The Ministry of Justice (“MoJ”) may like to feed public perceptions of “fat cat barristers”, but new research by Jomati Consultants LLP suggests thousands of barristers are set to earn less and the Bar will contract after a “Golden Age” of unprecedented growth that started in the 1970s.

The report, Challenges and Choices: The Bar in Flux claims that many barristers face a “perfect storm”. It sets out the following evidence to back up its view:

  • public bodies and large corporate are seeking to reduce their advocacy spend;
  • solicitor-advocates are increasing in number, and are soaking up more advocacy work, especially in crime;
  • criminal legal and advocacy fees have dropped 4.5 per cent this year, and are set to drop by a total of 13.5 per cent by 2012/13 or maybe more once the MoJ completes its funding review this winter;
  • 2,000 instructing law firms may close this year, and larger firms may seek to do more in-house;
  • family law legal aid firms are closing shop following the introduction of new contracting rules, and the MoJ is seeking to cull criminal legal aid firms, perhaps to a level of 70 per cent, reducing the pool of referral law firms;
  • “baby boomers” are retiring, while tenancies are decreasing as a result of current economic conditions; and
  • the number of chambers is likely to reduce to under 300 as chambers merge to consolidate their business position.

In response, the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board have permitted new structures such as ProcureCo, which allow barristers to secure work directly from clients.

In July, Counsel reported a YouGov survey of nearly 2,000 barristers which showed 43 per cent were interested in setting up shop with solicitors, a quarter were interested in forming businesses with clerks or non-lawyers and a third were likely to join a new business structure in the next five years.

Tony Williams, Jomati principal and former managing partner of Clifford Chance, said: “The ProcureCo is not a silver bullet and barristers may have to completely re-examine the way their chambers operates in order to secure sufficient flow and quality of work in the future.”