It’s all about barrister v solicitor as Labour leadership contest gathers pace

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Age-old divide rears its head in latest political battle

Sir Keir Starmer QC and Rebecca Long-Bailey

In the red corner is Rebecca Long-Bailey, one-time commercial solicitor and now shadow business secretary. In the other red corner is Sir Keir Starmer QC, the Doughty Street human rights barrister, and current shadow Brexit secretary.

Both are frontrunners in the Labour Party leadership campaign to succeed Jeremy Corbyn.

All lawyers know, however, that there is a professional divide here too: between the solicitor and the barrister, between the trusted advisor and the advocate, between a career in the safe harbour of a commercial law firm and one in the more precarious-but-glamorous environs of an elegant town-house chambers.

Long-Bailey (or ‘Wrong Daily’ as she has been nicknamed) studied law part-time whilst doing odd jobs. She opted for security: steady, well-paid employment at a series of respectable firms, including Pinsent Masons and, latterly, Hill Dickinson. Her actual experience has been harder to pinpoint. She says she “worked on NHS contracts”. This probably means that she did commercial leases, supply contracts, and outsourcing agreements; exciting stuff. The press have made much of it, and the fact that she is very likely to also have worked on NHS private finance initiatives (PFIs) of which she has since become a fierce critic.

Starmer on the other hand, went for the glamour. Rumoured to be the real life inspiration for Mark Darcy of Bridget Jones’ Diary fame, Starmer’s legal background is in human rights, the defence of the oppressed against the state (such as the McLibel case). His career is overloaded with accolade, achievement and even a few authored textbooks on subjects as intense as liberty and criminal justice. He switched sides to take the top job of Director of Public Prosecutions without much ado.

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Will their decision to take a particular path through law be pivotal in their success or failure at the ballot box? Starmer’s think-on-your-feet skills will surely stand him in good stead. Or, perhaps Long-Bailey’s negotiating experience, pitilessly arguing over indemnities, will win the day.

The barrister has the edge according to the bookies (Starmer has odds of 1/4, Long-Bailey of 5/1) and the polls (a YouGov poll at the beginning of the year put Starmer at 67% and Long-Bailey at 37%).

But the Labour Party’s internal election rules are, of course, not straightforward. Candidates must reach certain thresholds: they need the backing of MPs and then also the wider party, the local constituency parties, trade unions, and other affiliate organisations. Long-Bailey, for instance, has the support of Momentum — though it was with a touch of farce the way that it endorsed her: she was the only name on their ballot paper. Plus the successful candidate must go on to get 50% of the total member vote.

Once the voting begins on 21st February, who will be victorious, the solicitor or the barrister? Or will the only non-lawyer left, Lisa Nandy, floor them both in the final weeks? All be revealed on 4th April 2020.

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This is awful.



67 + 37 ….

On a more serious note, now that DExEU has been disbanded, how can Starmer continue to shadow it?



Diane Abbott conducted the poll.



Long-Bailey is a complete disaster. She will never, ever win in a general election.



Listen Kay, I remember when people said that about Jeremy Corbyn.


Soft Leftie

Sorry, and how many elections did JC go on to win exactly?



Erm, did you not see the result of the Islington North constituency in the election last December?

#idiot #stupid #dumbasarock


Doc Schwartz

Hi Dianne, please lay off the Wild Turkey or you’ll end up wearing wrong shoes again yes?


Criminal hack versus provincial solicitor. Hardly the Clash of the Titans.



And here lies the problem… Starmer is a little too clever in Law for the Labour leader these days, for Len of Unite anyway! I think they are (well, Len is) looking for someone like Sophie Khan or M. T. Akunjee, or people like ‘the Chinese’ Sarah Owen.

You might have a point if the calendar is still saying 2011 instead of 2020! I mean, why would Len possibly want a legal Titan who would then try and purge his ‘affiliates’ from the Party? Have you seen their Chinese/Russian-style fun and games on Twitter over the last 6-7 years?!



Well, there’s Starmer who has a first in law from Leeds and the BCL from Oxford. Then there’s RLB who studied sociology at Manchester Met.

It is safe to say they have slightly different educational experiences.



Not that great a divergence. The education he got at Leeds would have been on a par with Manchester Met. They are both second rate universities. His class of degree means nothing. Getting a first from Leeds, especially in his day, is like being the best dressed man in Bulgaria.



Just ignore the BCL bit, pal.



The BCL is rightly ignored, because it doesn’t count. Where you go to university, and what is therefore the benchmark of your intellect, is where you were an undergrad. It is far, far easier to get into Oxbridge at postgrad level. The BCL is notoriously awash with people who wouldn’t have got within spitting distance of Oxford as an undergrad. So the fact he spent 9 months as an Oxford postgrad is properly to be ignored when assessing his intellect and quality of education.



To say it’s easier to get in for the BCL as opposed to the BA Juris (which is a suspect assertion) does not mean that getting in for the BCL is inherently unimpressive and not worthy of consideration.

It’s all the more suspect because the lucky lads who did get in to Oxford for the BA Juris mostly couldn’t get in for the BCL (which requires a first). If “ability to get in” is the metric for true intellect, that standard surely must be applied to the BCL as well.

But stay angry.


You are one who seems angry. You sound like a Warwick 2.1 with a mighty chip.

The overwhelming proportion of people on the BCL are, like me, former Oxbridge undergrads. The non-Oxbridge BCL rump are Oxbridge undergrad rejects or those who did not apply at all because they were not good enough. So your point is, with respect, rubbish.


Yeah, yeah. You are so insecure you have to trash BCL students to make yourself seem important relatively. Don’t worry: once you have grown a pair and shagged a bird, you will be less bitter.


You really did go to Warwick or some other dismal red brick. The banal and tawdry reference to sex, doubtless learned at your state school, gives the game away. You are so second rate.


I was top of my college in the BA (Jurisprudence) and didn’t get into the BCL. It’s arguable that they have different criteria for admission, but I don’t think you can say it’s generally “far easier” to get into…


Yes, it is far easier to get into Oxbridge at post graduate level.

Anonymous BCLer 2019-2020

The briefest look at the BCL profile book for this year will reveal that the minority of students are former Oxbridge. Most are from commonwealth unis.
Some first class Oxford BAs of last year who I know applied did not obtain a place.
The BCL is a misnomer, albeit a historical one. It is not a bachelors degree, properly so-called, by any means (cf the BA). This is a quirk of history whereby Oxford, back in the Middle Ages, had faculties of civil law and canon law (the latter obviously now abolished); these were Higher Faculties, ie one had already to possess a lower generalist degree in order to advance to them. Then, as now, the only superior degree in the faculty of civil law was the DCL (an honorary doctorate for which one supplicates). Note how there is no ‘masters’-level degree.
In short, the BCL is an LLM. And a bloody hard one at that.


The BCL is a Bachelors degree. The clue is in the title. I did the BCL last year. 85% of my intake were Oxbridge graduates. We were well aware that we were not doing a Masters degree but were interested in the subjects, especially restitution. I could have continued at Cambridge and done the LLM, but the BCL appealed to me more. It was also a standing joke that it was much easier to get onto the BCL than it was to get an undergraduate place at Oxbridge. And I am afraid we all looked down on the minority from overseas/non-Oxbridge, who were evidently less intelligent than us and who invariably did not perform as well in the supervisions and exams.


I think that saying the BCL is not impressive “because … well, I went to Oxford at undergrad” just reeks of insecurity and a venomous spirit. Who was even talking about you.

I think it is probably true that you haven’t done anything in life, such as shagged a bird, or you’d not be so insecure and insert your short life story into much grander narratives.



You are the angry and insecure one. Your education has left you gauche and tawdry. Go away, little man.


Decent sincere comment, but somehow you got 30 down votes in the space of a few hours. That is because this website has been infiltrated by trolls.

Reading the comments above (Anon etc.) has let me know that I am now too old for Legal Cheek. I can’t even be bothered to respond to the trolling anymore. This is all so pathetic, and repeated on every article. Legal Cheek is done. ROF has come back strong for the more mature (late 20s onwards) solicitors. This place is for Uni students, the rude and the mentally retarded. I mean seriously, who responds to every single comment saying ‘Oxbridge is great, the rest of you chippy’ over and over again on every thread on this website. That is someone who is not well.

Anyway, goodbye Legal Cheek. The last few years have been fun.


Good riddance. Go and learn how to hold a knife and fork.


The BCL is still undeniably impressive. Most prestigious Common Law taught Masters in the world for a reason.



So more prestigious than all the literal cash cows it’s competing against?



If you are going to cut and paste from the BCL Wikipedia page, get it right, and make it clear that the claim as to prestige is made by Oxford itself, rather than by an independent source: ‘Oxford claims that the BCL is “the most highly regarded taught masters-level qualification in the common law world”’:

The BCL is not a Masters degree. It’s a Bachelors degree. The clue is in the title. It might be at Masters level, as Oxford claim, but the distinction between a Masters degree and one at Masters level is crucial, and made clear by Oxford in its blurb. (Oxford has Masters degrees for other courses and so designates them.)

The most prestigious taught Masters degrees in the common law world are the Cambridge LLM and the Harvard LLM.



Hopeless pedantry. It’s a master’s they call a bachelor’s.


It’s a Bachelors they call a Bachelors.

That’s why many of the best Oxford graduates head to Cambridge or Ivy League universities for an LLM, rather than spend another year and cash only to get another Bachelors.


Most highly regarded? Perhaps, but it’s meritocracy in its old-fashioned sense.
In my opinion, anyone willing to pay £23,000 for a year’s education they could have had at the same university for less than half the price is defective in a fairly important respect.


It’s a bachelor’s that’s RQF L7. It’s a master’s they call a bachelor’s.

There are sui generis bachelor’s degrees at L7, such as the standard medical degree; but they’re not 1 year and not comparable to a master’s.


It’s a Bachelors degree they call a Bachelors. Stop talking gibberish.


The only people thinking this are year 1 law students, LC. Which seems to be your target audience these days



It’s also:

A man vs a woman

A person with short hair vs a person with long hair

A person who worked in the public sector vs a person who worked in the private sector.

The list of comparisons could go on, and none of them are relevant to the debate.

Just like the Barrister vs Solicitor angle.

Surely there must be some legal-related news stories to report on?


I am Austin

RLB used to work at Halliwells also…


kumar sarkar

Solicitor vs barrister or class against class? Did Jeremy Corbyn succeed to change the balance of class forces in the Labour Party in imperialist Britain?


Lord Harley on trial

There’s nothing special about Oxford.

My pass degree at ‘Uddersfield was the equivalent to a double first at Oxford.


Drederick Qualmsbury QC

I found a little fox
Inside a little box
I hit it !
little foxy chunks
went flying off in lumps
and I said that is a good day’s work for me



The English judiciary is full of Labour activists… who knew!



This is weirdly so true


Patrick Cassidy

The above discussion does no favour to the lawyers who focus on the minutiae of the 3 -5 years of study rather than the 20 years afterwards of work and politics that both have done with distinction .Admittedly Starmers stella human rights career followed by the transfer to the CPS was a high water mark but RLBs success in commercial firms in the north west was no small beer Their subsequent talents are far more enhanced than the profit driven boys who stay in the office till 8 and simply can’t speak of anything other than profits in their pathetically small world of commercial law .Please keep developing and broadening your knowledge .You might be able to comment one day .


No, I an Austin

Worked with RLB at Halliwells & Hill Dickinson. No. Just no.


Keir Fan-girl

At the end of the day, McDonald’s Corporation v Steel & Morris is what distinguishes the two. Keir is a man of the people, and deserves to take the helm Labour to wipe out the tories.


Ann Ordinary-Voter

I would vote Labour if Kier Starmer was its leader.

I would not vote Labour if Rebecca Long Bailey was its leader.



Damned straight.

And Steel & Morris v UK ❤️

RLB should be on the back benches. Time for the adults to take over.


Comments are closed.

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