A bar-commissioned study has found that clients will be able to instruct half of all barristers directly by next year, jeopardising a huge amount of work presently channelled through solicitors.
The second Barristers’ Working Lives report, published by the Bar Council and the Bar Standards Board, shows the number of barristers that clients can access directly will comprise almost 50% of the bar by the end of 2015.
One in five barristers (20%) plans to complete new public access training. That will swell the ranks of the bar trained to work directly with clients to nearly 7,500 - almost half the entire bar - from the current 4,400.
The study also showed that one in seven barristers (14%) plans to apply for authorisation to conduct litigation, further edging out solicitors.
The second biennial survey, which provides a snapshot of the bar over the two years from 2011 to 2013, also reveals the impact of public funding cuts.
Of the self-employed barristers in criminal practice who responded to the survey, 67% reported that their earnings had fallen between 2011 and 2013.
Some 58% said that they were not satisfied with their job and were either planning to change or considering their options. And almost a fifth (18%) stated that they intend to leave the profession and work elsewhere.
Some 78% of criminal barristers and 77% of family barristers who said that they were considering a change in employment status gave legal aid cuts as a reason.
Despite a reported increase in workloads, 39% of barristers engaged in pro bono work and 36% of all barristers were involved in other charitable legal work.
The survey also showed that most barristers (63%) are male, and one in ten is from a BME background; statistics that have not changed since 2011.
BSB chair Lady Deech QC said an increase in the number of barristers people can access directly is ‘good news for consumers’ as it will increase choice and potentially bring down costs.
‘Allowing these barristers then to conduct litigation will help take the administrative burden off members of the public – who may lack the time and expertise to do this,’ she added.
Bar chair Nicholas Lavender QC said: ‘As a result of the government’s cuts to legal aid, we should be concerned about what this means for the future of the profession, of the criminal, family and civil justice systems and of the public they serve.’