Prediction: The bar has long retained its collegiality compared to law firms, but the signs are that this is changing.
Mega-sets such as Birmingham’s No 5 Chambers and St Philips Chambers have more than 150 members and are starting to resemble City firms in their mentality, while the leading commercial chambers in London are now operating in foreign jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Geneva.
At the other end of the spectrum, however, much of the criminal bar is struggling, with cuts to legal aid taking a heavy toll.
“The profession is definitely leaking talent,” says one barrister, “as people leave because they simply can’t make a living.”
Recruitment of tomorrow’s talent is down too. Precisely 700 pupils started their first six in 2000/01. That number decreased to 446 in 2010/11, a drop of some 36 per cent in 10 years.
“I suspect the commercial bar, Chancery and some of the big common law sets will remain healthy,” says Peter Crisp, dean and CEO of BPP University Law School.
“There are also lucrative criminal chambers that do white-collar work,” adds John Flood, professor of law and sociology the University of Westminster, “and as we regulate things more tightly there’s going to be more white-collar crime.”
Away from the elite, however, things look different.
“Would I recommend anybody go into a career at the criminal bar?” Crisp asks, meaningfully. “Well, I might if they have a private income and want a nice hobby. Otherwise, forget it. This is a personal view,
but I can’t see why you would recommend anybody to go down that route. The reality is that at the junior criminal bar, it’s over, isn’t it?”
So what replaces it?
“The really junior work at the criminal bar will presumably be done through solicitors’ firms, and it will be a volume game,” says Crisp. “On a social level that’s very worrying. I would expect to see more miscarriages of justice in future.”
John Flood puts forward an alternative viewpoint: embrace the ABS.
“Whoever in the bar starts to think about putting together a multidisciplinary group with solicitors, barristers, CILEx and others offering a portfolio of services of which the bar is part, will
start to push ahead,” Flood says. “I remember talking to one clerk who said ‘I could set up a company and hire the barristers – have the clerks run the business. I mean, we do run it already, but I mean really run it and then pay the barristers. They’d love it’.
“I can see that happening.”
David Morley, Allen & Overy