Junior barristers, now more than ever, face a world which looks increasingly uncertain. Rick Hoyle, Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee, looks at the worrying trend and what is being done about it
Whilst the Bar as a whole is now larger than ever before, at a little over 16,000 practising barristers, that trend masks much more disturbing news at the junior end.
Comparing the statistics between 2005 and 2017, the number of barristers of five years’ Call and under has shrunk by more than a third (36%). The number in the six and ten years’ Call category has also shrunk by nearly a quarter (24%). We are, in short, an aging profession.
This really matters. Those of you who have ever read a Bar Council response to a consultation paper will notice in every introduction the phrase: ‘A strong and independent Bar exists to serve the public and is crucial to the administration of justice.’ Those are not mere words, but a statement of our core beliefs about the role of the profession in society. If a career at the junior end, or some parts of it, is becoming unviable or less attractive, then the long-term existence of that strong and independent Bar may be in doubt.
Protecting the Bar of the future
These worrying figures are being taken extremely seriously by the Bar Council, from the Chair of the Bar downwards. One of the central points of Andrew Walker QC’s inaugural address, reiterated in his recent interview for this magazine, was concern about the state of the Young Bar. We need a better understanding of this trend, what may be driving it, and whether it can be reversed. A range of factors will need to be investigated, including perceptions of the Bar, attrition rates and reasons, and geographical and practice area differences. What is already clear, however, is that poorly considered policy making and well-meaning but poorly executed reform is a potentially toxic combination, which we must be vigilant to recognise, and vigorously respond to where necessary.
With that in mind, my principal aim for the year involves focusing minds on the Bar of the Future, whilst this important work on understanding the reduction in numbers is undertaken. The Young Barristers’ Committee will continue to be fully involved in policy work which, as regular readers of this magazine will recall, includes an ongoing campaign to reform how barristers are paid for their work in the magistrates’ courts, and contributing to the Bar Council’s response to the BSB’s Future Bar Training consultation. We will be redoubling our efforts to showcase the skills and expertise of the Bar, prepare young barristers for the changing legal landscape, and help improve access to the profession for the barristers of the future.
Generating opportunities: Professional Primer Series
In an age where traditional ways of working are being disrupted, the advantages of using a barrister need to be more firmly emphasised. Our Professional Primer Series, an initiative conceived by my predecessor Duncan McCombe, is designed to help young barristers highlight their expertise and promote themselves as flexible, independent practitioners who represent excellent value for money. The aim is to encourage young barristers to think positively and creatively about how to generate their own opportunities, raise their profiles and forge new contacts in a variety of industries.
The seminar series begins on the evening of 8 February with our first event, Entrepreneurs Build Businesses, Barristers Help Protect Them. Organised in association with the British Association of Women Entrepreneurs, the focus is on some of the most pressing legal issues for business and entrepreneurs in 2018 and beyond. The format is a panel discussion moderated by former BBC journalist Penny Haslam, featuring a mix of barristers and businesspeople, and followed by drinks and networking. The themes include: Brexit and your Business – supply chain pain or opportunity knocks?; Uber and Out – Handling your HR in the Gig Economy; and Taming your Tech – Whose Data is it Anyway? The event is £5 for those who pay the Bar Representation Fee, and £25 for others.
Spread the word
Finally, I would invite you to support the work that we do in any way that you can, whether by paying your Bar Representation Fee, volunteering to speak on a panel, attending our events, or simply helping to raise awareness of what we are doing. Despite an existence spanning over half a century, the Young Barristers’ Committee remains surprisingly unknown in the wider profession. I’d like to change that, and I’d like you to help me!
You can also email the Young Barristers’ Committee directly via YBC@BarCouncil.org.ukorSend a Direct Message (DM in Twitter-speak) to YBC on Twitter via
Looking forward: YBC Events in 2018
In addition to our Professional Primer series, look out for our Annual Half Day Workshop, The 21st Century Advocate, in late Spring or early Summer which offers advocacy training for young barristers from leading practitioners and a focus on the role of technology in and around the courtroom.
The International Weekend and the 50th Anniversary Anglo-Dutch Exchange, in late September and early October, will be a fantastic opportunity for young barristers across a whole range of practi
ce areas to build lasting international relationships. A ram-packed November includes an event looking at Access to Justice, the Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference, and, of course, the Young Bar Dinner.
(This article first appeared in Counsel Magazine issue: February 2018)