Wellbeing at the [Young] Bar

Ever since the Wellbeing at the Bar report published in April 2015, there has been a positive surge in wellbeing initiatives aimed at barristers. The report was jointly funded by the Inns of Court and the Bar Council, and concluded that there was not a measurable difference in responses when asked about quality of life depending on years in practice. It is natural however that certain pressures have a disproportionate effect on those in the early years of practice. It is important therefore that junior barristers have access to help and ways to combat the pressures that they will invariably face as part of the job.

Judicial bullying

One of the most under-reported issues that young barristers have to deal with is judicial bullying. Young barristers may feel humiliated or not competent enough to represent their client’s best interest as a result of a Judge’s conduct in court. Conduct of this kind is unacceptable and can be reported to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO). However, not all barristers feel empowered to do so.  The Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) of the Bar Council remain committed to ensuring the wellbeing of young barristers, and are welcome reports and complaints by email (YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk) from those who feel like they have been victims of judicial bullying. YBC hope to collate and send these scenarios anonymously to JCIO, to serve as supporting evidence for how the current system may be failing to protect advocates in court.

Demanding solicitors

As a junior barrister, it can sometimes feel like solicitors have your life in their hands as you start to develop a practice. The pressure of keeping solicitors happy can sometimes lead to stress and panic. It is important to ensure that your clerks are aware of your workload, which includes the additional demands placed upon you in respect of certain cases, e.g. frequent phone calls and document review work.

Panicking at court

Lack of sleep, past court experiences (e.g. judicial bullying) and insufficient preparation time may cause young barristers to dread a hearing or to panic at court. Whilst a healthy amount of adrenaline may improve a barrister’s performance, panic will hinder it. It may be helpful to speak to a more senior member of chambers who you feel comfortable confiding in (even if this means making a phone call when you are at court) and to consider whether you require extra time to prepare the case, or simply need a break.

Strides have been made in the last couple of years towards providing reliable and relatable tools for barristers to confront concerns about wellbeing. For students, pupils and young barristers, these online resources should go some way to helping with the pressure of early years in practice. Further, a recent initiative coordinated by the Bar Council, delivered by Health Assured and funded by BMIF, provides free counselling to barristers – see https://www.wellbeingatthebar.org.uk/eap/.

Alex Cisneros is one of the Bar Council’s #IAmTheBar Social Mobility Advocates, a member of the Young Barristers’ Committee, and a barrister at No.5 Chambers.

Katie Longstaff is a member of the Young Barristers’ Committee and a barrister at Radcliffe Chambers.

Young Bar Pro Bono Champions

In November 2017, the Young Barristers’ Committee teamed up with the Bar Pro Bono Unit to recognise and celebrate the pro bono efforts of five young barristers. Read their stories below:

[pdf-embedder url=”https://youngbarhub.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Combined-Summary-and-Certificates.pdf” title=”Young Bar Pro Bono Certificates”]

ICCA Guidance for Youth Court Advocates

The Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA) has developed authoritative and very practical guidance for advocates conducting criminal cases involving children and young people.

The materials comprise five guides and a film. To download them visit: icca.ac.uk/youth-justice-advocacy

This guidance are designed to help practitioners comply with the Bar Standards Board’s Youth Proceedings Competences.

ICCA’s resources simplify this specialist area of practice, ensuring that advocates are better equipped to deal with law, procedure, communication and engagement.

Young Barristers’ fees in the Magistrates’ Court

Young Barristers’ Committee carried out a survey in 2016, to investigate whether the issue about poor or no remuneration of young barristers in Magistrates’ Courts had changed since the publication of the Protocol.

We received 292 responses in total, which is approximately 25% of the estimated 1140 practising in criminal law. These figures are based on the Bar Standard Board’s statistics for Feb 2014, which featured in the Jeffrey review

The findings highlighted the following:

  • This issue is prevalent among young criminal barristers, and does not just affect pupils, as some may think. 75% of respondents were tenants in Chambers.

Continue reading Young Barristers’ fees in the Magistrates’ Court

Young Barristers’ & Inns of Court Qualifying Session

The Young Bar Hub is a treasure trove of useful information which could prove to be invaluable to those in their early years of practice, but at present it is not as well-known as it should be.

Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC) have met – and are meeting – with representatives of the Inns of Court to try to raise our profile amongst students, particularly so that we can highlight the work that we do and the assistance we can provide when commencing life at the Bar. The Young Bar Hub shares information on matters such as accounting and finance, which are rarely discussed on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) or even in Chambers. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.

Continue reading Young Barristers’ & Inns of Court Qualifying Session

Making Tax Digital

What is Making Tax Digital?

Making Tax Digital (MTD) is a radical new system being introduced by HMRC. It will transform the way that tax returns are filed online.

Under MTD, self-employed barristers must keep accounting records electronically and use that information to provide updates on their business profit to HMRC on a quarterly basis.

HMRC’s main aim under the scheme is to make tax administration more efficient and easier for taxpayers through the introduction of a fully digitised system.  Also, HMRC estimate that they lose around £8bn a year through filing errors by taxpayers and that MTD will help to reduce those errors.

The Facts

The way that business profits are reported to HMRC is changing. Barristers with income in excess of the VAT threshold will need to begin digital submissions from April 2018 under the current proposals, and barristers with income below the VAT threshold will need to begin digital submissions with effect from April 2019. Quarterly submissions will be due to HMRC following these start dates, and will need to be based on accurate accounting data. The reports must be submitted one month after the end of the quarter.

That means you will no longer need to wait until the end of the year to find out how much tax you need to pay. However, a penalty regime will apply to late submissions.

If you are not already using software for your business record keeping/accounting you will need to establish a system in order to comply with the rules

Continue reading Making Tax Digital

YBC response to AGFS Consultation

YBC Logo

The Young Barristers’ Committee have submitted an independent response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation entitled ‘Reforming the Advocates Graduated Fees Scheme‘.

The YBC response is now available here.

For more information on the views expressed in the response, please email YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk 

Why the YBC is supporting the new proposed AGFS

It’s a point often made that the launch of Government consultations can be a moment where the profession can get a bit nervous, especially when the issue concerned is criminal publicly funded fees.

We have all experienced the perverse effects of the current system: turning up for trials that are non-effective for reasons beyond your control; endless delays and arguments with the LAA over page count; attending mention after mention payments for which you know are coming out of the final brief fee. Under the current scheme, the young barrister is often on the losing side in the roulette of remuneration.

The consultation entitled ‘Reforming the Advocates Graduated Fees Scheme‘, has been launched by the Ministry of Justice. This contains a proposal for a new scheme that intends to rationalise the way that publicly funded defence cases are paid. We think this will redress many of the disadvantages of the current system.

Fundamentally, it suggests re-writing the current Advocates Graduated Fees Scheme (‘AGFS’) and replacing it with a scheme where cases are paid based on the complexity of the case and to reward the work that barristers actually do, rather than working slavishly to a page count system.

From the perspective of a young barrister, there are some clear advantages of the scheme:

  • Being paid £300 for every ineffective trial
  • Restoration of payment for PTPH, sentence and mentions
  • Payment for the second day of every trial
  • A scheme that rewards advocates for the level of work done and their experience
  • No more arguments over the service of material as evidence.

It goes without saying that no scheme is going to be absolutely perfect. There are a few drops in the base amounts for payments for some cases. But the clear advantage is that young barristers will be paid for their time in court, rather than being paid on an arbitrary basis, and will be able to actually make money rather than feeling like every other case is a loss leader. The scheme actually provides the groundwork so that newly qualified barristers can have a sustainable career in their early years, and beyond. The young bar needs a scheme that incentivises progression to more complex and serious cases.

The Young Barristers’ Committee, through the Bar Council will be responding to the consultation. The response will be positive, as we think this is a step in the right direction and the changes proposed would benefit the Young Bar overall.

If you have any views or would like to contribute to our response please do send comments and feedback to YBC@barcouncil.org.uk.

By Louisa Nye (Chairman of the Young Bar 2016) and Helena Duong (Criminal Barrister at 23 Essex Street)

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.

Pro Bono – The Business Case

Pro bono work contributes to the public good. In doing pro bono work barristers forgo paid opportunities. The primary motivation is, or should be, altruistic.

So far, so obvious.

Through all our work, we create value. In transactional terms, anyone undertaking pro bono work will have decided that the value added to the client (and/or society in general) will outweigh the loss of financial opportunity to himself/ herself.

And yet less often included in this equation, perhaps, is the value we can add to our own practice through pro bono work. There is a sound business case for working pro bono, and here are three aspects of it:

1) Building your skills

As a junior (or even baby) barrister without appellate experience, if an ordinary appeal to the Court of Appeal (for example) comes into Chambers – i.e. one which is publicly or even privately funded – the chances of you picking it up as opposed to someone a few years’ call ahead of you who has appeared there before are very slim.

If the case is pro bono, that’s a very different matter. These types of cases crop up fairly frequently through, for example, the Bar Pro Bono Unit, and often are suitable to those of limited call. Cases like this provide the opportunity to bolster your CV well ahead of schedule and obtain a meaningful competitive advantage.

2) Networking

So far, I’ve used the classic definition of pro bono work, i.e. “providing legal services free of charge”. Undoubtedly, taking on this kind of work will allow you to expand your professional network.

But there are other legally-focused opportunities to work pro bono outside of this definition. For example, there are various working groups within the Circuits and Bar Associations focused on access to justice issues, often contributing to policy debates and Government consultations.

Activities like this can be fascinating, and aside from the societal benefit in participating, you will have the opportunity to work closely with leaders within the profession and, in so doing, add to your own professional network.

3) Reputation

Pro bono work can also be a valuable marketing tool. For example, taking on pro bono cases can put you in the running for the various “Pro Bono lawyer of the year” awards by professional associations and regional pro bono organisations. Even if you don’t win one of these awards, being seen to do pro bono work will improve your credibility, and that of your Chambers or firm.

There are also reputational benefits. For example, should you find yourself in the Court of Appeal (to continue the above example), you will find that your tribunal will appreciate your acting pro bono; something which is unlikely to harm your reputation among the judiciary.

So, to conclude, those who might be mulling over whether or not to take a few hours out of their diary for pro bono work? Make sure that, as well as considering the public good, you consider the business case and potential marketing and reputational benefits.

Sam Roake

Charter Chambers

Sam Roake is a criminal barrister at Charter Chambers, and a member of the Young Barristers’ Committee, and is the young bar representative on the Bar Council’s Pro Bono Board of the Bar Council of England and Wales. 

Young Bar welcomes ‘Wellbeing at the Bar’

The Bar Council, in collaboration with the Inns of Court and Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC) have launched a dedicated website for the Wellbeing at the Bar initiative (www.wellbeingatthebar.co.uk).

The launch of Wellbeing at the Bar is the result of an outstanding response from over 2,500 barristers to the Bar Council’s survey in 2014. The survey results and subsequent report highlighted the challenges faced the Bar in relation to mental health and wellbeing.

This website is designed to provide support, advice and best practice to barristers, clerks and chambers on wellbeing and mental health issues. This support and advice is communicated via different mediums such as videos, podcasts, animations and downloadable packs.

Aside from the practical information available on the website, ‘Wellbeing at the Bar’ also provides an up-to-date listing of wellbeing events, and contact information for barristers, clerks and Chambers in need of help and advice on matters concerning wellbeing.

Chairman of the Young Bar, Louisa Nye, said at the Young Bar and Annual Bar Conference 2016: “Young barristers are under increased pressure and this is why I welcome the work which the Bar Council and others have been doing in relation to wellbeing. Through this work, we can dispel the stigma that prevents so many people from asking for help. And we can help others to understand what they can do to assist those in difficulty.”

The website is the product of a working group, which was made up of members of the profession, representatives from each Circuit, SBA, the Inns of Court and the IBC. The Young Barristers’ Committee (the “YBC”) were involved throughout the planning and implementation stages of the website’s creation, and are proud that the end product reflects the needs of the profession, and acts as an effective response to the survey results.

Noting the invaluable resource that the Young Bar Hub and Toolkit, and the dedicated Twitter account has become for young barristers, the YBC were keen on the idea of creating an online resource to support the wellbeing needs of the profession. Wellbeing at the Bar can be accessed at any time, from anywhere.

The YBC are committed to this initiative, and will be dedicating its final seminar of the year to ‘Wellbeing and Work/Life balance for the Young Bar’. This seminar, based on the Young Bar Toolkit, will be held in St Philip’s Chambers, Birmingham on Wednesday 16 November. The seminar will feature a walk-through of the new online portal by Rachel Spearing, Chair of the Wellbeing at the Bar working group, and advice from our guest speaker, Linda Singer, an independent trainer and lecturer in applied Psychology. Tickets are available here.

For further information about the above, please feel free to contact the Young Barristers’ Committee via email on YBC@BarCouncil.org.uk.

The Bar’s Eye on Brexit

The Bar Council was neutral as to the result of the EU Referendum. It limited its activities to producing a hugely informative set of notes on the consequences of either an ‘in’ or ‘out’ vote. If you want to understand the potential ramifications for the referendum vote you could do a lot worse than read these papers, which can be found here:

Where the Bar Council is emphatically not neutral, is in the view that it needs to do whatever it can to help the profession to mitigate the risks and take advantage of the opportunities of the Brexit vote. That is why the Bar Council has established a Brexit Working Group, the remit of which is to do just that. I am the Young Bar representative on that group.

However, before the Brexit working group can march off confidently in the direction of helping the profession, it is of course important to work out what the profession actually wants. To this end an open meeting was held at Serle Court in Lincoln’s Inn to garner views from the profession. The meeting was very well attended, with people travelling from all over the country. A huge number of issues were identified, but a number of key priorities emerged.

First, the Bar Council must do its utmost to ensure that those who practice EU Law and who, for example, exercise practicing rights in the Court of Justice of the European Union by virtue of the UK’s membership of the EU, can continue to practice EU Law and exercise those rights.

Second, the Bar Council must seek to ensure that the issues of jurisdiction, the enforcement of judgments and other such matters are appropriately dealt with in a way which serves the interests of justice and the profession.

Third, the Bar Council must do all it can to make sure that the Bar is well placed to take advantage of the considerable amounts of work which will be generated by Brexit, particularly in government.

Many important consequences for domestic law were also identified. However, it was thought that it is important that work is not duplicated across the profession and much of this work is already being undertaken by specialist bar associations, who are in any event better placed to carry out such work. The role of the Brexit Working Group will be to coordinate these efforts, if required, and to identify gaps in the work being done.

If you would like feed in your views in relation to any of the priorities identified above, or if you think further priorities need to be considered, please email the group at  brexitwg@barcouncil.org.uk.

Duncan McCombe – Vice Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee