I’m (not) lovin’ it: Criminal barristers could earn more serving Big Macs, suggests top QC

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Some legal aid lawyers earning £5 an hour

Some criminal barristers may be financially better off if they turned their hand to flipping burgers in their local Maccy D’s, a senior member of the bar has suggested.

Chris Henley QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), said “too often fees for prosecuting produce hourly rates worse than wages at McDonald’s”, adding that this is “sadly” not “hyperbole”.

Crunching the numbers, Henley noted barristers working on standard hearings which often require significant preparation and attendance at court for several hours are paid just £46.50. This equates to roughly £5 an hour.

Figures published by the Bar Council show that the average criminal barrister earns around £40,000 a year, however, overheads including chambers’ rent, travel, insurance and pension can see this drop to just £28,000.

The 2019 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List

Still significantly higher than the starting salary at McDonald’s (currently £16,640 or £8 an hour), it’s worth noting that the Bar Council’s £28,000 figure is an average, and in reality many barristers working on a fixed fee basis are earning well under the minimum wage due to the hours they clock up working on a case.

By contrast, barristers working in the commercial sector can enjoy earnings well into the millions, with Legal Cheek‘s Chambers Most List showing pupils at the very tops sets receiving awards upwards of £70,000.

Henley’s comments come just a month after it emerged that some legal aid barristers were worse off than the House of Commons’ head barista. Spotted by The Secret Barrister, the job listing shows the civil service role comes with a salary of £23,290 and benefits including a civil service pension, 30 days annual leave and a childcare voucher scheme.

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Thankfully, they practice their profession motivated by their iron-cast ideal to serve public justice.

They are indeed not the lawyers we deserve but the ones we truly need…



Bruce Wayne QC


McDonalds Inc Legal Team

We understand that you have used our slogan in the negative.

Please provide us with details of whom we can sue.



Brothers! Sisters!

We will tax trainee salaries of £170,000 at American firms to give legal aid lawyers a pay rise! 70% taxes

We will also appropriate the surplus wage to support teachers and nurses!

We will implement full automated luxury Communism after a socialist dawn! Peace amongst mankind and unlimited immigration!

Solidarity with Palestine! Down with metropolitan elites!





What are you trying to achieve?



Your life must be really dull



I’m a lefty and every time I see this I pray that this is a joke.



I would agree with you, but then we would both be wrong.


A non-knee mousse

Yeah but you’re not funny…





Strike action for payrises now


Lord Harley of Counsel

Pro bobo is the future.



I’m tired of Bar Council cash being wasted on trying to have more taxpayer money spent on defending criminals, especially when the annual fees keep going up and up to fund the criminal bar’s moaning. There is oversupply of criminal barristers and in an age of sensible austerity criminals don’t need a Rolls Royce system, they just need the most basic of representation. What is a disgrace is the length of time taken for criminal trials, it is such over indulgence. There is no two week trial that the criminal fraternity cannot spin out to seven or eight weeks. Huge savings could be made with more proportionate timetabling for criminal trials. Some of those saving could then be spent on better prosecution pay.



I don’t know about the spinning out of trials – surely that’s a matter for judges to sort out?

But I suspect you’re right about the oversupply of criminal barristers at the bottom of the heap. Could a crim pupil or baby junior please comment on the state of recruitment in criminal sets? Are they still taking pupils to get them into court ASAP in the second six so that chambers can satisfy their favoured sols who want cheap low-grade work, then binning the pupils come tenancy time?

So keeping a supply of better instructions for the more senior members.



The oversupply goes far deeper than that. There are far fewer significant hearings in criminal proceedings today that 10 years ago and yet the numbers at the criminal bar holds up. If there are as many criminal barristers supplying services with less demand then prices drop until enough move on.



Oh right. Understood.

Just out of interest – because the criminal courts and system are a distant foreign land to me – what are the changes that have reduced the numbers of significant hearings?



Crime has been falling year on year in the UK since the late 1990s

Scouser of Counsel

Quite a few changes over the past 12 years that I have seen that have reduced the number of hearings and streamlined the system:

“Better Case Management” requiring issues to be aired at First Hearing.

Full credit for guilty plea attaching to plea at First Hearing in the Mags only.

Mags sentencing powers now 12 months for 2 or more either way offences meaning fewer cases committed up to Crown Court.

Crown Court Digital Case System. Papers don’t go missing.

Abolition of committal hearings in the Mags.

Abolition of prelims and PCMH’s in the Crown Court. Replaced with a single PTPH hearing.

Ditto abolition of PTR’s and replacement with trial readiness questionnaires in most Crown Court cases.

Refusal to adjourn trials for all but the most exceptional reasons in the Mags. In cases of non-disclosure, Crown are expected to serve on the day and defence are given half an hour to prep.

Stand-down PSR’s meaning fewer adjournments and more sentencing on same day as plea (both Crown and Mags).

Pupil barristers were often given smaller hearings in bigger cases to cut their teeth on. Now there are fewer such hearings to do.


I thi k there are some elements of tbis happening still. However the earnings for the baby barristers are so low many leave. They cant survive in London on £10k.



So we need fewer of them. Oversupply drives down income. The Bar Council’s efforts to prop up the current numbers is madness.



For those who have downvoted this, are you arguing that the Business and Property Courts take longer than criminal courts for arguably more complex matters, or do you just not like anyone criticising the criminal bar?



Absolutely. Criminal work is dross and for second rate minds.


Tim Compton

How fascinating that you have the courage to post your opinions, but not your name …



Other legal aid areas of practice are just as bad. I did a hearing on Monday funded by legal aid and was paid less than £5 an hour once I calculated time prepping, waiting time, hearing time, travel time, travel costs, chambers rent/clerk fees. I am preparing to leave the bar after only 6 years because I can’t make ends meet – I am in London.



Lol how does it feel knowing the benefits scumbags you represent are better off then you?



There will be a reckoning about all this.



Assuming McDonalds would have them ….



This may be a very naive view but I understood that the point is not that the annual pay is higher at McDonald’s but rather the hourly wage higher presumably because the hours worked by a barrister are so long.

I cannot understand why barrister’s don’t simply take a view that they simply won’t spend so long preparing when the fee is so low. In the solicitor world if a client wants a piece of advice the depth of research maps clearly onto the money they are prepared to spend – as already mentioned, a Rolls Royce approach isn’t always justified.



It’s because they’re conscientious and believe in what they’re doing.



Because ethics, that’s why.

that and personal standards of service, IMO.

But mainly because of ethics.


Unrepresentative of Counsel?

I’m 10 years call and am earning more than the article suggests the “average” 15 years call is getting. I do Criminal work, 97% Legal Aid. I get around £50K after Chambers expenses are taken off.

I’m not “rolling in it” but I enjoy the job and I’m happy with my remuneration.

That said, I am not London based and so can afford to live a reasonably comfortable life.

It’s like any market, the best advocates (and I don’t profess to be the best!) will get the best work.

If there is an oversupply, it follows that the less able or (sadly) more junior will get less work.

Fortunately we do not yet have Public Defenders nationwide who, if the American experience is anything to go by, are overworked, poorly paid hacks who pressurise poor defendants to plead guilty to reduce their workload.



Your exception does not disprove the rule (not a criticism- you can only speak from personal experience) but the reality is that:

1. The average 10 year call criminal Barrister is earning a lot less than that.

2. The average 10 year call Barrister could earn a hell of a lot more than your (decent) wedge doing civil.

As such, there is little incentive for counsel who want to do well, especially in London, to do crime.

McPupillage, anyone?



Not sure why you are dissing mcdonalds. Decent wedge working over there. Make your way into corporate, earn mega wedge – retire at 30.


Not impressed.

A troll with a tedious opinion, how refreshing…



Given that most criminal barristers have the same IQ as someone working in McDonalds, this makes sense.



Oh really?

Tell me how you’re GCSE Law course is going, hun?


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