Survey reveals threat to mid-sized sets

Medium-sized barristers' chambers are being squeezed out of the profession, according to the most comprehensive survey ever of the Bar.

Chambers with between 11 and 30 members are the most vulnerable with more sets in this category losing members than gaining them.

Over 50 per cent of barristers switching sets moved to larger sets with 40 or more existing tenants.

Mark Green, a director of chartered accountants BDO Stoy Hayward which conducted the survey in conjunction with the Bar Council, says: “It is to do with the scale of the operation, as you get bigger you have more money to invest in information technology and specialist staff in marketing and finance.”

The most positive responses to the survey came from the very large sets and the small specialists sets who see one of their greatest opportunities in the demise of weaker chambers.

The 44 per cent of chambers in England and Wales who responded to the survey see developing new specialisations, direct licensed access, the introduction of kitemarking and a change in Bar Council rules to allow barristers to conduct litigation as major opportunities for the Bar.

However, not only are self-employed barristers to be denied permission to conduct litigation, many at the Bar believe the Barmark, officially launched last week, does not go far enough in terms of complaints procedure and client care.

Chairman of the Bar Council Dan Brennan says that the Barmark criteria will be kept continually under review and toughened up.

The greatest threats to the profession identified by the survey are solicitors taking work in-house, solicitor-advocates and increases in overhead costs.

Cash flow is another major problem for the Bar with the average wait for payment from the time a bill is submitted being five and a half months, unlike other service sectors which average 60 days.

Despite the proliferation of chambers directors and practice managers Brennan accepts that the Bar still has a long way to go as fewer than half of all chambers have a strategic or business plan for the future.

Brennan is also keen to dispel popular belief that the Bar is a “fat cat's profession”.

He says 90 per cent of the profession are within the range of reasonable earnings. The top 10 per cent, the Queen's Counsel, earn an average net income of between #163,400 and #266,200.