Put a cork in it! Mail Online expresses shock at ‘barristers earning £300,000 a year’ recommending budget supermarket wine

Tabloid picked up on comments made by two lawyers in Counsel Magazine

The Mail Online has seized on an article about bargain wines printed in a magazine for, it says, “barristers earning £300,000 a year”.

The Counsel Magazine article in question is called ‘Summer Wine 2017’, and was penned by 11KBW silk Sean Jones and City Law School’s Professor Dominic Regan.

Alongside a fetching picture of three glasses of Rosé, the barrister magazine’s resident wine critics recommend readers stock up on, for example, Co-op’s “luscious” Chilean Pinoit Noir (£8), Lidl’s Confidence Côtes de Gascogne (£5.50) and Tesco Finest Gascogne 2016 (£6.50). More expensive bottles (Henry’s Drive Padthaway 2012 (£16.99); Provence’s Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel (£17)) are also name checked.

A screenshot of the Counsel Magazine article

The Mail Online has taken this story and given it the tabloid treatment. The headline on its piece is: ‘Who needs Châteauneuf-du-Pape? Magazine for barristers earning £300,000 a year recommends bargain wines from Aldi, Lidl and Morrisons for less than £8 (and it proves expensive plonk is not always better)’.

While it is undeniable some top barristers earn into the hundreds of thousands, the bar’s fat cat stereotype needs to be rethought. Bar Council data shows that while 16% of barristers (approximately 2,500) do, indeed, earn over £240,000, 13% of the profession (roughly 2,000) make do with £30,000 or less.

These earnings estimates do not factor in that key overheads need to be deducted, such as travel, insurance and office space, which the Bar Council estimates “together account for about half of a barrister’s turnover.” Taking this all into account, very few barristers will be on £300,000 a year (a figure restated in the tabloid piece’s first paragraph). Indeed, Regan quipped to Legal Cheek:

Maybe counsel working for the Mail earn £300k a year!

To the newspaper’s credit, the ‘all barristers are balling’ message is tempered with some much-needed wisdom further down the piece (though note the silks gaffe):

[A] barrister’s salary can vary widely depending on what type of law they practice and what chambers or organisation they work for. Some silks, who are all self-employed, earn as little as £12,000 in the first year of qualifying.

Furthermore, some understanding of the vast differences in advocate earnings has shone through in the comments section. One reader said most advocates are “barely solvent these days”, given that “rates have remained the same since 1992”. Another comment read: “Criminal barristers turn over around £70k a year and make around £30k if they are lucky). The only ones who drag the average up to £60k do eg shipping, tax etc”.

Not everyone’s so sure. The replies to the above £30k a year comment include: “absolutely incorrect” and “You are so wrong! They earn a hell of a lot more than that.” A fellow Mail Online enthusiast said: “At £1,000pa, working, say, 46 weeks and 40 hours per week ought to come to £1.84 Million by my calculator”. While one reader commented: “ive never heard of any suck low paid lawyers ever except the ones still training doing their articles.”

Despite the mixed comments, Regan told us that, overall, he’s pretty happy with the Mail Online piece. He also said:

Speaking for myself, not Sean, I get more feedback on wine writing than anything I have ever written about civil procedure. Strange but true.

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