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Top chambers boost pupillage awards as talent war intensifies

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Rises of over 30%

The war to attract the very best wannabe barristers has stepped up a gear in recent months with many leading sets opting to increase their pupillage awards for future intakes.

The award at XXIV Old Buildings for 2024 now sits at a cool £85,000, up 31% from £65,000, while 2TG recently raised its offering from £70,000 to £82,500 for the 2024-25 cycle. Elsewhere, Ten Old Square and 4 Pump Court have boosted their cash awards to £75,000 (2023) and £80,000 (2024), respectively.

The Legal Cheek Chambers Most List 2023 shows a host of chambers now offer rates of £75,000, including Keating, Wilberforce, Brick Court, Crown Office and Twenty Essex. It’s also worth noting baby barristers can top up these already sizeable sums by carrying out their own court work in their second six months of pupillage.

The 2023 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List

The top awards outstrip new starter pay for rookie solicitors at City law firms. As can been seen in The Legal Cheek Firms Most List 2023, the highest paying law firms in London for trainees are US duo Davis Polk and Weil Gotshal, which offer first years £60,000. This amount does however rocket to £160,000 (excluding potential bonuses) once rookies have qualified, although this process at two years takes twice as long as pupillage.

The picture is of course very different at the criminal bar where many sets provide regulator-set minimums of £20,703 in London and £18,884 elsewhere.

If you are interested in finding out more about life as a barrister and meeting pupils and tenants from sets across the country, come along to our Virtual Pupillage Fair on Saturday 13 December 2022. Apply now.

36 Comments

Anonymous

I never cared how much I was paid when I chose where to go for pupillage. The “top talent” to use the awful tabloid “top” are not going to worry about 10k or 20k or whatever when they know they will be making 300k a couple of years in.

Costa Flat White has more caffeine than any other - look it up

Award indicative of what chambers has / individual members’ earnings. Lack of earnings transparency at many sets. Then again are 2TG earning as much as equivalent award sets, probs not. Re caring, most people get what they can as want to be barrister to be barrister – odd person who has multiple offers at good sets. Re 300k, well the award is tax free, and the 300k is a product of hard work, talent, luck and probs won’t happen unless you’re at [insert tipity top set]. And if it does happen, it’s 200k after expenses, and you probably haven’t been paid up, you’re just owed and you’ll get it all in 2034. Most are punching about the same as US associates when all said + done. Lots don’t even get pensions sorted etc. and fail on tax mitigation.

I Grind My Own Beans

Sounds like you have not direct experience of this stuff.

In terms of costs, these seem to sit around 20-24% of income year in year out, so far lower that your assumptions.

And the idea you don’t get paid for a long time is an outdated myth in commercial work at least. Generally, unless you are all in on one case and let the debt grow, you’ll earn in the following six months what you billed the previous six month. I reckon bad debts are at worse 5% of work and probably less.

Pensions are a problem nowadays because of the socialist government hammering high earners to fund the tax cuts for the Red Wall Brexit voters to the point you are only allowed relief on £4k a year pensions contributions.

Beans

75% of 300 is 225
And it’s usually closer to 25% but some chambers rent etc can be priced than others and for some it can closer to 30%
70% if you say 5% is bad is 210
Also it isn’t that debt is necessarily bad but is slow to be paid e.g by quibbling insurers – this is the reason why it’s more difficult to get a mortgage when you’re self employed as a barrister. It’s the reason why the higher earning barristers doing commercial work explain that one high year is not indicative of every year.

I Am Now Grinding

Good try but no cigar and your post makes it plain you are talking from opinion not experience. I get the impression you are skewing reality to justify your personal career choices, though I am not sure why anyone would have that level of attachment.

The bad or questionable debts come off the numbers before the income figure. If you were a barrister you would know that, it is always part of the WIP adjustment. So your rather desperate effort to grind the number down exposed your ignorance.

I can’t remember the last time I was funded by insurers on anything but they generally turned payments around quarterly. But that is beside the point, as I said one generally gets in in 6 months what one billed the previous 6 months, so it all tends to even out over time.

My expenses have never reached 25%, but maybe I’m lucky. Or cheap. Or both.

Never had a problem getting a mortgage. Once one has three sets of accounts it is pretty plain sailing thereafter.

Barrister

The real risk is having a stupendous year, spending most of the cash, expecting an equally good next year to pay off the tax but then having an average year. You end up paying every penny towards tax. Can be soul destroying

Where’s my coffee, sucker?

If someone says they’ve made x, it means they’ve billed x hours at y rated, it has nothing to do with adjustable WIP and a pre-tax figure is being referred to. Unpaid bills and write offs are day to day common in the legal industry, big claims and defences I.e the types of claims run by commercial sets are very commonly funded by insurers and to imply that it may not be commonplace, or more accurately very often, the most common form of litigation funding, is telling.

It is harder getting a mortgage when you’re self employed. Whether you’re getting paid or not, banks care about stable regular monthly income to make payments. You’ll need at least two and often three years of accounts from HMRC before you can be considered. And for young bucks reading this, given that the pupillary mostly isn’t taxed unless second six, those years will be years call. Also you might miss out on some of the better rates which can add up bigly.

There are a number of issues to be taken into account. The presentation that if someone works at Kirkland they are a millionaire, or if they are a commercial barrister, it’s at least the same, simply isn’t true and is an oversimplification of a lot of different metrics. Some people at the same set do very well and some people don’t, for some reasons previously discussed, and there are many more.

You'll be waiting for a while, buddy

10.24 shows they are solicitor with an axe to grind for some reason. No barrister who has ever field professional accounts would post that drivel.

Cost of living crisis

Magic circle taking their time 🕑

wwff

Reeks of Fresh over here..

anonymous

Quite. 4 Pump Court and XXIV are good sets (albeit the latter seems to have been shrinking recently) but neither are realistic competitors to the top tier commercial sets when it comes to recruitment. The leading sets generally only raise if one of the others does (and it is noticed!).

Moreover, and in addition to the correct comments above that the funding package should not be a driver at all because it is utterly insignificant relative to earnings, just a reminder that headline figures can be misleading. Even if just looking at the numbers one should consider whether there is any rent free period for new tenants (with a year worth c.£20-25k gross) and whether there are opportunities to earn on your own account in your second six (which can also add up but are not necessarily a good thing so far as training is concerned).

STB 6PQE

Meanwhile im counting my £350k cold hard cash. Hehe.

barrister

So are many barristers. I’m 9 years’ call and will bill £600k this year and certainly not at a top set. Prob works out to around £450k net, maybe slightly more.

Former Bazza

@ barrister, very interesting. What area is that in which you bill 600k, at 9 years call?

barrister

Mostly insolvency. Other areas are doing equally well at my set. Members more junior than me are earning more than I did at their call. Maybe just a rising tide market wise.

barrister (original poster)

£600k was revenue. i.e. before expenses which is 95% chambers rent. I pay about 10-12% chambers rent. Barristers compare revenue. When we recruit a barrister, we are interested in revenue.

Funnily enough, some banks do care about revenue, esp if you have a private bank and I dont mean HSBC Premier.

To the guy who works at the Costa near Lincoln’s Inn

Bullshit. Even if someone had 600k after expenses, that’s about 320k after tax. Net means after tax, not after expenses. 450k may be after expenses of 600k which is about 240k net. But even if someone billed 600k, they won’t recover that since there are always fee caps, discounts, and cases run on for years and you aren’t paid on an ongoing basis, you get paid often when you win the matter or when the insurers decide to pay some of what you’ve claimed for.

Those are some of the reasons why that post isn’t genuine. It gives a misleading impression to the majority of aspiring lawyers here that someone has 450k in their bank account at the end of a given year from earnings.

Not Silent enough Minority

I think it was pretty obvious that the insolvency barrister above was referring to 600k gross billings – i.e. 450k profits, with tax payable thereafter.

It’s hardly misleading – virtually everyone in any professional job compares pre-tax salaries. As to fee caps / discounts etc. – while these do exist and are a feature, they are rarely, if ever, more than 5-10% of billings in a given year, and often far less.

I’m a commercial barrister – granted, a couple of years less call, but insolvency barrister’s numbers seem about right to me.

The Costa guy is a bit annoying

But the 600k you refer to there is not gross billings, at least not as solicitors understand them. It is more likely to be the income entry on professional accounts with the 450k being the profits figure in the accounts, though that implied expenses rate feels a bit high. That means that items such as bad debts etc are already deducted before the 600k figure not after it. To solicitors gross billings are simply the total hours bills and they will include fees that will be written off for discounts, bad debts etc.

Shdhdj

This is all bollocks and it’s weird you’re calling him “insolvency barrister” repeatedly as though he’s definitely a separate poster to you…
People do compare pre-tax salaries, not “gross billings” I.e revenue. No one cares about revenue, they care about profit before tax. No one ever talks about it in this way. It isn’t normal. If you compare people, they talk in salaries and self employed talk in pre tax income, not gross. If you go on Dragon’s Den and hype on about a huge revenue, they will roll their eyes and ask for the profit figures, and then they will look cross that someone has tried to mislead them.

A bank would hang up on you if you spoke like this. They want your taxable earnings for 3 years to get a mortgage. If you want to give figures publicly, you should do the same and then be prepared to defend them. But saying hey I made 800k last year, oh yeah what of course that’s before costs and I didn’t actually get paid all of it, and that was pre tax, but the 200k costs etc were deductible, and actually 100k was rolled on from the previous year, and in the two years before than I netted 80k, but it’s all good now as I made 800k this year”, and then act stroppy when you get called out on it.

Absolute liars.

Anonymous

@barrister… interesting. Out of what you’ve billed, when are you likely to receive it?

Anon

@barrister… interesting. Out of what you’ve billed, when are you likely to receive it?

Barrister

All of it. I haven’t written off a debt in a years. I bin off all the bad payers as soon as they appear. I work closely with a few clients who always pay.

Barrister

Sorry, misread your comment.

I tend not to do any CFA work so 0-3 months

Former Bazza

@ Barrister, no disrespect but I find it very hard. to believe you are billing, let alone receive 600k PA, in a set ( certainly not top set, your words) in which you say you specialise in Insolvency as a Junior of 9 years call.

There are not many Barristers earning/billing 600k, have you seen the official Bar Council numbers, which sets out in the clearest terms the amount of Barristers billing over 500k and £1 million pounds respectively?

I was in what is regarded as a top commercial/arbitration set ( Not a so called MC set by any means ). My room mate, who was also my pupil master, is rated tier 2 and 3 in a number of commercial areas. He is circa 20 years call, works back to back and is flat out constantly. He cannot physically take on anymore work. He billed 600k, and kills himself in the process. My recent former partner at ten years call is at a MC set, doing com lit and arbitration, was also back to back and the first choice by many senior silks when they wanted a first or second junior. She is rated tiers1/2 and 3 for the areas in which she specialises . At 9 years call she was grossing 450-500k, of which she had aged debt, and also did write offs when payment looked unlikely. Factor in 10-15% chambers fees/rent the number whilst very good, is no more than a senior associate at a MC’US firm.
The idea you have no write offs, everyone pays you between 0-3 months, and you have no aged debt, is simply not correct is it?
A solid silk at a top commercial set, who took silk five years ago, wont bill much more. Earnings at the commercial bar, even for those who work flat out and are heavily in demand plateau at 10-15 years call, unless and until they take silk.
I smell BS

Junior junior

Also, if you do “mostly” insolvency, how can you avoid CFA work, given that you would regularly act for liquidators of companies that don’t have sufficient assets unless/until something is recovered as a result of the litigation?

Not The Bazza You Are Looking For

You just say no to CFA work if it is not your thing. Simple. I never take on fCFA work or anything that takes more than 2 days’ work in total and even then it is very rare that I’d bite unless the outcome looked a dead cert. Either you do lots of CFA cases, so the winners and losers even out over time, or you do next to none. Conditional work is a volume game.

Archbishop Harley

Former Bazza seems to pop up a lot whenever there are discussions about income at the Commercial Bar, mainly to tell actual barristers they don’t make as much as they say. I thought I’d add some grist to the mill.

I am 12 years’ call at a decent commercial set (not MC). I grossed just over 800k last year. That involved a very sweaty existence: working 5-6 hours per day on the majority of weekends and often late into the night on weekdays. I did take 6 weeks off but there were a handful of times when the work interruptions meant working full days.

I have opted for a more civilised work-life balance this year / learnt the art of saying no and am on track to gross c.700k. It would have been closer to 600k had hourly rates not been boosted in the light of inflation. The 100k pay cut is more than worth it now that I have my weekends back (bar a few) , and even the occasional evening. I would have been fine with a 200k pay cut had hourly rates not shot up. Also, I know this is all very uncouth and I am incredibly fortunate to have my job.

I will now wait for Former Bazza to scream BS etc.

The Costa guy is annoying

I went through the same process. I realised I could kill myself by working weekends and taking the same holidays as solicitors or I could generally take weekends off and take 12 weeks off and probably only make £100k less gross. It was less of a reduction that I expected because cutting down hours meant I could be more selective as to what cases I took on, which meant better rates overall and better payers. It was the cases where they tried to negotiate down fees or were bad payers that were ditched.

Cessle

There are always exceptions to the rule.

barrister (original poster)

If you left 4 years ago, your former colleagues are probably on 30%+ more given the state of the market.

Former Bazza

@ Archbishop. Those figures are interesting, particularly given your relatively junior call, and the absence of the KC moniker , which is not surprising given you are only 12 years call.

In 2018 the Bar Council published a report on Barristers earnings and it reads like this:

1) 125 reported gross fees of £1MM plus a year
2) 200 reported gross fees of more than £500k but less than a million.

Yes I know the report is 4 years old, but broadly speaking that would make you one of the 200 above, out of 10000 at the Independent Bar to have earned more than 500k at just 12 years call…..

barrister (original poster)

@former barrister

Four years is a very long time. I think it is difficult to understate what is happening to the Bar at the moment in terms of revenue increase. Things have changed dramatically in a few years. I couldnt conceive of earning this money even a few years ago.

Bazza 2 years call

This is absolutely true. To throw my hat in the ring I am currently two years call and on track to bill £200k. Not a top set either – think rates have just spiralled out of control. Four years is a long time and I know juniors from my set who would not have been earning £60k at two years call.

Chancery Junior

You clearly have a chip on your shoulder that you were not earning what some of us are.

Those Bar Figures, when reported, were commonly thought to be on the low side. Though I agree that at the time when everyone was looking at them that given their source, they really should be accurate. Assuming they are accurate, there are clearly people on here who fall into those figures.

For those interested, the below are my gross figures for work billed in calendar years. I’m 2010 call and began tenancy October 2011.

2017 – 520 (7yrs call)
2018 – 490 (8yrs call)
2019 – 550 (9yrs call)
2020 – 590 (10yrs call)
2021 – 895 (11yrs call)
2022 – ca. 700 (12yrs call)

I work in commercial law, not at one of the MC sets. However, everyone needs to appreciate that the earnings even in these sets vary wildly amongst barristers of the same call. The average earnings at those sets will be higher, but only the average. There are plenty elsewhere who earn more than that average.

My chambers expenses vary year to year, but float between 13-16% of those gross figures. I probably spend ca £10k on other non chambers expenses each year on average – computers, flights to foreign conferences etc.

My average time from bill to payment is about 10 weeks (worked out based on knowing my current aged debt as a percentage of my rolling average for the last 12months work). Since I began practice I have written off about 30k. Just doesn’t happen in my practice but I am very hands on with my clerks, I regularly check and hassle for payment. It may well happen to others.

The above figures also include government work, I am on the panel (£100 an hour for B Panel and a giddy £120 when you make the A Panel). The opportunity cost of Panel work is high, my hourly rate now is £440, but its fun work (mostly). So the above figures would be higher save for last year, when I couldn’t take much on.

All that barristers (in my experience) care about when it comes to assessing the stability of your practice is (1) what work you have done, (2) whether you have long term bad debt, (3) time to payment on average. Crucially when looking at barristers applying to my set we also care about repeat work – are the same solicitors coming back or are you a one and done type (some of which do very well). The payments that are fast/slow average each other out – at around 10 weeks in my case. Work billed is the best indicator of how busy you are.

My 2021 figures were very high due to two huge trials (one expedited – god bless squeezing everything into 5 months). I worked very hard for that, but still had around 7/8 weeks off over the course of the year.

Some cases I get paid before I even do the hearing (I love regional firms – much better at getting money on account). However, time spent working is not the real way to make money as a barrister. It is opinion work or court hearings. Just look at what Pannick allegedly was paid for that opinion that was published recently.

My opinion work is priced way higher than the hours worked. But that is normal, that is why you go to counsel and my fees still pale into insignificance against the solicitors who instruct me (mostly large city firms). Likewise trial work, there is more paid than the hours worked. Then again I have been increasingly aggressive with my own fees much to the chagrin of some colleagues who are always charging and quoting less than myself, but yet I end up with a near full slate of work.

So the reality is that some, and I emphasise some, are earning these figures. For any prospective applicants you need to appreciate that these figures are for an individual, not a set. You know roughly (minus bonus) what you will earn at most city firms at a given level. I earn nearly twice what the person in my set with the same call as me earns. He, however, is quite happy with doing less work.

Future commercial pupil

This is really interesting as a future commercial pupil, thank you. Similarly I am not joining a so called “magic circle” set – far from it.

Mind if I ask what kind of hours were you working in those years and at what hourly rates?

I want to work hard / learn / develop contacts in the early years at the Bar, but equally I don’t want to burn myself out by saying yes to everything and working 7 days a week.

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