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20 January 2020

Major survey of UK barristers claims Bar is reaching 'breaking point'

Barristers need to rethink their practices with technology know-how and skills lacking, says new research.

By Dr David Cowan

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A survey of 750 barristers practising in England and Wales has revealed the profession to be at ‘breaking point’, its authors have claimed. The report by LexisNexis UK – A Brave New Bar – found that while 67% of the respondents expected their practice to grow or remain stable for the next three-to-five years, there was widespread concern about the future of the Bar as a whole.

The rising costs of doing business emerged as a critical challenge for almost 40% of barristers, with tuition fees, living costs, rents and business rates putting pressures on the profession’s profitability.

Meanwhile, ‘managing wellbeing and increasing resilience’ was identified as the number one critical challenge facing the respondents.

‘The hours are getting even longer, the fees are getting even smaller, the volume of admin is growing more cumbersome due to regulation and clients are becoming more demanding, with many expecting a 24/7 service from their barrister,’ said the report.

One respondent complained: “Non-stop availability via emails and phones is really problematic for our wellbeing.”

The report also revealed that in using technology tools, 46% of barristers said they didn’t have the support they needed to grow, with marketing and business development being an area where a lack of skills is widespread across the Bar.

 “There is optimism across the profession, but clearly the Bar is at breaking point,” said Christopher O’Connor, head of segment marketing at LexisNexis.

He added: “How barristers operate and approach work will have to change for the Bar to be able to futureproof their sector within the legal profession."

For criminal and family barristers doing publicly funded work, the cuts and changes to Legal Aid are a major concern.  Nearly 30% of barristers rated it as their number one most critical challenge. 

The affected barristers were able to take advantage of changes to direct access regulation that allows them to offer the same services as family solicitors by taking instructions directly from clients as opposed to via a solicitor. 

However, the report states that barristers tend to shy away from this route, with 91% stating that their work is instructed by a solicitor and only 11% of the sample conducting direct access work.

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