The letter refers to The Work of the Family Bar, research commissioned by the Family Law Bar Association, and describes the profession as “close to breaking point as it struggles to cope with increasingly complex caseloads, the pressure to protect the interests of vulnerable clients, disruptive patterns of work and repeated cuts in pay.”

The “week-in-a-life” study, carried out by Dr Debora Price and Anne Laybourne of the King’s Institute for the Study of Public Policy, analysed data from 1,610 barristers in 133 chambers and involved 5,012 pieces of work, 40% of which was undertaken under legal aid graduated fees.

The respondents were specialists: 75% spent 75% of their time on family law; half (the more senior) particularly specialised in ancillary relief or public law [children] work. Half worked more than 46 hours a week, and a quarter more than 56 hours per week, with median taxable profits of £66,000. Half earned less than £39,000 on legal aid work, in which hourly gross rates are £57.

Speaking at the launch of the research last month, Desmond Browne QC, Chairman of the Bar, said: “Barristers are not asking for more money.” The concern is the impact of the “abhorrent” cuts by the Legal Services Commission  of £6.5m in counsel’s fees in children’s cases, which have just taken effect. Further cuts of up to £20–30m (more than a 50% cut in many complex cases) are likely to follow, as a result of the consultation Family Legal Aid Funding from 2010 (December 2008). The last time the LSC imposed substantial changes in family legal aid, in 2001, 28% of the family Bar stopped doing publicly funded ancillary relief hearings, the research showed. It is common now for those above 15 years’ call to refuse legally aided work.

Chair of the Family Law Bar Association, Lucy Theis QC, pointed out that “expertise in family law is not gained overnight” and these cuts will “drive expertise away, which is not in the public interest”.