Barristers are ‘surprisingly bullish’ about their future careers given cuts to legal aid, falling fees and ever more demanding clients, research has suggested, claiming that the bar is ‘clearly at breaking point’.
A report by Lexis Nexis found that almost 70% of barristers believe their practice will grow or remain stable in the next three to five years. Civil barristers were more upbeat than criminal ones with 67% – as opposed to 58% – saying their practice had grown or remained steady since 2016. Lexis Nexis suggested such optimism was ‘surprising’ given the ‘steady decline in the number of cases going to court, legal aid cuts, rising rents and falling fees’.
Barristers’ views on the future of the bar as a whole are ‘far less positive’, the report found. Wellbeing was labelled as a ‘highly critical concern’, with one respondent saying that ‘non-stop availability via emails and phones is really problematic for our wellbeing’. Increasing costs, delays in receiving fees and technology were also said to be pressing concerns.
Meanwhile, nearly a third of all barristers said cuts to legal aid were the biggest challenge they faced. One respondent said: ‘The legal aid crisis is fundamental. Even as an experienced, successful barrister I spend much of my time working for free. I spend endless days, evenings and hours perfecting a case knowing I will not be paid for it.’
Lexis Nexis suggested that barristers should diversify their practice, take on direct access work and spend more money on marketing to drive growth. It also said that technology could improve wellbeing and support business development.
Christopher O’Connor, head of segment marketing at LexisNexis, said: ‘There is optimism across the profession, but clearly the bar is at breaking point. How barristers operate, and approach work will have to change, for the bar to be able to futureproof their sector within the legal profession.
‘Chambers need to consider new tools and legal technology that can free their barristers and staff from time consuming manual tasks to reduce long working hours and open up new business development avenues.’