What is a ‘young barrister’?

Well for a start we are not necessarily young….

The question that I have been asked repeated this year by other barristers, senior judiciary and politicians is “what is a ‘young’ barrister?”. How do we, at the Bar Council, ‘classify’ our most junior members?

The Old Definition 

For the past 52 years the Bar Council had defined its young constituents as those under 7 years’ call. This worked on the same basis as most have operated for the past century; that you define a barrister’s seniority by reference to their date of call.

As far as Bar Council is concerned this matters as it defines who can stand for election to Bar Council in the junior elected categories. It also determines the pool of individuals who the Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) is entitled to represent and support, under the Standing Orders.

Time for a Change 

In April 2016 the YBC put a paper to the Bar Council seeking a change of that definition. The reasons that a change seemed necessary are that: –

  • When the YBC was originally established in 1954, most barristers would expect to complete their Bar Finals, get called to the Bar and then go on to pupillage. The numbers of those being called to the Bar and the number of pupillages available was not as disparate as it now is.
  • Now it is commonly the case that individuals seeking pupillage will have to apply more than once. For those applying to criminal chambers they may have to wait 2 or 3 years after call until they are able to secure a pupillage.
  • It is also well known that most criminal pupils will undertake a third-six. Third-sixes are also increasingly more common in the civil sphere.
  • Following completion of pupillage anecdotally it takes approximately 7 years until most young barristers feel comfortable in their career: professionally, ethically and financially. On the old definition a young practitioner, who has 2-3 years between call and completion of pupillage, would only be considered a young barrister for 4-5 years. This means that the representative capacity of the YBC and junior elected members of the Bar Council is reduced.
  • For most practitioners it takes up to 2 years for them to be sufficiently comfortable in their practice to considering standing for Bar Council or becoming engaged in the representative work of the Bar Council, SBAs, Circuits or Inns. An individual might fall outside the old definition of “young barrister” before they even considered volunteering, and as a result their expertise and experience might be lost.
  • In relation to employed barristers, while employed barristers in the GLD are qualified barristers by the end of their 12-month pupillage, they continue to do 2 further seats in advisory positions so as to put them on a par with their solicitor counterparts. Employed barristers in the GLD would therefore not be settled in practice until at least 4 years after call in most cases. This would obviously be a longer period of time if they were unable to get a pupillage initially.

Bar Council unanimously approved a changed definition.

The New Definition

the change that was approved was “less than 7 years practising following the first date on which the barrister was eligible for a full practising certificate”.

In effect this means that you are a young barrister for your first 7 years of practice, after you become fully qualified. For most individuals, this will be from completion of your 12-month pupillage.

The new definition has also been adopted in relation to the International Grants Programme run by the Bar Council and SBAs.

What’s in a name?

Of course, this all leads to the next question – if we are defining barristers by their experience, should we really be called ‘young’? A newly qualified barrister in their 50s would be as ‘young’ as a newly qualified barrister in their 20s on the definition as it stands. Although both individuals would experience similar challenges in the early years of practice.

To date no one has been able to suggest a better alternative. We could not be the Junior Barristers’ Committee, as that denotes anyone who is not a Silk. The Junior Junior Barristers? Repetition in this case would definitely become complicated. What about the New Barristers’ Committee? But how would that be perceived by our clients? The answer to this question has eluded me for 18 months! If anyone has any suggestions as to an alternative, please do e-mail YBC@barcouncil.org.uk and let us know.

Louisa Nye is the Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee and a barrister at Landmark Chambers.

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