Legal aid Bar losing ground

The financial gulf between legal aid and commercial barristers dramatically widened in 1997-98, according to a survey of London chambers released last week by accountants BDO Stoy Hayward.

Despite overall growth of 7 per cent across the Bar as a whole, the survey shows total receipts for crime and family practitioners fell by around 5 per cent while commercial and chancery work was up 10 per cent.

Peter Bennett, practice manager at 55-tenant 36 Bedford Row, said: “This proves fat-cat barristers are a myth. In terms of legal aid, funds from the public purse are markedly going down. For example, yesterday we were offered a brief fee of #350 to prosecute a three to four-day rape case. We had to send it back.”

The survey also revealed that solicitors' earnings grew at twice the rate of barristers' earnings over the last year.

Mark Green, director of BDO's professional practices group, said: “Although the last year has been an exceptional one for solicitors, our figures appear to corroborate the fears of some barristers that solicitors are taking an increasing share of the legal service marketplace.”

The survey also suggested that there was little difference in performance between chambers with a traditional senior clerk and those with a practice manager. However, it showed that sets with specialist support staff – in financial management, IT and marketing – were more likely to be successful.

This is the third year BDO Stoy Hayward has conducted the survey. Over 50 chambers responded of 200 contacted throughout London. Green said the sample was representative in terms of both size and type of work undertaken.