Two-tier bar will emerge from spending cuts, warn leading silks

A two-tier bar will emerge as a result of public sector sector spending cuts, with top level commercial sets breaking away from the mid-tier in the civil sector, leading barristers warn today.

While leading figures at the civil bar are certain of its future, it is suggested that the divide between it and the public sector bar will deepen as legal aid cuts take hold.

Writing in The Lawyer today Quadrant head of chambers Luke Parsons QC said: “There will be a bigger disparity between the commercial and public sector end of the bar.”

Hardwicke Chambers’ head Nigel Jones continued: “The bar will thrive but be smaller and different.” He added: “The polarisation of the solicitors’ profession has been slower to hit the bar, but it will do so now.”

Commercial sets will remain largely untouched by the legal aid shake-up, insisted Brick Court Chambers head Jonathan Hirst QC. “Despite dire predictions from some quarters we have thrived in the past few years and continued to recruit outstandingly able people,” he said.

Nevertheless, Jones suggested that certain sets will break away from traditional structures and move to work more closely with solicitors. Matrix Chambers, which was established in 2000, already employes paralegals as support staff to barristers, but some think this will become more prominent as in-house counsel look for cost efficiencies.

“Joint venture of different kinds will start to appear,” said Jones. “Chambers like Hardwicke already employ law graduates in their practice management teams to help meet the expectations of an increasingly corporate client base.” However he said the set had no plans to engage staff to conduct litigation.

Other sets may install LLP structures, as 39 Essex Street did in December 2010, as they look to take control of non-barrister finances.

A major challenge for the bar will be persuading international litigants that there is no conflict in instruction two counsel from the same set on opposing sides. As Jones highlights: “Hardwicke is not alone in finding that international clients increasingly refuse to understand or accept such arrangements.”

For more on the future of the bar, read our special report: Sets for action