Could the legal aid reforms improve life for baby barristers?

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By Alex Aldridge on

It’s a confusing time for future legal aid barristers. On Friday a lucky few obtained pupillage, as existing members of the Bar roared encouragement to the not-so-lucky ones…

Yet just days earlier a barrister’s eBay ad selling their wig and gown — featuring a damning critique of life at the Bar — had gone viral. The critique recalled two recent blog posts — see here and here — by junior criminal barristers about how it is basically impossible to make a decent living from legal aid work these days.

It’s little wonder, then, that paralegal Mark Watson has mixed feelings as he prepares to commence pupillage at a top London criminal set next month…

His strategy? Alongside simply surviving pupillage — no mean feat even in gentler times — Watson (pictured) is looking to position himself to be able to diversify into other more lucrative areas in the future.

He reckons the legal aid reforms leave him no choice but to do this, and in this sense views the government’s determination to change the system as potentially having at least a partially positive aspect. Watson’s thinking is that by forcing young barristers to establish an economically viable practice at an early stage, Grayling and co. may be giving them a greater chance of thriving at the Bar in the long term.

“If they cut legal aid there could be an indirect benefit for the junior Bar,” he says. “As a junior barrister up to five years call it will be inviable to have a solely criminal practice. To have a mortgage, a dog and a family young barristers who would previously have practised only crime are going to have to do tax and accountancy tribunals and other less glamorous work. But the ones who can survive that initial pinch may hopefully find opportunities opening up in the future.”

Listen to Watson share his thoughts with me in the podcast below.

This podcast is also available on iTunes.