The bar must fight to shape its own future in a ‘dramatically and quickly-changing legal landscape’ or be lost forever, the head of the bar told its annual conference in London this morning.

In a passionate and wide-ranging address, Michael Todd QC (pictured) spoke of the challenges facing the profession and highlighted the vital role barristers play in safeguarding and promoting the rule of law and access to justice.

Todd said: ‘Why then, are we not at the forefront, mapping out the agenda in the changing legal landscape, shaping our future? We have 800 years of experience. We know what we are talking about. Why then, do we not start the conversation?’

He said the time had come for the bar to wrest the initiative away from those who do not want to see it survive, or who do not care whether it survives, as an independent referral profession.

‘If we do not, so much will be lost, and lost forever,’ he said.

In a forthright challenge to the Legal Services Board, Todd told his colleagues: ‘Our oversight regulator, the Legal Services Board, talks about key performance indicators. We talk about the interests of justice, the public interest, the interests of clients.

‘The government is looking to make savings, we are seeking to promote the rule of law, to provide effective access to justice.’

But he said barristers cannot expect the public, government or the media to understand and appreciate their value if they are unable to articulate, clearly and persuasively, what they do for society.

He called on the bar to take charge of its future instead of reacting to the changes going on around it and reacting to the ideas of those he said are ‘on the periphery’ of the provision of legal services.

‘There is much to play for, there is so much that could be lost. The stakes are high. We have a legal system which is the envy of the world; not just the envy of the common law world, of which, undoubtedly, we are the leaders, but of the civil law world also.

‘If we take control of our future, in this modern, dramatically and quickly-changing, legal landscape in which we provide our services, there is much to be gained,’ said Todd.