Crime doesn’t pay: Students who opt for bar glamour careers will always earn way less than kids who choose safe corporate route

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By Thomas Connelly on

Thinking of a career at the criminal bar? You could be over £40,000 better off working in Aldi


A government report has revealed that some junior members of the criminal bar are barely earning minimum wage — and while the money will improve a bit, it will never be great.

The latest stats produced by the Bar Council and the Ministry of Justice show that the median fee income for a criminal barrister in 2014-2015 was £56,000. However — before the uninitiated break out into chants of “fat cats” — after deducting expenses and chambers fees, that leaves those in crime walking away with an equivalent salary of just £28,000.

Examining the structure and level of pay for junior barristers conducting criminal legal aid work, the report also revealed that over a three-year period between 2012 and 2015 fees dropped by 8%.

Things aren’t much better for the more experienced members of the criminal bar. The report suggests that for every five years of additional experience a barrister has, this will reflect in just a 2% increase in fees received.

Alistair MacDonald QC, chair of the Bar Council, is concerned that some barristers are earning “little more than the national average wage”. Worried that the level of remuneration will mean that working at the junior end of the criminal bar will simply become “unaffordable”, he continued:

The payment structure provides little scope for career progression for criminal barristers. It takes many years of practice and training at the bar to prosecute and defend complex criminal cases, but if it is unaffordable for young barristers to pursue this line of work, we will find cases collapsing due to a lack of experienced counsel.

The figures make for even more depressing reading when compared to other options open to students leaving university.

For example, budget supermarket chain Aldi pays graduates £42,000 in the first year of its management training scheme. Pay then rises to a whopping £70,000 after just four years — and Aldi even throws in a fully-expensed Audi for good measure. Meanwhile, at the leading corporate law firms you can be on £100,000 after just two years in the job.

The report also reveals that almost 40% of criminal barristers had annual fee earnings of less than £50,000 — putting them on an equivalent salary of under £28,000. So it’s obvious why there are major concerns that the legal aid-funded bar is increasingly becoming a profession reserved for those with additional means of financial support.

With a 25 year-old supermarket manager with his flash German company car taking home over £40,000 more than some of the criminal bar’s future stars, no wonder the Bar Council big wigs are nervous.