Thursday, 30 October 2008

Not a good time to be a criminal barrister.

We are in recession, let's all face it, not as if pupillage wasn't hard enough to get, it will now become inevitably impossible. The Bar has gone from Highly Competitive to Hyper Competitive. For those of us who wish to become criminal barristers we may think that things will be easier, recession normally means high crime rates, so lots of work coming in or not as the case may be.

During the last recession in 1992 commercial practise dried up, leaving the non-criminal chambers with little or no work, so they started to branch out into areas of Law they had never done before, such as Family and Crime. Thus the amount of work, especially the amount of work that is done by junior barristers fell. Now if you were chambers would you really look to seek to new untrained people into your little family, if inevitably they will either not have any work to do or will be fighting for the tiniest scrap of work left.

Though there may now be structures in place and of course if a barrister is a specialist in a certain area their amount of work is unlikely to be affected too drastically. If however commercial chambers start to pick up an interest in other areas of law and eat into criminal work then this will significantly affect the budding wannabe criminal barrister, as they will most likely take away very junior work i.e. magistrates appearances, and lesser offences in the Crown Court.

Now if we couple the idea that other barristers whom shockingly didn't want to do criminal law because they wanted to make a lot of money, now want to do criminal law because they have no money with the idea of solicitor advocates (or as Geeklawyer refers to them solicitor inadequates) then the problem is further exposed.

Solicitor advocates are the bane of a barrister. Why? They again eat up work done by very junior barristers. Logically solicitor advocates are a good thing for at least a solicitor. If you have a certain amount of money allocated to a case then why not keep all of the money in house? Why instruct barristers to conduct work for you when you have an advocate within your own organisation?

Some may think that barristers who are highly trained in advocacy, will always out do the solicitor who does not necessarily have the experience of appearing before a tribunal of fact, this won't be the case of those of us just starting out, a solicitor advocate will most likely have similar abilities and skill to our own.

Before we can even think of practising as a barrister we have to look at the availability of pupillages. There is a 1 in 4 (or 5) chance of getting a pupillage, with around 450 pupillages and 3,700 applicants (See Simon Myerson QC on "The Chance of Success"). The Bar is a competitive profession so naturally it is selective as to who enters it.

As mentioned before it has gone from being highly competitive to hyper competitive, a comment on Mr Myerson's blog said that all barristers possess two qualities; high intelligence and self delusion and cheekily I would like to add a third - the ability to drink. We would have to be delusional to want to apply to a very selective profession, that can regularly work 80 hours a week, that takes up weekends and restrict social lives, for what gain? Time to really assess why we want to be barristers, and whether we have the right characteristics.

So we have two great boundaries (1) if we get a pupillage (2) if there will be any work left.

Lets hope the recession is going to be a short one, however for those of us graduating now, or have just finished the BVC the prospects look suitably bleak, unless of course you are one of those lucky ones to have a pupillage already lined up in that case you are unlikely to read my blog.


The Uni Looney said...

A good read!
I agree, I was told that next year if you want to do the BVC they are introducing a admissions test like the LNAT. An that you need 60% to even pass the BVC course which will be new. Its not going to be called the BPC. It will be tougher but have more pratical excerises.

An they are thinking of setting a 2.1 must just to even apply to take the test. They hope it will drop the numbers.

I will try and find the article when I get chance!

Lost said...

I thought it was going to be called the BTP - to be honest the BVC doesnt really matter that much, see Simon's blog for how little it matters if you have other things going for you.

The 2.1 is relevant because lets face it only a couple of people get into chambers with 2:2 and I bet they had decent reasons such as serious extenuating circumstances, so you need a 2:1, or more likely a 1st for all top sets.

The admission test to the BVC as far as I can understand from the Wood report can be taken as many times as you like.

Bar Boy said...

If you are seriously interested in the Bar, at your stage you have no excuse and you really need to concentrate on getting some red hot academic results (put simply, you will maximise your prospects with a 1st class degree). As Lost says, the degree will count the most (conversely, the BVC seems to count for very little). Mr Myerson's blog has huge amounts of expert information and is an invaluable resource for anyone on the LLB and thinking of the Bar. If you spent a day, or two, reading the blog from start to finish, it would be time well spent.

Lost said...

I agree Simon's blog is invaluable, I often read it over and over again, and have even asked my rents to look at it so they can understand the pupillage process!

Oh looks like this little piece has been featured in the UK Law Community group on facebook, oh I'm up there with the other bloggers such as your self now Bar Boy!