The Bar’s success in delivery of pupillage

Pupillage is the profession’s investment in the future of the Bar, and I am delighted that in addition to the over £37 million the Bar invests in financial support for its pupils, the Bar Council’s latest Pupil Survey shows that more than eight in ten pupils (86%) say they have had a positive pupillage experience. The survey was answered by more than 170 pupils in February (roughly a third of all pupils) and it found the vast majority feel supported by their chambers or employers.

Most striking of all, 94% of pupils said they would recommend a career at the Bar to others. What a sign of confidence for the future! This is wonderful news, and to the credit of all barristers who give their time for free to train pupils. It is particularly noticeable that pupils consider the quality of supervision to be high, whether it is delivered in person or online. Well done to all those involved.

There is still more to do; women, pupils mainly working in crime, and those with a disability reported feeling less well-supported at the Bar. The Bar Council remains committed to understanding and addressing the opportunities and barriers in place when it comes to securing a truly fulfilling career at the Bar and we will consider what more can be done.

Match funding for criminal pupillages

As part of my term of office this year, the Bar Council is asking the government and the opposition to commit to state funding to assist with 100 additional pupillages per year in chambers carrying out predominantly publicly funded work. With the support of the Inns of Court, Criminal Bar Association and Circuit Leaders, we have provided detailed proposals including costings and details of administration.

This proposal is a result of the stark current circumstances – there is a record-high backlog of cases stuck in the Crown Courts and there are not enough criminal barristers to service the work.

Poor remuneration and working conditions have led to practitioners moving away from criminal work and the decline in the number of barristers declaring their practice full-time as publicly funded criminal work has been continuing. We also have an ageing profession – 17.5% of practising barristers are 55 to 64 years old and 6.3% are aged over 65.

The matched funding for pupillages proposal offers a practical solution and may help (alongside other measures to improve retention) to ensure a long-term pipeline of criminal barristers to take cases, keep the system moving and help clear the backlog. Although it would be targeted primarily at criminal pupillages, it is anticipated that the scheme, building upon the excellent existing smaller Inns of Court funded scheme, would also accept chambers which offer pupillages in other publicly funded areas such as family, immigration, and housing.

Dialling down the hostility to lawyers

If we are to attract more people to start and to stay working at the Bar we must be able to work without feeling threatened. Even in this country, lawyers have been threatened and attacked, some physically, because of the clients they were representing. Family and housing practitioners, in particular, cite incidents of unacceptable physical threat and social media stalking.

This febrile atmosphere is not helped by some of those who lead us. Last year there was the targeting of solicitor, Jacqueline McKenzie, a non-politician, by Conservative Campaign HQ (CCHQ) who was then vilified in certain newspapers for simply doing her job. The ‘Better Call Keir’ meme also published by CCHQ, is just the latest in a round of lawyer-baiting that now sadly seems a regular part of pre-election tussles focused on the Leader of the Opposition’s professional past as a practising barrister.

It is, therefore, incumbent on all of us and most particularly on our political leaders, including the Prime Minister and lawyers on both front benches, who really should know better, to cease all attacks on lawyers for just doing their job and to publicly deprecate those attacks instead of standing by. Surely we can do better than this?

A brighter future to come…

Further investment in justice is still desperately needed. The money announced for family courts and criminal justice in the government’s Spring Budget is welcome, but it is a drop in the ocean in terms of what the justice sector really needs to get back to working order and restore public trust after years of underinvestment.

It is vital that the system is properly funded, and the Bar Council is doing everything it can to ensure a brighter future for and at the Bar.