Weber Shandwick Head Of Public Affairs Alex Deane: ‘Why I Don’t Miss The Genteel Poverty Of The Criminal Bar’

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Criminal barrister-turned-PR-guru Alex Deane loved the camaraderie and courtroom thrills of the Bar. But after quitting three years ago to help set up civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, from where he has gone on to land a plum job at top PR outfit Weber Shandwick, Deane has found that there are plenty of things he doesn’t miss about his old life as a criminal barrister, including:

*”Taking months and months to get paid”

*”Schlepping around the country” to “grotty” courts and train stations

*Feeling like “a social worker with a wig on”

*The money (these days earnings for 4-7 year qualified criminal barristers often hover at not much more than the £20,000 mark).

Deane (pictured right), who was David Cameron’s chief-of-staff before he joined the Bar, reckons the fact that many law students still aspire to become criminal barristers is down to a “romantic idea that you’ll live in genteel poverty”. But while he accepts that there is a “nobility” in that during a certain phase of life, Deane impresses that “not being able to pay your mortgage” or even “take money out of a cash machine” means that “nobility has an end point”.

Listen to Deane’s advice to wannabe criminal barristers and predictions for the future of the criminal Bar in the podcast below.

The podcast is also available on iTunes.


troy codnee

A much better effort this time. Steer clear of gossip in my opinion.


Uncle Solicitor

Agree. As for Mr Deane, what possesses him to think that he would somehow live in genteel poverty as a criminal defence solicitor? I know many young criminal defence solicitors, and while they do not have the wonderful cabinetwork and the enjoyment of my generous assistant Miss Murphy in the locked boardroom, they do enjoy a lot of commercial success and more importantly, help their clients and the system of justice and society in general. I fear that some in Mr Deane’s position think opine that not wearing a wig could have been somehow below him. How wrong they are!



Well without wishing to be harsh, Alex was hardly at a set which was overburdened with work…



Worth reading Simon Myerson QC’s response to Alex Deane when he made similar complaints some three years ago:



Alex Deane

Hope you listened to the interview, Russell. I had my issues with Myerson’s high-minded piece at the time but ultimately we both love the criminal bar – we’ve reached different views on the future it faces but I’d hope it to be accepted that I come with positivity and in good faith rather than just “complaining”…



Interesting podcast – thanks for sharing your experience Alex.

It may be worth noting that an income of £30k will go a lot further in terms of providing a decent standard of living if you’re not living in London / South-East? Also, in sets outside London there may be greater scope for maintaining a mixed civil-criminal practice?



I really liked this podcast and was interested to learn from Alex’s experience.

The shame of it all is that Alex was obviously a great advocate. It’s the old story, he loved it – but the Bar didn’t love him enough to pay him a living wage.

I’m glad the previous generation was able to make a living out of it. But rather than waxing lyrical about life at the Criminal Bar (which Alex shines a light straight through) Benchers and the Government must realise that the death of legal aid as we know it means that anyone wanting to buy a house or be able to draw a pension one day are voting with their feet and heading out.

D’Jangoly openly said that we’d all do the work anyway.

Maybe he can afford to be a pro bono hobby lawyer – I can’t.


Uncle Solicitor

The man’s language speaks volumes; ‘call to the bar’ ‘not from some dodgy solicitor’ etc are euphemisms that indicate to me that he is either having us on or pretending to live in another world. Being a barrister is being in business, nothing more or less. Yes, like being a doctor, solicitor, surgeon, dentist or engineer, there are special rules of conduct that govern how you can run your business, but at the end of the day what clients want is businesslike efficiency and competence. Using euphemisms to describe one’s profession or occupation, to somehow make speaking in court – something solicitors do with regularity – is not going to help ‘the Bar’ survive at all. This is doubly so when for every barrister there is a solicitor (or two) with better grades or schooling (and with more realistic appraisal of the business and art of lawyering) who took a 50K or 100K job at a large, mid-sized or small firm and who has real competence in the office and on his or her feet in court. It is hard to believe that in the year 2010 Mr Deane could come across as so self entitled in this conversation. There are tens of thousands of lawyers potentially less entitled and potentially better than you who wake up every day to serve their clients – deal with it Sire!


Alex Deane

Hi UncleSolicitor,

Sorry you’re not a fan. In turn: “call to the Bar” is what it’s… called. “Dodgy solicitor” – there are some. Most aren’t. Most are tremendous – just as in the trenches as the Bar in defending the rule of law, the presumption of innocence, etcetera. But there are some, who avoid paying etc. Silly to pretend not. I’d like to think that I operated at the bar with businesslike efficiency and competence, just as I do now in business. It’s 2012 not 2010. And I didn’t feel at all entitled – I didn’t whine about my lot, I just moved on and changed careers even though I loved the job!


Alex Deane

(and not that it matters – went to mixed comprehensives throughout schooling and parents are retired teachers – so “Sire” not really applicable. But thanks)


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