Bar chief says young barristers ‘unable to fulfil potential’ as law reporters launch scholarship for skint pupils

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By Alex Aldridge on

Law reporting charity chips in with some cash for legal aid rookies


Life right now for junior legal aid barristers is pretty awful. Laden with law school debt, they scrape along on little more than the minimum wage.

A few years back, their earnings would have jumped around the five year qualified mark, but these days increases are incremental. The best most can hope for, after spending a fortune on their education, is pay in line with social workers or nurses.

That’s why so many criminal and family barristers are leaving. The word around legal London is that regulatory bodies such as the Financial Services Authority and the Serious Fraud Office are taking their fair share of bar refugees.

Others who want to continue practising law are joining solicitors’ firms. A handful of imaginative ones, like sexism row barrister Charlotte Proudman, are attempting to launch media careers.

Yesterday evening, during a speech at Lincoln’s Inn, Bar Standards Board chair Sir Andrew Burns was admirably frank about the situation, telling the audience:

I have been made keenly aware, by the lawyers to whom I have talked and by the lessons I have learnt from sitting beside judges in court, that many parts of the Bar are in severe pain, with many unable to fulfil their true potential.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Last month Legal Cheek reported on a radical plan for the legal profession to buy junior barristers’ debt which is being backed by Cherie Blair QC and criminal bar chief Mark Fenhalls QC.

And today law reporting charity the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR) has shown that it’s willing to lend a hand to help a profession in need, launching a £12,000 bursary to support pupils at the publicly-funded bar. The award, which is similar to an Inns of Court Scholarship, will be handed out annually from next autumn.

ICLR’s research and development manager Daniel Hoadley, who is a former barrister himself, explained the rationale behind the move:

As a charity, ICLR is always looking for new ways to support law students and those embarking on a career at the Bar — the ICLR Pupil Award is a new way in which we aim to support students commencing pupillage in chambers. The majority of ICLR’s staff are barristers, so we’re acutely aware of how challenging pupillage can be and how this has been exacerbated for some areas of the profession by recent cuts to legal aid.

Only pupils at chambers with a pupillage award of not more than £14,000 will be eligible to apply. The decision about who gets the bursary will be made on both merit and need. Applications open in March, with a practical assessment in June. The winner of the £12k will be announced in September.