While the Bar continues to increase in size, the junior Bar is shrinking, in part because of competition from solicitors, the profession’s leader has warned.
Bar Council chairman Andrew Langdon QC highlighted wellbeing and diversity as two further challenges to a Bar that he said was otherwise changing with the times and following the market.
“Our flexibility to the markets is one of our strengths,” he told Saturday’s Bar Council annual conference. “However let me strike three notes of caution.
“First, the Bar is increasing in size, but the size of the junior Bar is shrinking. Our international income is increasing but our income for publicly-funded work is shrinking.
“Although the research is incomplete, most believe the lack of confidence in public funding is partly what has caused chambers to recruit fewer junior members. The growth in the number of higher court advocates is another.”
He said the Bar Council’s submissions to Lord Justice Jackson’s fixed costs review and the government’s Crown Court fees review focused on the impact on the junior Bar and the resulting damage to the public interest.
“There is some sign this year that confidence may have returned and recruitment to the junior Bar may be heading back to a healthier place. But we are currently losing young barristers who see how hard it will be to pay back the debts they incur in training.
“We support the initiative taken by the Inns to design a professional course that is cheaper and that does something to stem the flow of those who pass the final exam but have very little chance of obtaining pupillage.
“All this is work in progress, but it is vital that it is addressed. We will wither on the vine if we do not take care of the most junior barristers.”
Further, Mr Langdon said, some aspects of the Bar’s culture “need to change”.
He explained: “The wellbeing work has begun to open our eyes to the danger of not looking after ourselves and each other in a way that is much more proactive.
“One impact of technology is that many more work from home so there are fewer opportunities for those in chambers to encounter each other, to notice each other and to help each other.
“We need to respond to the consequences of this change and to think about how we can compensate for it so that the very thing that makes us strong – our ethos – is preserved.”
But he said the Wellbeing at the Bar website was a sign that the Bar was “making strides in the right direction”.
In relation to diversity, Mr Langdon said the Bar has made gains in recent years “but it is slow – too slow”.
He continued: “We still do not have a profession that sufficiently reflects the society we serve and we must continue to tackle that deficit.
“I know how much Bar Council time and resources go into this effort of bringing about change. I know that most chambers believe they are tackling it themselves.
“But I think some of our predecessors have underestimated the conscious effort and depth of change that is required.”