Bar Council warns future of the bar looks ‘bleak’ in wake of pandemic
Over two-thirds of young barristers won’t survive the next six months in practice without financial support, research undertaken by the Bar Council has found.
Seventy-one percent of junior barristers (up to seven years call) who responded to the survey will be unable to continue working in chambers past October, while 83% will not last a year. Over half (56%) of all barristers questioned won’t survive six months; 77% cannot survive a year.
With 30% of respondents already experiencing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, the Bar Council says the future for the bar is “bleak” unless work streams and earnings improve. A further 53% expect to run into financial trouble in the “near future”.
Despite this, just 14% of respondents said they were applying for government income support and 5% for a coronavirus business interruption loan. “There is considerable reluctance to take on further debt when it is unclear when and how it can be paid back,” the Bar Council said.
The future for those plying their trade at the publicly funded bar appears even bleaker.
Thirty percent of barristers earning half or more of their income from publicly funded work won’t survive three months without financial aid, according to the research, while a whopping 89% won’t last a year. Nearly one-third (31%) of criminal barristers will not be in practice in chambers within three months; 87% will not last six months and 88% will not last a year.
With courts across the country closing their doors in response to the pandemic, barristers’ working hours have dropped sharply. Before the crisis, 60% of barristers worked over 50 hours a week (and many over 70 hours). This now stands at 7%. Meanwhile, over half of barristers surveyed now work under 18 hours per week, compared to just 1% pre-crisis.
The Bar Council also found that diversity and social mobility at the bar are likely to decline as a result of the pandemic.
Fifty-five percent of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) barristers earn more than half their income from legal aid work, compared to 47% of white barristers. Eighty-four percent of BAME barristers said they will be unable to survive a year with financial aid, and 35% revealed they are already experiencing financial hardship.
Commenting on the findings, the Bar Council said:
“Work and the ability to earn money has dramatically disappeared for many barristers, with over half fearing for their future in the profession. Those barristers from more diverse backgrounds are disproportionately affected. The young, the publicly funded and especially the criminal bar — the most diverse parts of the bar — are unsustainable without financial aid from the government, even in the short term.”
Earlier this month the Bar Council published research which found that nearly a third of chambers were considering scrapping their pupillage recruitment plans as a result of the outbreak. A further 24% admitted they were currently unsure and continue to review their position.