Barristers' earnings soar as sets continue to grow

Barristers' earnings rose by £100m and a massive 42 per cent of sets have grown by more than 10 per cent in the last year

Income rose to between £1.4bn and £1.6bn, and 12 per cent of barristers expect their earnings to increase by more than 10 per cent over the next year. Only 1 per cent believe income will drop, according to BDO Stoy Haywood's 2002 survey of barristers' chambers.

Only 31 per cent of chambers responded to the survey after Stoy Haywood accidentally sent out last year's confidential responses to the wrong sets. Maitland Chambers, for example, received those responses provided by the next chambers alphabetically.

The size of the Bar grew by a meagre 2 per cent, from 10,132 in October 2000 to 10,334 in October 2001. However, 24 per cent believe that the introduction of pupillage awards will cause a reduction in the number of pupillages on offer. Stoy Haywood estimates it will lead to 139 fewer pupillages being offered a year hereon.

Larger chambers are becoming more popular, as sets with more than 50 tenants currently have 80 pupils, against 60 in 2001. The number of pupils in chambers with between 31 and 40 tenants has more than halved to 60 since last year.

The largest sets are the most likely to grow in future, while chambers with up to 10 barristers and between 21 and 30 tenants are the least likely to grow.

Only some 19 per cent of senior clerks are paid purely as a percentage of revenues, against 35 per cent three years ago.

There is now one staff member for every four barristers, against last year's five. Some 26 per cent of sets believe staff levels will rise over the next 12 months, while 73 per cent believe the number will remain the same. Around 43 per cent of sets have a chief executive or a practice manager, although the survey highlights that they are increasingly unpopular.

Overheads have dropped for all sets except those with between 11 and 20 members and in chancery and commercial sets, where members are paying on average £5,000 more than last year.

In every area except commercial the number of days it takes for a bill to be paid has decreased. Nevertheless, the survey estimates that the total owed to the Bar now amounts to £511m, or £50,000 to every barrister, with £288m due from solicitors.

Bar chairman David Bean QC said: “The aggregate picture of a healthy profession experiencing growth conceals a number of real pressures being faced by barristers' chambers at the coalface.”