My electrician makes more than a junior barrister, ex-judge complains

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Sir Richard Henriques aghast at tradespeople out-earning lawyers

Image via Wikimedia Commons

A former High Court judge has hit out at rock bottom rates of pay at the criminal bar — complaining that even his electrician makes more than a junior barrister.

Sir Richard Henriques, a retired criminal specialist, said that legal aid cuts had reached the point where tradespeople are out-earning lawyers.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Henriques noted that “over the last decade or so, legal aid fees have been reduced and further reduced”, with the result that “a career in the criminal law… is no longer attracting young people of the highest calibre”.

Henriques revealed that his own godson had quit criminal practice in favour of a career in financial services, and went on:

“I’m quite sure that’s happening across the board. I’m equally sure that my electrician earns more than a younger member of the bar. Surely that can’t be right when 24 or 25 is the age when most young barristers start to earn a living.”

Henriques has spoken out about legal aid cuts before. In 2013, only six months after the LASPO cuts, he declared that “nobody in their right mind would advise a son or daughter to become a criminal barrister“.

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His remarks on this occasion sparked controversy. One Twitter user branded the ex-judge a “snob”, while another called his comparison “pure elitism”.

Junior government minister James Cleverly — one of very few senior Tories with decent social media game — responded to Henriques’s comment on behalf of tradespeople everywhere:

Henriques went on to argue that the growing backlog of criminal trials can only be solved by using judge-only courts — a stance likely to infuriate the many lawyers deeply attached to trial by jury.

As well as being an eminent lawyer, Henriques obviously has some PR nous: his headline-grabbing pronouncements come just as he’s launching his memoirs. The 76-year-old acted in some of the most high-profile criminal trials in English legal history, including the prosecutions of GP serial killer Harold Shipman and the child murderers of toddler James Bulger.

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This is why everyone is switching to the solicitor route before even considering the bar. The money you can make as an NQ at a top city firm is unmatched



Yes. Not as a criminal legal aid solicitor. Salary capped up to £40K-with an increment if you a higher court advocate who can do trial a leading junior would do, and that would only be paid by the bigger law firms. I would never advise any of my family starting out at law to practice in crime. Truth is, if your not interested in money, you can practice. If you have mouths to feed-you may have to think twice. Passion can only take you so far…its sad



It takes around 20 years to become a QC where you can make anything up to a £1million which is around the same time it takes to become an equity partner as a solicitor



Except while solicitors are making in £100k-£150k in their first 10 years, commercial juniors are starting off at £250-300k and moving quickly up to £500-600k. So they have lots of cash while young, can build up a lot of capital and still take 3 months’ holidays a year. And silk can kick off after 15 years for many, and you can make a lot more than £1m.



They can also afford to quickly replace their clothing as their waistlines and manboobs get larger and larger and larger from touring Michelin starred restaurants and sitting at a MacBook 10 hours a day to earn that 300k.

Suck that, triathlon freaks.



If only the article were talking about commercial juniors you’re point would be valid. Except the article isn’t and your point isn’t…



As an interested student, how much do non-commercial civil practitioners make?


Anonymous Person Hammering Away

I don’t know. I have a first from Oxbridge, so the issue never crossed my mind.



There’s no such university as Oxbridge.

Truth serum

No individual who got into Oxford or Cambridge says they went to “Oxbridge“ – they name the university which is very telling that you attended neither

Anonymous Person Hammering Away

Truth, in the context the amalgamation of the two is appropriate. When I did the vocational training the best from Oxford and Cambridge who were heading to the commercial sets tended to coalesce into a single group. We use the term more than you might think.


Where is this Oxbridge university you speak of?


7:31, it is a wonderful place where one is shielded from the insipid minds of the bog standard 2:1 plodders from the rest of the Russell Group.


It’s good to have an imaginary wonderful place, a bit like Narnia in that it doesn’t really exist.


7:11, you kept telling yourself that after you flunked the interview. I love the “I never really wanted to go anyway” types.


It’s not 7.11 telling you, its 6.39. Unlikely anyone would get an interview for a place that doesn’t exist.


Unusually for Legal Cheek comments I will try and give a sincere reply.

I am a non-commercial civil junior with 8 years experience post pupillage. My gross profit (i.e. earnings before tax but after business expenses) are in the region of £100,000.



I am a junior with a criminal and regulatory practice. My gross profits are around half of that (£50,000) before tax. At the moment, they are around 80% less due to covid-19 related measures.


Thank you. Is that in London?

I’m wondering whether finance might be a better bet. The money certainly seems better and the work probably less intellectually challenging.


If you care that deeply about money and avoiding “intellectually challenging” work, Tim, it’s probably best for everyone that you do finance.


I do civil/public law with a bit of regulatory in London at 10 years call. Profit last year was £215k, and I don’t think I’m exceptional in chambers.


Only a small percentage of solicitors make this kind of money. Many very experienced solicitors are on £40k or less. With the number of aspiring solicitors, universities are pumping out, only a tiny percentage and mostly from the usual universities will get earn £100k+ salaries in their lifetime (inflation excluded). Most will struggle by on much less.


Nasty world

Don’t spoil people’s delusional fantasies! If they *really*, *really* want to succeed, they…

…oh yes, they will still fail. Muppets.

The message is clear: you need very high grades and to study at an Oxbridge or a Russell Group university. if you can’t achieve that, find another career. Either accept that now, or accept it through tears and debt in 4-5 years’ time, having failed to get a job that repays the debt you’ve pointlessly incurred. No one is doing people favours by lying to them about their chances.



I didn’t go to Oxbridge or a Russell Group University. I got pupillage at my first interview at a good regional set and now earn around £70k gross of tax; net of expenses. I’m 5 years out of pupillage. It’s not helpful to generalise! My BPTC year was full of idiots who went to Russell Group Universities and still had no hope of getting pupillage due to lack of legal experience (minis, vac schemes), poor advocacy skills and, worst of all, chronic complacency.


Perhaps, but you can go a lot further as a moron with an Oxbridge degree than as a moron without one. Most people in my BPTC cohort fitted into these two categories, and most of the former got pupillage.

Reality check

You say that as if it’s easy getting into a commercial set that pays 200-350k starting salary as a junior. Getting a TC is difficult but getting a scholarship for a pupillage to get into the commercial barrister route is much tougher


Geoff Richards

That’s grossly in excess of reality. It does not happen save for a lucky few. As far as crime is concerned (the judge’s comments) in 1990 it was common to get £1,000 to £1,500 for a rape defence brief. The government then told the CPS to reduce such briefs to a horrendously low £400. The better barristers only did defence work but the government reduced that to the same paltry level. In 1990 electricians were not earning as much as barristers were but now they earn much more. The outrageous situation nowadays is that such briefs are still not as much (excluding inflation) as 30 years ago. We are also talking about a massive reduction in standards in the same period and disrespect for professional people and the victims who deserve proper representation; the better qualified youngsters don’t apply fir the criminal bar any more – a terrible shame



Yeah, but at the bar you need to be talented to make silk. No such requirement for equity partners, who are frankly just businessmen.



While the criminal bar is essential,
electricians provide a far more useful and valuable service than most solicitors.


Sarah Barnard

What a pity you won’t see a member of the criminal bar in a police station in the middle of the night. Its the solicitors who carry the responsibility for the client, in all criminal proceedings from interview to Crown Court, not the barrister.



I still go and have been going since 1998. Solicitor then HCA now at Bar. It’s what I signed up to so my duty to go. Can’t knock those who don’t want to sign up to it.



Also a worthwhile and essential service Sarah, the comment referred to those solicitors to whom electricians provide a more valuable service in comparison, which is the majorityof solicitors.



That’s why all those fiat500 girls that live in big 5 bedroom detached houses with crushed velvet interior have the money to do whatever they want, their dads usually work in construction or as an electrician and make a killing a year, no tax either all cash


Just Anonymous

The comparison between barristers and electricians should not be allowed to detract from the fundamental – and frankly undeniable – point.

Which is that, by any reasonable objective metric, criminal barristers are grossly underpaid.

If we want the Bar to be ‘staffed’ by high quality advocates – and I suggest we do, for reasons which should be trite – then we simply have to pay them properly.



Correct, and to make matters worse, many other barristers and solicitors are grossly overpaid.



They are not grossly underpaid. There is massive oversupply at the criminal bar whose numbers go up and up when the number of heavy criminal hearings is going down and down. In terms of economics they are, if anything, overpaid. We don’t need a Rolls Royce publicly funded criminal justice system, a Ford Focus one with Ford Focus advocates will do just fine. I don’t want massive income taxes I have to pay wasted on frippery for criminals.



The point of the the hearing is to decide whether or not they are criminals.


Anonymous Person Hammering Away

We know most of them are, whatever the outcome.



No we don’t, hence the hearing.


We do know they are 95 per cent of them criminals. It is just the game of proving it that is so expensive and outdated.


We don’t know that they’re criminals until its proven that they are.


The oversupply problem is entirely unacknowledged in the criminal bar. The sad (and inevitable) fact is that the criminal justice is just one of dozens of other priorities which the state has to balance in its spending priorities – contrary to the sneers of many in the profession, it is not even the most important either.

It’s worth looking at more cost effective ways to ensure a good standard of fairness in criminal justice if the current system is no longer working. An overhaul of the lower-tier courts would be very helpful, especially given how outrageously long many criminal hearings seem to be. This would not be tolerated in civil disputes.

I do wonder if adopting a professionalised judiciary on the continental model in Mags and some CC hearings might be appropriate to dispense with some lawyers.


Criminal Barrister (as you may have guessed)

Sorry total red herring. As criminal defence is not salaried by the state. If there are 100,000 cases to be paid for by the state and 50,000 advocates to do the work, that will cost no more or less than if there were 25,000 advocates or 75,000 advocates. It is the volume of work to be paid, if there are more advocates than work then the inactive ones don’t get paid.



Don’t spoil the fucking party



The constant whining about legal aid is tiresome. It is a form of taxation and redistribution, just like the NHS and any other form of benefits. People’s support for it depends on (a) their position on the political spectrum (left wing tax ‘n’ spend, or right wing live and let die); and (b) if they work in legal aid, their own selfish economic interests. There is nothing wrong with either of those motivations: I commend the left-wing legal aid lawyers who genuinely believe that the end of the world is nigh. They should, however, also respect that there are many of us who believe that (a) the UK is insufficiently competitive, and who prefer the Singapore/Hong Kong/Dubai/Cayman low-tax/no benefits model; and (b) the post-1945 welfare state went too far, and that in fact people, and families, must live (or die) within their means. In case it is not clear, I favour the latter, hence why I never had any interest in publicly-funded work.

Please can we have less preaching and remonstrating from those who are convinced that their view is the only legitimate view. If you don’t like the status quo, vote to change it. If you are unable to garner sufficient votes to implement your preferred version of nirvana, then accept defeat gracefully.



Currently I’d say we live in a high-tax / low-benefits society because of incompetent public spending


Home counties

The UK welfare state is a doomed Ponzi scheme (e.g. NHS, social care and pensions are structurally unsustainable, let alone legal aid).

In any event, the last general election was a clear opportunity to change the status quo. Magic Grandpa’s tax ‘n’ spend party lost. The population don’t care about legal aid, have never cared about legal aid, and seem unlikely to start caring in the future. Surely no one believes that legal aid will suddenly become a cause célèbre, and attract increased funding, when it has so obviously failed to do so for over two decades?

I don’t know how to ensure that criminals are efficiently prosecuted and disposed of, but it’s almost certainly not ‘more legal aid’.


Kirkland & Ellis NQ (third Lambo soon)

I get criminal barristers to wipe my feet every day. If I’m feeling extra generous, I might even let them clean the Lambo.


Big, Big Barrister

As a barrister, I personally regard electricians as working class, well below myself as a member of the upper middle class. That’s life, and I will not apologise for them not being clever or sexy enough to go to the Bar.

Although yes, we are both paid for services rendered, it makes me very angry that an electrician who has not attended university can dare to earn more than someone whose parents could afford private school fees, the GDL and the BPTC.

It makes me question all the bullying I went through at boarding school, and whether it was all worth it after all?

Why can’t people know their place in the world, and rightly put counsel at the top of it?


Member of the Bar irritated by other members of the Bar

I appreciate the sense of humour (I assume it was meant to be mildly amusing) but deprecate the poor grammar. If you are that clever, why did you not say ‘their not being clever…’. The use of the gerund required the use of the possessive pronoun. Clearly the BSB needs to improve the standards of literacy at the Bar.


Big Beta Barrister

Yeah, this is why your wife keeps booking ‘sessions’ with her personal trainer.



The lower courts are chronically under-funded. However, (a) barristers ‘milked the system’ in the 1980’s and 1990’s, abusing taxpayers’ money to fund luxurious lifestyles; and (b) those barristers, now very senior, have manipulated legal aid negotiations with the government to the detriment of the junior bar, so that the senior bar continues to rake in money. I assumed that this was merely tabloid hyperbole. I was therefore genuinely surprised to read in the Law Society Gazette in August 2018 a story in which barristers were complaining because, for a case with a single defendant, Ames v The Lord Chancellor [Ref 1], barristers were ‘only’ being offered £1,015,200 (that’s not a mistake: that’s over one million pounds of taxpayers’ money for the defence of a single criminal). There was no suggestion that this was an isolated case.

Four questions:

1. Is *anyone* in the senior bar making more than £100k per barrister, per year? Is the impression fair that, while the system overall is underfunded, the senior bar are making a fortune? If not, could someone please explain what went wrong in Ames v The Lord Chancellor, noted above.

2. How can we justify the cost – either per barrister or per defendant? On what basis can we justify to members of the public spending anywhere near 1£M on a single defendant: professionals in other parts of the public sector survive on very reasonable salaries. A Royal Navy commander in charge of a ship, and in whom the lives of that ship’s company is vested, for example, is paid about £70,000 per year. They have more responsibility than any solicitor or barrister.

3. Why not vastly expand the Public Defender Service (“PDS”)? This appears to be an alternative. See ‘MoJ goes on hiring spree to strengthen Public Defender Service’ [Ref 2]. Surely it would be cheaper to cease using the bar, and instead pay train and employee PDS advocates. In the case cited above, even (a) employing two lawyers; (b) at the highest salary of £80k each; and (c) assuming they worked on solely on one case full-time for 12 months, that would be £160k just in their salaries, plus – for argument’s sake – an additional £160k for capitation costs (e.g. pension, overheads, etc.). Please ignore the ‘PDS aren’t independent, would you like to be defended by someone who works for the government’ argument: it is offensive to public sector professionals who discharge their duties conscientiously, and it smacks of an ad hominem attack to distract from the financial metrics. Why could we not – why should we not – replace the publicly-funded solicitors’ firms and criminal defence bar with a much-expanded PDS (comprised largely of very, i.e. cheap, junior paralegals and solicitors)?

4. If barristers want to be rich, surely they should change field? Finally, having instructed barristers myself, either directly or as a small cog in a larger team, I have seen the vast range of fees paid from junior counsel to silk, from £1k to >£1M. I accept that the commercial bar makes a lot of money. All the people we (those instructing counsel) paid were worth it, because we made commercial decisions, and we are not publicly-funded. If barristers want this sort of money, surely they should join the commercial bar, where their fees are governed by market forces and corporate customers and Magic Circle firms can choose what to pay (indeed many of my friends have made just this transition). What am I missing?

Many thanks if anyone is able and willing to address these questions.






Try Secret Barrister on Twitter?

They are publishing another book on how anything less then complete deference and tears towards the plight of ‘Barrister Jesus’ legal aid martyrs is to stupidly believe in ‘fake law’.

Kudos to your awesome research.



Just in respect of your point 3, expanding the PDS is an absolute non starter. You will remember that it is a concept that has been around for a while now but no expansion has ever taken place. That is because it is vastly more expensive than Counsel instructed on a consultancy basis. At present in private practice, advocates meet their expenses from their own fee income. If they do not work, they do not generate fees.

Of course on a fixed fee legal aid case, it’s also true to say that when they do work they do not generate fees for certain hearings or work that they do anyway without remuneration.

In that scenario a stable wage might be thought attractive. At least you get paid for what you do. In addition, think of all the benefits an employee gets and the PDS have to pay that the self employed bar aren’t entitled to. pension, parental leave, sick pay, holiday pay, overtime. Mileage- What employee doesn’t claim mileage from their employer? Try getting a train ticket paid for by the LAA…

It also cannot work because the PDS is largely cut off from undertaking the privately funded work that just about enables criminal practitioners to keep afloat.



Hard to see how a barrister on a salary of £80-100k per annum could be more expensive than a barrister charging charging a brief for each case. A salaried barrister would be able to hoover up most mags and low level crown court cases. Everyone should get legal representation if they’re accused of something which could result in a criminal record.



In relation to point 4, the reality of the situation is that this just isn’t an option. I’m a civil junior and do mainly PI with some low level commercial property work. There’s absolutely no way I’d have got pupillage in the sort of set which is instructed by magic circle law firms or where junior juniors are earnings multiple six figure sums. There’s equally no way even now, 5 years on and with some commercial experience under my belt, that I’d be able to transfer to somewhere like that and I’d be ill equipped to do so. I love advocacy, especially witness handling, and it’s what I do every day. Most heavy weight commercial juniors of my call will have never done any trial advocacy and will be in court once in a blue moon. It’s a completely different job. The sort of sets doing that work aren’t going to dish out tenancies to members of the junior criminal bar who are struggling to make a living; nor is there enough heavy weight commercial work around for them to do so.



The problem is too many things are criminalised. A lot of what goes in front of mags, for example, is trivial, and should be treated as an administrative matter. We’re in a situation where as a country we can’t afford to adequately try people.



Bigger problem is we are too soft on the criminals and obsessed by do gooders who want to give them a hug and rehabilitate those that are hard wired to be criminal low life until their testosterone levels drop in middle age. More jails, more solitary, streamlined trials, simplified evidence rules, smaller juries please.



No thank you. Less jails, less solitary, less trials, more disclosure of evidence, expansion of the jury system please.



9.44am is either a criminal or a deluded hug-a-hoody liberal.



They would probably argue that arbitrary imprisonment without a proper trial, as advocated by 7.43, is criminal.

Baratheon, R.



Baratheon, R.



Peter Baulf

Let’s be clear about it, despite years of examinations social injustice and all the usual nonsense that goes with obtaining a career in the law , I include the bar and solicitors/ CILEx in the same group- we all sell information available on the web, one up ( slightly )from estate agents and or double glazing salespersons.What me learned old High Court Judge does not get is that a good tradesperson always out earns the junior bar as guess what when its a quetion of a) being cold or b) electrocuting the kids one will always reach for check a trader rather than Archibold the former being relevant up to date , real and information.We must as lawyers get that the new professions are the trades- not a grudge purchase in sight, just basic skills which can be acquired. I earn a good living as a lawyer but I can always turn a buck with a wrench or a saw and I know which set of skills is more valued( and pays the school fees!)- if we look back in history being a ” chippy” was is and always has been a grand and respected occupation given that it was good enough for JC so nothing new or indeed of use – rock the H C Bench , no change there then.



Publicly funded criminal lawyers are obviously being paid more than they need to be since the numbers of criminal barristers are ever increasing, and the rate of increase relative to the number of hearings requiring barrister representation is even higher. So moan all you want, but there is no good reason to pay more taxpayer cash on this.


The life memoirs of Dazzer, down the road.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, love!”… “I needed to get them extra parts in, that’s why it took 6 months”… “That’ll be 30 grand for the plug installation, love”. “You don’t need to worry about the VAT if you slip it to me in cash”.


Anonymous publicly funded barrister

When Richard Henriques dies of an electric shock, he (or rather his bereaved family) may think differently.



This is an awfully elitist comment. Why shouldn’t an electrician make more? What exactly does a lawyer do that’s more important than what an electrician does?



Perhaps obtaining life changing awards for the most damaged and vulnerable in society?




What are you talking about? Do you think you’re a doctor?



Lawyers. Solicitors judges barristers
All earn very good wages
Try working with covid 19 in a care home on a maximum wage of £8.72 per hour …then complain




The care home worker works too many long hours to amass thousands of Twitter followers and a book deal.

That’s how barristers with cash for lavish weddings, multiple holidays a year and pedigree pets manipulate the public into thinking that they are somehow ‘victims’.

If you spend enough time spreading lies on Twitter, you can make people forget all about your parents paying for your house deposit or the time you were disciplined for a crass remark to a BAME colleague. The ‘real victims’ are the barristers!

All the quotes for the brief fees here forget that number of criminal barristers will continue to make extra income working on the Grenfell Inquiry. Barristers don’t just work in court – they can get an extra income for years off the back of public inquiries mired by infighting and incompetence.




What you call ‘preaching’ is more like healthy political debate. Voting isn’t the only way to change things, convincing people to vote with you is much more effective if you have the visibility. And many of these arguments aren’t trying to say that they are the only legitimate view, merely that they think that their own view is better than others (which is why they hold it). Don’t tell people not to argue, tell them why you think they’re wrong. And there is never a time to ‘accept defeat’. If you genuinely believe that one particular way is the best way for society there’s nothing wrong with fighting for it forever if nothing manages to change your mind.


Leave the law

Or leave the law entirely. My brother is a former construction solicitor who has set up his own sheet metal company with some people he met during his time as a solicitor. He was earning 80k a solicitor. Decent sure, but nowhere near wealthy. He’s now a millionaire. Meanwhile, I’m still a corporate solicitor losing my hair and shitt*ng my pants every day that something is going to go wrong. I’m trying to leave the law but it’s pretty hard to do at 55 with no experience in anything else.




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