At the same time, however, there is a widespread acknowledgment that the Bar, and in particular the publicly-funded Bar, must change/adapt to survive in the immediate future. And that the future right now is all about survival. Consequently, the Bar Council’s Young Barristers’ Committee (“YBC”) has been working to do what it can to ensure that the young Bar involves itself fully with the decisions that are being made and, if there are any areas in which it feels disenfranchised/concerned, these are raised not only within the set/firm in question but also at the Bar Council. It is vital that young barristers engage with discussions about future models for delivery of legal services and find out what it might mean for them if they are to feel they have chosen the way forward for their futures.

An informed debate

Accordingly the YBC hosted a seminar on 11 March 2010 entitled “All Change? Or not? For the Young Bar” to give barristers under ten years’ Call an opportunity to learn about and debate the new business structures and changes to ways of working that will become possible following the changes proposed by the Bar Standards Board (“BSB”) in the way in which barristers conduct their business. Presentations from Chairman of the Bar Nick Green QC and from Patricia Robertson QC, on behalf of the BSB, highlighted those changes and the options now open to chambers and to individuals about future ways of working. The YBC recognised the need for every effort to be made to ensure that the young Bar understands the changes that are presently under discussion and arranged for the seminar to be available via video links to Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Swansea.

Nick Green QC and Patricia Robertson QC shared the view in response that the new structures themselves are neutral in respect of the young Bar but there could be risks in their implementation, particularly regarding payment of proper fees and the nature of work to be undertaken by young practitioners. If they are right then the biggest challenges are within the detail of how any set operates under the new structures. What must not happen, therefore, is that within the decision-making that will be taking place over the coming months, members of the young Bar feel that there is only so much that they can say, or so far that they can put their heads above the parapet within chambers, if they have any fears or divergent views from the majority. Each set of chambers needs individually to ensure its more junior members are protected.

The critical issues

The main points arising from the seminar were:

  • There are concerns about the potential risks for young barristers practising in chambers which operate a procurement company, or ProcureCo. As commercial decisions drive the future of a ProcureCo, for example, the managers will be driven by cost in a more corporate, and therefore different, way to the way many chambers are presently run – despite the intention of the model being that little will change
  • If chambers decide to provide a litigation service, or provide police station representation, there are risks young barristers might be asked to take on such work when they do not wish to, unless it is comprehensively outsourced to solicitors/agents through the ProcureCo or LDP
  • Under any block contract there are risks young practitioners could feel under an obligation, or be put under pressure, to do work they do not wish to do at very low prices
  • It is vital that young barristers are centrally involved in any chambers’ decision about whether or not to establish an Alternative Business Structure (“ABS”)
  • It will be critical for young barristers to ensure that they are happy with the management structures of any ProcureCos that are being set up in their chambers and in particular, the terms of any contract to provide legal services that they may sign
  • It will be critical for chambers to consider how their ProcureCo model can best protect their young barristers by ensuring a fair distribution of work and collective responsibility for performing the least attractive work available (for example, at the tail end of a block contract)
  • Further consideration needs to be given as to how block contracting might affect entrance to, and the diversity of, the young Bar in the future
  • The Bar Council and BSB are determined to ensure young barristers are protected under the new structures. They cannot do this without input from the young Bar. It is essential that young practitioners are fully aware of the new structures and feedback their views and concerns to the YBC.

Belle Turner is a barrister at 4 Paper Buildings and Chairman of the Young Barristers’ Committee.