Time for the Bar to find middle ground

The Bar's proposals to smooth the path for solicitors who switch to the Bar are like King Canute's attempts to stem the tide. Faced with the growing competition of solicitor advocates, what does the Bar Council do? It proposes inviting them to join the Bar. The response – solicitor advocates in general have no interest and the ordinary barrister sees one more concession to the other side.

Little wonder that barristers in general are getting increasingly fed up with their ruling body's weak responses to the gathering forces of change.

Solicitor advocates are just one of the many issues – direct access is another, as is forming partnerships with law firms. And where is it laid down in stone that barristers who become solicitors must be disbarred?

The issues are building up and the Doomsday scenario will just draw nearer if someone somewhere at the Bar does not get to grips with the real problem – where the Bar is going and what it can really offer to differentiate its services from those of solicitors?

It seems that the upper echelons of the Bar, despite numerous reports on the subject, freeze at the thought of changing traditional preconceptions. One youngish barrister who attended a Bar Council meeting professed astonishment at the attitudes of some of those present. "They make jokes about solicitors and how crap they are," he said. "It's all about getting one over on solicitors. If someone says something which is anti-solicitor, they all cheer. There's just no middle ground."

The Bar is hovering on the precipice of disaster as it desperately tries to preserve its traditional position with some cosmetic tinkering at its seams. The growing voices of dissent within its ranks will force the issue and the Bar Council will find itself swept with the tide instead of having the luxury of guiding the way.