Young Bar Chief’s ‘Be The Best’ Cry Has a Hollow Ring To It

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By Alex Aldridge on

David Nicholls, the chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC), has issued a call for rookie barristers to “be the best” – the same slogan used by another institution that’s forecast to shrink dramatically over the next few years.

In a statement released ahead of the YBC’s annual conference this weekend, Nicholls (pictured above) – a commercial chancery litigation barrister who practises out of 11 Stone Buildings – went on to express the empathy he feels with his brethren at the publicly funded Bar…

“For many young barristers, particularly those working in publicly-funded areas, it is becoming ever more difficult to forge a successful career at the Bar. The challenges facing the wider Bar are felt more acutely by the young Bar, who do not yet have the established practices of their peers.”

Nicholls, whose recent cases include acting for a tenant in a multi-million pound dilapidations claim and successfully representing Natwest and RBS, continued:

“With less work available and repeated cuts to publicly-funded fees, it has never been more important for us, as young barristers, to emphasise our skills and expertise as advocates, to remind our clients, the Government and the wider public that we are the best lawyers for specialist advocacy and advice.”

This “be the best” philosophy might work for commercial barristers like Nicholls – who are literally among the best young brains in the country (have a look at the guy’s CV) – but for rookie crime and family barristers?

Let’s be honest here: for years now the real cream has been going to the commercial Bar, leaving publicly-funded sets to fight over a second tier who are still clever, but no brighter than many solicitors. OK, most have an edge when it comes to advocacy, but as we’ve been seeing for ages, this isn’t stopping law firms from bypassing them.

Nicholls’ predecessor as YBC chief, criminal barrister Nichola Higgins, spent much of her time in the role urging her peers specialising in publicly-funded work to diversify into private areas that generate more cash. She herself has developed a sideline advising companies on the effects of the Bribery Act. But is it realistic to expect young barristers whose bread-and-butter is publicly-funded cases to “be the best” at commercial work?

After all, they’re competing not just with solicitors at corporate law firms – who they may just about match for intellect, if not experience and resources – but geniuses like Nicholls.

The Young Bar Conference will be held tomorrow at the Hotel Russell, Russell Square, central London, from 8.30am to 5.15pm.