• Government to recognise the role of the professions in meeting the huge cuts it is seeking to achieve and make assurances as to future levels of funding;
  • publicly funded barristers to diversify away from a solely legal aid practice; and
  • the Bar to recognise the moral dilemma of calling so many people to the Bar who may have no real prospect of attaining pupillage.

The Chairman’s speech was followed by a keynote address, delivered by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury.

On a ‘pact’ with Government, Nicholas Green QC said:
“If Government expects the professions to engage in a pact of cooperation, then the legal profession as a whole, including barristers, solicitors and judges, needs the clearest possible undertaking and promise from Government that when the public purse refills, so critical resources will be allocated to justice.”

On diversifying away from publicly funded work, he said:
“The Bar must diversify. I regret to say – because doing publicly funded work is a noble cause – that the Bar will need to diversify away from legal aid work. This is inevitable and many sets are now doing just this. The reality is that legal aid will shrink significantly and there will be long term pressure on rates. The more Government says that the court system is expensive the more they will question the basic need for advocacy as a means of resolving disputes.”

On the Bar’s moral obligation to the number of new, Called, barristers, he

“The genetic makeup of our young practitioners is alpha class, but to my mind the statistics reveal both a moral and an economic problem which we have neither grappled with, nor properly understood. Morally, I have real qualms about a system of education which encourages universities to educate more and more law students, because a law student can be generated at virtually zero marginal cost. These students leave university with substantial debts, often exceeding £30,000. They then invest further in professional training only to find that the door into the profession is very small and the waiting room massively overcrowded.

At one level, the oversupply of young lawyers intensifies competition for places, helps maintain quality and creates a paralegal workforce, which keeps costs down. On the other hand, to a profession which places such a premium on ethics, I cannot but feel that there is a moral dimension to our work which we are overlooking. This seems to me to be one of the major issues of the day and one which the profession needs to grapple with sooner rather than later.”

The 25th Annual Bar Conference, Chaired by Kim Hollis QC, saw barristers from across England and Wales, and representing a diverse range of practice areas, come together to consider the conference theme, “Raising the Bar: Core Values v. Opportunities”