The Changing Face of the Referral Bar

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On Friday 15 April 2016, Louisa Nye (Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee of the Bar Council of England and Wales) delivered a speech at the World Bar Conference in Edinburgh. The speech shed light on the Junior bar point of view of the future of the independent referral bar. The full paper titled ‘The Changing Face of the Referral Bar’ is available here.


The Challenges facing the Junior Bar

“Young barristers are finding new ways of working to combat the pressures of legal aid cuts, court fee increases, and the heightened costs of training” Louisa Nye

Being a barrister in the early years of practice has always been challenging: there are long nights doing work to prove yourself to your solicitors, clients, and clerks. Not to mention the financial insecurity of managing a practice at the self-employed Bar, where sometimes you will not be paid for work you have done for well over six months.

Now there are the added pressures of the legal aid cuts, which have substantially reduced the work available at the criminal and family Bar. Increases in court fees mean that litigants in the civil sphere have no money to spend on representation: they spend what money they do have on commencing the claim, or decide not to go to court at all. Access to justice is being eroded, which means that litigants are representing themselves or giving up on the law as an avenue to resolve their disputes. This means the work that young barristers used to do in lower value or less complex cases is no longer available.

Why does this matter? Some quarters would say that having fewer lawyers is a good thing. My concern is that these pressures cause the Bar to be less diverse. And if we do not have a diverse and thriving Bar, which the Lord Chancellor has said he would like, we will not have a diverse judiciary in the future. Sadly, the legal aid cuts and court fee increases have caused irreparable damage to our country’s justice system.

Privileged elite

First, the Bar is becoming less diverse because of the under-representation of women and black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups, who tend to practise more in family and criminal law, areas which were grossly affected by the legal aid cuts.

Second, why would a young person decide to go into a profession where they can see that work will not be available, and they will not be able to afford to meet the debt they have incurred in getting there? The cost of the Bar professional training course is now around £17,000, which will be added to the debt that young barristers will have acquired from university, the cost of living, meeting the Inns’ qualifying requirements, and travel expenses. The Inns of Court do what they can and award a substantial amount through scholarships, but the cost of becoming a barrister is still exorbitant. This means that those who do not have an independent income, or whose family cannot afford to assist them, are simply unable to access a career at the Bar. We are in danger of having a Bar that reflects the ‘privileged elite’ of 20 years ago.

New ways of working

So, why would anyone choose to be a barrister? The Bar is still a highly challenging and intellectually rewarding profession. No two cases are the same, and every day in practice (whether at the self-employedor employed Bar) is different.

In the face of all these difficulties, young barristers are finding new ways to work, and different ways to apply their talents and skills. More young barristers are doing secondments, and adding value to firms or companies by assessing risk in cases, providing advice, or dealing with specialised research projects.

Young barristers are branching out into different areas of expertise. Criminal barristers are no longer ‘just’ criminal barristers, but add specialisms in extradition, fraud, or regulatory work to their practices. Civil practitioners are becoming expert arbitrators or mediators, helping litigants to resolve disputes outside the court system.

International work is also providing new opportunities and areas of interest. There are increasingly complex legal crossovers, as the ease of travel and the prevalence of the internet mean that legal conflict issues and different jurisdictions are becoming an important part of everyday practice. Young barristers are perfectly placed to develop these areas of work.

Young barristers are, in my experience, resourceful and determined. They find ways to use their advocacy and analytical skills. The one thing that seems to be true of any barrister is that they are willing to meet a challenge. The challenge for those of us at the forefront of the profession is to help and encourage every young person who has the ability to be a barrister, to see that it remains a vibrant and rewarding profession.

Louisa Nye – Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee

(This article first appeared in Solicitors’ Journal issue: Vol. 160 no. 07 dated 23 February 2016)

Bar careers are challenging, but there is support

There are so many challenges that face people coming to the Bar. Those challenges are varied but almost everyone I have spoken to has faced some sort of challenge to making a career as a barrister. Whether it is discrimination of someone from an ethnic minority; direct or indirect. Whether it is discrimination on the basis of a disability. Discrimination against women; sometimes from more senior women in the profession rather than just men with out-dated views.

Socio-economic limits have meant young barristers have massive debt, or have to take second jobs in order to be able to support a practice at the criminal or family bar. There is discrimination that ‘young barristers’ who come to the Bar later in life feel, even though they have gained experience in other areas. The challenges are varied and immeasurable. They cannot be compared. But they are felt.

In contemplating the challenges that so many young people face another thought occurred. The thing that all young barristers have in common; the ability to rise to a challenge. The fact that they will meet those challenges no matter what. The wish and will to succeed. The determination that they express every day when they turn up at court, knowing they are not properly paid for their time. Or refusing to take otherwise profitable instructions because they are an ethical and honest person.

All the young barristers I have met have so many skills. Not just the specialist advocacy skills that we have in common, but compassion, integrity and a strong and positive belief in the rule of law and justice.

This is why even in the face of so many challenges I have hope, not just for the Young Bar but also for the future of the Bar. It’s because there are still people who are willing to meet these challenges.

The responsibility of those of us in positions of responsibility, representation or authority is to help young barristers to meet those challenges.

Last year the Young Bar Hub was set up with this view in mind, and the Young Bar Toolkit is designed to assist those in the early years of practice. Just because young barristers can and will struggle to make it through their careers does not mean that they should have to struggle so much.

There are many things that the Bar Council, Inns and Specialist Bar Associations are already doing to help those who are facing difficulties in their careers. Whether it is the work done on looking at women at the Bar, equality and diversity training, mentoring schemes and in some cases sponsorships. But we cannot rely on those groups to provide all the services and support that is needed.

The Bar is a collegiate profession. We are One Bar. The challenges and difficulties will not be met simply by a few people.

They are the responsibility of all of us. So I would encourage everyone to consider whether they are acknowledging and helping other barristers where they can.

Whether it is through considering your own actions or actively trying to help through being a supervisor or a mentor. By speaking out when you see another member of the profession being treated badly.

We are all independent practitioners. It is time we exercised that independence of thought beyond our work and towards our profession.

Louisa Nye, Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee

(This article first appeared in ‘Bar Talk’ dated 29 January 2016)

Message from the Chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee

During 2019 the Young Barristers’ Committee will be as active as ever in representing the Young Bar at the Bar Council, on Circuit and at Specialist Bar Associations. We are your Committee, so feel free to get in touch at, if there are issues you would like to raise at any level.

When it comes to day-to-day practice, we hope the Young Bar Hub will provide you with useful information to help you. Whether you are starting out at the Bar, or wish to check an issue having been in practice for a few years, our Toolkits are designed to support you and your early practice.

If there are any issues that we haven’t addressed, do get in touch at


Athena Markides

YBC Chair 2019