Representing young barristers

The YBC meets 11 times a year, with one of those meetings taking place on circuit. Last year we were grateful for the generous support and hospitality of the Wales and Chester Circuit, which hosted our meeting in Cardiff and invited us to the young Bar Mess that was held on the same evening. In previous years we have also been hosted by the Midlands Circuit in Birmingham, and the Western Circuit in Bristol.  At our meetings, the committee discusses the progress of work that is on-going and identifies other new issues or consultations that require our attention. They also provide an opportunity for committee members to raise concerns that have been brought to their attention by other young barristers, and so I really would encourage all young barristers out there, particularly those on circuit, to contact their YBC circuit representative if they want a particular issue to be raised.

In addition, every committee of the Bar Council has a representative from the YBC as part of their membership. That representative will inform that Bar Council committee of any issues that are of particular concern to the young Bar, and will also feed back the work of that committee to the rest of the YBC. In the same way, almost all Bar Council working groups and specialist Bar associations will have input from members of the YBC, and I attend the weekly meetings of the Bar Council’s general management committee.

We respond to Bar Council, Bar Standards Board (BSB) and government consultations; either in our own right, as we did with the BSB’s fourth consultation on the proposed Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates, or when it is more appropriate to do so, by contributing to the responses of other Bar Council committees such as the recent joint Bar Council and Personal Injuries Bar Association response to the Fixed Fee (RTA Portal) Consultation issued by the Ministry of Justice.

Sharing ideas

This year, the YBC will be holding its 10th annual conference on 5 October 2013 at the Hotel Russell in London. The conference has been hugely successful in previous years, and provides a platform for leading lawyers, judges and politicians to address young barristers on a whole range of issues, as well as providing an opportunity for the young Bar to be able to question and debate with those who come to speak . It also provides an excellent forum to bring together young barristers from across the country and from different practice areas, to share ideas and experiences.

We will be marking this 10-year milestone by holding a celebratory dinner on the Friday night before the conference. All young barristers will be invited to attend. In what are difficult times for many young barristers, we hope that such an occasion will provide a moment of light relief and a needed boost to morale, where the focus is on celebrating the many positive things about our profession.

The YBC also publishes an annual magazine, and this year will be no exception. Preparations are already underway to collate articles that inform young barristers of the work of the YBC and of issues that affect the young Bar.

We also write or contribute to articles for other publications, such as student magazines on an ad hoc basis and regularly give talks to university and Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) students about life at the Bar and the challenges that face junior members of the profession.

Promoting young barristers

The YBC also promotes the young Bar in the international arena. As well as attending events such as the opening of the legal year in Paris, the YBC is represented, usually by the chairman, at international conferences. This year, the young Bar will be represented at conferences of the European Young Bar Association and the American Bar Association among others. The high regard in which the young Bar is held internationally is reflected in the fact that I have been invited to speak at the Commonwealth Lawyers Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, this April in a session entitled “Junior lawyers: business as usual – an inconvenient truth”. This is a very prestigious event, attended by leading judges and lawyers from across the Commonwealth.

The value of this work should not be underestimated. By gaining an understanding of other legal systems and comparing experiences with lawyers from other jurisdictions, we are better able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our own system, and to identify those aspects which could be improved, and those that we should fight hardest to retain. It complements the hard work of the Bar Council’s international committee, forging long-standing relationships with young lawyers in countries that the Bar may wish to work more closely with in the future and maintains the high standing that the Bar enjoys throughout the world generating further interest internationally in our provision of legal services.

Closer to home, the YBC also undertakes a lot of work with students of all ages. We have been involved with the Citizenship Foundation’s Bar National Mock Trial competition for a number of years now, and we are now engaged with the development of the Magna Carta in Schools Programme. This will see young lawyers going into schools to educate students about the continued relevance of Magna Carta as part of the 800-year anniversary celebrations in 2015.

But why do we need a young barristers’ committee at all? That is a question I have been asked numerous times before, often by more senior members of the profession who have every intention of ensuring that the whole Bar is protected and promoted, and consider themselves well aware of the difficulties faced by young barristers. The point is perhaps best illustrated by a conversation that I once had with a senior member of chambers. We were talking about our respective experiences as third six pupils and at first it appeared as though our experiences were much the same. Such work had been in plentiful supply for my more senior colleague, to the extent that it was a mainstay of his practice some 15 years ago. Conversely, I had considered myself lucky to obtain a short secondment with the CPS team based at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court, where I was able to gain valuable prosecution experience that was otherwise hard to come by. What was more surprising to my more senior colleague was that 15 years later, I was being paid exactly the same daily rate as he had been. Although it had been a very lucrative source of income for him, much needed in the early days of his practice, the financial rewards have in real terms decreased considerably for me. And so, while in some ways our experiences of life at the early stages of practice were very similar, it was apparent to us both that my more senior colleague did not know, until I told him, that the position of those starting out at the Bar had changed markedly since the days of his qualifying.

That is why the work of the YBC is so important, not just to young barristers, but to the rest of the Bar as well.

Hannah Kinch is a barrister at 23 Essex St Chambers and chair of the YBC