The majority at the employed Bar “do not feel supported or that their work is recognised”, both by the self-employed Bar and the Bar Council, research released yesterday by the latter has found.
“Despite the majority of respondents beginning their careers at the self-employed Bar, many have felt that they are now viewed as less capable, or indeed less qualified, as a result of transferring to the employed Bar,” it said.
The research, based on a survey of 298 employed barristers, recorded that several participants observed that their role as an employed barrister was often confused with that of a solicitor, and that the title created an assumption that the barrister was no longer practising.
It said more work could be done by the Bar Council, Bar professional training course (BPTC) providers and the Inns of Court to inform not only BPTC students and undergraduates of the opportunities at the employed Bar – 85% felt there was insufficient information given on the BPTC – but also self-employed barristers who may wish to transfer to employment following several years at the Bar.
“There are many benefits to being an employed barrister, as the results demonstrate, in that employed barristers regularly undertake exceptionally interesting work and benefit from financial security. The reported gross salary bands indicate that a career at the employed Bar is well rewarded financially.”
The Bar Council estimated that an average gross salary across the respondents of just under £70,000.
Some 16% were paid in excess of £100,000, and 6% more than £150,000. The average estimated gross salaries of respondents at the biggest organisations that employ barristers were £90,897 for a role at a company, £82,000 if working in-house at a solicitor’s firm, £65,534 at the Government Legal Service, and £57,381 at the Crown Prosecution Service.
There are currently 2,871 employed barristers in England and Wales, representing 18% of the practising Bar.
The research said the lack of awareness of employed barristers about the opportunity to take silk is available to them, as well as the prohibition on some members of the employed Bar in public service obtaining part-time judicial appointments, was “concerning”.
Many did not wish to apply for silk – saying they did not need it to further their career in their organisation – but the research said that of those who do, the process could be improved to remove barriers that employed barristers face.
A lot of respondents wanted to become a member of the judiciary, yet are not applying because they believe they are disadvantaged as a result of their employed status. “References remain difficult to obtain and employed barristers struggle to adequately complete the application forms, as questions are easier to answer for those in self-employed practice.”
The report said the Bar Council’s employed barristers’ committee (EBC) agreed that the ban imposed upon Crown Prosecution Service, Government Legal Service and Serious Fraud Office lawyers from obtaining part-time recorderships in matters involving their own department was unnecessarily restrictive, and that it has been lobbying for it to be removed.
Other findings included that most employed barristers did not pay the Bar representation fee, mainly because their employer had declined to fund it and because they did not feel there were sufficient benefits from the Bar Council to justify paying it themselves.
The report highlighted the areas where the Bar Council could help improve recognition of and communication with employed barristers.
Bar Council chairman Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, said: “Barristers play a critical and valuable role inside public bodies, companies, charities and other organisations. The skills and values they bring as barristers can be invaluable to employers. This survey shows that the work of the employed Bar is just as important as that of the self-employed Bar.”
Michael Jennings, chair of the Bar Council’s employed barristers’ committee, said it was “troubling that members of the employed Bar still encounter, or at the very least perceive, the view that somehow their work is of lower value or less respected than that of the self-employed Bar.
“Good work has been undertaken in this field and the Bar Council has done much to encourage not only inclusiveness, but also recognition of the valuable work of the employed Bar. As the employed Bar continues to grow in size, and cross over between the two branches of the Bar family increase, it is to be hoped that this perception will reduce.
“The accusatory finger is often pointed at the self-employed Bar, which is blamed for maintaining historic misconceptions about the employed Bar. There may be some truth in that, but the employed Bar is equally culpable.”