy backgrounds consider alternative careers.
I myself am from humble stock, the progeny of solid middle class professionals who have invested wisely, nothing more. As a result, it is my wish to work in a diverse profession that is open to the very best, where meritocracy rules over privilege, where the colour of a barrister's skin matters not a jot, and where the name of the school he or she attended is simply irrelevant. I can only hope that this government's attack on legal aid will not destroy this dream.
Let me end with a story. Last week I struck up a conversation with the til lady at Tesco, a delightful woman from the delta region of Bangladesh, after I had entered the store late to purchase dinner (I selected two items from the Tesco Finest curry range, which had been discounted quite significantly).
As the conversation continued I mentioned my occupation and the lady suddenly stopped what she was doing and stared at me in shock. "A barrister purchasing those reduced items!" were, if I recall correctly, her exact words. "My profession is a fine one but it is not all champagne and caviar, my dear," I replied with a wry smile, before returning to my humble abode with this unglamorous meal for one. The junior Bar is not always what it seems. Gradually the message will out.
OccupyTheInns was called to the Bar in 2011. He commenced pupillage at a leading national chambers this month. There's more from OccupyTheInns here.