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Cash-strapped young barristers feeling more ‘lost’ and ‘depressed’ than ever

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Uncertainty not helped by coming online justice revolution

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The nation’s top baby barrister has claimed that her peers are in a “particularly vulnerable position” amid spiralling legal education costs, plunging legal aid rates and technological innovation.

Speaking at the Bar Council’s annual conference over the weekend, Louisa Nye suggested that new entrants to the profession are still paying off £70,000 study debts five years into their careers, and warned that many young criminal and family barristers are actually “struggling to maintain a living”.

Nye — who is a six-year-qualified junior at top commercial set Landmark — proceeded to issue a plea for bar bigwigs to “listen to and take the advice of those of us at the coal face” as they embrace online justice and other digitisation initiatives. Such developments could reduce the amount of more basic work that rookie lawyers have traditionally cut their teeth on.

Taken together, these factors mean that young barristers are facing more difficulties and uncertainty than “any generation of barristers in the previous 52 years”, the Young Barristers’ chief argued, adding:

And it is difficult against that background not to feel somewhat lost and somewhat depressed.

In a highly personal address, Nye admitted to having suffered with anxiety and depression herself having lost a close friend who took her own life, “in part under the strain that this job and circumstances can place on people”.

Nye’s speech coincided with the launch of the ‘Wellbeing at the Bar’ initiative, which aims to dispel the stigma around barristers asking for help.

The other big speech at the Bar Council conference came from Sir Adrian Fulford, the senior presiding judge for England and Wales, who warned that barristers when confronted with technological developments must “either adapt rapidly or fade away”.

“To gaze out across green fields, listen to the skylarks and wish for a less technologically based age” was a dangerous path to follow, he stressed, continuing:

I am sorry to be uncompromising but we have simply got to change, and judges and practitioners in all jurisdictions and at all levels must rapidly get used to the administration of justice being transferred, in large part, to the ‘cloud’.