The Bar is in a state of flux. Despite the recession and the consequent reduction in the volume of work sent to the Bar, it continues to experience exponential growth.
At the same time as there are calls to restrict the number of entrants taking the Bar Vocational Course there are calls to allow a number of institutions to run the course. These and other problems are set against a rapidly changing canvas upon which the Bar's traditional monopoly on advocacy in the higher courts is being challenged.
Many of the problems facing the Bar are of its own making. If the Bar is to retain its specialist role and to maintain the standards of excellence associated with it, it must act quickly to solve these problems. But how should the Bar face the challenge of solicitor advocacy?
Many barristers are deeply suspicious of what they perceive to be an attack from solicitor advocates. This suspicion is misplaced.
Regardless of the number of solicitor advocates it is vital that there should always be an independent Bar capable of providing high-quality specialist services.
The Bar should, however, re-examine its traditional relationship with solicitors. It must try to progress the traditional relationship to a new plateau so that the two sides of the profession become truly complementary.
The inevitable trend will be for greater movement between the Bar and law firms. Practising as an advocate in a law firm has a number of advantages – a steady volume of work, regular pay and defined career structure. Equally, some might prefer the independence of the Bar.
Enhanced fluidity, encouraged by the lowering of barriers to transfer will foster a spirit of greater co-operation between barristers and solicitors and will improve the service provided by lawyers to the public.
The Bar has to overcome its natural reluctance to co-operate in this area. If it can, its future is ensured.
Alexander Leitch is a former practising barrister and is now a member of the advocacy group at SJ Berwin & Co.