Pro no-no: Two thirds of criminal barristers work at least a day a week unpaid

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And they say it’s because solicitors are doing less work, new report suggests

Nearly two thirds of criminal barristers say they are working at least a day a week for free, a new Bar Council report has revealed. Barristers’ Working Lives 2017 is based on the responses of over 4,000 barristers across England and Wales, and shines a light on a host of issues including stress and work/life balance at the bar.

The report found that 62% of barristers plying their trade at the criminal bar were working at least one day a week unpaid. Of those, 70% said the reason for the unpaid hours is that solicitors are doing “less than previously”, while 60% cited the bar’s “unpredictable” workload.

One survey respondent told the Bar Council that barristers “do the extra unpaid hours of work because the system would fail if we did not and judges and solicitors do not recognise the severe impact it has”.

Meanwhile, 27% of criminal barristers and 33% of family barristers revealed they work in excess of 60 hours a week. This is compared to 17% of civil and 16% of commercial/chancery barristers. Across all practice areas, 22% of barristers said they clocked up more than 60 hours a week, up from 13% in 2013.

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Just 18% of criminal barristers think they’re paid fairly given their expertise, compared to 42% of family lawyers and 54% of civil barristers, for example. One barrister added:

“I would like to be paid properly for the work I do, so that I did not have to undertake the amount of work that I do to achieve a reasonably good income. On average I work 6.5 days a week, usually for 12 hours or more. That is no life.”

Over half of those questioned (55%) felt they were unable to balance their home and working lives, while 58% of criminal barristers and 66% of family barristers felt they were under too much work pressure. As a result, 50% of criminal specialists and 62% of family law experts reported feeling emotionally drained.

The chair of the Bar Council, Andrew Walker QC, said “we must all maintain our efforts across the bar to support those who are finding practice ever more difficult to sustain, both financially and in terms of maintaining and enjoying a healthy and fulfilling life both at work and at home”.

The findings come just days after criminal barristers pressed pause on plans to ramp up their legal aid protests. Criminal barristers have been refusing to take on new legal aid cases for almost two months now.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) revealed there had been a “breakthrough” after it met with the Lord Chancellor, a legal aid minister and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) officials last week. The government has reportedly offered £15 million in extra cash to help support junior barristers and fund fraud, drug and child sex cases.

In May, the CBA said it would advising members to adopt a “no returns” policy on legally-aided crown court defence cases. This has now been suspended until 12 June with “immediate effect”. Barristers will, however, continue to decline new publicly-funded cases.

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Easy – don’t be become a criminal barrister… You signed up, you take the “pro no-no” days……..

s.32 Salmon Act 1986

Some great comments coming in from all the criminal barristers. This thread is going to get hilarious once all the solicitors finish their day’s work.

Corbyn. Sympathiser



I regularly cover trials where solicitor appears not to have touched the file since it was opened. Arrive at court for trial, client has never seen the evidence, there’s no proof, and half the papers are missing. And worse, I’m paid a shitty fee for the whole affair when I have now done the case prep and the trial.

Not Guiltay

Or the proof is so brief and badly drafted/formed, it isn’t worth having…

CrimSol in Plimsolls

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Criminal Hack

I’m afraid that that just doesn’t make any sense. The reason it is important to get a full, written and confirmed account is because the criminal punter might want to start changing his story later. It is to guard against the risk of misleading the court. Moreover, it is the solicitor’s job to take the proof, not counsel’s. Ethically, there are extremely limited circumstances in which counsel should take instructions. Normally, it should be a last resort. Leaving counsel to take instructions on the day of trial also prejudices the client enormously – will they get the same quality representation? It also calls into question how seriously a particular solicitor is taking his or her duties a s a case progression officer and raises questions about how defence case statements can be provided in such circumstances (certainly, I NEVER draft one without a proof or an agreed note of conference).

I hope that this is not how your firm operates. If it is, I am outraged on behalf of all of your clients and I hope that the SRA stops you from endangering the liberty of those unfortunate enough to allow you to fill in the LAA application on their behalf.


Unfortunately, as the post was deleted we have no idea what you are self-righteously bleating about!

Sleepy lawyer

I’ve regularly had barristers ask for a proof (that I’ve inevitably sent them) on the morning of the trial.

There are useless people in both bits of the profession. Barristers normally have a much smaller case load so can spend more time on a case (even if unpaid). Currently I work in the “serious offences department” and have a case load of about 15. These are matters (Murders and large frauds) that barristers can spend a month or two concentrating on with only the occasional bench warrant and 2 day trial, as a distraction. Combine that with duties and covering courts at the last minute and you can see how things get dropped.

High case loads and low pay screw us both- so why don’t we start attacking the government rather than each other.

Mr whippy

At least you’re never in a cfa!


Same problems in civil legal aid work aka housing. Shame this doesn’t get reported.


The Bar in general is in meltdown as are many Chambers which are run for the benefit of silks and not juniors.


1. I increasingly despair at the Criminal Bar. Don’t turn on the poor criminal solicitors, show some solidarity, because doing so is both good tactics and good manners.

2. The only interesting stat is that of the 16,500 barristers, 24% of them were foolish enough to respond to a survey by a regulator.

There are only 3 reasons a regulator asks for information:

– to hurt or embarrass the Bar in furtherance of a politic goal
– to cherry pick from the information in order to justify a widely unpopular and harmful change they intended to make anyway, and
– to have on file useful statistics to cherry pick later in order to justify a widely unpopular and harmful change they intended to make anyway

Don’t dignify them with our attention.

And journalists shouldn’t print these tales based on such tiny response rates to surveys.


The Bar needs to be changed and thank goodness the Regulator is doing something about it. Surveys are a good means to collect and collate information. Many barristers have terrible working conditions are suffer awful mental and physical wellbeing. Drink, drugs, adultery, broken homes, depression are widespread among members of the Bar. Out of all my professional friends, barristers have the worse lives.


Poor you. I’m sorry you didn’t manage to secure that pupillage.


I enjoy drugs, drink and adultery. I also enjoy finishing work at 5.30pm, a fixed salary, holiday pay and pension. I am a duty solicitors and I know my place…

Dog the Brief-fee Hunter

It isn’t so much that the work is unpaid – it is that the work expected in return for the fee is so enormous that the aggregate hourly rate is pitiful. As an example, many junior barristers in the Crown Court sustain themselves with the interlocutory hearings which cannot be fitted into the diaries of more senior barristers. A typical interlocutory hearing is a pre-trial review, and I will choose this as my worked example. You receive (from memory) less than £100. For that money, you have to essentially know the case as well as trial counsel. In doing so, you must read through and memorise the brief, which is often hundreds of pages long. It is rare that you are provided with detailed instructions, so you are very much considering the case ‘afresh’. The hearing can take hours to prepare, with the equivalent hourly wage (taking into account that you are paid a fee, rather than a salary) often being close to (or below) the statutory minimum. Whilst this is a very narrow example, the situation is just as bad for trial work (and even worse for work in the magistrates’ court).

Irwin Mitchell Associate

Show offs. I work 7 days a week unpaid.


Once the criminal bar reduces to the nth degree I look forward to the judges having to put up with crap. Once they do their rollicking to the purse strings holders may result in changes.

LC staff

That’s nothing, we work 5 days a week unpaid, and by work we mean day drink


Such a misleading headline. Solicitors are doing less but not out of laziness…because like is their funding has been cut so much that they too are spread too thin. Stop fuelling the fire and trying to put us against each other #thelawisbroken

Steve Moose

Same all, same all. Poor legal profession, underpaid and overworked. ‘ I have to wok 60 hours a week, poor me !’ Boo hoo, in legal profession, long hours with no family life is standard. If you do not like it – please leave. Law schools have more sheeps ready for the slaughter. You will not be missed !


Do your mother not hug when you were little?

Steve Moose

No, she hasn’t ! Thankfully yours hugged my ding dong !

Judge hobosexual

Has she at least made up for it by offering you a no holes barred 50 shades of grey sesh at a 50% discount from her normal rates?


Long hours were always standard, but shit pay to go along with it is a new innovation


Steve, it’s “same old, same old”.

I think that one goes in the same book as the following:

“Damp squid”
“Tender hooks”
“Should of”
“St Pancreas Station”
“Please can you be pacific”

😂🤣😂🤣😂🤣🤠🤣🤗🤣😂🤣😂🤣😂🤣😂🤣🤠🤣😂🤣🤠🤣🤠🤣😂🤣😂🤣🤡😂😆😁🤡😁🤠🤣😂🤡🤣😝😂😆🤣😝🙃 💩

Sleepy lawyer

Except, it’s less likely to happen on civil work which is better paid.

Maybe that iron tight grip of facts is why you lost out on pupillage.

Sleepy lawyer

I seem to have managed to post this on the wrong thread.


I would never trust a barrister or a solicitor again after what my wife went through. So no sympathy from me.

I work hundreds of hrs a year unpaid also and just get on with it.

Judge hobosexual

I’m sorry a barrister or solicitor refused to pay your wife after her no holes barred 50 shades of gray sesh with them. As someone who’s had plenty of experience of this, indeed hours per year of experience, I’m sure you appreciate that this line of work is often characterised by unpaid bills.


Has this become a copypasta?


This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.


You aren’t allowed to say things like that.

This is England, where freedom of speech is trumped by the right not to be upset or offended.

Sorry- Best buy a plane ticket to the ‘States!

Barrister to Bus driver

There is only one solution to this.

Quit and become a bus driver. That’s what I did and I am loving it! Now I drive all the tired barristers home at night. I have to live on a pot noodle now and again, but oh well!


So? There is massive over supply of advocacy service at the criminal bar. As a taxpayer I don’t want to fund a Rolls Royce service. A Ford Zetec is quite enough.

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