Solicitor advocates shy from Bar

SOLICITOR advocates say that Bar Council proposals to make it easier for solicitors to join the Bar are overdue but are unlikely to entice them to make the transition.

While the Bar may enjoy the benefit of lower overheads, solicitor advocates reject Bar Council claims that they would gain any more “guaranteed independence”. They blame the Bar's tighter work restrictions and the current clerking system as discouragements to jump the fence.

Paul Hampton, chair of the Association of Higher Court Advocates, says: “I can see very little purpose in solicitor advocates wanting to practice at the Bar because the regime under which we practice is infinitely more user-friendly and flexible in terms of what we can do.”

Commenting on the Bar Council's aim to make transfer easier, Hampton says: “I don't think we are terribly bothered, quite frankly, whether they do or don't.”

Judith Naylor, partner in Orsborn Naylor Solicitor Advocates and chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, says: “The only advantage of being at the Bar is the low overheads, but I'm living proof that you can achieve that and specialise.”

Naylor says Law Society figures show solicitors' overheads running at 60 to 70 per cent of fee income, with that for barristers at around 20 per cent.

She adds: “I organise my own diary. I haven't got a clerk having some power over me. I am my own boss, and I think you lose that at the Bar.”

Jonathan Hirst QC, vice-chair of the Bar Council's planning committee, seeks views on whether Higher Court solicitor advocates should be allowed automatic transfer to the Bar and whether solicitors should be exempted from the usual 12-month pupillage.

Bar Council chair Peter Goldsmith QC says: “Many solicitors will want to take advantage of the unique benefits that transfer to the Bar will bring them.”

These benefits include specialising on fewer cases, “guaranteed independence of self-employed practice” and “collegiate strengths of chambers and the Inns of Court,” says the Bar Council.

Mike Yuille