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30% of pupillage places in limbo, COVID-19 survey finds

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Barrister hopefuls face anxious wait

Nearly a third of chambers are considering scrapping their pupillage recruitment plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey undertaken by the Bar Council has found.

Thirty percent of chambers who responded to the survey said they may not take on pupils as planned for the next two years, while a further 24% admitted they were currently unsure and continue to review their position. A total of 145 sets responded to the survey.

The situation appears worse at the criminal bar, with 36% of chambers reconsidering their recruitment plans and a further 22% adopting a wait-and-see approach.

The research will be particularly disappointing for would-be barristers who have spent the past few months toiling away over lengthy Gateway applications, only to be told that the pupillage spot they were chasing may no longer exist.

Even more worryingly, a whopping 81% of all chambers said they will not survive the next 12 months without government-backed financial aid if the pandemic persists. Fifty-five percent said they cannot survive the next six months. At the criminal bar, 90% of chambers predicted they will fold within a year without financial support.

The top concerns cited by chambers were interruption to court work, inability to generate income to pay future costs and cash flow (or lack thereof) to pay current costs.

In light of the findings, the Bar Council urged the government to extend self-employed relief to barristers without 12 months of receipts and permit them to rely on 2019/2020 tax returns or letters from chambers to prove their status and earnings. It also said childcare costs to be deductible as expenses of self-employment for the purposes.

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Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “We continue to urge the Ministry of Justice and government to give immediate support to the bar, especially those in the early stages of their practice and those doing publicly funded work. Whilst the measures introduced last week by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to help the self-employed were welcome, the self-employed bar and chambers have needs that have not been addressed.”

She continued:

“Having canvassed the bar through our survey, we have identified consistent concerns that chambers are facing, which we have raised as a matter of urgency with the government. We continue to press for action on these issues.”

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21 Comments

Anon

Summer associates at law firms in the US have had their placements cancelled

A Pupil

The other story here is what is happening to those currently doing pupillage. Lots of criminal pupils have been (or will soon be) thrown under the bus.

Anonymous

There is massive oversupply of criminal barristers so not a bad thing.

Anonymous

Agreed, though the oversupply is a feature of Legal Aid: rates so slow they can only get trainees to do them.

Criminal barrister

As a criminal barrister I wouldn’t say that there is a “massive oversupply”. I and friends at other chambers have more work than we can manage and are constantly looking to recruit decent practitioners. If you’re a competent junior there’s plenty of work out there (Silks are a different story).

I wouldn’t assume pupils will be thrown under the bus – most of the criminal work is just being put on hold while this is going on and when the courts re-open there is going to be a huge backlog. I suspect the courts will have to significantly increase sitting hours to have any prospect of catching up. So sets like mine are aiming to hold on to our current pupils and recruit as normal to ensure we can meet the demand when things get back into action.

Anonymous

The income is so low, and getting lower, because of supply side capacity because of over recruitment. No leverage.

Narcissist Commercial Barrister

We demand that this country clap for us each evening at 7pm in recognition of the enormous sacrifices we make to our waistlines in order to earn what we do.

Be kind. Pay us Rishi!

Anon.

This profession sucks the big one.

Lawyers are awful people.

Bad timing, kids. Unlucky. Devil take the hindmost.

Alfred Walsh

Only about half of the chambers replied to the survey (145 out of 262). I suspect the others have already collapsed. It’s not a good sign for a profession that prides itself on being at the top. Literally many barristers live hand to mouth for years before they achieve financial stability.

I say it’s a good thing to cut the number of barristers – indeed it might be more useful to merge them into solicitor-advocates at this point.

Beth

You’re saying 117 chambers have ‘already collapsed’, in the space of about a month since this started? And you’re basing that on the single fact that 117 chambers didn’t respond to a survey?

Yeah solicitor advocates are great…

litigator

Any views on whether this likely to affect future pupils at commercial/commercial chancery chambers? I’m thinking of sets like Fountain Court, Maitland, Wilberforce, 20 Essex St, Brick Court, Erskine, South Square

Anonymous

These sets will be kept very busy for the next 5-10 years off the back of this. No worries for the pupils.

Fonz

Unlikely. They’ll do a large degree of advisory work, and will not be on their feet as often as in publicly funded areas (e.g. criminal, housing). Court closures therefore are unlikely to impact their burgeoning practice much (although remote hearings appear to be the norm for now). Frankly, they’ll also earn better money. Story of the commercial bar I guess.

Add to that the inevitable stream of insolvency and restructuring work, commercial and insurance disputes arising out of this crisis, and you’re on to a winner.

Anon

Ely Place Chambers just announced closure

Where the BAME at?

I hear the Inns are still demanding full rent. Criminal chambers paying a fortune for fancy Georgian townhouses will be next.

Anonymous

Those running the Inns want the rental streams to fund their own little virtue signalling schemes instead of housing practising barristers.

Anonymous

Surely not for financial reasons/Covid? You would have thought they did enough property/employment law to pay the rent.

Lord Harley expert in everything

It is a good job I have other qualifications to fall back on

Anonymous

You got that McDonald’s certificate still in the file?

Anonymous

Cutting one year’s intake is a sensible way to reduce expenses. While there is a marginal shortfall in receipts in the following year, that can be more than offset by taking one one more tenant, if there are needs, the year after.

Woke

The reasons people give in the comments section for cutting the number of barristers seem rather emotional, and not founded on any sort of proper grounding.

Criminal Barristers are massively understaffed. I sat in a court room some months ago: the poor prosecutor had to read her case from a laptop. This can only mean she is simply inundated with too much work.

In any event, this decrease in hiring will be almost ubiquitous across the market. We will enter a recession from this.

The time has come to ask if it is more moral to save the elderly and sick or the economy. The average age of people dying sue to Covid-19 is 79. The death rate in Germany (where the mass test – as opposed to the UK) is 3/1000. And 7/10 people would have died this year anyway.

We are choosing to siphon money from the young to the rich. The elderly dont pay much tax. It will be the young generation that takes the hit.

Why have we become so scared of dying? It is most likely due to secularism
and general degredation of moral standards and huge penchant for neo-liberalism (ie it is OK to be trans but if you think it isn’t you are some sort of —–ism/ist ). My point being: we now defend the unnatural.

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