Dirty tricks at the bar damages everyone

The legal profession is facing one of the most hostile governments in its history. One that is not above using a fat-cat caricature of lawyers as political capital to push through ill thought-out changes to the detriment of the criminal and civil justice systems, the profession and the public.

Against this backdrop, one of the leading professional bodies is engaging in a squalid and short-sighted piece of spin-doctoring.

Rather than uniting with solicitor colleagues in defending quality services and trying to move the debate away from one of purely cost, the Bar Council concocts then leaks a report reputedly showing that junior barristers can cost up to half that of assistant solicitors.

Rather than seeing this as a scandal – skilled young men and women being faced with having to slash prices like a cut-price airline in order to compete – the Bar Council wants us to see this as a good thing. Why? Because it is obsessed with the challenge of solicitor-advocates.

Hopefully, solicitors will not feel the need to respond with a report that shows how cheap they are and the size of the bills that barristers run up. Such bickering and points scoring is exactly what enemies of the profession want to see. Divided against itself, lawyers are, in effect, calling for more intervention, control and possibly regulation.

Solicitor-advocates are indeed a threat to certain sections of the bar, but not to a renewed and modernised bar that develops a relevant and high-quality service focused on customers and cost-effectiveness, and develops a new and productive relationship with the law firms.

Some sets have realised this. They are looking at mergers, even partnerships and know that "kite marks" fool no-one and that in the future clients will judge on the basis of a seemless quality service. A long-term, coherent and powerful alliance could invigorate the profession and provide a formidable challenge to those lined up against it. Such a strategy demands a maturity the Bar Council seems to lack.