As protests rage in Westminster, Tony Cross QC forecasts the end of the legal profession as we know it
The head of the criminal bar has used his platform at today’s Global Law Summit to outline his dystopian vision of the future of the legal profession, featuring a bar that will “wither on the vine and die out” and the replacement of many solicitors with paralegals.
Tony Cross QC’s words came on a surreal day at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, where international delegates including the US attorney general Eric Holder and Oscar nominated actress Carey Mulligan (both pictured below left with a rather awkward-looking Chris Grayling) mingled inside the building as noisy protests took place outside. The protesters were led by, amongst others, Martha Costello QC actress Maxine Peake (pictured below right).
While Cross, who has been heavily criticised for his decision to speak at the event, avoided directly criticising justice secretary Grayling in his speech, he did slam successive governments’ attitude towards the rule of law, before taking the opportunity to describe how the Tories’ reforms could play out in practice.
“The trusted local High Street firm of solicitors is likely to become an historical curiosity than a feature of our land. In their place will become the conglomerate, the franchised or branded ‘services company’,” he predicted.
At this point, Cross (pictured below) added, “the competition will have been removed and the large company will (once again) be in a position to hold the Government to ransom”.
“Meanwhile in place of qualified solicitors, one will receive advice from less qualified paralegals … Unable to receive trusted advice, people risk contesting trials where once they might have pleaded guilty. Even worse, unable to make contracts pay should too many trials go ahead, there is a risk that perverse incentives may come into play and people will be advised to plead guilty, not because they are, but because it becomes profitable were they to do so.”
The worst fate, though, in Cross’s bleak vision, was reserved for the criminal bar. He went on:
“It would be wrong and misguided to believe that these reforms which appear to impact only on solicitors, appalling enough as that would be, would not also affect the bar. With more advocacy work inevitably being taken in-house by these new entities, the junior bar will wither on the vine and die out. With no junior bar, there will be no senior bar and should this come to pass, then from where will come our next generation of judges in the family, county and crown courts?”
Cross also highlighted how dysfunctional the current situation has become, charting how many young legal aid barristers are quitting the profession or avoiding it all together.
“Every day, members of the junior bar turn up to do hearings unpaid,” he explained. “They have continued to do so because they are seasoned professionals who care deeply. But they have reached the end of their tether. Droves of the young are leaving and the professions are being hollowed out as increasingly people do not believe there is a future in publicly funded work. And why should society expect talented students laden with debt to take a career path that promises so little?”
Meanwhile, in an earlier speech Grayling sought to defend his position by arguing that “economic reality” can force “profoundly unwelcome” changes to the legal system.
“It is clear to me looking back at history that no change is seldom an option,” he reflected.