‘The tide may flood law firms, but I remain unconvinced that it will engulf the Bar’

Avatar photo

By OccupyTheInns on

The profession which I am to join in September as a pupil barrister is facing its biggest threat yet. No question about that. That is why today’s protest outside parliament is so necessary. I am only sorry that I cannot be there, writes OccupyTheInns.

I must admit that I am finding Australia, where I am recharging my batteries following a period of travel and human rights work, rather difficult to enjoy.

If the truth be told, my mind is elsewhere, far from the fine beaches and abundant wildlife. Barely a day goes by without me checking for news on the situation at home. It is no understatement to say that I am deeply concerned about the assault on legal aid and the impact it will have not just on my future in criminal law, but on justice itself.

Fortunately, my chambers is a good one, sure to push on despite whatever missiles this clown of a non-lawyer Lord Chancellor propels at it from his bunker of ignorance. For this reason I am assured of my short term. Pupillage and the first years as a junior tenant are probably secure. However, beyond that the picture becomes unclear.

Will I, as some predict, be forced someday to go cap in hand to Eddie Stobart Lorries, G4S or the Co-op and ask for the right to be able to practise law from within their identikit offices? Become a salary man, in some godforsaken town in the back of beyond, with a life devoted to the lowest common denominator? I shall not. For reasons of self-respect, and more importantly of respect for my clients, I shall resist.

However, other forces are also at work, and I believe that, when the battle intensifies, the formidable minds of the Bar will prevent this doomsday scenario ever coming to pass.

One key point that has not been made robustly enough in respect of the government’s legal aid proposals is this: barristers offer excellent value for money. Our overheads are low, and compared to solicitors our rates are extremely competitive. The tide may unavoidably rise to flood the pastures of the law where traditional solicitors’ firms lie, but, in the final reckoning, I remain unconvinced that it will engulf the higher ground of the Bar. The noise suggesting otherwise is, I suspect, a negotiation tactic on the part of the government.

During the GDL I met a number of individuals who have pursued the path of legal aid solicitor. Some of these men and women I am proud to call friends. Diligent, hardworking and organised, they deserve far more respect than Chris Grayling affords them. However, I have every faith in their ability to adapt. Their professionalism will see to that. When forced to decide between access to justice for the public and their own careers, these stalwarts will chose the former every time.

Needless to say, I sincerely hope that it will not come to that. Indeed, I do not believe it will. Many thousands of people have signed the petition against the legal aid proposals, and I can only envision that the pressure upon this government of rag tag old Etonians to halt their assault on the Rule of Law will grow and grow. Soon even their arrogance will be forced to surrender to the clamour. Until then we all must hold our nerve.

So today, may barrister and solicitor stand together, as one and the same, and show this government what grave mistakes it is in danger of making. All the very best to everyone involved.

OccupyTheInns was called to the Bar in July 2011. He will commence pupillage in autumn. There’s more from OccupyTheInns here.