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Legal aid pay row: Doughty Street QC rounds on claims lawyers’ earnings have ‘rocketed’

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Publicly funded barristers still broke, says publicly funded barrister

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A criminal law silk has rubbished claims that legal aid lawyers’ earnings have “rocketed” over the past five years.

According to new stats, produced by legal resource website Chambers Student, junior barristers have enjoyed hefty pay rises in areas of law thought to be struggling under the weight of government cuts.

The Times’ newsletter The Brief reported on Friday that — at the top end at least — average pay for new criminal law barristers has “shot up” by a third from £30,000 to £40,000. As for family lawyers again at the top end of the average pay scale, one-year call barristers rake in a quarter more than their counterparts from five years ago. In money terms, this is an increase of £10,000 from £40,000 to £50,000.

This is rubbish, says Doughty Street Chambers’ Francis FitzGibbon QC. Writing in The Brief today, the criminal law specialist warned readers to take the recent figures with “a big pinch of salt”, noting:

The story was based on anecdotal research by a student guidebook that is at odds with the official statistics.

Painting a much more sobering picture for aspiring advocates, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association FitzGibbon argued this morning that criminal and family law public funding — or rather what remains of it — has been declined for years.

It’s “the most junior barristers” who will feel the biggest effects of this. On this, he said:

They inevitably do the lowest-paid work and they often have to travel to remote crown courts for standard hearings, and can make a loss after paying their expenses on the £87 fixed legal aid fee.

Though he admits “no one goes into criminal law to get rich”, the worsening earnings and hours are discouraging people from joining the profession and are even causing a criminal bar exodus.

The situation is a “tragedy”, the news coming in the same week the Legal Action Group — together with homelessness charity Shelter — warned thousands of people are losing their homes each year because they can’t access lawyers. According to weekend reports, legal aid cuts and bureaucracy have “progressively driven most lawyers specialising in housing out of the market, leaving few practitioners.”

21 Comments

Anonymous

Absolute bollards.

The AHs at the LAA do all they can to do the lawyers out of the money. Where else would the prosecution rely on 100,000 pages of evidence and the LAA try to pay the lawyers for 1,500 ?

No one with any sense would do legal aid crime.

(15)(0)

Anonymous

This does seem far-fetched. Even if earnings were up based on fees owed, the recovery rate for junior criminal barristers has always been problematic.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

So I think it depends on whether these statistics include junior criminal barristers who rely on alternative sources of work for their income. Secondments etc.. are becoming the norm. It is therefore possible that, seen this way, earnings have increased. If you spend 6 months each year on secondment earning £250 per day (albeit taking no holidays) you would gross £32,500. Then you could do 6 months of standard crime and put yourself well into these brackets.

(2)(2)

Barrister

Possible, but this is averages we are talking about and I just don’t buy it. Plus I dare say it doesn’t take 25% chambers rent into account. Really really irresponsible of this student publication. The use of the word “rocketed” in connection with junior criminal bar earnings is a joke.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Just to clarify my comment then, obviously if the context is legal aid criminal work, then the article is misleading, and I agree with the comments below. But everyone knows that the ‘traditional’ career path for a criminal barrister is no longer viable. Attending the Magistrates’ court for £50 is just a complete waste of time. From my short time at the criminal Bar (I quit about a year or so out of pupillage) I started refusing to do that sort of work, if only because it made me too angry.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Student = tosser

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Third six criminal barrister here. The article is nonsense. There has been no increase at all. The fees remain the same as do the agreed fees paid by solicitors for magistrates’ court work. It’s not at all uncommon to be making a loss once expenses (travel, chambers etc.) is taken into account. As inflation goes up, the fees are forever decreasing.

No one joins the criminal bar to make money, we all know that. However, it’s almost impossible to live. Honestly, I feel there is little reason to join, or stay at, the criminal bar.

(9)(0)

Anonymous

May I ask why you went for the criminal bar if you felt this way? Not being facetious, genuinely interested

(6)(1)

Anonymous

I’m not the same person who you replied to, but I’m also at the criminal bar; 2 years post-pupillage.

In very, very generalised terms, I pursued it because, having completed work experience in civil, family and crime, I preferred the purpose of, and people involved in, the criminal Bar as opposed to the other two.

The money is absolute shite. I still don’t make enough to pay tax and only survive with the help of my parents and a second job.

(2)(0)

Scouser of Counsel

In-house is the way to go if you want to do Legal Aid crime.

You’ll make a reasonable living but never be rich, and you’ll enjoy the job without all the worries of being in Chambers (risk of making a loss, not being able to cover expenses etc).

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Could you elaborate on this at all? Genuinely curious about this option.

(0)(0)

Scouser of Counsel

Sure. Barristers no longer have to join Chambers on a self-employed basis in order to practise.

Barristers can join firms of solicitors as a salaried member of staff and do work just for that firm. This also applies to the CPS, some government departments and businesses.

As a criminal barrister who was in Chambers for five years and has been in-house for the last three, I’ve seen it from both sides.

The advantages of being in-house are: PAYE, holiday pay, travel paid, predictable income, first pick of the work, getting to know your clients and cases better as you aren’t doing “night-before” returns, FAR less evening work, no overheads, no VAT returns and a better work-life balance. The pay isn’t bad either, and you’ll never be making a loss on a day’s work, which can happen an awful lot at the junior end of the criminal Bar.

The disadvantages are- a loss of freedom (in Chambers you choose when and where you work, once you’re a tenant), less variety in the work, no mixture of prosecution/defence (or claimant/defendant) work, less potential to get better quality work through networking/impressing solicitors.

Some may also regard having to cover trials in the Magistrates’ Court when you’re not in the Crown Court (which you are unlikely to do post-five years’ call in a decent Chambers) as a disadvantage of being in-house vs the independent Bar.

It is possible for those going to the Bar to do a pupillage at a firm of solicitors too, under the supervision of an employed pupil-supervisor too, and be employed from day one of pupillage. Your pupillage is still only a year long, and you have higher-rights from day one of your second six, as in a Chambers.

Any questions?

(1)(0)

Not Amused

“Any questions?”

Yes.

Why won’t the Criminal Bar just admit that its time is up and move to a CPS/National Defence/Private Defence Law Firm model?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Why don’t you admit your time is up and fuck off

Anonymous

maybe if Doughty stopped their juniors from consistently wasting court time with pointless pseudo-political diatribes and just annoying the benches their fees would be better because they’d waste less of everyone else’s money. And they may well get better results for their clients….. they are almost beyond parody at times.

(3)(6)

Opinionated but ignorant

Everyone I’ve ever been against from Doughty has been surprisingly unpompous and good. Now Matrix or Garden Court…

(2)(0)

Anon

They do have the largest legal door knob in London. I have developed a theory that there is some correlation between size of knob and size of egos within.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

1. I made the exact same point on twitter as soon as the link regarding these average earnings came out (focused on crime) and I pointed out this seemed to be a lot and goes against what all criminal barristers say about pay at the criminal bar. The response I got was that the crime figures could include private work. I then just politely responded by saying that I think those figures are unhelpful.

2. Are LC sure it’s Today’s The Brief? I’ve just looked at my emails, no comment from the QC is there…

(0)(0)

Insecure

Maybe the silk should address why they only give their juniors temporary tenancies

(2)(0)

Novanglus

This is unconscionably poor reporting by the Times.

The original article* explicitly states that its figures are not averages, but rather ‘upper and lower limits’. The Brief published on 16 December 2016 was therefore wrong to states ‘this year the average remuneration was £40,000.’

Even if the article had acknowledged that it was simply comparing high-end figures, the conclusion from this that ‘[a]verage pay for first-year call criminal law barristers have shot up by 33 per cent’ is a mistake that a Year 9 Maths student would not make.

Leaving the Times’ interpretation of the figures aside, as pointed out in this article, the Chambers’ Student’s methodology is extremely poor – as Chambers’ Student themselves acknowledge, with a long caveat about how unreliable their figures are. They are based on getting ‘we got in touch with our contacts at a number of leading barristers’ chambers in different areas of practice and asked what their most junior members would typically earn.’ To use these figures without comparing them with other statistics is, again, to fail the most basic statistical journalistic standards.

I typically find the Brief a very useful and well-written source of information, but their spin on this article casts doubt not only over the authors’ competence, but also whether they are pushing an ideological agenda – i.e. that criminal and family barristers are in fact fat cats, despite the cuts.

*http://www.chambersstudent.co.uk/where-to-start/newsletter/how-much-do-barristers-earn

(0)(0)

Anonymous

not as much as Paul Maher on 5 million pounds a year at Greenberg

(0)(0)

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