Recruitment and retention must be at the heart of the Bar Council’s work as the number of barristers under five years’ Call slides back to the levels of a quarter of a century ago.
In his inaugural speech, Andrew Walker QC, who has succeeded Andrew Langdon QC as Chair of the Bar, warned that the number of junior barristers has fallen significantly in the last ten years. He said: ‘We have now reached the point at which the number up to five years’ Call is back to where it was when I was Called, 26 years ago. We cannot allow this to continue. We need the junior Bar.’
He blamed successive governments for the fall in numbers at the publicly funded bar, highlighting the ‘appalling combination of shrinking fees, plummeting morale, and ever increasing burdens on practitioners’.
Walker called for work to make a career at the junior Bar viable and sustainable, particularly for those doing criminal law. Barristers, he said, need help to ‘find their entrepreneurial side, and to use it to identify new markets, and to secure more work in existing markets’ and to make better use of technology.
The Bar, he said, also needs to examine why measures to increase diversity have failed to make enough of a difference, and to make a more ‘open, inclusive and supportive’ culture.
Recruitment of ‘as diverse a group of the brightest and best new practitioners’ and the retention of ‘as many practitioners as we can’, must be at the centre of the Bar Council’s work, he said, adding that retention was a ‘very personal concern’ because he had seen first hand those with excellent practices leave the self-employed Bar.
Walker criticised the ‘ideology and fixations’ of the Bar’s regulator, which he said had failed to understand the profession’s commitment to its clients and to the court, and had sought to introduce ‘unnecessary regulatory burdens’ such as the now abandoned QASA.
Rather, he wanted ‘wise, mature, sophisticated and effective’ regulation based on a proper understanding of the Bar and a ‘proper dialogue, based on respect, understanding, discussion and persuasion; not diktat, coercion or constricted formality’.
To guard against emerging threats to the Bar’s international reputation, Walker said the Bar Council must work to salvage parts of the EU justice arrangements and help barristers seek new opportunities.
On the domestic front, he said a ‘window of very real opportunity’ was presented by the £1.1bn court reform programme, but the government has forgotten the profession, leading to ‘impractical, unrealistic, and even misguided, ideas’ like the Flexible Operating Hours proposal.
He pledged to continue to argue for court reform that supports the rule of law and for legal aid for domestic abuse victims in family proceedings.
See 'Raising the Young Bar profile'